Hardie, James Keir

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HARDIE, JAMES KEIR (1856–1915), Scottish politician and labor organizer.

James Keir Hardie was a leading political figure in the Independent Labour Party and the Labour Party, and his career was a representation of independent Labour politics. His trade union activities thrust him to fame and led to his parliamentary success as the first independent Labour member of Parliament (MP) in 1892.

Hardie was born in Legbrannock, Lanarkshire, in Scotland, on 15 August 1856 the illegitimate son of David Hardie, a ship's carpenter, and Mary Keir, a domestic farm servant. He became a messenger boy at the age of seven, and worked in a shipyard and became a baker's errand boy before working in the coal mines between 1867 and 1878. However, there he was victimized for his trade union activities. He opened a stationer's shop at Low Waters in 1878 and became a correspondent for the Glasgow Weekly Mail, becoming a full-time journalist in 1882. He was editor of the Cumnock News between 1882 to 1886. He also acted as a trade-union organizer and was secretary of the Lanarkshire miners in 1879, of the Ayrshire miners in 1880, and of the Scottish Miners' Federation in 1886. In 1880 he married Lillie Wilson, by whom he had two daughters and two sons.

In his early years Hardie was a staunch Liberal, but a number of events, including a failure to strengthen Scottish miners' trade unionism radicalized his politics to the extent that The Miner, his new newspaper formed in January 1887, established links with socialists. In April 1888 he fought a parliamentary by-election at Mid-Lanark as an Independent Labour candidate but was defeated after obtaining only 617 votes, 8.2 percent of those cast. However, in 1892 he was returned to Parliament as MP for West Ham South, presenting himself as the MP for the unemployed. His success projected him forward in independent Labour politics and he chaired the foundation conference of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) held at Bradford in January 1893. His position as leader of the new movement was strengthened by the fact that he formed the Labour Leader, as the successor to The Miner, in 1889 and made it a weekly publication from March 1894.

Hardie lost his West Ham South seat in the 1895 general election and despite contesting other seats, most notably Bradford East in November 1896, was not returned to Parliament until 1900, when he became MP for Merthyr Tydfil, a seat that he held until his death. In his pursuit of a broader alliance, he objected to the fusion of the ILP with other socialist groups such as the quasi-Marxist Social Democratic Federation, and his strategy came to fruition on 27 February 1900 when the trade unions and the ILP formed the Labour Representation Committee. This was a small party but it gained increasing trade union support and made a political breakthrough in the January 1906 general election in which it secured thirty seats. At that point it became the Labour Party, and Hardie acted as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party between 1906 and 1908 and 1909–1910, although he was traveling the empire and the world in 1907–1908.

In reality, Hardie was an excellent propagandist but not a particularly accomplished organizer of the Labour Party, and his period in office was marred by controversy. He was a great advocate of women's suffrage but favored the approach of Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928) and her Women's Social and Political Union, which emphasized that women should be first given the parliamentary franchise on the same terms as men, which was rejected by many in the Labour movement who wanted the full enfranchisement of men and women and not simply a measure that would only give some middle-class women the vote. This led Hardie to threaten to leave the ILP and the Labour Party. He also faced criticism from the Left over his ambivalent attitude toward the White Australia policy although his antiracist attitude in South Africa and his condemnation of British rule in India, which provoked a storm in Britain, restored his credibility with independent Labour.

From 1910 until his death Hardie was effectively Labour's elder statesman who would take up the vital issues of the day. He supported the industrial struggles of the immediate prewar period but was consumed by the threat of war in Europe. He hoped that the Second International, of the socialist movement, would prevent war and was faced with a difficult encounter with patriotism in his constituency on 6 August 1914, just after the war broke out. He died, a rather disillusioned man, on 26 September 1915.

The Times obituary of Hardie, which appeared the day after his death, was grudging of his achievements and suggested that he was "an ineffective leader of the independent group which owed its existence in great measure to his unflagging energy." In 1917 A. G. Gardiner added that "he was the one man in the parliamentary Labour Party who was unqualified to lead it." Nevertheless, he fought for the right of workers and for the preservation of peace in the face of war, and the Merthyr Pioneer of the 2 October 1915 rightly suggested that with his death the "member for Humanity has resigned his seat."

See alsoAsquith, Herbert Henry; Great Britain; Labor Movements; Labour Party; Lloyd George, David; Pankhurst, Emmeline, Christabel, and Sylvia; Second International; Socialism.


Benn, Caroline. Keir Hardie. London, 1992.

Hughes, Emrys. Keir Hardie. London, 1956.

Morgan, Kenneth O. Keir Hardie: Radical and Socialist. London, 1975.

Keith Laybourn

James Keir Hardie

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James Keir Hardie

The British politician James Keir Hardie (1856-1915) helped to initiate the 20th-century labor movement in Britain.

Keir Hardie was born on Aug. 15, 1856, at Legbrannock, Lanarkshire, the illegitimate son of Mary Keir, domestic, and William Aitken, miner. He took the name of his stepfather, David Hardie, a ship's carpenter. He worked as a messenger boy when he was 8; from 1867 to 1879 he worked in or around the coal mines. Self-educated, he especially enjoyed what he read of Robert Burns, Thomas Carlyle, and Henry George. A convinced socialist at 21, he was converted to Christianity at 23, to the astonishment of his firmly atheistic mother.

Fired and blacklisted for union activity, Hardie was undismayed, and he married Lily Wilson, a publican's daughter, Aug. 3, 1879. After local union service he became secretary to the Scottish Miners' Federation in 1886. Hardie clashed with old-line "Lib-Lab" members of Parliament, whom he thought overly conservative about state intervention on the miners' behalf. Hardie's agitation for an 8-hour day brought cooperation from R. B. Cunninghame-Graham, a member of Parliament and a cofounder of the Scottish Labour party in 1888.

Hardie's election to Parliament for South West Ham in 1892 as an Independent Labour candidate won attention; publicity increased with his appearance at Westminster in a cloth cap, his maiden speech on the misery of the unemployed, and his dissent from congratulations on the birth (1894) of the future Edward VIII.

Hardie presided at the Bradford conference which inaugurated the Independent Labour party (ILP), pledged to socialism and intended as a weapon against unconverted Gladstonian Liberals. He lost his own seat in 1895 but pressed ILP candidates to challenge Liberals at by-elections. Returning to Parliament from Merthyr Tydfil in 1900, he denounced the Boer War constantly. Despite his feud with Liberals, Hardie approved the negotiation which reduced Liberal-Labour rivalry and produced 29 Labour members in 1906, who chose Hardie to lead them in Parliament.

In 1907 Hardie toured the world, expressing his sympathy with Egyptian independence, Indian home rule, and fairer treatment of native Africans in South Africa. He was often a difficult colleague within the Labour party before the war. He detested militarism and preached a general strike among workers internationally to prevent war. When war came, it crushed his spirit. He was howled down by his own constituents before he died of pneumonia on Sept. 26, 1915.

For years Hardie symbolized the working classes for cartoonists. He never forsook his soft hat for a bowler. Bearded, pipesmoking, with a mournful Celtic visage, his single-minded devotion to the workers' cause made him seem fanatical to some contemporaries but enhanced his reputation with later generations of the Labour party.

Further Reading

The earliest biography of Hardie is William Stewart, J. Keir Hardie (1921; new ed. 1925). It was followed by David Lowe, From Pit to Parliament: The Story of the Early Life of James Keir Hardie (1923); Hamilton Fyfe, Keir Hardie (1935); and Emrys Hughes, Keir Hardie (1956). Hardie's role in the Independent Labour party is treated by Henry Pelling in The Origins of the Labour Party, 1880-1900 (1954; 2d ed. 1965), and by Philip P. Poirier in The Advent of the British Labour Party (1958).

Additional Sources

McLean, Iain., Keir Hardie, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975.

Reid, Fred., Keir Hardie: the making of a socialist, London: Croom Helm, 1978. □

Hardie, James Keir

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Hardie, James Keir (1856–1915). Socialist politician. Born in Lanarkshire, Hardie grew up in extreme poverty. While working as a journalist he was instrumental in organizing the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire miners, becoming secretary of the Scottish Miners' Federation in 1886 and, in 1887, chairman of the Scottish Labour Party. In 1892 he was elected as an independent Labour MP for South West Ham; the following year he established the Independent Labour Party. Hardie was a thoroughly class-conscious socialist (outraging Westminster opinion by wearing a cloth-cap and tweed jacket in the Commons), but was also acutely aware of the moderate nature of the British trade union movement, and he deliberately downplayed his socialist creed in order to persuade the Trades Union Congress of the need for the foundation (1900) of the Labour Representation Committee, forerunner of the Labour Party. Hardie believed that international working-class solidarity would prevent war in 1914, and never recovered from the realization of the strength of nationalism amongst the working classes.

Geoffrey Alderman

Hardie, (James) Keir

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Hardie, (James) Keir (1856–1915) Scottish socialist politician. In 1888, he founded the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party. In 1892, Hardie entered Parliament as the first socialist MP. In 1893, he founded the Independent Labour Party. In 1906, he became a co-founder and first leader (1906–08) of the Labour Party. A committed pacifist, he withdrew from Labour politics in World War I.

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