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James Ramsay MacDonald Papers

Date range: 1893–1937.

Correspondence and papers of James Ramsay MacDonald (1866–1937), the first Labour Prime Minister.

When Baldwin’s Government collapsed in January 1924, MacDonald was asked to form an administration, but he was dependent upon the support of the Liberals and this fragile alliance collapsed after nine months.

After the 1929 general election, Labour became the largest party in the Commons for the first time, and MacDonald returned to 10 Downing Street, although he was still reliant on Liberal support.

In the face of the financial crisis of 1931 MacDonald controversially formed a National Government, splitting the Labour Party. He remained Prime Minister until 1935, an increasingly isolated and forlorn figure.

The correspondence relates to a wide range of subjects, political and personal.

There are discussions upon political questions with colleagues, instructions on government policy during his premiership, affectionate notes to family and friends and day-to-day working correspondence.

There are files relating to the Independent Labour Party, the Union of Democratic Control, the Coal Dispute and General Strike of 1926,  the ‘Zinoviev Letter’ affair of 1924, the spread of Communism, Palestine (revealing of MacDonald’s impatience at Lord Passfield’s attempts to hinder Jewish settlement), China, India and Egypt.

Other material includes a series of appointment diaries and notebooks,  1900-1937, the most interesting of which is a notebook kept by Ramsay MacDonald during the International Economic and Monetary Conference of 1933. The Prime Minister wrote a series of character sketches of the main players, such as Litvinoff: ‘Stout and perspiring. Boldly inaccurate and began by saying no wage cuts and no unemployment in Russia. It took one’s breath away!’

Finally, there is a small set of Cabinet papers dating mainly from the period after 7 June 1935, when Ramsay MacDonald resigned as Prime Minister and took up the post of Lord President of the Council; they are concerned with foreign affairs, especially the fear of German armament, Italian aggression and the preparedness of Britain for war. Almost all are marked Top Secret.

Finding aids

  • Catalogue available online via ELGAR.
  • D. Howell, `The Ramsay MacDonald Papers in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester: an Initial Discussion', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 72, no. 2 (1990), pp. 101-20.

Location

The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library

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