CHAMBERLAIN Austen - Autograph Letter Signed 1931 to Ramsay MacDonald
Austen CHAMBERLAIN (1863-1937)
Autograph Letter Signed (“Austen Chamberlain”) to “My dear Prime Minister” [Ramsay MacDonald], marked “Personal”, expressing concern about the Prime Minister’s health and wellbeing, weeks after the General Election.
2½ pages large 4to, 58 Rutland Gate SW7, 16 November 1931.
A letter dating from one of the most troubled periods in British politics.
“I am horrified that you should have been at the pains of writing me a personal letter. All I had expected was a polite refusal from your secretary. I ought to have said as much in writing, for write I had to.
As to yourself, may I say that as one who earnestly desires to see you remain head of the Govt. to carry through the great work for which you asked a free hand, I cannot help being anxious about your health. There will never be a convenient moment for you to leave, even temporarily, the helm to another, but don’t, I beg, continue the strain too long before taking some rest. Is it now possible for you settle in two or three Cabinets the lines of policy to be followed & then go away till after Xmas. I am sure you cannot do yourself justice till you have rested a little the frame & brain which have been so sorely tried.
As I read what I have written, I fear you may think it almost an impertinence for anyone who is not an intimate friend to address you in this way, but I beg you to believe that I am moved to do so by a genuine concern for your success.” In a postscript, he firmly adds: “No further reply, please.”
Faced with irreconcilable differences in his government, MacDonald resigned the premiership in August of that year, but was persuaded to form a National Government, effectively a coalition with the Conservatives and the Liberals. Further splits forced him to call a General Election in October 1931. Although disastrous for Labour, the result saw MacDonald still at the head of the National Government, with Austen Chamberlain’s half-brother, the Conservative Neville Chamberlain, as Chancellor of the Exchequer. A massive increase in unemployment, unpopular cuts in public spending and disputes over protectionist trade policies continued to haunt the government.
Austen Chamberlain had himself resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty ten days before writing this, in the wake of the Invergordon Mutiny, itself a result of drastic pay cuts for naval officers and ratings.
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