King, William Lyon Mackenzie (1874-1965)

Photograph of W.L. Mackenzie King
Wikipedia Commons

Mackenzie King was the prime minister of Canada throughout the Second World War. Leader of the Liberal Party for 29 years, his commitment to social reform likely had its roots in his devout Presbyterianism. He was raised largely in Germany in circumstances that could be described as genteel poverty: His father, a lawyer, was unsuccessful at building his practice, and the family was compelled to move back to Toronto where King attended university.He briefly considered law but became a doctoral fellow in political economy at the University of Chicago and Harvard. His scholarly career came to a sudden end when he was offered a position in the Canadian Department of Labor in 1900

King soon became deputy minister of labor and served as a government troubleshooter until being elected to Parliament in 1908. He lost his seat in 1911 and worked for a time with John Davison Rockefeller Jr. on labor relations in the mining industry. In August 1919 he was chosen as leader of the Liberals in a party caucus. He first became prime minister in 1922

King worked to establish closer ties with the United States and acted as something of an intermediary between Churchill and Roosevelt prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Like Chamberlain, he badly misjudged Hitler, who he believed to be a reasonable man who would eventually lead Germany to a brighter future, but King led Canada into the war on 10 September 1939.King later hosted the QUADRANT and OCTAGON conferences but was not himself a major participant.

King's greatest political challenge during the war was over the issue of conscription. Though the Government received approval for conscription in a 1942 referendum, the split between English Canadians (who supported it) and French Canadians (who strongly opposed it) disturbed King, and he did not actually authorize deployment of conscripted men overseas until 23 November 1944. By then he had succeeded in reconciling most of the French Canadians to the necessity.

King was a decidedly eccentric man, lacking in personal charisma, a lifelong bachelor who was privately deeply interested in spiritualism. However, he had an excellent grasp of politics and economics and was able to build effective coalitions.


Neatby (2000; accessed 2011-10-15)

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