Winston Churchill: Statesman Years
(Ages 30 - 59)
by Ron Kurtus (revised 6 February 2006)
After graduating from school and working as a journalist while in the military, Winston Churchill turned to politics. (See Churchill's Journalist Years.) He served in various Cabinet posts, while continuing to write books until he was 54. The next several years, he was out of the limelight and became very depressed.
Questions you may have include:
- How did he advance in politics?
- What did he write?
- How did he get depressed?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Ages 30 - 39 years (1904 - 1913)
In the years from age 30 to 39, Churchill advanced and politics and continued his writing.
1905: Appointed undersecretary
In 1905, when he was 30 years old, Churchill was appointed undersecretary at the Colonial Office, where he was the minister responsible for issues concerning Britain's colonies.
Churchill as a young politician
1906: Wrote 2 more books
During his first years in Parliament, Churchill wrote a two-volume biography of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, published in 1906. It was an illuminating study of British parliamentary government. His diligent research about his father's political career helped him learn about British politics and prepare for cabinet office.
When he was 33, he wrote a book My African Journey that described his tours to inspect colonies in East Africa. He then gained his first cabinet post as president of the Board of Trade. That same year, Churchill married Clementine Ogilvy Hozier. They later had five children. One died as a young child.
1909: Advances political positions
By the time he was 35, Churchill had become Home Secretary, with responsibility for police and the prison system. He held this post until 1911, superintending liberal reforms of Britain's prison system.
1910: In charge of naval operations
Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith assigned 36-year old Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty. Churchill's job was to create a naval war staff and to maintain the fleet in constant readiness for war.
When the First World War broke out 3 years later, the British fleet was prepared to act quickly.
As fighting increased on the European western front, Churchill focused on a naval campaign to force open the Dardanelles Strait, controlled by the Ottoman Empire, to give the Allies a direct route to Russia through the Black Sea.
Ages 40 - 49 years (1914 - 1923)
In his years from ages 40 to 49, Churchill had several setbacks, perhaps due to lack of judgment or stubbornness. Winston Churchill was often described as arrogant, impatient, lacking in consideration for others, and having a formidable temper. This helped to create enemies.
But he was also able to bounce back from adversity due to his following and reputation as a competent and powerful political force.
1914: Naval attack failed
When the naval attack on the Dardanelles Strait faltered, so the Churchill agreed to the War Office plan for a land campaign at the Gallipoli Peninsula on the Dardanelles. However, incompetent military leadership in the field robbed the campaign of success, and the Allies suffered great losses.
Although the attack was a brilliant strategic idea, Churchill's cabinet colleagues withdrew their support, letting Churchill take the blame as scapegoat. Churchill later concluded that, since he was not the Prime Minister, he had been wrong to make himself responsible for the attack without having full power to carry it out himself.
1915: Responsible for Lusitania sinking?
In May 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania was sunk off the Irish coast by a German submarine, resulting in the loss of 1,195 lives lost, of which 128 were U.S. citizens. Rumors were that Churchill was part of a plot to allow the Lusitania to be sunk by a German U-boat in order to get the U.S. involved in the war.
Churchill was demoted from the Admiralty and given a minor cabinet post. It was the greatest reverse to date in his political career, and Churchill was filled with despair. He suffered from long and recurrent fits of depression, which were to plague him at other low points in his life.
In November 1916, at age 42, Churchill resigned his cabinet post and was given command of an infantry battalion in France. The next spring he returned to his seat in the House of Commons.
1917: Gets assignment
In May 1917, David Lloyd George, who had replaced Asquith as Prime Minister, recalled Churchill to the cabinet as Minister of munitions. For the rest of the war, Churchill directed industrial support of the war effort by organizing the national economy for production of war materials.
At age 43, after World War I ended, Churchill was appointed to the War Office and then to the Colonial Office.
1921: Out of War Office
Churchill stayed in the War Office until he was 47, when the Conservatives returned to power resulting in being defeated at the polls. Churchill was out of the House of Commons for the first time since 1900.
He made three unsuccessful attempts to reenter the House of Commons. These defeats made him reconsider his political affiliation. Churchill's Liberal Party had begun to be eclipsed by the new Labour Party.
Churchill also worked on writing The World Crisis, his five-volume account of World War I.
1924: Won reelection
In 1924, at the age of 49, Churchill won reelection--now as a Conservative. He was never without a seat in the House of Commons for the next 40 years. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin offered Churchill the important cabinet post of Chancellor of the Exchequer (national finance minister), which he held for the next five years.
Ages 50 - 59 years (1924 - 1933)
Churchill held his cabinet post until he was 54 years old.
Then for the next 6 years, from 1928 to 1934, he held no cabinet posts but still remained in the House of Commons.
Churchill was known for using clever ploys to disarm his political opponents.
One story is that Churchill secretly stuck a pin into the front of his cigar. As a political opponent started to give a speech in the House of Commons, Churchill lit his cigar. As the speech went on, Churchill continued to puff on his cigar, but the ash did not fall due to the secret pin. Soon attention was no longer on the speaker but on Churchill's cigar. Everyone waited in anticipation for the ash to finally fall from the cigar.
Since there are so many stories about Churchill--both true and myths--we can't vouch for this one, but it does seem to fit his personality.
Churchill lived at his home at Chartwell in Kent, where he supervised a form of "literary factory." He had numerous secretaries and assistants to help him write hundreds of newspaper articles and several more books.
At age 55, he wrote his autobiography My Early Life.
Then in 1931 at age 57, he wrote two books of essays, Thoughts and Adventures.
Churchill often suffered from fits of depression, which could last for weeks. But these bouts did not slow him down. He acted as if he was driven and denied himself rest or relaxation. It was like he was afraid to slow down or stop. Part of this drive was to satisfy his tremendous ego.
When circumstances forced him from his positions of power and activity, Churchill fell under the black cloud of depression. This happened to him when he left the Admiralty in 1915, when he was out of office during the 1930's, when he was defeated in the election of 1945, and then again after his final resignation. He nicknamed his depression his "Black Dog."
In the years from ages 30 to 59, Winston Churchill advanced his political career. Serious misjudgments during World War I resulted in being demoted. But he was able to bounce back from his setbacks to continue his political activities.
What would you have done, if you had the opportunity?
Resources and references
Churchill: A Biography by Roy Jenkins, Publisher: Plume; (2002) $18.00 - A large book (1024 pages) ranks as one of the best single-volume biography of Churchill in recent years
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Winston Churchill: Statesman Years