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William Lyon Mackenzie King, 1874 - 1950

portrait of Mackenzie King
1941 photo, National Film Board of Canada
Mackenzie King signature

Born: 17 December 1874, Berlin, Ontario, Canada (now Kitchener)
Died: 22 July 1950, Kingsmere, Quebec, Canada

King studied economics and law at the University of Toronto (BA in economics 1895, LLB 1896, MA 1897) earned his MA in economics from the University of Chicago (1898), and a PhD from Harvard (1909), plus later work at the London School of Economics. Only one other Canadian Prime Minister held an earned PhD. He was Deputy Minister of the new Department of Labour from 1900 and won a seat in Parliament in 1908 but was defeated in 1911. He then worked as a consultant in labor relations, worked for the Rockefeller Foundation, and published Industry and Humanity (1918) in which he layed out his concept that government should take an active role in peaceful resolution of labor issues. He became the head of the Liberal Party in 1919 and Prime Minister in 1921, reducing the national debt and establishing an old-age pension plan, but lost in 1930 (giving the Tories the onus of being in charge of the Depression). He was returned to office in 1935 and is unable to stem the Depression, but the country's attention is turning to Europe. As a mediator he supported the English and French efforts at appeasement, declared that Canada would not go to war unless Britain was attacked, and made some regrettable comments in admiration of Hitler. Popular opinion was not favorable toward England at the time and he made a point of not declaring war on Germany when the rest of the Commonwealth did, but brought the matter to Parliament a week later. He initially opposed conscription, winning support in Quebec, but adopted it later only for domestic service, and in 1944 reneged on that, sending draftees to the European Theater. His government introduced the Canadian Citizenship Act in 1946, making Canadians citizens of their own country for the first time; King was given a certificate of citizenship bearing the number 00001. In August 1948 he called a Liberal Party national convention in which he did not run for leadership, he resigned as PM three months later. With over 22 years as PM, he has served in that capacity longer than anyone else in Commonwealth History, but he has been criticized for lacking both charisma and creativity, in contrast to his friend Churchill. He planned but did not write his memoirs, although his diaries are apparently fascinating, and died at home of pneumonia. His stern visage appears on the Canadian fifty-dollar bill.

Biography from Wikipedia and the Juno Beach Centre

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