W L Mackenzie King, in full William Lyon Mackenzie King, (born December 17, 1874, Berlin [now Kitchener], Ontario, Canada—died July 22, 1950, Kingsmere, Quebec), prime minister of Canada (1921–26, 1926–30, 1935–48) and leader of the Liberal Party, who helped preserve the unity of the English and French populations of Canada.
Mackenzie King, since he is usually called, was the son of John King and Isabel Grace Mackenzie, daughter of William Lyon Mackenzie, a leader of this Rebellion of 1837 aimed at establishing independent self-government at Upper Canada. King had an outstanding academic career in Toronto, Chicago, and Harvard universities, broadened by travel in England and Germany. In Chicago (where he remained at Jane Addams’s Hull House) and in London, he participated in a societal settlement function that deeply affected his later life. He was one of the very first Canadian politicians to show an active curiosity about the employees in the industry.
W L Mackenzie King Early Career
In 1900 King dropped an academic post at Harvard to take a civil service post as deputy minister of labor in the recently formed government department at Ottawa. In his new position, he edited the Labour Gazette and showed a remarkable capability for conciliating industrial disputes. His job brought him favorably to the interest of the Liberal prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Though King was by nature impetuous, his Presbyterian upbringing and diffident manner gave him an appearance of modesty and a veneer of prudence which became almost second nature.
At decisive moments, however, he would overcome his warning and take great risks to further the destiny in which he increasingly believed. This type of threat was his resignation in 1908 in the civil service to stand as the only real candidate for Parliament for his native county, North Waterloo, a Conservative stronghold. Founded in 1908, he joined the Laurier government in 1909 as the first fulltime minister of labor in Canada.
King lost his seat once the government was defeated in 1911. For the next three years, he occupied himself with celebration publicity and organization whilst seeking vainly a chance to go back to Parliament. In 1914 he accepted a post with all the Rockefeller Foundation to research industrial connections in the USA, resulting in 1918 from the book of Business and Humanity. When he admitted the Rockefeller post, King had insisted on residing in Canada, and, at the 1917 election, he unsuccessfully contested North York as a Laurier Liberal.
After Laurier’s death in 1919, King became chief of this Liberal Party. His devotion to Laurier in 1917 was probably the decisive factor in the leadership contest, although his advocacy of reform without socialism appealed to many of the younger party members. The leadership of the Liberal Party in 1919 wasn’t any pledge of political success. During World War I the party had split over conscription mostly along English–French lines and many major Liberals had joined the Conservatives at a Union Government. Moreover, the western base of the celebration was sapped by the increase of an agrarian party, the Progressives.
Following the defeat of the Union Government in the election of 1921, King became prime minister on December 29, though his party was only short of a majority in Parliament. The future of King and his party was far from stable. Despite this apparent Liberal defeat, the Conservatives also lacked a majority. Rather than resigning, King met with Parliament, in which, together with the aid of Progressive and Independent members, his government won a vote of confidence. The government carried on in 1926 for six weeks, but, with the emergence of a scandal in the customs section, support in Parliament fell.
King decided to terminate the uncertainty and advised that the governor-general dissolve Parliament. When his advice was not taken, he also resigned. The Conservative pioneer, Arthur Meighen, formed a government that was defeated in Parliament two days afterward. Meighen was given the dissolution which King had been refused. The 1926 election has been fought on the constitutional issue. Because of alliances between Liberals and Progressives in many constituencies, King found himself for the first time using a critical majority in Parliament. He became prime minister again on September 25. Late in 1926, at the Imperial Conference in London, King’s was likely the determining voice in securing the declaration of equality of all the self-governing states of the empire, then styled the Commonwealth.
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King’s government dropped the election of 1930, and he led the opposition through the years of the Great Depression but gained an overwhelming victory in the election of 1935. This was his leadership of the nation through six years of war and three years of postwar renovation which gave King a dominating place in Canadian history. Through those years, he led a country long divided over outside policy unitedly into World War II in 1939; surmounted two political crises over conscription, one almost fatal to his government; and won the postwar election.
The government he led organized a tremendous military, industrial, and financial contribution to the war and at the same time prepared for a smooth and rapid advance in economic development and social welfare afterward. When King retired, his successor, Louis Saint Laurent, took over a strong government, a combined and effective political party, along with a fast-growing and self-confident country.
This impressive record was attained by a lonely bachelor, lacking in popular appeal, political eloquence, or the trappings of strong leadership. His success was a chemical of intense intuitions of the public disposition and a superb capacity for the management of men. He died a year and a half after leaving office.