Andrew Bonar Law

Born: 16 September 1858 in New Brunswick, Canada
Died: 30 October 1923 London
First entered Parliament: October 1900
Age he became PM: 64 years, 37 days
Maiden Parliament Speech: 19 February 1901
Total time as PM: 209 days

Andrew Bonar Law (he disliked the name Andrew and never used it) was born in Rexton; the son of the Rev. James Law (1822 - 1882), who was pastor of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church for 32 years from 1845 to 1877. James Law had five children, four boys and a girl. Only one of the family, Robert, remained in Rexton until his death.

The old Manse in which Bonar Law was born still stands on the bank of the Richibucto River, a beautiful spot, now restored as a historic site. In 1925, the residents of Rexton dedicated a cairn to his memory. His son, Richard, came from England to unveil the memorial and give the dedicatory address.

Bonar Law inherited from his mother a remarkably sweet disposition but with an element of iron in it. He was tolerant but firm in following principle and when he believed in a cause, never backed down until he had achieved his purpose.

His first three years of public schooling were spent in Rexton. After the death of his mother, an aunt took Bonar to Scotland to live with her; he completed high school in Glasgow, the only education he ever received, except through experience. His first job was that of a bookkeeper to an iron firm and when he retired in business to enter politics, he was head of the largest iron company in Scotland.

He lacked the eloquence of his father, but had other qualities more valuable; good sense, tolerance, foresight, courage and principal. He was elected to the leadership of the Unionist Party in 1911, later becoming Secretary of State for the Colonies, Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Prime Minister of Great Britain. Bonar Law still holds the distinction of being the only man born outside of the British Isles to hold the office of Prime Minister.

Bonar married an Englishwoman, Ms. Annie Pitcairn Robley and they had six children, four boys and two girls. Although devastated by the death of his wife in 1909, he continued his political career and won the conservative part leadership in 1911. At the outbreak of the war his party offered the government support as a coalition government. It is said that while working closely with the liberals he admired Lloyd George to such a degree that he even declined the premiership in favour of Lloyd George.

He held a senior position in Lloyd Georges’s war cabinet. This indicated the mutual trust between both leaders. This coalition was re-elected by a landslide following the Armistice. The additional devastation of the loss of two sons in the First World War made him a lonely man. Law had lost his two eldest sons in the war and his health deteriorated. To recover he resigned as Leader of the House and leader of his party.

At the time many leading Conservatives were so enthralled by Lloyd George that they were considering leaving the Conservatives to join a new party Lloyd George was planning. Law made a decisive rousing speech at the Conservative Carlton Club which changed their minds and saved the Conservative party. Law persuaded the Conservatives to end the coalition, and work as an independent party. Conservative withdrawal forced Lloyd George to resign. The King then invited Law to form a new administration in 1922.

For the first time since 1910 a single party with a parliamentary majority governed Britain; wartime coalition government had ended. Bonar’s Conservatives won the 1922 election with a substantial majority of 344, compared to Labour’s 142 and the aa5 of the divided Liberal Party. The new government attempted to restore the peacetime economy, facing concerns over the rise of Bolshevism. Industrial unrest was also on the rise.

Bonar resigned in May 1923 due to ill health, and died of throat cancer six months later. Although only being Prime Minister for 209 days, he was first elected in 1900 as a Conservative MP for Glasgow Blackfriars. A popular but now little-noted Prime Minister, Law’s funeral service took place in Westminster Abbey.

He had a reputation for honesty and fearlessness, and was well regarded as an effective speaker.

David Kirkwood, 1st Baron Kirkwood, PC (1872 – 16 April 1955) was a socialist from the East End of Glasgow, Scotland, viewed as a leading figure of the Red Clydeside era.

David Kirkwood said of Bonar Law. Mr Bonar Law was Prime Minister. He was one of the greatest men ever I met, very able and very sincere. He was a true House of Commons man. On one occasion we were in a hot debate. I sat for seven hours without leaving my seat.

Bonar Law was there all the time. He was looking ill and languid. Then he rose to reply. Without a note, he took up and answered seven speeches in detail. I could not believe my ears and eyes. He spoke as if he had the speeches in front of him.

A week later we interrupted business for two hours with a constant barracking : "What are you going to do about unemployment?" It was a violent attack. We won some concessions. Bonar Law showed no resentment. He remained calm and unruffled. Afterwards we happened to meet face to face in the Lobby. He stopped and said: "You Clyde boys were pretty hard on me today. But it's fine to hear your Glasgow accent. It's like a sniff of the air of Scotland in the musty atmosphere of this place."

Interesting Items:

October 30, 1923, Tuesday
Page 1, 1596 words

LONDON, Oct. 30. (Associated Press). -- Andrew Bonar Law, former British Premier, died at his town house here at 2:30 this morning of a grave throat malady. [ END OF FIRST PARAGRAPH]

Quote- “If I am a great man, then a good many great men of history are frauds”

Note- A popular but now little-noted PM, Law’s funeral service took place in Westminster Abbey.

Though he left school at 16, he attended evening lectures at Glasgow University. As a boy, Abraham Lincoln learnt every verse of Psalm 119 by heart: it was Law's boast that he had read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire three times before he was old enough to vote.

He was also a man who aroused strong feelings. Few statesmen have inspired a greater respect and liking, and few more anger and frustration.

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