Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Political Life of Josiah C. Wedgwood

The Political Life of Josiah C. Wedgwood: Land, Liberty and Empire, 1872-1943

Paul Mulvey
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 242
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Political Life of Josiah C. Wedgwood
    Book Description:

    In his day, `Josh' Wedgwood was one of Britain's best-known and most outspoken Radical politicians. He served in three wars, and, in a Parliamentary career lasting from 1906 to 1943, first with the Liberals, and then with Labour, he fought to uphold personal liberty and to limit the power of the state. Instead of the collectivism of socialists or social imperialists, Wedgwood advocated a Radical vision of Victorian Individualism as the solution to the problems of social inequality at home and growing threats abroad that Britain faced in the first half of the twentieth century. His support of individual freedom, a redistribution of landowner's wealth, and a voluntary and democratic British Empire received only limited support in his own lifetime, but he fought for them with vigour and passion throughout his career. This study of his life throws new light upon some of the defining ideological and policy issues of the most turbulent period of modern British history. Paul Mulvey teaches at the London School of Economics.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-894-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
    Paul Mulvey
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)

    • 1 Life to 1906
      (pp. 3-16)

      The Wedgwood family’s fame and fortune was based on the entrepreneurial skills of the ‘first’ Josiah (1730–95), and by the time that his great-great-grandson and fourth namesake Josiah Clement was born it had become a major, if not particularly profitable, local employer and the leading non-aristocratic family of North Staffordshire. Young Josiah’s grandfather, father, elder brother and second son were all, in turn, managing directors of the family pottery business, although none of them, with the exception of the last, showed much talent for business, and it was not until the 1940s that the Wedgwood Pottery was modernised and...

    • 2 The Land Campaign
      (pp. 17-29)

      For Josiah Wedgwood the fight for the taxation of land values was both an expression of ideological belief and an issue of popular politics where he made his name as an advanced Radical in an eight-year campaign to reform the basis of British taxation. As a considerable body of historiography has shown, the politics of land was central to pre-1914 Radicalism.¹ Landownership remained highly concentrated – 1 per cent of proprietors still owned 30 per cent of land by value and perhaps up to 60 per cent by acreage² – and those owners were largely hereditary aristocrats who still remained highly prominent...

    • 3 The Road to Freedom
      (pp. 30-42)

      In 1910 Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood outlined their political philosophy in a series of articles for the magazineThe Open Road, which were later republished asThe road to freedom.¹ Ethel actually wrote the articles, but as Josiah repeated all of the salient arguments in later works of his own there is no doubt that he agreed with their contents.² The book highlighted the deep philosophical differences within the land-reforming camp, and indeed the wider progressive movement, by making explicit the debate between collectivism and individualism, an individualism that, in the case particularly of Ethel Wedgwood, verged upon anarchism, The...

    • 4 A Radical Vision
      (pp. 43-52)

      Wedgwood’s third great political interest after land taxing and personal freedom was the purpose and future of the British empire. Could one, in fact, be a Radical and an imperialist? J. A. Hobson thought not, seeing the fight against imperialism as a unifying struggle for radicals and social democrats. Imperialism, warned Hobson, like militarism in the days of Paine and Cobden, led to greater armaments and swollen government expenditure, which led to higher taxes and protectionism.¹ Wedgwood, an imperialist before he was a Radical, as his South African experiences show, did not agree, or rather did not agree that all...

  7. PART II: THE GREAT WAR, 1914–1919

    • 5 Liberalism and Patriotism
      (pp. 55-67)

      At 5.00 a.m. on 1 August 1914¹ Wedgwood set out with his children on a cycling holiday. Seeing soldiers on the roads in full kit he realised that war was imminent and immediately returned to London. Until then he had not believed that a major European war was possible, not least because the workers of Europe would not allow it. On 3 August Sir Edward Grey justified British involvement in the war to the House of Commons. Morrell and Wedgwood were the first back-benchers to speak in the ensuing debate. Morrell said that Britain was under no obligation to anyone...

    • 6 President Wilson and the British Left
      (pp. 68-82)

      While Wedgwood was drawing up proposals for a British land grab in the Middle East other pre-war Radicals, those who were sympathetic to the UDC, were looking to America for help in establishing a moderate peace. Throughout 1915 and 1916 they kept up a dialogue with President Wilson via his foreign policy advisor ‘Colonel’ Edward House and other informal channels.¹ The Radicals encouraged Wilson to intervene to re-establish the rule of international law, and they assured him that the pro-war attitude of the British public was much exaggerated in the press and that in reality there would be substantial support...

    • 7 The Re-Shaping of British Politics
      (pp. 83-94)

      Wedgwood, while eager for Britain to recognise the new Russian government, was also under no illusions as to its fragility or unwillingness to continue the war. Thus, in early December 1917 he sent Lord Robert Cecil (under-secretary at the Foreign Office) a memorandum about the need to bolster Anglo-American influence in Siberia in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution and the possible break-up of Russia.¹ Cecil apparently showed the memo to the Cabinet, who agreed to send Wedgwood to see the Siberian government at Tomsk. In a letter to Colonel House, Wedgwood explained that he feared that Russia might now...


    • 8 The Labour Party and Foreign Policy
      (pp. 97-110)

      On the last day of March 1919 theStaffordshire Sentinelreported that the annual general meeting of the Newcastle-under-Lyme Liberal Club had passed a resolution of absolute confidence in their member of parliament.¹ Twelve days later, the day after Asquith’s speech at the Connaught Rooms, Wedgwood applied to join the ILP branch in Hanley (one of the towns in his constituency).² His erstwhile Liberal supporters felt betrayed and publicly called upon him to resign his seat. He refused and a bitter exchange of newspaper letters followed.³ The Liberals were particularly annoyed that Wedgwood had gone not to a moderate Labour...

    • 9 The Indo-British Commonwealth
      (pp. 111-123)

      In the aftermath of the First World War the British empire grew larger and more diverse than ever, but in a financially and politically insecure world, where nationalism was waxing, what was the point of this empire? Answering this question now became Josiah Wedgwood’s greatest preoccupation. At first sight this might be seen – like the Land-Tax – as the quixotic pursuit of another lost cause, yet – unlike land-taxing – the empire was not seen as a lost cause by most Britons in the 1920s and ’30s, while Wedgwood’s imperial ideas actually highlight a surprisingly wide consistency in imperial thinking, not just on...

    • 10 Life in the Labour Party
      (pp. 124-133)

      The early 1920s saw the peak of Josiah Wedgwood’s political career. No longer an obsessive campaigner for land-values taxation, he had matured as a politician and found a wider empathy with the public. The strains of the war had proved too much for the Liberal party, yet paradoxically the break-up of what might be termed his natural party provided a wonderful opportunity for him. As a war hero turned Liberal internationalist, he had managed that rare achievement for a Radical in 1918 of getting returned to parliament. Soon after, as the lone upper-middle-class Radical on the Labour benches, he was...

    • 11 The First Labour Government
      (pp. 134-146)

      Stanley Baldwin’s decision in October 1923 to go to the country on the issue of trade protection, while designed to heal the split in the Conservative party, also uneasily united the fractious Liberals and put them alongside Labour on the main issue of the campaign. While Socialism may have been debated in the few constituencies where Labour and Liberal candidates fought each other, it was generally tariff reform that took priority. The government’s attitude to the French occupation of the Ruhr was also an election issue, and here Labour had the advantage of being able to say ‘we told you...


    • 12 Labouring On
      (pp. 149-163)

      C. V. Wedgwood rightly said of her uncle that ‘in so far as his hopes had been fixed on playing a part in the government of his country, his career was virtually over in 1924’.¹ In terms of active campaigning, however, his career was far from over. Indeed, the ending of any ministerial ambitions left him with the time to campaign for the History of Parliament project and with the freedom to fight more vituperatively than ever in favour of the Jews and against their latest enemy, Nazism. Wedgwood was to fight these campaigns with perhaps even more energy and...

    • 13 The History of Parliament
      (pp. 164-177)

      History had been Wedgwood’s favourite subject at school, and he maintained a keen, indeed an increasing, interest in it throughout his life. Before 1914 he had published two history books,A history of the Wedgwood familyin 1909 andStaffordshire pottery and its historyin 1913.¹ The first of these was a genealogical history privately published for the benefit of the family. It was written in typical Wedgwood style – simple and straightforward – easy to read, without ever becoming gripping.Staffordshire pottery and its history,on the other hand, written for public consumption, was widely reviewed and sold well.² The Times...

    • 14 The Shadows Lengthen
      (pp. 178-193)

      Josiah Wedgwood was not a man who in his twilight years could look back on a life of achievement with satisfaction in a job well done. His historical work, while in some ways dramatically successful, had also brought frustration and disappointment; his career at the forefront of politics was long over; the Radicalism that he espoused – oflaissez-faire, individualism and land reform – seemed in terminal decline; and the British empire – for so long at the centre of his vision of a better world – was wracked by native nationalism and, as he saw it, Britain’s cack-handed response to it. It was...

    • 15 A Life Hereafter
      (pp. 194-201)

      Ostensibly to add to the rather paltry Labour representation in the House of Lords,¹ maybe also in a futile attempt to pre-empt an old Radical’s propensity to embarrass the government, or perhaps simply to reward a long-serving and courageous politician, who also happened to have been a friend of the prime minister for over thirty years, Wedgwood was ennobled, along with three Labour colleagues, in the New Year’s Honours List of December 1941 (Ralph Wedgwood received a baronetcy at the same time). He had been offered a peerage by Churchill, via Lord Halifax in the Washington embassy, while he was...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 202-208)

    Josiah Wedgwood held none of the great offices of state, he never led a party, nor did he introduce a major piece of legislation. His career, however, spanned the great institutional and ideological shifts of British politics in the first half of the twentieth century, and he was an active participant in both. Wedgwood was a radical in the broad sense defined by the 1911Encyclopaedia Britannicaas a politician who desires ‘to make thorough, or radical, changes in the constitution and in the social order generally’.¹ He was also a Radical in the narrower and more self-conscious sense that...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-220)
  12. Index
    (pp. 221-230)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-231)