Charles Prestwich Scott

Publisher and Patron of Zionism 1846 - 1932

Comment is free, but the facts are sacred

Charles Prestwich Scott

Manchester Guardian newspaper editor and Zionist advocate, no one did more than C.P. Scott to open doors for Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann in his quest for British support for the Zionist enterprise.


Opened up Doors

In opening up doors for Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann in his quest for British support for the Zionist enterprise no one did more than Manchester Guardian newspaper editor and Zionist advocate C.P. Scott.

It was a stroke of fate that Scott met the Manchester-based Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann on September 16, 1914 at a tea party. Weizmann had accompanied his wife, Dr. Vera Weizmann, a public health physician, to a party held in the south Manchester suburb of Withington at the home of a German-Jewish couple who had taken an interest in Vera’s work.

Introduced by his host to the white-bearded, 69-year-old editor, Weizmann did not at first catch the older man’s name. The editor asked if Weizmann was Polish. “No,” came the reply. I am not a Pole. I am a Jew,” and Weizmann proceeded to talk about Zionism and foreign affairs.

Weizmann expressed fervent opposition to Czarist Russia even though it was allied with Britain in the Great War that had recently erupted in August 1914.

Weizmann later recalled: “I saw before me a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman, advanced in years, but very alert and attentive. He was inquisitive about my origin and work.

Afterwards Weizmann wrote to a Zionist colleague about his “long talk” with the editor, noting that Scott had seemed “quite prepared to help us in any endeavor.” “He carries great weight and may be useful,” Weizmann noted.

The two met again soon after at Scott’s place. And in November 1914 Scott wrote to Weizmann: “I was immensely interested in what you told me of your hopes and plans. There are so few people who have the courage of an ideal and at the same time the insight and energy which make it possible.”

More than a political comrade, Scott became Weizmann’s mentor, providing him with an entree to the highest echelons of British political circles. He found Weizmann “extraordinarily interesting, a rare combination of idealism and the severely practical which are the two essentials of statesmanship.”

Indispensible counselor

Soon after they met Weizmann wrote to Scott: “It is the first time in my life I have spoken out to a non-Jew all the intimate thoughts and desiderata. You gave me courage and please forgive my brutal frankness. If I would have spoken to a man I value less, I would have been more diplomatic.”

In his autobiography Weizmann recorded: “It became a practice with me whenever I happened to be in London [from Manchester] and Mr. Scott came up on the night train, to meet him at Euston Station for breakfast. His usual greeting to me was: ‘Now, Dr. Weizmann, tell me what you want me to do for you,’ and breakfast would pass in conversation on Zionist affairs.”

Scott soon became thoroughly immersed in the Jewish problem and believed, as did Weizmann, that Britain could help make possible the rebirth of a Jewish homeland.

After their second meeting Scott had told Weizmann: “I would like to do something for you.” To a dubious Weizmann, Scott then offered to introduce him to Herbert Samuel, the first non-baptized Jewish government minister, who Weizmann incorrectly assumed to be an anti-Zionist.

Even more crucially, it was Scott who introduced Weizmann to the then chancellor of the exchequer, Lloyd George, over a breakfast at which Samuel was present. And when Lloyd George became Minister of Munitions during the Great War (WWI), Scott alerted him to Weizmann’s important contribution as a chemist to the war effort.

Unitarian ethos

Born in Bath on October 26, 1846, Charles Prestwich Scott was one of the eight children of Isabella and Russell Scott. His father was a coal company executive and Charles was raised as a Unitarian (a liberal Christian denomination). In 1869 he graduated from Oxford’s Corpus Christi College with a BA in literature.

The extended Scott family owned the Manchester Guardian, today known as the Guardian. Scott’s father was the paper’s owner for a short while. He himself joined the paper in 1871 and became its editor in January 1872.

From 1895 to 1906 Scott served as both a Liberal Party parliamentary backbencher and as Manchester Guardian editor, thus wielding a great deal of influence. By 1906 he had retired from parliament. Eventually he purchased the Guardian outright.

Progressive outlook

By no means an imperialist, Scott backed Irish Home Rule and opposed the imperialist camp within his Liberal Party on South Africa. He would later oppose Britain’s intervention against the Bolsheviks (1918-1919) and the military’s campaign against the Irish in 1920-21.

On the domestic front he championed the right of women to vote. Women’s suffrage was achieved in 1918.

Scott had been against Britain’s entry into World War I (the Great War) and was tarred by critics as “unpatriotic.” Yet he was a realist. Once Britain was in the war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Palestine, was in the offing he did not want to see Britain outmaneuvered by France in the Middle East. Though aware of a local Arab population in the country, he saw a Jewish Palestine as being in the British interest, a friendly buffer.


Chaim Weizmann’s biographer, Jehuda Reinharz,  writes that “Weizmann’s relationship to Scott was never explained by either man. It is not clear what the two had in common, how often they met, and whether their conversations ranged beyond Zionism and Weizmann’s contribution to the British war effort.”

Historian of Zionism Walter Laqueur offers a possible clue. Scott was a “Bible-reading man” who had considered becoming a Unitarian minister. In Weizmann, Scott wrote, he saw a “perfectly clear conception of Jewish nationalism, an intense and burning sense of the Jew as Jew just as strong, perhaps more so, as that of the German as German or the Englishman as Englishman.”

Scott himself wrote that Weizmann had opened his mind to the Jewish Question. He admired the Zionist’s combination of idealism and practicality.

And in a letter to Harry Sacher, a former Guardian journalist and Weizmann disciple who became a British Zionist leader, Scott wrote approvingly of Weizmann’s single-mindedness regarding Zionism’s goal of establishing a country for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland.

For his part, Weizmann made almost no move regarding British politics without consulting Scott. According to Reinharz, “More than anyone else, C.P. Scott was instrumental in bringing Weizmann in contact with many of the policymakers of the empire.” He was, adds Reinharz, Weizmann’s “closest and most loyal non-Jewish patron” during the Balfour Declaration era.

For example, at a meeting on April 12, 1917 with Vicomte Robert de Caix, an editor at the Paris-based Le Journal des Debats, Scott learned about the Sykes-Picot accord, which had been agreed to by Britain and France a year before. He informed Weizmann that the secret deal to divide Syria and Palestine between the two powers with the remainder internationalized would leave nothing for a Jewish homeland.

Scott was also a member of the British Palestine Committee established towards the end of 1916 to lobby for British sponsorship of the Zionist idea.

His efforts came to fruition when on November 2, 1917 the British government, led by Scott’s comrade Prime Minister Lloyd George, issued the Balfour Declaration in support of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.

Journalistic integrity

When C. P. Scott died aged 85 on January 1, 1932 Mancunians turned out en masse for his funeral. His university-educated wife, Rachel Cook Scott, had predeceased him in 1905. They had four children.

Scott was editor of the Guardian for 57 years, retiring in 1929 when his son Edward Taylor Scott took over. Still, he continued to serve on the newspaper’s board of governors. Until he was about 80 he would cycle daily from his estate to the newspaper’s offices.

In eulogizing Scott The Times wrote: “He consulted and was consulted by men of good will in all parties and if ever his diaries see the light it will be revealed how helpful was the part he played behind the political scene in the last 20 years of his life.”

Nobel Peace Prize winner Robert Cecil (1864-1958) allowed that C.P. Scott had “made righteousness readable.”

Scott, who was associated with the Manchester Guardian for the better part of 60 years, famously encapsulated his journalistic philosophy this way:

“A newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free, but facts are sacred…. “

Learn more about CP Scott


The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911-1928 edited by T. Wilson

C. P. Scott, 1846–1932: The making of the “Manchester Guardian” edited by Frederick Muller

The Guardian: Biography of a Newspaper by David Ayerst