David Lloyd GeorgePrime Minister during World War I 1863 - 1945
January 11, 1915
Herbert Samuel to Chaim Weizmann: "Mr. Lloyd George… would be very glad if you would breakfast with him next Friday"
January 15, 1915
Weizmann and Samuel breakfast with Lloyd George
Herbert Samuel revamps memo now entitled ‘Palestine’ distributes to Cabinet March 1915. He asks Zionists to prepare memo which became precursor of Balfour Declaration
Lloyd George interviews Weizmann for position in Ministry of Munitions; he is tasked with developing economical way to produce acetone
December 7, 1916
Asquith resigns; Lloyd-George becomes Prime Minister
December 11, 1916
Lloyd George establishes a War Cabinet
March 13, 1917
Chaim Weizmann breakfasts with C.P. Scott; asks for help in getting to see Lloyd George
April 3, 1917
Lloyd George tells Weizmann and C.P. Scott that the British Army's advance into Palestine was the one really interesting part of the war
April 3, 1917
Lloyd George and Lord Curzon meet Sykes on the eve of his departure for Mideast tell him no pledges should be given to the Arabs concerning Palestine
April 4, 1917
Weizmann writes to Sokolow that Lloyd George is "emphatic on the point of British Palestine"
April 20, 1917
Lloyd George says the French will have to accept a British protectorate in Palestine as Britain shall be there by conquest, and shall remain
April 23, 1917
Weizmann sends a memorandum to Philip Henry Kerr, a member of Lloyd George's secretariat.
November 2, 1917
Balfour Declaration issued: Britain promises a national home for the Jews in Palestine
A politician is a person with whose politics you don't agree; if you agree with him he's a statesman.
David Lloyd George was the leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister in the Coalition Government (between 1916 and 1922) under whose rule the 1917 Balfour Declaration— committing Britain to supporting a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine—was approved. His support guaranteed that the Zionist case was placed on the War Cabinet's agenda. A dynamic figure, Lloyd George was no less instrumental in ensuring that the Declaration gained subsequent international legal authority.
The Versailles Peace Conference after World War I led to the founding of the League of Nations and a Mandate system to oversee former German and Turkish territories. Britain's Mandate for Palestine was granted in 1920 at the San Remo conference and approved by the League in 1922. Lloyd George played an essential role every step of the way.
While subsequent British governments and civil servants backpedalled on the spirit of the Balfour Declaration, throughout his life David Lloyd George remained committed to upholding its principles.
His support guaranteed that the Zionist case was placed on the War Cabinet's agenda
While not devoid of “ordinary” anti-Semitism, David Lloyd George was drawn towards the idea of a homeland for the Jewish people partly by his Christian upbringing. “I was taught far more about the history of the Jews than about the history of my own people,” he wrote. “We were thoroughly versed in the history of the Hebrews.”
Lloyd George first came into contact with the Zionist idea in July 1903, when as a solicitor he helped lay the legal groundwork for the Uganda Plan, a scheme that would have created a refuge for persecuted Jews in British East Africa.
Britain declared war against Germany on August 4, 1914; its declaration of war against Turkey did not come until November 5 of that year. That is when Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, said in a conversation with Herbert Samuel, a Zionist, fellow Liberal Party MP, and the first non-baptized Jew to serve in the Cabinet, that he “was very keen to see a Jewish State established in Palestine.”
When he first met the preeminent Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann in December 1914—at the behest of his friend, fellow Liberal Party MP and Manchester Guardian editor C.P. Scott—Lloyd George was already receptive to Zionism.
Zionism wasn’t the only impetus driving Lloyd George’s post-World War I aspiration to split up the Ottoman Empire, which controlled huge swaths of the Middle East—Palestine included—along ethnic lines. He also took into account Turkish atrocities against Armenian Christians in 1915, and Greek Christians beginning in 1913.
And while such sentiments played no small part in Lloyd George’s thinking, on strictly pragmatic grounds he was also determined to make Palestine part of the British Empire, to consolidate the area between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, and to secure the seaways to India.
Moreover, in any post-war rivalry with France for influence in the Middle East, he was unwavering that Palestine should come under British control. He further held that Britain was better suited to oversee the holy places.
This stance dovetailed nicely with Weizmann’s analysis, which regarded British administration of Palestine as vital to Zionist aims.
First elected in 1890 to Parliament as the Member for Caernarvon in Wales, Lloyd George would stay on to represent the constituency for the next 55 years.
On the domestic front he was a religious nonconformist and favoured the disestablishment of the Church of England. His first speech in the House of Commons was in support of temperance—abstinence from alcohol—though his primary political passion was home rule for Wales.
He was uncompromising in his opposition to the Second Boer War (1899-1902), which pitted South African whites against British colonial forces.
In 1905, Lloyd George joined the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade in the government of Liberal Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman.
Chancellor of the Exchequer
When Herbert Asquith (1852–1928) became Liberal Prime Minister in 1908, Lloyd George was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer.
As Chancellor his policies helped the country weather wartime economic turbulence. Notably, he promoted a series of social welfare initiatives and played a huge part in founding Britain’s welfare state. To cover the cost of old-age pensions (between one and five shillings a week to those aged over 70) he proposed a “People’s Budget,” which called for taxing land and income. “Death is the most convenient time to tax rich people,” he once said. The 1911 National Insurance Act for workers was another of his initiatives.
Minister of Munitions
In May 1915, Asquith formed a coalition with the Conservatives and shifted Lloyd George to the Ministry of Munitions. He proved adept at settling industrial disputes and taking measures that improved wartime production.
He met regularly with Weizmann, who in addition to campaigning for the Zionist cause was also known to and respected by the government for his economical methods for developing cordite and acetone for explosives. Weizmann the scientist became Lloyd George’s chemical adviser, making a considerable contribution to the war effort.
Still, according to Weizmann’s biographer Jehuda Reinharz, the notion that Lloyd George rewarded Weizmann’s wartime contributions by supporting Zionism—as the premier himself asserted in his memoirs— is purely mythical. Weizmann certainly didn’t buy it. His retort to Lloyd George’s portrayal of a straightforward quid pro quo was to remark that “history does not deal with Aladdin’s lamps.”
Secretary of State for War
When Field Marshal Horatio Kitchener was lost at sea in June 1916 after his ship struck a German mine, Lloyd George briefly— from June 6 until December 5, 1916—became Minister for War.
Disenchanted with Asquith’s leadership, Lloyd George helped prompt his departure and then succeeded him as Prime Minister on December 6, 1916. For Zionists, this meant crucially that they had a strong ally at Number 10 Downing Street as well as in Arthur James Balfour, newly appointed at the Foreign Office.
In the new Conservative-Liberal War Cabinet of five ministers, Lloyd George was the only Liberal. Yet he galvanized the war effort, taking an active role in military strategy, to the chagrin of the general staff. He also boosted popular morale during the darker days of the conflict. And he brought in Mark Sykes as one of his advisers.
He took intense interest in and spurred on the British military campaign to take Palestine. Before Sykes left for Egypt in April 3, 1917 to become political adviser to Gen. Edmund Allenby, Lloyd George laid out his policy: Palestine had to be under British rule; no promises should be made to the Arabs regarding the country; and nothing should be done to undermine the Zionist objectives in Palestine.
On October 4, 1917 the War Cabinet, with Lloyd George and Balfour in the lead, debated the latest draft—crafted by Leopold Amery—of what would come to be known as the Balfour Declaration. Inside the Cabinet in the days leading up to the November 2, 1917 Declaration, Lloyd George enthusiastically backed Zionist aspirations. He told Weizmann, “I know that with the issue of this Declaration I shall please one group [the Zionists] and displease another [the Jewish assimilationists]. I have decided to please your group because you stand for a great idea.”
In his memoirs, Lloyd George explained how he understood the Balfour Declaration:
“As to the meaning of the words ‘national home’ to which the Zionists attach so much importance… it was contemplated that when the time arrived for according representative institutions to Palestine, if the Jews had meanwhile responded to the opportunity afforded them and had become a definite majority of the inhabitants, then Palestine would thus become a Jewish Commonwealth.
“The notion that Jewish immigration would have to be artificially restricted in order that the Jews should be a permanent minority never entered the head of anyone engaged in framing the policy. That would have been regarded as unjust and as a fraud on the people to whom we were appealing.”
When the terrible war finally ended on November 11, 1918, Britain could move to formalize its Jewish homeland commitment.
In April 1920, after the San Remo Conference, having been instrumental in bringing about international ratification of the Balfour Declaration, Lloyd George told Weizmann: “Now you have got your start, it all depends upon you.”
Next, Lloyd George appointed Herbert Samuel, strongly identified as a Zionist, as Britain’s first High Commissioner in Palestine, with effect from July 1, 1920. It was a controversial selection disparaged by generals and Arabist civil service mandarins alike.
By October 19, 1922, Lloyd George was out of office. He stayed on in the House of Commons until his death in 1945. But he would be Britain’s last Liberal prime minister.
The successive Conservative governments of Andrew Bonar Law, Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald and Neville Chamberlain were markedly less sympathetic towards the Zionist idea. Indeed, by the time the Second World War erupted, the gates of Palestine were effectively closed to Jewish immigration.
As to the meaning of the words 'national home' to which the Zionists attach so much importance… it was contemplated that when the time arrived for according representative institutions to Palestine, if the Jews had meanwhile responded to the opportunity afforded them and had become a definite majority of the inhabitants, then Palestine would thus become a Jewish Commonwealth.
After Downing Street
Now a former Prime Minister, Lloyd George continued his support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In 1925 he characterized himself as a “proselyte,” invoking “acetone” and crediting his “conversion” to “my friend Dr. Weizmann.” And in 1927 he told a Jewish audience: “I was glad to take part in the Zionist declaration. It was a very remarkable member of your race who directed and guided me in that—Dr. Weizmann, whom I regard it as a great privilege to have met, one of the noblest and most unselfish men I have ever met.”
Of his support for Zionism during the Great War he said: “There we were, confronted with your people in every country of the world, very powerful. You may say you have been oppressed and persecuted—that has been your power! You have been hammered into fine steel… And therefore we wanted your help. We thought it would be very useful.”
His rather inflated view of Jewish influence even extended to Russian Jewish Bolsheviks whose motivations were, in fact, quite antithetical to Jewish nationalism.
In the face of official British backtracking on Zionism, Lloyd George did not waver. He argued passionately against the 1930 White Paper that came in the wake of the Arab riots of 1929, and which restricted Jewish settlement in Palestine.
And in testimony before the 1937 Peel Commission, Lloyd George explained that the Balfour Declaration “contemplated that when the time arrived for according representative institutions for Palestine, if the Jews had meanwhile responded to the opportunity afforded them and had become a definite majority of the inhabitants, then Palestine would thus become a Jewish commonwealth.”
He asserted that halting Jewish immigration to Palestine would be “a fraud.”
Again in 1939, he spoke out against the way that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had responded to Palestinian Arab violence – which was to issue an anti-Zionist White Paper intended to severely restrict Jewish immigration.
As Prime Minister he had taken an uncompromising stance against Germany and went to the Versailles peace conference intent on making Germany pay for the Great War. His subsequent misgivings over Versailles led to a brief flirtation with Hitler’s Germany.
In 1936 Lloyd George visited the Nazi dictator at his estate in the Bavarian Alps. He came back believing that “the Germans have definitely made up their minds never to quarrel with us again.” This led him to urge that Hitler’s diplomatic overtures be taken at face value.
But by May 1939 he saw the situation more clearly and dropped appeasement. He would have wanted Britain to have Russia as an ally before taking on the Germans. His May 1940 speech in the House of Commons was instrumental in pressuring Chamberlain to resign, thus setting the stage for Winston Churchill to take over.
I was glad to take part in the Zionist declaration. It was a very remarkable member of your race who directed and guided me in that—Dr. Weizmann, whom I regard it as a great privilege to have met, one of the noblest and most unselfish men I have ever met.
David Lloyd George was born on January 17, 1863, outside Manchester to Welsh parents. His father, William George, died when he was an infant and David was raised by his mother, Elizabeth, the daughter of a Baptist minister. He was taken to Wales when he was only two months old; his maternal uncle, Richard Lloyd, took him under his wing. In his teens—and now known as David Lloyd George—he trained as a solicitor and was articled at age 16 to a firm of solicitors in Wales. In 1884 he received a law degree and soon established his own office. At the age of 25 he married Margaret Owen, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, with whom he had four children.
Two years after Margaret died in 1941, he married Frances Louise Stevenson, his personal secretary of 30 years. Margaret had never moved to London, and it was an open secret in his inner circle that Lloyd George was a womanizer.
As his end drew near, he returned to Wales in 1944, stricken by cancer, and towards the end of the year was elevated to the peerage. He died aged 82 on March 26, 1945, one month and 12 days short of V-E Day.
There is a mountain and a school in Canada named after David Lloyd George, as well as an avenue in Cardiff. Both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have named streets after him. But his lasting legacy is the Jewish homeland itself, which he championed when it most mattered.
The notion that Jewish immigration would have to be artificially restricted in order that the Jews should be a permanent minority never entered the head of anyone engaged in framing the policy. That would have been regarded as unjust and as a fraud on the people to whom we were appealing.
Learn more about Lloyd George
David & Winston: How a Friendship Changed History by Robert Lloyd George
British Prime Ministers from Balfour to Brown by Robert Pearce and Graham Goodlad
David Lloyd George: The Official Biography by Malcolm Thomson
David Lloyd George: A Biography by Peter Rowland
Lloyd George: British Prime Ministers by Kenneth O. Morgan
The Unknown Lloyd George: A Statesman in Conflict by Travis Crosby
David Lloyd George (1863-1945)
David Lloyd George – World War One Prime Minister: World War One Prime Minister of Britain 1916-1922