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Herbert Samuel (Herbert Louis Samuel)

Herbert Samuel was an outstanding politician. He served as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Postmaster-General and Home Secretary in the British Cabinet. In 1920 he was appointed the 1st High Commissioner of Palestine and held office until 1925. In 1937 he was granted the title Viscount Samuel. Herbert was the leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords (1944–55).


  • Herbert Samuel was born on November 6, 1870 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. He was son of a wealthy banker and the brother of Sir Stuart Samuel.

  • Education

    • Samuel grew up in London, attending University College School. His upbringing was Orthodox in the conventional Anglo-Jewish mold. While an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, Samuel underwent a spiritual crisis as a result of which he lost faith in Judaism. In deference to his family, however, he maintained outward observances and membership in the Jewish community. His father, who died when Samuel was a child, left him a secure income. As a result he never had to work for a living and decided at an early age to devote his life to progressive politics. While still a student he was adopted as a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Liberal party.


    • In 1902 he was elected to the House of Commons and in 1909 he became the first Jew to serve in a British cabinet. As postmaster general from 1910 to 1914 Samuel bore the brunt of anti-Semitic attacks and false accusations of corruption in the Marconi scandal. He emerged with his reputation unblemished.

      In 1914 he was president of the local goverment board, in 1915 again postmaster general, and in 1916 home secretary. In 1915 Samuel circulated to the cabinet a memorandum advocating British sponsorship of Zionism in Palestine. Behind the scenes, Samuel played a prominent role in the discussions that led to the British government’s pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration of November 1917. In 1920 he was appointed first high commissioner under the British mandate in Palestine. His period of rule was marked by the severe Arab anti-Jewish riots of May 1921. Samuel responded with a policy of conciliation of Arab nationalism that alienated many of his former Zionist admirers. In the white paper policy statement of 1922, largely formulated by Samuel, the British government enunciated the criterion of economic absorptive capacity as the basis for decision making on Jewish immigration to Palestine. By the time Samuel left Palestine in 1925, peace had been restored and Jewish immigration was buoyant. The foundations of the Jewish national home in Palestine had been securely laid, but Samuel’s efforts to draw the Arabs of Palestine into the political community had failed. Samuel had hoped to retire in Palestine and write philosophy books in a house on Mount Carmel. However, his successor forbade him to remain.

      Back in England in 1926, he played a major role in ending the general strike. In 1931 he returned to the cabinet as home secretary in Ramsay MacDonald’s National Government. As Liberal leader between 1931 and 1935 he maintained the party’s independence but saw it dwindle into a small parliamentary rump. Ennobled in 1937, Samuel took the title Viscount Samuel of Mount Carmel and of Toxteth, Liverpool. He remained active in public life into old age, wrote several books on philosophy, and became a much-admired radio broadcaster. He continued to speak regularly in the House of Lords, delivering his last important speech there at the age of ninety.

      Regarded as the most distinguished figure in Anglo-Jewry of his time, Samuel was active in the 1930s in work on behalf of the emigration and succor of German Jews. A strong opponent of the partition of Palestine, he nevertheless welcomed the creation of the State of Israel. Samuel called himself a meliorist. His most fundamental belief was in human rationality and capacity to improve society. Beneath a frosty exterior he concealed a fervent belief in humanitarian causes. His moderate Zionism represented a synthesis of his English.

      His Jewishness, his liberalism and his imperialism, his political practicality and the religious sensibility that, particularly in later life, colored much of his thought. His writings include the philosophical works "Practical Ethics", "Belief and Action", and "Creature Man'.

    Major achievements

    • In 1937 he was granted the title Viscount Samuel


    Samuel rejected laissez-faire liberalism and was firmly on the left of the party. His thinking remained firmly within the framework of Liberalism and his attachment to the Liberal Party never wavered.

    Party affiliation: Liberal Party


    Samuel rejected his family's orthodox Judaism at the age of about twenty. He maintained his links with the Jewish community and in later life became one of its respected figures, but his religious ideas were tempered by a rationalist, scientific humanism.

    Denomination: Judaism, Zionism


    • He was married Beatrice Franklin. They had four children: Edwin, Philip, Godfrey and Nancy.
    • Wife: Beatrice Franklin
      She was active in Liberal politics and served on the executive of the Women Liberal Federation. She and Herbert had three sons and one daughter.
    • Son: Edwin
    • Son: Philip
    • Son: Godfrey
    • Daughter: Nancy


    • Herbert Samuel: A Political Life
    • Herbert Samuel's extraordinarily long political career began in the age of Gladstone and ended in the era of Grimond. Wasserstein assesses the vital role played by Samuel in the survival of the Liberal Party and his part in translating that doctrine into legislation that laid the foundations of the welfare state. He played a central role in the history of Zionism, serving as first British High Commissioner in Palestine from 1920 to 1925. He returned to office in the National Government of 1931, and led the Liberal Party between 1931 and 1935. In later life Samuel established himself as a philosopher, a respected elder statesman, and a much admired broadcaster. Wasserstein's scholarly and readable biography, based on extensive research in all the available sources, provides a rounded portrait of a leading twentieth-century political figure.

    Herbert Samuel
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    Born November 6, 1870
    Died February 2, 1963
    (aged 92)
    • 1902 - 1916
      Member of Parliament for the Cleveland, Parliament
      United Kingdom, London
    • June 25, 1909 - February 14, 1910
      Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet
      United Kingdom, London
    • February 14, 1910 - February 11, 1914
      Postmaster-General, Cabinet
      United Kingdom, London
    • 1914 - 1915
      President, Local Government Board
    • May 26, 1915 - January 18, 1916
      Postmaster-General, Cabinet
      United Kingdom, London
    • November 25, 1915 - February 11, 1916
      Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet
      United Kingdom, London
    • January 12, 1916 - December 7, 1916
      Home Secretary, Cabinet
      United Kingdom, London
    • July 1, 1920 - June 25, 1925
      1st High Commissioner of Palestine, The office of the High Commissioner of Palestine
      Jerusalem, Israel
    • August 26, 1931 - October 1, 1932
      Home Secretary, Cabinet
      United Kingdom, London
    • 1944 - 1955
      Leader of the Liberal Party, House of Lords
      United Kingdom, London
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    • Relatives
      • Beatrice Franklin
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