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Herbert Samuel Edit Profile

also known as Herbert Louis Samuel

Government official , politician

Herbert Louis Samuel was a British Liberal politician who was the party leader from 1931 to 1935. He was the first nominally-practising Jew, although a personal atheist, to serve as a Cabinet minister and to become the leader of a major British political party. Samuel was the last member of the Liberal Party to hold one of the four Great Offices of State. He also served as a diplomat.


Herbert Samuel was born at Claremont No. 11 Belvidere Road, Toxteth, Liverpool, Lancashire, in 1870. The building now houses part of the Belvedere Academy.


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 1917, Britain occupied Palestine (then part of the Ottoman Empire) during the course of the First World War. Samuel lost his seat in the election of 1918 and became a candidate to represent British interests in the territory.

He was appointed to the position of High Commissioner in 1920, before the Council of the League of Nations approved a British mandate for Palestine. Nonetheless, the military government withdrew to Cairo in preparation for the expected British Mandate, which was finally granted two years later by the League of Nations. He served as High Commissioner until 1925. Samuel was the first Jew to govern the historic land of Israel in 2000 years.

He recognised Hebrew as one of the three official languages of the territory. He was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) on 11 June 1920.

Samuel's appointment to High Commissioner of Palestine was controversial. While the Zionists welcomed the appointment of a Zionist Jew to the post, the military government, headed by Edmund Allenby and Louis Bols, called Samuel's appointment "highly dangerous".

Technically, Allenby noted, the appointment was illegal, as a civil administration that would compel the inhabitants of an occupied country to express their allegiance to it before a formal peace treaty (with the Ottoman Empire) was signed violated both military law and the Hague Convention. Bols said the news was received with "consternation, despondency and exasperation" by the Muslims and Christians. Allenby said that the Arabs would see it "as handing country over at once to a permanent Zionist Administration" and predicted massive violence.

As High Commissioner, Samuel attempted to mediate between Zionist and Arab interests, acting to slow Jewish immigration and win the confidence of the Arab population. He hoped to gain Arab participation in mandate affairs and to guard their civil and economic rights, but refused them any authority that could be used to stop Jewish immigration and land purchase. According to Wasserstein his policy was "subtly designed to reconcile Arabs to the... pro-Zionist policy" of the British.

Islamic custom at the time was that the chief Islamic spiritual leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, was to be chosen by the temporal ruler, the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople, from a group of clerics nominated by the indigenous clerics. After the British conquered Palestine, Samuel chose Hajj Amin al-Husayn, who later proved a thorn in the side of the British administration in Palestine. At the same time, he enjoyed the respect of the Jewish community, and he was honoured by being called to the Torah at the Hurva synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Samuel won the confidence of all sections of the population by his noted "impartiality". He struck a particularly strong relationship with Pinhas Rutenberg, granting him exclusive concessions to produce and distribute electricity in Palestine and Trans-Jordan, often strongly backing Rutenberg in his relations with the Colonial Office in London. Samuel government signed the Ghor-Mudawarra Land Agreement with the Baysan Valley Bedouin tribes, that earmarked for transfer 179,545 dunams of state land to the Bedouin.

On his return to Britain in 1925, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin asked Samuel to look into the problems of the mining industry. The Samuel Commission published its report in March 1926, recommending a reorganisation of the industry but rejecting the suggestion of nationalisation. The report also recommended the government subsidy to be withdrawn and the miners' wages reduced. The report was one of the leading factors that led to the 1926 General Strike.

Samuel returned to the House of Commons following the 1929 general election. Two years later, he became deputy leader of the Liberal Party and acted as leader in the summer of 1931 when Lloyd George was ill. Under Samuel, the party served in the first National Government of Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald formed in August 1931, with Samuel himself serving as Home Secretary. However the government's willingness to consider the introduction of protectionist tariffs and call a general election to seek a mandate led to the Liberal Party fragmenting into three distinct groups. Sir John Simon had already led a breakaway group of MPs to form the Liberal National Party.

The Liberal leader, Lloyd George, led a small group of Independent Liberals, opposing the National Government. That left Samuel effectively as leader of the parliamentary party and in control of party headquarters. The government's moves to introduce tariffs caused further friction for the Liberals, and Samuel withdrew the party from the government in stages, first obtaining the suspension of cabinet collective responsibility on the matter to allow Liberal members of the government to oppose tariffs. In October 1932, the Liberal ministers resigned their ministerial posts but continued to support the National Government in Parliament. Finally, in November 1933, Samuel and the bulk of the Liberal MPs crossed the floor of the House of Commons and opposed the government outright. He remained leader of the Liberal Party until he again lost his seat in 1935.

In 1937, he was granted the title Viscount Samuel; later that year, Samuel, despite his Jewish ancestry, aligned himself with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy towards Adolf Hitler, urged that Germany be cleared of its 1914 war guilt and recommended the return of German colonies lost after the war. He declined a later offer by Chamberlain to return to government.

In 1938, he supported the Kindertransport movement for refugee children from Europe with an appeal for homes for them.

Samuel later became the leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords (1944-1955). During the 1951 general election, on 15 October 1951, Samuel became the first British politician to deliver a party political broadcast on television.


  • In 1937 he was granted the title Viscount Samuel


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.


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.


On 17 November 1897 Samuel married his first cousin Beatrice Miriam (1871–1959), daughter of Ellis Abraham Franklin, a banker. They had three sons and one daughter. His son, Edwin, served in the Jewish Legion.

Samuel was great uncle to the scientist Rosalind Franklin.

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.