The Library of CongressExhibitionsChurchill Exhibition
Churchill and the Great Republic
Interactive Exhibition About the Exhibition Read More About It Acknowledgements Text Version
  Forebears and Family
Warrior for Empire
Visits to America
American Presidents
The Communicator
The Politician
World War II
Cold Warrior
The Long Sunset
The Politician
His Father's Son
In 1900 Churchill began a remarkable career in the same political world where his father, Randolph, had left a brilliant, if brief, impression. Elected to Parliament as a hero of the Boer War, Churchill soon became known for his indefatigable energy and rhetorical eloquence.
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"Spy" [Leslie Ward]. Winston,1900
"Spy" [Leslie Ward]. A Younger Son, 1880
Winston Churchill addressing Unionist Party meeting, August 10, 1901
The Dance of Politics
A fervent advocate of free trade and low tariffs, Churchill switched his political affiliation from Conservative to Liberal in 1904. Many viewed his action as disloyal and opportunistic. Churchill's subsequent career, however, revealed strong inclinations toward social reform and a concern for the welfare of the less fortunate. Churchill's ascent to power became even more rapid after the Liberals won a decisive electoral victory in 1906. In swift succession, his party's leaders entrusted to him a series of important positions leading to a seat in the Cabinet. By 1911, at the age of thirty-six, he was serving as First Lord of the Admiralty--the civilian head of Britain's navy. On the eve of World War I the young politician had established himself as one of his nation's most influential public figures.
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Edward Tennyson Reed. Parliamentary ‘Liberty Men' Return to H.M.S. ‘Loquacity,' 1908
Winston Churchill to The Duke of Marlborough, December 7, 1909
Winston Churchill. Speech on the budget, 1909
Henry Mayo Bateman. Winston Churchill Smiles at the Camera, ca. 1912
Winston Churchill to Oswald Frewen, April 6, 1913
Fall From Power
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 offered Churchill his first opportunity to influence events on a global scale. Dismayed by the development of the bloody stalemate in Europe, Churchill, the energetic First Lord of the Admiralty, promoted the development and use of such new weapons as airplanes and tanks. He also sent an expedition to attack Germany's ally, Turkey, through the Dardanelles Strait. This military effort failed, contributing to his fall from power. Widely blamed and thoroughly disheartened, Churchill volunteered for six months as an infantry officer on the western front.
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John Spencer Churchill to the Duke of Marlborough, July 3, 1915
Winston Churchill to Admiral Lord Fisher, April 8, 1915
H.E.C. Robinson. Dardanelles, Sea of Marmara, Bosporus
Winston Churchill to the Dardanelles Committee, October 4, 1915
Photograph of ANZAC Beach, Gallipoli Peninsula
Anonymous. Winston Churchill in Blenheim Palace, 1916
"Chequered Fortunes"
In 1917, what Churchill called his "chequered fortunes" changed, and he was returned to public office. Churchill took charge of Britain's armaments production and worked closely with his American counterparts until an armistice was concluded on November 11, 1918. Following World War I, Churchill assumed even more responsible political positions. As his government's special emissary, he had mixed success in coping with war-related disruptions in such widely separated places as Russia, Ireland, Palestine, and Iraq. By 1924 Churchill, a Conservative once more, had become Chancellor of the Exchequer, a post once held by his father and considered to be second only to that of prime minister. He would remain in this post until 1929, when the Labor Party returned to power.
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Shane Leslie to Lady Randolph Churchill, August 8, 1917
Winston Churchill to William S. Sims, March 31, 1919
Winston Churchill, 1919
Winston Churchill. "Will America Fail Us?," November 30, 1919
Winston Churchill and T. E. Lawrence, 1921
Underwood &l; Underwood. Winston Churchill, 1924
"The Wilderness Years"
Though he was without an official position, Churchill spent much of the 1930s warning Britain and the world of the danger of Hitler's Nazi Germany. Churchill also continued to express his opinions on domestic British politics. In 1937, when Edward VIII was pressured to resign the throne over his determination to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson, Churchill was one of the few who defended the King. Churchill's support of the King was damaging to him—he was shouted down in Parliament and appeared out of touch with mainstream politics.
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Cartoon from Punch Magazine, November 2, 1938
Robert Boothby to Winston Churchill, January 22, 1932
Winston Churchill to Bernard Baruch, January 1, 1937
Prime Minister
In September 1939 Germany invaded Poland. The attack touched off the world struggle that Churchill would later call "The Unnecessary War" because he felt a firm policy toward aggressor nations after World War I would have prevented the conflict. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain brought Churchill into government again as First Lord of the Admiralty. On May 10, 1940, as the Germans were beginning to attack the British and French ground forces arrayed against them, Churchill became Prime Minister and Minister of Defense. He later wrote, "I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial."
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Winston Churchill to Neville Chamberlain, October 1, 1939
Rollin Kirby. Heavy Firing Heard on the Western Front, 1939
Churchill Inspects Coast Defenses, 1940
Dropping the Pilot
Toward the end of World War II, Churchill's governing coalition dissolved, and he was forced to undertake a political campaign while the sole remaining Axis enemy, Japan, was yet to be defeated. In the middle of the final wartime conference, held in Potsdam, Germany, he learned that the British electorate had turned him and his Conservative Party out of office. After his defeat, his wife Clementine told him, "It may well be a blessing in disguise." Churchill replied, "At the moment it seems quite effectively disguised."
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Daniel Bishop. Dropping the Pilot, 1945
Churchills Leave 10 Downing Street
Return to Office
In the late 1940s, Churchill continued to speak out on the great issues--the Cold War, the atomic bomb, and European unity--always stressing the importance of a "special relationship" between the British Empire and the United States. Then, in October 1951, the Conservative Party won the general election, and he returned as Prime Minister. During his second premiership Churchill worked hard to strengthen Anglo-American relations, retain British global influence, and, above all, initiate a summit meeting with Stalin's successors in the Kremlin.
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United Press. Hail and Farewell, 1953
Winston Churchill Observes the Ceremony of Trooping the Color, 1953
Sir Winston Churchill to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, November 12, 1953
Churchill finally retired from public life in April 1955, at the age of eighty. Although he no longer played an active role in politics, Churchill retained his seat in the British Parliament until 1964. His final years were devoted to writing, painting, travel, and reaping the rewards earned by a lifetime of accomplishment.
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Edwin Marcus. Co-pilots, 1955
United Press. Churchill Bows Out, 1955
Winston Churchill to Henry R. Luce, December 6, 1956
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