Charles Alfred John Armstrong (June 17, 1890 - February 6, 1977) was an English politician who served as Prime Minister of England from 1951 until 1960 as well as Leader of the National Party from 1947 to 1960. He also served as Foreign Secretary from 1934 until 1945, his 11 year tenure making him the longest serving Foreign minister in English history.
Known for his pragmatism and diplomatic manner, Armstrong's premiership saw a period of massive economic change in England and the beginning of the English Miracle. During Armstrong's premiership England became a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Armstrong is still rated highly by modern historians, his pragmatic approach to policy and his chairman style of government resulted in very few political upsets during his nearly nine year premiership. He retired from the premiership in 1960 - the last Prime Minister to retire entirely on his own terms - and stepped down from parliament at the 1960 general election.
Charles Armstrong was born on June 17, 1890. He attended Eton from 1903 until 1908, and then read history at Balliol College, Oxford from 1908 until 1912. At Oxford he was active in student politics, and in his final year served as President of the Conservative Club. He sought the Conservative nomination for the Oxford University parliamentary seat in 1912, but was unsuccessful. When the First Great War broke out in 1912 he immediately volunteered, and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Oxfordshire regiment. He saw service in France and was promoted to Captain, but was seriously wounded by shrapnel in the leg in 1914 and was invalided home.
Early Political Career
Whilst recovering he stood in the 1915 general election, this time for the City of Oxford constituency, and was elected unopposed. In March 1916 he returned to France, despite his war wound giving him a slight limp. He served with distinction on the front lines, and by the time of the war's end he was a colonel. He was re-elected MP for Oxford in 1918, but remained in the army until 1920 as an attache in the General Staff. He focused on making a name for himself in parliament. In 1921 he narrowly held onto his seat in a close three way race, although the Conservatives were swept from power nationally. When the Conservatives returned to office in 1924 he became Under-Secretary of State at the Department of War, a job he coveted. In 1927 he moved to become Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office. He lost his seat in the 1929 election, most historians agree that had the Conservatives won the election he would probably have entered cabinet.
In 1931 he was a supporter of the formation of the National Party, and when the party entered government the following year he entered cabinet as Minister of Education.
In 1934 he became Foreign Secretary, a post he was to hold for the next 11 years.
He lost his seat in the 1945 Social Democrat landslide. Had he held it it's likely that he would have replaced Richard Lynton as party leader. However, he was only out of parliament for a few months, returning that November after winning the seat of Hereford in a by-election. In 1947 he finally succeeded Richard Lynton as leader of the National Party. The Nationals made major gains in the 1948 election, but fell just short of toppling the Social Democrats from power.
Armstrong entered office as Prime Minister on May 10th 1951.
Armstrong's style of government was very different from Lynton's, whereas Lynton had been almost a president amongst his cabinet, Armstrong saw himself as little more than a chairman, ensuring his cabinet members were adequately equipped to fulfill their duties and that government policy was well coordinated. Indeed, in many ways it could be argued that the Chancellor, Anthony Edwards, made more of the important governmental decisions than Armstrong.
First Term 1951-1954
The Armstrong government ended rationing in 1952.
The National Party was re-elected in 1954 with an increase in both their number of seats and share of the popular vote.
Second Term 1954-1957
Armstrong also expanded the welfare state, increasing unemployment benefits.
Third Term 1957-1960
Speculation began to mount within the National Party that Armstrong would retire as Prime Minister before the next election, due by 1960. On March 10th 1960 Armstrong resigned as Prime Minister.
Armstrong stood down as MP for Hereford at the 1960 election, and largely withdrew from public life. He suffered a series of strokes in the early 1970s and spent the final years of his life largely bedridden at his home in Sussex. He died on February 6, 1977 at the age of 86.