Why did Anthony Eden resign in 1938?
These documents relate to a period of mounting tension during the winter of 1937-8. They show how different politicians in the Conservative government at the time viewed the international situation. These men included Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and the MP Winston Churchill.
By this time Germany had already re-occupied the Rhineland in March 1936 against the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and Locarno Pacts. Italy and Germany had formed the Rome-Berlin Axis in October 1936 which meant that Mussolini and Hitler promised to support each other in event of war.
A month later Germany and Japan had signed the Anti-Comintern Pact directed at the Soviet Union. Italy left the League of Nations in 1937 and joined the Anti-Comintern Pact in the same year.
Look at the documents in this lesson and find out about some of the differences between British politicians which existed over foreign policy before the outbreak of the Second World War.
1. Look at Source 1a, b and c. This is a letter from Anthony Eden to Neville Chamberlain.
- Can you describe the tone of the letter in the first paragraph? Is it formal or informal?
- Was it intended to be read by Chamberlain alone do you think?
- What evidence is there from the letter that Eden thought it important to build US support?
- Which aspects of Britain's defences did Eden think needed improving?
- What phrases can you find in the letter that show that Eden seemed to be underplaying his concerns? Clue: think about use of language and tone.
- What do you think the hand written comment made by Chamberlain at the top of the letter suggests? Clue: "No. 11" refers to Downing Street the offices of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
- Why did Eden write this letter to Chamberlain?
- Can you find evidence in the letter for any of the following reasons?
- Eden was trying to put pressure on Chamberlain
- He was trying to alert Chamberlain to the fact that Britain was playing a weak hand and needed a strong ally
- He was calling for rearmament to be taken more seriously
- The letter indicates fundamental tensions over foreign policy which could to flare up later
2. Look at Source 2. This is another letter from Eden to Chamberlain.
- Why has Anthony Eden written this letter?
- What is the tone of the letter?
- If you accept that the differences over foreign policy between the two men are evident in Source 1 can we conclude that Eden's resignation was inevitable? Explain your reasons.
3. Look at Source 3. This is an extract from Churchill's speech to the House of Commons on the 22nd February 1938.
- Why is it helpful to think about how and where this speech was delivered?
- What examples can you find in Churchill's speech of exaggerated or emotive language?
- What is the immediate cause for Eden's resignation according to Churchill?
- Can we trust Churchill's wider explanation for Eden's resignation?
- What are Churchill's views on how foreign policy should be handled at this time?