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Robert Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood

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Edgar Algernon Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood

Edgar Algernon Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, previously known as Lord Robert Cecil (September 14, 1864 - November 24, 1958) was a lawyer, politician and diplomat. He was one of the architects of the League of Nations and a faithful defender of it, whose decades of service to the that organization saw him awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937.

He was a son of the third Marquess of Salibury (three times Prime Minister in 1885, 1886-1892, and 1895-1902).

The education which Robert absorbed at home until he was thirteen was superior and far more interesting, he wrote in his autobiography, than that in the four years that followed, at Eton. He enjoyed his undergraduate days at Oxford, where he won renown as a debater. After several terms of reading law, he was admitted to the Bar (permitted to practice as a barrister), in 1887, at the age of twenty-three. He was fond of saying that his marriage to Lady Eleanor Lambton two years later was the cleverest thing he had ever done. From 1887 to 1906, Cecil's career was a legal one, involving most of the forms of common law, occasional efforts in Chancery, and a steadily increasing parliamentary practice. He also collaborated in writing a book, entitled Principles of Commercial Law.

In 1906, Cecil was elected as a member of the Conservative Party to the House of Commons, representing East Marylebone from 1906 to 1910. He lost two elections in the next year, and then won as an Independent Conservative in 1911 as member for the Hitchin Division of Hertfordshire, remaining in the Commons until 1923.

Fifty years old at the outbreak of World War I, Cecil went to work for the Red Cross, but with the formation of the coalition government in 1915, he became undersecretary for foreign affairs for a year, served as minister of blockade from 1916 to 1918, being responsible for devising procedures to bring economic and commercial pressure against the enemy, and early in 1918 became assistant secretary of state for foreign affairs.

In September, 1916, he circulated a memorandum making proposals for the avoidance of war, which he says was the "first document from which sprang British official advocacy of the League of Nations."

From the inception of the League, after World War II, to its demise in 1946, a span of almost thirty years, Cecil's public life was almost totally devoted to the League. At the Paris Peace Conference, he was the British representative in charge of negotiations for a League of Nations; from 1920 through 1922, he represented the Dominion of South Africa in the League Assembly; in 1923 he made a five-week tour of the United States, explaining the League to American audiences; from 1923 to 1924, with the title of Lord Privy Seal (to hold which office he was created Viscount Cecil of Chelwood), and from 1924 to 1927, with that of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he was the minister responsible, under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Secretary, for British activities in League affairs.

In 1927, dissatisfied with the attitude of the British cabinet toward the League, Lord Cecil resigned from governmental office and thereafter, although an official delegate to the League as late as 1932, worked independently to mobilize public opinion in support of the League. He was president of the British League of Nations Union from 1923 to 1945, and joint founder and president, with a French Jurist, of the International Peace Campaign, known in France as Rassemblement universel pour la paix. Among his publications during this period were The Way of Peace (1928), a collection of lectures on the League; A Great Experiment (1941), a personalized account of his relationship to the League of Nations; and All the Way (1949), a more complete autobiography.

Lord Cecil's career brought him many honors. In addition to his peerage, he was created Companion of Honour in 1956, was elected chancellor of the University of Birmingham (1918-1944) and rector of the University of Aberdeen (1924-1927), was given the Peace Award of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in 1924 and, most significantly, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937. He was presented with honorary degrees by the Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Liverpool, St. Andrews, Aberdeen, Princeton, Columbia, and Athens.

In the spring of 1946 he participated in the final meetings of the League at Geneva, ending his speech with the sentence: "The League is dead; long live the United Nations!" He was eighty-one. He lived for thirteen more years, occasionally occupying his place in the House of Lords, and supporting international efforts for peace through his honorary life presidency of the United Nations Association. He on died 24 November 1958, and his title died with him, as he left no heirs.


Preceded by:
Austen Chamberlain
Lord Privy Seal
1923–1924
Succeeded by:
John Robert Clynes

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