Whitehall, London: 1909. TLS. This is a 13 August 1909 typed, signed, and hand-corrected letter from future Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill to future Prime Minister David Lloyd George. In this letter, the once and future Conservative Party scion promotes a strikingly radical Liberal land reform tax policy intended not merely to fund government, but to systematically redistribute wealth.
Land reform was a fulcrum controversy of the watershed “People’s Budget” of 1909, which forced a reckoning with the House of Lords and the General Election of 1910. This letter also suggests that Churchill – not David Lloyd George – may have initially advocated for this particular policy.
Churchill’s letter might be best characterized as a mini policy paper on what would become the “Acceptance in lieu” provision in British tax law, under which inheritance tax debts may be written off in exchange for property surrendered to the state. This was specifically proposed as an alternative means for the wealthy to pay increased inheritance taxes imposed by the People’s Budget of 1909.
Churchill’s 644 words are typed and hand-written on four pages of his Board of Trade stationery. “Private” is typed and underscored at the top left. The salutation “My dear Lloyd George” and valediction “Yours vy sincerely. | Winston S. Churchill” are in Churchill’s hand, with seven minor hand-corrections to pages two and three. The letter is in near-fine condition, only slightly soiled and toned, each leaf with a single horizontal crease from original posting and a small circular hole punched at the upper left, ostensibly for filing. The letter is housed in an archival mylar sleeve within a crimson cloth folder.
In August 1909, Churchill was only 34. He had abandoned his father’s Conservative Party in 1904 to become a Liberal, beginning a dynamic, progressive chapter in his political career. He swiftly became integral to Liberal parliamentary presence and electoral success. He was appointed President of the Board of Trade in 1908 - his first Cabinet position. Of course, Churchill did not regard his remit as confined to the scope of his office. Hence this letter to fellow Liberal firebrand, David Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer and responsible for the budget.
Churchill wrote: “I have been turning over in my mind the question we touched upon yesterday, about allowing landowners the option of paying Death Duties in land.” Churchill makes his position clear: “…it appeals to my sense of justice and to my notions of policy” which he articulates in detail. His central argument is that “It may be… that great estates should be broken up; but it cannot be in anybody’s interest that they should be merely encumbered.”
Churchill’s position is not equivocal: “…we must… view with favor all transferences of land to the state.” – a perspective he substantiates at some length, arguing why land ceded to the state will better serve the public good than land privately owned. As a sop, he adds that using land to pay “Death Duties” is also “a protection to the owner against unduly high estate assessments”.
After articulating the political philosophy, Churchill bolsters his argument with budget impact estimates alleging that “The effect upon the revenue should not be large”. Churchill’s closing exhortation is: “Please consider this; and after we have had a talk I think I will bring it up with the Cabinet.”
Arguably more than any other issue, land reform led Churchill to be branded a traitor to his class. It also leveraged the Liberal Party’s policy agenda and political fortunes in the years preceding the First World War. On 30 November the House of Lords decisively voted down the Finance Bill. Prime Minister Asquith declared a constitutional crisis, discontinued the Parliamentary session and called a General Election – the first of two held in 1910. The Liberals prevailed, the People’s Budget became law, and the House of Lords lost the right to amend or defeat finance bills. Item #004957