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National Declaration on the League of Nations and Armaments 1934/5

The Peace Ballot: the first national referendum
League of Nations flag

League of Nations flag

After the Corfu Crisis  and the Manchurian Crisis exposed fundamental weaknesses in the League of Nations Covenant, hope in the League as the means for the peaceful settlement of territorial disputes faded. Increasingly, international questions were dealt with outside the workings of the League. In these circumstances, Lord Robert Cecil and the League’s supporters in the UK decided that popular support for the League, which they believed still existed, must be vocalised on such a scale that it would be impossible for a democratically elected government to ignore its commitment to the League. Their efforts culminated in the National Declaration on the League of Nations and Armaments or, as it became popularly known, the Peace Ballot.

Cecil proposed his idea to the League of Nations Union Executive on 1 March 1934 and, after 38 bodies agreed to help (Labour and Liberal parties, the TUC, churches, peace and women’s organisations), a committee was set up to co-ordinate the Ballot and a questionnaire drafted asking the public to affirm their support for the League. Many meetings were held but it was through the 500,000 volunteers who went house-to-house that the Ballot was so successful. In Lancaster ‘a minister personally called at every house in his parish for the purpose of distributing the papers.’ (1) By 27 June 1935 over 11 million people had completed the questionnaire. The results showed overwhelming support for the League amongst the British public, prompting Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, to affirm the League would remain ‘the sheet anchor of British policy.’ (2)

References/Further Reading:

(1) Lancaster Guardian, 4 Jan 1935.
(2) Cited in D. S Birn, 1981. The League of Nations Union. Oxford: Clarendon Press.