Reading, Rufus Daniel Isaacs, First Marquess of

(1860–1935)
   British jurist and viceroy of India. Rufus Isaacs’ father was a London fruit merchant, and expected him to enter the business, but he ran away to sea as a ship’s boy at the age of sixteen. On his return he was determined to get rich quickly, and by nineteen was admitted to the Stock Exchange. Five years later, he was Hammered out’ (suspended) for being unable to meet his debts to clients. (They were all paid off within the next ten years.) He then turned to law, and in 1887 was admitted to the bar as a member of Middle Temple. Without a university education or useful connections, it took him several years to start making a living as a barrister. He then rose rapidly, and was reputed for his grasp of commercial and financial issues and his skill in cross-examination. In 1896 he took silk, that is, became a queen’s counsel, and within a few years was the recognized leader of the English bar.
   In 1904, Isaacs was elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal member for Reading. In 1910 he was appointed solicitor-general, and then attorney-general, with a Cabinet seat, and was knighted the same year. He would have been considered for the post of lord chancellor, but for the Marconi scandal of 1912, in which Isaacs, LLOYD GEORGE and Sir Herbert SAMUEL, all members of the government, were accused of making money from the shares of the Marconi Company that had signed a contract with the British Post Office for the construction of wireless (radio) stations. Isaacs and the others were exonerated by a parliamentary enquiry. In 1913 he was appointed lord chief justice and was elevated to the peerage, taking the title of Lord Reading of Erleigh. The most famous and difficult case over which he presided was the treason charge against Sir Roger Casement, who was convicted and hanged for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland.
   During World War I, the British government drew on Sir Rufus Isaacs’ financial and negotiating talents. At the outset of the war, he averted a major crisis in the London money market by proposing that the acceptance of bills of exchange should be backed by a state guarantee. In 1915, he headed an Anglo- French loan commission to the United States that secured a $500 million loan to finance the purchase of Allied supplies in America. He returned to the United States early in 1917, to encourage American participation in the war on the Allies’ side. In February 1918, he crossed the Atlantic for the third time with the vital mission of persuading President Woodrow WILSON to rush American troops to Europe on a large scale, at a critical point in the war. For this task he was made ambassador in Washington. The United States government agreed to the despatch of half a million men.
   In 1921, Reading succeeded Lord Chelmsford as viceroy and governorgeneral of India - the loftiest position in the British Empire - and went to govern the country he had seen forty years earlier as a ship’s boy. It was a daunting assignment. The Indian sub-continent had nearly 400 million inhabitants of different races and religions. It was in an inflamed state, due to the Amritsar massacre of 1919, and the civil disobedience movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. The Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, designed to produce a measure of provincial autonomy, were rejected by both the Hindu and the Moslem leaders. Yet, when his term of office ended five years later, he was able to claim that the country was relatively free of disturbance, and that a number of constitutional, administrative and military reforms had been brought about. Though ailing, Lady Reading (the former Alice Cohen) had won the affection of Indian women by her concern for social welfare and child care.
   On his return to Britain he was created marquess of Reading. He again became active in the City of London, as chairman or director of a number of companies, including ICI. He took an interest in Jewish communal affairs, and was chairman of the Palestine Electric Corporation. He made a brief return to the political scene in 1931, when he served for a few months as foreign secretary in the national government headed by Ramsay MACDONALD.
   His son Gerald (1889–1960), the second marquess of Reading, was first under-secretary and then minister of state in the Foreign Office between 1951 and 1957. He was married to Eva, the daughter of Lord MELCHETT.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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