The Nation was founded in response to the Liberal success in the 1906 General Election. Edited by the radical journalist, H. W. Massingham it began publication in March 1907. During the First World War Massingham, a supporter of the Union of Democratic Control, used the journal to campaign for a negotiated peace.
During the First World War Massingham changed The Nation from a Liberal, to a Labour supporting journal. H. M. Tomlinson became literary editor and contributors to the magazine included J. L. Hammond, H. N. Brailsford, J. A. Hobson, Leonard Woolf and Harold Laski.
H. W. Massingham remained editor until April, 1923 when Joseph Rowntree decided to sell the journal to a group headed by John Maynard Keynes. Aware that Maynard Keynes was a supporter of the Liberal Party, Massingham decided to resign. Under the influence of Keynes, The Nationwas used as a vehicle to attack the economic policies of Stanley Baldwin and his Conservative Government.
In the late 1920s Keynes moved to the left. When his friend, Kingsley Martin became editor of The New Statesman in 1930, he suggested an amalgamation of the two journals. Over the next ten years the New Statesman & Nation became Britain's leading intellectual weekly.
The Nation was edited by H. W. Massingham, a great journalist who, as Leonard Woolf put it, "was able to distill the essence of a very strange personality into every crevice of his paper." The Nation gained a great reputation by standing for a negotiated peace during the war; its attacks on Lloyd George after the war, particularly on the issue of Irish freedom, became ferocious. Massingham became increasingly a supporter of the Labour Party. He collected a brilliant group of people round him. Massingham's Nation came to an end because the Rowntrees, the principal owners of the paper, tolerant and long-suffering Quakers, at last protested that he had turned the Liberal organ into a Labour Party weekly.
I have served as a correspondent for nearly twenty years in many countries and under all sorts of conditions. I think I know all the tricks of the trade, and I have seen many of them practised. But I cannot foresee how any correspondent could give away his country or do the smallest public injury under these regulations, even if he wanted to. Take things as they stand. Twelve of us have been selected to accompany the British Force. It is absolutely impossible to imagine men of this experience and quality giving away our country or making dangerous revelations or mistakes, even if they stood under no regulations at all. They simply would not do it. They would rather die.
We have all engaged servants, bought horses, and weighed our kit. Everything is ready, and yet we are kept chafing here, week after week, while a war for the destiny of the world is being fought within a day's journey, and others of our colleagues are allowed to go dashing about France in motors almost up to the very front. I do not make light of their splendid courage and resource. I can only envy their opportunities. The vivid pictures they send of panic and destruction, the stories they learn from wounded and refugees, are the only accounts that the British people have been allowed to hear of the reality of the war.
My appointment as editor of the New Statesman seemed to Keynes a golden opportunity for getting rid of a costly incubus. He wrote in August 1930 that in view of the Manchester Guardian's "very non-committal attitude to everything" he was not surprised that I was leaving. Later we had a long conversation, while, for some reason or other, he was changing his socks.
"Are you a Socialist or a Liberal?" I said, "A Socialist". I did not then understand fully what was in his mind. He had decided that England must break sharply with the Liberal tradition.
"Are you going to stand for the necessary interference with free trade and laissez-faire?"
Reassured on this point, he offered an amalgamation of the Nation with the New Statesman, only stipulating that it should not be a merger but a genuine union of the two newspapers.