J. M. Robertson

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J. M. Robertson

John Mackinnon Robertson (14 November 1856[1] – 5 January 1933[2]) was a prolific journalist, advocate of rationalism and secularism, and Liberal Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom for Tyneside from 1906 to 1918.


Robertson was born in Brodrick the Isle of Arran but his father moved the family to Stirling while he was still young where he attended school until the age of 13. He worked first as a clerk and then as a journalist, eventually becoming assistant editor of the Edinburgh Evening News.[3]

He wrote in in February 1906 to a friend that he "gave up the 'divine'" when he was a teenager.[4] His first contact with the freethought movement was as lecture by Charles Bradlaugh in Edinburgh in 1878 and became active in the Edinburgh Secular Society,[5] soon after.[4] It was through the Edinburgh Secular Society that he met William Archer[disambiguation needed] and became writer for the Edinburgh Evening News.[4] Before moving to London to become assistant editor of Bradlaugh's paper National Reformer, subsequently taking over as editor on Bradlaugh's death in 1891.[3] The National Reformer finally closed in 1893. Robertson was also an appointed lecturer for the freethinking South Place Ethical Society[6] from 1899 until the 1920s.

Robertson's political radicalism developed in the 1880s and 1890s, and he first stood for Parliament in 1895, failing to win Bradlaugh's old seat in Northampton as an independent radical liberal. Robertson was a staunch free trader and his Trade and Tariffs (1908) "became a bible for free-traders pursuing the case for cheap food and the expansion of trade".[7]

At the 1918 General election, as a Liberal candidate he contested Wallsend, a constituency based largely on his Tyneside seat, but finished third. In 1923 he contested the General Election as Liberal candidate for Hendon without success.

Robertson died in London in 1933.[3]


Economically, Robertson has been described as an underconsumptionist, and he gave an early form, perhaps the earliest formal statement, of the paradox of thrift in his 1892 book The Fallacy of Saving.[8][9]

Robertson was an advocate of the Jesus-Myth theory, and in several books he argued against the historicity of Jesus. According to Robertson, the character of Jesus in the New Testament developed from a Jewish cult of Joshua, whom he identifies as a solar deity. Oxford theologian and orientalist Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare wrote a key book titled, The Historical Christ; or, An investigation of the views of Mr. J. M. Robertson, Dr. A. Drews, and Prof. W. B. Smith (1913), directed against the Christ myth theory defended by the three authors.

Selected works[edit]

  • History of Freethought in the Nineteenth Century, (1899)
  • John Mackinnon Robertson (1900). Christianity and mythology. Watts.  (1900)
  • John Mackinnon Robertson (1902). A Short History of Christianity. Watts & Co.  (1902)
  • John Mackinnon Robertson (1911) [1903]. Pagan Christs. Watts & Co. 
  • John Mackinnon Robertson (1902). Letters on Reasoning. Watts.  (1905, 2nd edition)
  • John Mackinnon Robertson (1906). A Short History of Freethought Ancient and Modern. Watts & co.  (2 vols, 1915)
  • The Baconian Heresy: A Confutation (1913)
  • The Historical Jesus (1916)
  • The Jesus Problem (1917)
  • Shakespeare and Chapman (1917)
  • Short History of Morals (1920)
  • The Shakespeare Canon (1922-1932)
  • Jesus and Judas (1927)

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Page, Martin. (1984) Britain's Unknown Genius An Introduction to the Life-Work of John Mackinnon Robertson. London: South Place Ethical Society, p. 13. ISBN 0902368109
  2. ^ Wells, G.A. Ed. (1987) J.M. Robertson (1856–1933) Liberal, Rationalist, and Scholar: An Assessment by Several Hands Edited by G.A. Wells. London; Pemberton, p. 26. ISBN 0301870012
  3. ^ a b c "The Rt. Hon. J. M. Robertson". Retrieved 13 February 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c Wells, G.A. Ed. (1987) J.M. Robertson (1856–1933) Liberal, Rationalist, and Scholar: An Assessment by Several Hands Edited by G.A. Wells. London; Pemberton, p. 13. ISBN 0301870012
  5. ^ "Edinburgh Secular Society". About us. Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "Progress Through Two Centuries: A Short History of the South Place Ethical Society". Retrieved 13 February 2010. 
  7. ^ Michael Freeden, 'Robertson, John Mackinnon (1856–1933)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2006, accessed 5 April 2009.
  8. ^ Robertson, John M. (1892). The Fallacy of Saving. 
  9. ^ Nash, Robert T.; Gramm, William P. (1969). "A Neglected Early Statement the Paradox of Thrift". History of Political Economy 1 (2): 395–400. doi:10.1215/00182702-1-2-395. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Hugh Crawford Smith
Member of Parliament for Tyneside
Constituency abolished
Political offices
Preceded by
Harold Tennant
Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade
Succeeded by
E. G. Pretyman
Party political offices
Preceded by
George Lunn
President of the National Liberal Federation
Succeeded by
Donald Maclean