Elected to Parliament from Stockton-on-Tees in 1924, Macmillan held his seat until 1929 and again from 1931 to 1964. His reading of Britain during the 1930s led him to a progressive, mildly statist form of conservatism, the philosophy of which was expressed in his book The Middle Way (1937). In 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill appointed Macmillan resident minister at Allied Forces Headquarters in the Mediterranean, where he formed a friendship with U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Beginning in 1951, Macmillan served as a successful minister of housing before moving to defense in 1954 and then the foreign office in April 1955. He moved to the treasury in December 1955, a post he held until 1957. As chancellor of the exchequer during the 1956 Suez Crisis, Macmillan had to convey to Prime Minister Anthony Eden the severity of the economic pressure being applied to the United Kingdom by the United States, which had furiously condemned Britain's role in the crisis. Despite having prevaricated during the crisis—initially he was very hawkish—Macmillan ascended to the premiership upon Eden's forced resignation in January 1957. Macmillan's most immediate task was to mend fences with the United States, and he traveled to meet his old friend Eisenhower, now president of the United States, in Bermuda later in 1957.
Decolonization, particularly in Africa, was a major theme during Macmillan's premiership, and in 1960 he toured that continent, delivering his famous "Wind of Change" speech in South Africa, a formal acknowledgment of the growth of African national consciousness. He also developed a generally cordial relationship with U.S. President John F. Kennedy. During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis there were frequent phone calls between the White House and 10 Downing Street, with Kennedy ostensibly seeking advice although in reality seeking affirmation for his policies. Yet at the December 1962 Nassau meeting with Kennedy, the two principals engaged in robust diplomatic exchanges as Macmillan pressed the Americans to provide Polaris missiles to Britain. Perhaps his greatest foreign policy triumph came in the summer of 1963, when he signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Americans and Soviets.
In 1963 Macmillan was greatly embarrassed by the Profumo Affair, when his defense minister, John Profumo, confessed to lying to Parliament about having shared the same mistress as the Russian defense attaché in London, Evgeny Ivanov. That same year French President Charles de Gaulle rather capriciously vetoed Britain's belated application to join the Common Market (European Union).
During Macmillan's successful 1959 election campaign, he had declared that "most of our people have never had it so good," yet in the early 1960s there were indeed serious economic problems, which Macmillan addressed with improvised institutional initiatives including the dismissal of seven cabinet members in the so-called Night of the Long Knives in 1962. With his popularity waning and the economic scene not much improved, Macmillan became ill in the summer of 1963 and resigned as prime minister in October. Made Earl of Stockton in 1984 during the Margaret Thatcher government, he took great pleasure in criticizing her policies. Macmillan died on 29 December 1986 in Chelwood Gate, Sussex.
Catterall, Peter, ed. The Macmillan Diaries: Cabinet Years, 1950–1957. London: Pan Books, 1957.; Horne, Alistair. Macmillan, 1894–1957. London: Macmillan, 1988.; Horne, Alistair. Macmillan, 1957–1986. London. Macmillan, 1989.; Turner, John. Macmillan. London: Longmans, 1984.