Joseph Chamberlain (8 July 1836 – 2 July 1914) was a British
statesman who was first a radical Liberal, then, after opposing home
rule for Ireland, a Liberal Unionist, and eventually served as a
leading imperialist in coalition with the Conservatives. He split both
major British parties in the course of his career.
Chamberlain made his career in Birmingham, first as a manufacturer of
screws and then as a notable mayor of the city. He was a radical
Liberal Party member and an opponent of the Elementary Education Act
1870. As a self-made businessman, he had never attended university and
had contempt for the aristocracy. He entered the House of Commons at
39 years of age, relatively late in life compared to politicians from
more privileged backgrounds. Rising to power through his influence
with the Liberal grassroots organisation, he served as President of
the Board of Trade in Gladstone's Second Government (1880–85). At
the time, Chamberlain was notable for his attacks on the Conservative
leader Lord Salisbury, and in the 1885 general election he proposed
the "Unauthorised Programme", which was not enacted, of benefits for
newly enfranchised agricultural labourers, including the slogan
promising "three acres and a cow". Chamberlain resigned from
Gladstone's Third Government in 1886 in opposition to Irish Home Rule.
He helped to engineer a Liberal Party split and became a Liberal
Unionist, a party which included a bloc of MPs based in and around
From the 1895 general election the Liberal Unionists were in coalition
with the Conservative Party, under Chamberlain's former opponent Lord
Salisbury. In that government Chamberlain promoted the Workmen's
Compensation Act 1897. He served as Secretary of State for the
Colonies, promoting a variety of schemes to build up the Empire in
Asia, Africa, and the West Indies. He had major responsibility for
Second Boer War
Second Boer War (1899–1902) in South Africa and was the
government minister most responsible for the war effort. He became a
dominant figure in the Unionist Government's re-election at the "Khaki
Election" in 1900. In 1903, he resigned from the Cabinet to campaign
for tariff reform (i.e. taxes on imports as opposed to the existing
policy of free trade with no tariffs). He obtained the support of most
Unionist MPs for this stance, but the Unionists suffered a landslide
defeat at the 1906 general election. Shortly after public celebrations
of his 70th birthday in Birmingham, he was disabled by a stroke,
ending his public career.
Despite never becoming Prime Minister, he was one of the most
important British politicians of his day, as well as a renowned orator
and municipal reformer. Historian David Nicholls notes that his
personality was not attractive: he was arrogant and ruthless and much
hated. He never succeeded in his grand ambitions. However, he was a
highly proficient grassroots organizer of democratic instincts, and
played the central role in winning the Second
Boer War. He is most
famous for setting the agenda of British colonial, foreign, tariff and
municipal policies, and for deeply splitting both major political
1 Early life, business career and marriage
2 Early political career
2.1 Calls for reform
2.2 Mayor of Birmingham
3 National politics
3.1 Member of Parliament and the National Liberal Federation
3.2 President of the Board of Trade
3.3 Called a dangerous "Jack Cade"
3.4 Radical Programme of July 1885
3.5 Liberal split
Liberal Unionist Association
3.7 Liberal Unionist
3.8 1892 election
4.1 Colonial Secretary
4.1.1 Reform projects
4.2 Jameson Raid
4.3 West Africa
4.4 Sierra Leone
4.5 Anglo-German Alliance negotiations: first attempt
Samoa and Anglo-German Alliance negotiations: second attempt
4.7 South Africa
Boer War: early defeat and false dawn
5.1 The Khaki Election
5.2 Anglo-German Alliance negotiations: third attempt
Boer War: victory
5.4 Resignation of Salisbury
5.5 1902 Education Act
5.6 Tour of South Africa
5.7 Zionism and the "Uganda Proposal"
5.8 Tariff reform: Unionist split
5.9 Tariff reform: Chamberlain's last crusade
5.10 1906 general election
7 Memory and historiography
7.2 University of Birmingham
9 Popular culture
10 Books by him
12 Further reading
12.1 Primary sources
13 External links
Early life, business career and marriage
Chamberlain was born in
Camberwell (then in Surrey, but now part of
south-east London) to Caroline Harben, daughter of Henry Harben, and
Joseph (1796–1874), a successful shoe manufacturer. His younger
brother was Richard Chamberlain, later also a Liberal politician. He
was educated at
University College School
University College School 1850–1852, excelling
academically and gaining prizes in French and mathematics.
The elder Chamberlain was not able to provide advanced education for
all his children, and at the age of 16 Joseph was apprenticed to the
Worshipful Company of Cordwainers and worked for the family business
making quality leather shoes. At 18 he joined his uncle's screw-making
business, Nettlefolds of Birmingham, in which his father had invested.
The company became known as
Nettlefold and Chamberlain when
Chamberlain became a partner with Joseph Nettlefold. During the
business's most prosperous period, it produced two-thirds of all metal
screws made in England, and by the time of Chamberlain's retirement
from business in 1874 it was exporting worldwide.
Chamberlain's third wife, Mary, by John Singer Sargent, 1902
Chamberlain married Harriet Kenrick, the daughter of Archibald
Kenrick, in July 1861 (they had met the previous year). Their daughter
Beatrice Mary Chamberlain (1862–1918) was born in May 1862. Harriet,
who had had a premonition that she would die in childbirth, became ill
two days after the birth of their son Joseph Austen in October 1863,
and died three days later. Chamberlain devoted himself to business,
while bringing up Beatrice and Austen with the Kenrick
In 1868, Chamberlain married for the second time, to Harriet's cousin,
Florence Kenrick, daughter of Timothy Kenrick.
Chamberlain and Florence had four children: the future Prime Minister
Arthur Neville in 1869, Ida in 1870, Hilda in 1871 and Ethel in 1873.
On 13 February 1875, Florence gave birth to their fifth child, but she
and the child died within a day.
In 1888 Chamberlain married for the third time in
Washington, D.C. His
bride was Mary Crowninshield Endicott (1864–1957), daughter of the
US Secretary of War, William Crowninshield Endicott. They had no
children, but she eased his acceptance into upper-class society in the
second half of his career.
Early political career
Calls for reform
Chamberlain became involved in Liberal politics, influenced by the
strong radical and liberal traditions among
Birmingham shoemakers and
the long tradition of social action in Chamberlain's Unitarian
church. There was pressure to redistribute parliamentary seats to
cities and to enfranchise a greater proportion of urban men. In 1866,
Earl Russell's Liberal administration submitted a Reform Bill to
create 400,000 new voters, but the Bill was opposed by the
"Adullamite" Liberals for disrupting the social order, and criticised
by Radicals for not conceding the secret ballot or household suffrage.
The Bill was defeated and the government fell. Chamberlain was one of
the 250,000, including the Mayor, who marched for Reform in Birmingham
on 27 August 1866; he recalled that "men poured into the hall, black
as they were from the factories...the people were packed together like
herrings" to listen to a speech by John Bright. Lord Derby's minority
Conservative administration passed a Reform Act in 1867, nearly
doubling the electorate from 1,430,000 to 2,470,000.
The Liberal Party won the 1868 election. Chamberlain was active in the
election campaign, praising Bright and George Dixon, a
Chamberlain was also influential in the local campaign in support of
the Irish Disestablishment bill. In the autumn of 1869 a deputation
headed by William Harris invited him to stand for the Town Council;
and in November he was elected to represent St. Paul's Ward.
Jesse Collings had been amongst the founders of the
Birmingham Education League in 1867, which noted that of about 4.25
million children of school age, 2 million children, mostly in urban
areas, did not attend school, with a further 1 million in uninspected
schools. The government's aid to
Church of England
Church of England schools offended
Nonconformist opinion. Chamberlain favoured free, secular, compulsory
education, stating that "it is as much the duty of the State to see
that the children are educated as to see that they are fed", and
attributing the success of the USA and
Prussia to public education.
Birmingham Education League evolved into the National Education
League, which held its first Conference in
Birmingham in 1869 and
proposed a school system funded by local rates and government grants,
managed by local authorities subject to government inspection. By
1870, the League had more than one hundred branches, mostly in cities
and peopled largely by men of trades unions and working men's
William Edward Forster, Vice-President of the Committee of Council on
Education, proposed an Elementary Education Bill in January 1870.
Nonconformists opposed the proposal to fund church schools as part of
the national educational system through the rates. The NEL was angered
by the absence of school commissions or of free, compulsory education.
Chamberlain arranged for a delegation of 400 branch members and 46 MPs
to visit the prime minister
William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone at 10 Downing
Street on 9 March 1870, the first time the two men had met.
Chamberlain impressed the Prime Minister with his lucid speech, and
during the Bill's second reading Gladstone agreed to make amendments
that removed church schools from rate-payer control and granted them
funding. Liberal MPs, exasperated at the compromises in the
legislation, voted against the government, and the Bill passed the
House of Commons with support from the Conservatives. Chamberlain
campaigned against the Act, and especially Clause 25, which gave
school boards of England and Wales the power to pay the fees of poor
children at voluntary schools, theoretically allowing them to fund
church schools. The Education League stood in several by-elections
against Liberal candidates who refused to support the repeal of Clause
25. In 1873 a Liberal majority was elected to the
Board, with Chamberlain as chairman. Eventually, a compromise was
reached with the church component of the School Board agreeing to make
payments from rate-payer's money only to schools associated with
Chamberlain espoused enfranchisement of rural workers and a lower cost
of land. In an article written for the Fortnightly Review, he coined
the slogan of the "Four F's: Free Church, Free Schools, Free Land and
Free Labour". In another article, "The Liberal Party and its Leaders",
Chamberlain criticised Gladstone's leadership and advocated a more
Radical direction for the party.
Mayor of Birmingham
In November 1873, the Liberal Party swept the municipal elections and
Chamberlain was elected mayor of Birmingham. The Conservatives had
denounced his Radicalism and called him a "monopoliser and a dictator"
whilst the Liberals had campaigned against their High Church Tory
opponents with the slogan "The People above the Priests". The city's
municipal administration was notably lax with regards to public works,
and many urban dwellers lived in conditions of great poverty. As
mayor, Chamberlain promoted many civic improvements, promising the
city would be "parked, paved, assized, marketed, gas & watered and
Birmingham Gas Light and Coke Company and the
Staffordshire Gas Light Company were locked in constant competition,
in which the city's streets were continually dug up to lay mains.
Chamberlain forcibly purchased the two companies on behalf of the
borough for £1,953,050, even offering to purchase the companies
himself if the ratepayers refused. In its first year of operations the
new municipal gas scheme made a profit of £34,000.
The city's water supply was considered a danger to public health –
approximately half of the city's population was dependent on well
water, much of which was polluted by sewage. Piped water was only
supplied three days per week, compelling the use of well water and
water carts for the rest of the week. Deploring the rising death rate
from contagious diseases in the poorest parts of the city, in January
1876, Chamberlain forcibly purchased Birmingham's waterworks for a
combined sum of £1,350,000, creating
Birmingham Corporation Water
Department, having declared to a House of Commons Committee that "We
have not the slightest intention of making profit...We shall get our
profit indirectly in the comfort of the town and in the health of the
inhabitants". Despite this noticeable executive action, Chamberlain
was mistrustful of central authority and bureaucracy, preferring to
give local communities the responsibility to act on their own
In July 1875, Chamberlain tabled an improvement plan involving slum
clearance in Birmingham's city centre. Chamberlain had been consulted
by the Home Secretary,
Richard Assheton Cross
Richard Assheton Cross during the preparation
of the Artisan's and Labourers' Dwellings Improvement Act 1875, during
Disraeli's social improvement programme. Chamberlain bought 50 acres
(200,000 m²) of property to build a new road, (Corporation
Street), through Birmingham's overcrowded slums. Over-riding the
protests of local landlords and the Commissioner of the Local
Government Board's inquiry into the scheme, Chamberlain gained the
endorsement of the President of the Local Government Board, George
Sclater-Booth. Chamberlain raised the funds for the programme,
contributing £10,000 himself. However, the Improvement Committee
concluded that it would be too expensive to transfer slum-dwellers to
municipally built accommodation, and so the land was leased as a
business proposition on a 75-year lease. Slum dwellers were eventually
rehoused in the suburbs and the scheme cost local government
£300,000. The death-rate in Corporation Street decreased dramatically
– from approximately 53 per 1,000 between 1873 and 1875 to 21 per
1,000 between 1879 and 1881.
During Chamberlain's tenure of office, public and private money was
used to construct libraries, municipal swimming pools and schools.
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery was enlarged and a number of new
parks were opened. Construction of the Council House was begun, while
the Victoria Law Courts were built on Corporation Street.
The mayoralty helped make Chamberlain a national as well as local
figure, with contemporaries commenting upon his youthfulness and
dress, including "a black velvet coat, jaunty eyeglass in eye, red
neck-tie drawn through a ring". His contribution to the city's
improvement earned Chamberlain the allegiance of the so-called
Birmingham caucus" for the rest of his public career.
His biographer states:
Early in his political career, Chamberlain constructed arguably his
greatest and most enduring accomplishment, a model of "gas-and-water"
or municipal socialism widely admired in the industrial world. At his
Birmingham embarked on an improvement scheme to tear
down its central slums and replace them with healthy housing and
commercial thoroughfares, both to ventilate the town and to attract
business. This scheme, however, strained the financial resources of
the town and undermined the consensus in favour of reform.
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Member of Parliament and the National Liberal Federation
Sheffield Reform Association, an offshoot of the Liberal Party in
the city, invited Chamberlain to stand for election as an MP soon
after the beginning of his tenure as Mayor of Birmingham.
Chamberlain's first Parliamentary campaign (the 1874 general election)
was a fierce one; opponents accused him of republicanism and atheism,
and even threw dead cats at him on the speaking platform. Chamberlain
came in third place, a poor result for a leading urban Radical.
Chamberlain eventually rejected the possibility of standing in
Sheffield again, and when George Dixon retired from his Birmingham
seat in May 1876, Chamberlain was returned unopposed (17 June 1876)
Birmingham constituency, after a period of anxiety following
his nomination in which he denounced the Prime Minister, Benjamin
Disraeli, accusing him of being 'a man who never told the truth except
by accident.' After Chamberlain came under heavy attack for the insult
he apologised publicly.
When elected, Chamberlain resigned as mayor of Birmingham, and was
introduced to the House of Commons by
John Bright and Joseph Cowen, an
M.P. for Newcastle upon Tyne. Almost immediately, Chamberlain began to
organise the Radical MPs, intending to displace Whig dominance of the
Liberal Party. On 4 August 1876, Chamberlain made his maiden speech in
the House of Commons during a debate on elementary schools. He spoke
for twenty minutes on the maintenance of clause 25, while Disraeli was
present, and using his experience on the
Birmingham School Board to
make an impressive speech. Many of Chamberlain's other speeches were
on the subject of free public education and female teachers, and on
alcohol licensing and army discipline.
Early difficulties in creating a coherent Radical group convinced
Chamberlain of the need to establish a more effective organisation for
the Liberal Party as a whole, especially in the localities.
Chamberlain hoped to harness the public agitation against Turkey's
Bulgarian atrocities for a Radical agenda. Chamberlain closed ranks
with Gladstone to profit from the returned Liberal leader's increasing
popularity. With the Liberal Party actively opposing Disraeli's
foreign policy during the Russo-Turkish War, Gladstone addressed
approximately 30,000 people at
Bingley Hall on 31 May 1877 to found
the National Liberal Federation, a federation of the country's Liberal
Associations. The body was dominated by
Birmingham politicians, with
Chamberlain himself as President. The Federation was designed to
tighten party discipline and campaigning, and it subsequently enlisted
new party members, organised political meetings and published posters
and pamphlets. Contemporary commentators made (often disparaging)
comparisons between the techniques of the Federation and those
employed in American politics. The Federation enhanced Chamberlain's
influence in the Liberal Party and gave him a nationwide platform to
Chamberlain criticised Disraeli's forward foreign policy for diverting
attention from domestic reform. Unlike many Liberals, Chamberlain's
was not an anti-imperialist, for although he berated the government
for its Eastern policy, the
Second Afghan War
Second Afghan War of 1878 and the Zulu War
of 1879, he had supported Disraeli's purchase of
Suez Canal Company
shares in November 1875. At this stage of his career, Chamberlain was
eager to see the protection of British overseas interests, but placed
greater emphasis on a conception of justice in the pursuit of such
interests. Chamberlain joined the Liberal denunciations of the
Conservative Party's foreign policy in the 1880 general election, and
Gladstone returned as Prime Minister with assistance from the NLF.
President of the Board of Trade
Despite having sat in Parliament for only four years, Chamberlain
hoped for a cabinet position, and told Sir William Harcourt that he
was prepared to lead a revolt and field Radical candidates in borough
elections. Although Gladstone did not regard the NLF highly, he
recognised the part it had played in winning the 1880 election, and
was eager to reconcile Chamberlain and other Radicals to the mainly
Whig cabinet. Having taken the counsel of Bright, Gladstone invited
Chamberlain on 27 April 1880 to become President of the Board of
Chamberlain's scope for manoeuvre was restricted between 1880 and 1883
by the Cabinet's preoccupation with Ireland,
Transvaal Colony and
Egypt, but he was able to introduce the Grain Cargoes Bill, for the
safer transportation of grain, an Electric Lighting Bill, enabling
municipal corporations to establish electricity supplies, and a
Seaman's Wages Bill, which ensured a fairer system of payment for
seamen. After 1883, Chamberlain was more productive. A Bankruptcy Bill
established a Board of Trade Bankruptcy Department for inquiring into
failed business deals. A Patents Bill subjected patenting to Board of
Trade supervision. Chamberlain also sought to end the practice of ship
owners overinsuring their vessels – 'coffin ships' – while
under-manning them, ensuring a healthy profit whether the ship arrived
safely or sank. Despite being endorsed by Tory Democrats Lord Randolph
Churchill and John Eldon Gorst, the Liberal government was unwilling
to grant Chamberlain its full support and the Bill was withdrawn in
Chamberlain took a special interest in Ireland. The Irish Land League
promoted fair rents, fixity of tenure and free sale for Irish Catholic
peasants, in opposition to (often absentee) Anglo-Irish landlords.
Chamberlain agreed with suggestions that a Land Bill would counter
agitation in Ireland and
Fenian outrages in the
British Isles and
would quieten demands for Irish Home Rule, which he opposed strongly,
reasoning that it would lead to the eventual break up of the British
Empire. He opposed the Chief Secretary for Ireland, W.E. Forster's
policy of coercion, believing that coercive tactics before a land
settlement would provoke Irish malcontents. In April 1881, Gladstone's
government introduced the Irish Land Act, but in response, Charles
Stewart Parnell, leading the Irish nationalists, encouraged tenants to
withhold rents. As a result, Parnell and other leaders, including John
Dillon and William O'Brien, were imprisoned in
Kilmainham Gaol on 13
October 1881. Chamberlain supported their imprisonment rather than
further concessions, and used their incarceration to bargain with them
In the ensuing 'Kilmainham Treaty', the government agreed to release
Parnell in return for his co-operation in making the Land Act work.
Forster resigned and the new Chief Secretary, Lord Frederick
Cavendish, was murdered by Irish terrorists on 6 May 1882, leaving the
'Kilmainham Treaty' almost useless. Many, including Parnell, believed
that Chamberlain, having brokered the agreement, would be offered the
Chief Secretaryship, but Gladstone appointed Sir George Trevelyan
instead. Nevertheless, Chamberlain maintained an interest in Irish
affairs, and proposed to the Cabinet an Irish
Central Board that would
have legislative powers for land, education and communications. This
was rejected by the Whigs in Cabinet on 9 May 1885.
Called a dangerous "Jack Cade"
After his success in municipal politics, Chamberlain was frustrated at
his inability to introduce more creative legislation at the Board of
Trade. Early into the Gladstone ministry, Chamberlain suggested
without success that the franchise should be extended, with the Prime
Minister arguing that the matter should be deferred until the end of
the Parliament's lifespan. In 1884, the Liberals proposed a Third
Reform Bill, which would give hundreds of thousands of rural labourers
Chamberlain earned a reputation for provocative speeches during the
period, especially during debate on the 1884 County Franchise Bill,
which was opposed by the Whig Liberals Lord Hartington and George
Goschen, as well as the Conservative leader Lord Salisbury, who argued
that the Bill gave the Liberals an unfair electoral advantage and was
prepared to block the Bill in the
House of Lords
House of Lords unless it was
accompanied by redistribution of seats into the suburbs. At Denbigh,
on 20 October 1884, Chamberlain famously declared in a speech that
Salisbury was "himself the spokesman of a class – a class to which
he himself belongs, who toil not neither do they spin." In response,
Salisbury branded Chamberlain a "Sicilian bandit" and Stafford
Northcote called him "Jack Cade". When Chamberlain suggested that he
would march on London with thousands of
Birmingham constituents to
protest the House of Lords' powers, Salisbury remarked that "Mr.
Chamberlain will return from his adventure with a broken head if
Radical Programme of July 1885
The Third Reform Act of 1884 was followed by a Redistribution Act in
1885, negotiated by Gladstone and Lord Salisbury. Chamberlain
campaigned to capture the newly enfranchised voters for Radicalism
with public meetings, speeches and, notably, articles written in the
Fortnightly Review by Chamberlain's associates, including Jesse
Collings and John Morley.
Chamberlain wrote the preface to the Radical Programme (July 1885),
the first campaign handbook of British political history. It endorsed
land reform, more direct taxation, free public education, the
disestablishment of the Church of England, universal male suffrage,
and more protection for trade unions. It was much inspired by his
friend Frederick Maxse's 1873 pamphlet The Causes of Social
Revolt. Chamberlain's utopian vision fell foul of practical
politics, as in the education question. Chamberlain proposed to
separate the goal of free education for every child from the religious
question. His policy was rejected by groups on all sides, who were
using education as a political weapon, including the National Liberal
Federation, Nonconformists, Catholics and more generally, the
The Radical Programme earned the scorn of Whigs and Conservatives
alike. Chamberlain had written to Morley that with Radical solidarity
'we will utterly destroy the Whigs, and have a Radical government
before many years are out.' Seeking a contest with the Whigs,
Chamberlain and Sir Charles Dilke presented their resignations to
Gladstone on 20 May 1885, when the Cabinet rejected Chamberlain's
scheme for the creation of National Councils in England, Scotland and
Wales and when a proposed Land Purchase Bill did not have any
provision for the reform of Irish local government. The resignations
were not made public, and the opportunity for Chamberlain to present
his Radicalism to the country was only presented when the Irish
Parliamentary Party endorsed a Conservative amendment to the budget on
9 June, which passed by 12 votes. The Gladstone ministry resigned, and
Salisbury formed a minority administration.
In August 1885, the Salisbury ministry asked for a dissolution of
Parliament. At Hull on 5 August, Chamberlain began his election
campaign by addressing an enthusiastic crowd in front of large posters
declaring him to be "Your coming Prime Minister". Until the campaign's
end in October, Chamberlain denounced opponents of the "Radical
Programme" and endorsed the cause of rural labourers and offered to
make smallholdings available to workers by funds from local
authorities, using the slogan Three Acres and a Cow. Chamberlain's
campaign attracted large crowds and enthralled the young James Ramsay
MacDonald and David Lloyd George, but disconcerted leading Liberals
like Goschen who called it the "Unauthorised Programme". The
Conservatives denounced Chamberlain as an anarchist, with some even
comparing him to Dick Turpin.
In October 1885, Chamberlain and Gladstone met at Hawarden Castle to
reconcile their respective electoral programmes. The meeting, although
good natured, was largely unproductive, and Gladstone neglected to
tell Chamberlain of his negotiations with Parnell over proposals to
grant Home Rule to Ireland. Chamberlain discovered the existence of
such negotiations from Henry Labouchere, but unsure of the precise
nature of Gladstone's offer to Parnell, did not press the issue,
although he had already stated his opposition to Home Rule, declaring
that "I cannot admit that five millions of Irishmen have any greater
right to govern themselves without regard to the rest of the United
Kingdom than the five million inhabitants of the metropolis (i.e.
London)". The Liberals won the general election in November 1885, but
fell just short of an overall majority against the Conservatives and
the Irish Nationalists, the latter holding the balance between the two
On 17 December,
Herbert Gladstone revealed that his father was
prepared to take office to implement Irish Home Rule, an action termed
"flying the Hawarden Kite" by the press. At first, Chamberlain was
reluctant to anger his Radical followers by joining forces with the
anti-Home Rule Whigs and Conservatives. He awaited the development of
events while saying little about the topic publicly, but Chamberlain
privately damned Gladstone and the concept of Home Rule to colleagues,
believing that maintaining the Conservatives in power for a further
year would make the Irish question easier to settle. The Liberals
returned to power in January 1886, after a Radical-inspired amendment
by Collings was carried by 79 votes in the House of Commons, although
Hartington, Goschen and 18 Liberals had voted with the Conservatives.
Chamberlain declined Gladstone's offer of the office of First Lord of
the Admiralty. Gladstone rejected Chamberlain's request for the
Colonial Office and eventually appointed him President of the Local
Government Board. A dispute over the amount to be paid to Collings,
Chamberlain's Parliamentary Secretary, worsened relations between
Gladstone and Chamberlain, although the latter still hoped that he
could alter or block Gladstone's Home Rule proposal in Cabinet, so
that his programme of Radicalism could be given more attention.
Chamberlain's renewed scheme for National Councils was not discussed
in Cabinet, and only on 13 March were Gladstone's proposals for
Ireland revealed. Chamberlain argued that the details of the
accompanying Land Purchase Bill should be made known in order for a
fair judgment to be made on Home Rule. When Gladstone stated his
intention to give Ireland a separate Parliament with full powers to
deal with Irish affairs, Chamberlain resolved to resign, writing to
inform Gladstone of his decision two days later. In the meantime,
Chamberlain consulted with Arthur Balfour, Salisbury's nephew, over
the possibility of concerted action with the Conservatives, and
contemplated similar co-operation with the Whigs. His resignation was
made public on 27 March 1886.
Liberal Unionist Association
Chamberlain in March 1886 launched a ferocious campaign against
Gladstone's Irish proposals. His motivations combined imperial,
domestic, and personal themes. Imperial, because they threatened to
weaken Parliament's control over the United Kingdom; domestic, because
they downplayed his own programme; and personal because they weakened
his own standing in the party.
Chamberlain's immediate chances of attaining the leadership of the
Liberal Party had declined dramatically and in early May, the National
Liberal Federation declared its loyalty to Gladstone. On 9 April,
Chamberlain spoke against the Irish Home Rule Bill in its first
reading before attending a meeting of Liberal Unionists, summoned by
Hartington, hitherto the subject of Chamberlain's anti-Whig
declarations on 14 May. From this meeting arose the Liberal Unionist
Association, originally an ad hoc alliance to demonstrate the unity of
anti-Home Rulers. Meanwhile, to distinguish himself from the
Whigs, Chamberlain founded the National Radical Union to rival the
NLF; it faded away by 1888. During the second reading on 8 June, the
Home Rule Bill was defeated by 30 votes, by the combined opposition of
Conservatives, Chamberlainite radicals and Whigs. In all 93 Liberals,
including Chamberlain and Hartington, voted against Gladstone.
Parliament was dissolved, and in the ensuing 1886 general election,
the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists agreed to an alliance.
Chamberlain's position was more awkward than Hartington's, for the
former was intensely mistrusted by, and unable to influence, the
Conservatives, while he was despised by the Gladstonians for voting
against Home Rule. Gladstone himself observed that "There is a
difference between Hartington and Chamberlain, that the first behaves
like and is a thorough gentleman. Of the other it is better not to
speak." With the general election dominated by Home Rule,
Chamberlain's campaign was both Radical and intensely patriotic. The
Conservatives and Liberal Unionists took 393 seats in the House of
Commons and a comfortable majority.
Chamberlain did not enter the Unionist government, aware that the
hostility to him in the Conservative ranks meant that an agreement
with them could extend merely to Ireland and not wishing to alienate
his Radical support base. The Liberal mainstream cast Chamberlain as a
villain, shouting "Judas!" and "Traitor!" as he entered the House of
Commons chamber. Unable to associate himself decisively with either
party, Chamberlain sought concerted action with a kindred spirit from
the Conservative Party, Lord Randolph Churchill. In November 1886,
Churchill announced his own 'Unauthorised Programme' at Dartford, the
content of which had much in common with Chamberlain's own recent
manifesto, including smallholdings for rural labourers and greater
local government. Next month, Churchill resigned as Chancellor of the
Exchequer over military spending, and when the Conservative mainstream
rallied around Salisbury, Churchill's career was effectively ended,
along with Chamberlain's hope of creating a powerful cross-party union
of Radicals. The appointment of Goschen to the Treasury isolated
Chamberlain further and symbolised the good relationship between
non-Radical Liberal Unionists and the Conservatives.
After January 1887, a series of Round Table Conferences took place
between Chamberlain, Trevelyan, Harcourt, Morley and Lord Herschell,
in which the participants sought an agreement about the Liberal
Party's Irish policy. Chamberlain hoped that an accord would enable
him to claim the future leadership of the party and that he would gain
influence over the Conservatives simply from the negotiations
occurring. Although a preliminary agreement was made concerning land
purchase, Gladstone was unwilling to compromise further, and
negotiations ended by March. In August 1887, Lord Salisbury invited
Chamberlain to lead the British delegation in a Joint Commission to
resolve a fisheries dispute between the United States and
Newfoundland. The visit to the USA renewed his enthusiasm for
politics, and enhanced his standing with respect to Gladstone. In
November, Chamberlain met 23-year-old Mary Endicott, the daughter of
President Grover Cleveland's Secretary of War, William C. Endicott, at
a reception in the British legation. Before he left the United States
in March 1888, Chamberlain proposed to Mary, describing her as 'one of
the brightest and most intelligent girls I have yet met'. In November
1888, Chamberlain married Mary in Washington, D.C., wearing white
violets, rather than his trademark orchid. Mary became a faithful
supporter of his political ambitions.
Austen Chamberlain photographed in The Caledonian
The Salisbury ministry was implementing a number of Radical reforms
that pleased Chamberlain. Between 1888 and 1889, democratic County
Councils were established in Great Britain. By 1891, measures for the
provision of smallholdings had been made, and the extension of free,
compulsory education to the entire country. Chamberlain wrote that "I
have in the last five years seen more progress made with the practical
application of my political programme than in all my previous life. I
owe this result entirely to my former opponents, and all the
opposition has come from my former friends."
The Liberal Association in
Birmingham could no longer be relied upon
to provide loyal support, so Chamberlain created the Liberal Unionist
Association in 1888, associated with the National Radical Union,
having extracted his supporters from the old Liberal organisation.
In the 1892 general election, the Liberal Unionists did well in
Birmingham and made gains in neighbouring towns in the Black Country.
By now, Chamberlain's son, Austen, had also entered the House of
Commons unopposed for East Worcestershire. However the national
returns showed the limits of the
Liberal Unionist Party's strategy. In
an age of increasingly well-organised, mass politics it was reduced to
only 47 seats. Chamberlain's standing was accordingly weakened.
Gladstone returned to power and did not want Chamberlain back. The
Liberal Unionists realized that they needed a closer relationship with
the Conservatives. When Hartington took his seat in the House of
Lords as the Duke of Devonshire, Chamberlain assumed the leadership of
the Liberal Unionists in the House of Commons, resulting in a
productive relationship with Balfour, leader of the Conservatives in
Obliged to compromise with the Irish Nationalists, Gladstone
introduced the Second Home Rule Bill in February 1893. Although the
Bill passed the House of Commons, the Lords rejected Home Rule by a
huge margin. With his party divided, Gladstone prepared to dissolve
Parliament on the issue of the House of Lords' veto, but was compelled
to resign in March 1894 by his colleagues. He was replaced by Lord
Rosebery, who neglected the topic of Home Rule. Chamberlain continued
to form alliances with the Conservatives.
Chamberlain worried about the threat of socialism, even though the
Independent Labour Party
Independent Labour Party had only one MP, Keir Hardie. Chamberlain
warned of the dangers of socialism in his unpublished 1895 play The
Game of Politics, characterising its proponents as the instigators of
class conflict. In response to the socialist challenge, he sought
to divert the energy of collectivism for the good of Unionism, and
continued to propose reforms to the Conservatives. In his 'Memorandum
of a Programme for Social Reform' sent to Salisbury in 1893,
Chamberlain made a number of suggestions, including old age pensions,
the provision of loans to the working class for the purchase of
houses, an amendment to the Artisans' Dwellings Act to encourage
street improvements, compensation for industrial accidents, cheaper
train fares for workers, tighter border controls and shorter working
hours. Salisbury was guardedly sympathetic to the proposals. On 21
June 1895, the Liberal Government was defeated on a motion that
criticised the Secretary of State for War, Henry Campbell-Bannerman,
for shortages of cordite, and Salisbury was invited to form a
Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary
Having agreed to a set of policies, the Conservatives and Liberal
Unionists formed a government on 24 June 1895. Salisbury offered four
Cabinet posts to Liberal Unionists. Devonshire became Lord President
of the Council, and Salisbury and Balfour offered Chamberlain any
Cabinet position except Foreign Secretary, which Salisbury wanted for
himself, or Leader of the House of Commons. To their surprise he
declined the Exchequer, unwilling to be constrained by conservative
spending plans, and also refused the office of Home Secretary, instead
asking for the Colonial Office. Chamberlain had adjusted his political
strategy after losing a dispute over a seat at Leamington Spa,
agreeing to enter the cabinet in a subordinate role and putting his
program of social reform on the back burner. Unexpectedly, he used the
Colonial Office to become one of the dominant figures in politics.
Chamberlain used the Colonial Office to gain international recognition
amidst European competition for territory and popular imperialism. He
wanted to expand the
British Empire In Africa, the Americas and Asia,
reorder imperial trade and resources, and foster closer relations
between Britain and the settler colonies. He envisioned a remodeled
empire as a federation of Anglo-Saxon nations; in this he had support
from Conservative backbenchers. Chamberlain had one been an
outspoken anti-imperialist but now he reversed course. In 1887 he
declared that "I should think our patriotism was warped and stunted
indeed if it did not embrace the Greater Britain beyond the seas".
Much had been proposed with regard to an imperial federation, a more
coherent system of imperial defence and preferential tariffs, yet by
1895 when Chamberlain arrived at the Colonial Office, little had been
achieved. His own proposals met resistance from Canada and other
settler colonies and went nowhere.
Chamberlain took formal charge of the Colonial Office on 1 July 1895,
with victory assured in the 1895 general election. He had control of
numerous colonies, but not of India nor Canada. He had once been an
anti-imperialist but now strongly advocated imperial unity and
promoted development projects. Believing that positive government
action could bind the empire's peoples closer to the crown,
Chamberlain stated confidently that "I believe that the British race
is the greatest of the governing races that the world has ever seen...
It is not enough to occupy great spaces of the world's surface unless
you can make the best of them. It is the duty of a landlord to develop
his estate." Accordingly, Chamberlain advocated investment in the
tropics of Africa, the West Indies and other underdeveloped
possessions, a policy that earned him the nickname "Joseph Africanus"
among the press.
He was instrumental in recognising the need to handle the unfamiliar
tropical diseases that ravaged his subjects. With Chamberlain's
Patrick Manson founded the world's second medical facility
dedicated to tropical medicine in 1899 (the
Liverpool School having
been established the previous year). The London School of Tropical
Medicine was located in Albert Dock Seamen's Hospital, which itself
had opened in 1890 and would later become known as the Hospital for
Chamberlain had not abandoned his dedication to social reforms
designed to help the working man. He was instrumental in adapting
Bismarck's German model to set up a system of compensation for
injuries on the job. His
Workmen's Compensation Act 1897 was a key
domestic achievement of the Unionists at the end of the century. It
cost the Treasury nothing since compensation was paid for by insurance
that employers were required to take out. The system operated from
1897 to 1946. Chamberlain also tried to design an old age
pension program, but it was too expensive to pass Conservative
approval. He came to realize that a new source of revenue, such as
tariffs on imports, would be required. Further opposition came from
friendly societies, which were funded by their own pension program for
Main article: Jameson Raid
The Right Honourable Joseph Chamberlain, oil on canvas, 1896, John
Singer Sargent. National Portrait Gallery
Cecil Rhodes, Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and managing director
of the British South Africa Company, was eager to extend British
dominion to all of South Africa, and encouraged the disenfranchised
Uitlanders of the
Boer republics to resist
Rhodes hoped that the intervention of the Company's private army,
assembled in the Pitsani Strip (part of the Bechuanaland Protectorate
and bordering the Transvaal, which had been ceded to the British South
Africa Company by the Colonial Office, officially for the protection
of a railway through the territory, in November 1895), could initiate
Uitlander rebellion and the overthrow of the Transvaal government.
Chamberlain informed Salisbury on
Boxing Day that a rebellion was
expected, but was not sure when the invasion would be launched. The
Jameson Raid resulted in the surrender of the invaders.
Chamberlain, at Highbury, received a secret telegram from the Colonial
Office on 31 December informing him of the beginning of the Raid.
Chamberlain, sympathetic to the ultimate goals but uncomfortable with
the timing, remarked that "if this succeeds it will ruin me. I'm going
up to London to crush it".
Chamberlain ordered Sir Hercules Robinson, Governor-General of the
Cape Colony, to repudiate the actions of
Leander Starr Jameson
Leander Starr Jameson and
warned Rhodes that the Company's Charter would be in danger if it was
discovered that the Cape Prime Minister was involved in the Raid. The
prisoners were returned to London for trial, and the Transvaal
government received considerable compensation from the Company. During
the trial of Jameson, Rhodes' solicitor, Bourchier Hawksley, refused
to produce cablegrams that had passed between Rhodes and his agents in
London in November and December 1895. According to Hawksley, these
demonstrated that the Colonial Office 'influenced the actions of those
in South Africa' who embarked on the Raid, and even that Chamberlain
had transferred control of the Pitsani Strip to facilitate an
invasion. Nine days before the Raid, Chamberlain had asked his
Assistant Under-Secretary to encourage Rhodes to 'Hurry Up' because of
the deteriorating Venezuelan situation.
In June 1896, Chamberlain offered his resignation to Salisbury, having
shown the Prime Minister one or more of the cablegrams implicating him
in the Raid's planning. Salisbury refused to accept the offer,
possibly reluctant to lose the government's most popular figure.
Salisbury reacted aggressively in support of Chamberlain, endorsing
the Colonial Secretary's threat to withdraw the Company's charter if
the cablegrams were revealed. Accordingly, Rhodes refused to reveal
the cablegrams, and as no evidence was produced, the Select Committee
appointed to investigate the
Jameson Raid had no choice but to absolve
Chamberlain of responsibility.
Joseph Chamberlain and Arthur Balfour, 1895
Chamberlain believed that
West Africa had great economic potential,
and shared Salisbury's suspicions of the French, who were Britain's
principal rival in the region. Chamberlain sanctioned the conquest of
the Ashanti in 1895, with Colonel Sir Francis Scott successfully
Kumasi and annexing the territory to the Gold Coast. Using
the emergency funds of the colonies of Lagos,
Sierra Leone and the
Gold Coast, he ordered the construction of a railway for the newly
The Colonial Office's bold strategy brought it into conflict with the
Royal Niger Company, chaired by Sir George Goldie, which possessed
title rights to large stretches of the River Niger. Interested in the
area as an economic asset, Goldie had yet to assume governing
responsibilities, leaving the territory open to incursion by the
French, who sent small garrisons to the area with the intention of
controlling it. Though Salisbury wished to subordinate the needs of
West Africa to the requirement of establishing British supremacy on
the River Nile, Chamberlain believed that every territory was worth
competing for. Chamberlain was dismayed to learn in 1897 that the
French had expanded from
Dahomey to Bussa, a town claimed by Goldie.
Further French growth in the region would have isolated
territory in the hinterland, thereby limiting its economic growth.
Chamberlain therefore argued that Britain should "even at the cost of
war – to keep an adequate Hinterland for the Gold Coast,
the Niger Territories."
Influenced by Chamberlain, Salisbury sanctioned Sir Edmund Monson,
British Ambassador in Paris, to be more assertive in negotiations. The
subsequent concessions made by the French encouraged Chamberlain, who
arranged for a military force, commanded by Frederick Lugard, to
occupy areas claimed by Britain, thereby undermining French claims in
the region. In a risky 'chequerboard' strategy, Lugard's forces
occupied territories claimed by the French to counterbalance the
establishment of French garrisons in British territory. At times,
French and British troops were stationed merely a few yards from each
other, increasing the risk of war. Nevertheless, Chamberlain assumed
correctly that French officers in the region were ordered to act
without fighting the British, and in March 1898, the French proposed
to settle the issue – Bussa was returned to Britain, and the French
were limited to the town of Bona. Chamberlain had successfully imposed
British control over the Niger and the inland territories of Sokoto,
later joining them together as Nigeria.
In 1896 Britain extended its rule inland from the coastal colony of
Sierra Leone. It imposed a hut tax; the Mende and Temne tribes
responded with the Hut Tax War of 1898. Chamberlain appointed Sir
David Chalmers as a special commissioner to investigate the violence.
Chalmers blamed the tax, but Chamberlain disagreed, saying African
slave traders instigated the revolt. Chamberlain used the revolt to
promote his aggressive "constructive imperialism" in West Africa.
Joseph Chamberlain at his desk at the Colonial Office
Anglo-German Alliance negotiations: first attempt
On 29 March 1898, Hermann von Eckardstein, who had described
Chamberlain as "unquestionably the most energetic and enterprising
personality of the Salisbury ministry", arranged a meeting between the
Colonial Secretary and the German Ambassador in London, Paul von
Hatzfeldt. The conversation was strictly unofficial, being nominally
about colonial matters and the subject of China. Chamberlain surprised
Hatzfeldt by assuring him that Britain and Germany had common
interests, that the rupture over the
Jameson Raid and the Kruger
Telegram was an abnormality and that a defensive alliance should be
formulated between the two countries, with specific regards to China.
This was difficult for Hatzfeldt, for the Reichstag was scrutinising
Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz's First Navy Bill, which characterised
Britain as a threat to Germany. The Secretary for Foreign Affairs,
Bernhard von Bülow, did not believe that Britain would be a reliable
ally because any future Cabinet could reverse the diplomatic policy of
its predecessors, and because Parliament and public opinion often made
difficulties about Britain's alliance commitments. Von Bülow
preferred the co-operation of Russia in China to that of Britain.
Hatzfeldt was instructed to make an agreement appear likely without
ever conceding to Chamberlain. No commitments were made, and on 25
April Hatzfeldt asked for colonial concessions from Chamberlain as a
precursor to a better relationship. Chamberlain rejected the proposal,
thereby terminating the first talks for an Anglo-German alliance.
Though Salisbury was unsurprised by the German attitude, Chamberlain
was disappointed, and spoke publicly of Britain's diplomatic
Birmingham on 13 May, saying that "We have had no
allies. I am afraid we have had no friends ... We stand
Samoa and Anglo-German Alliance negotiations: second attempt
An 1888 treaty established an Anglo-US-German tripartite protectorate
of Samoa, and when King
Malietoa Laupepa died in 1898, a contest over
the succession ensued. The German candidate, Mataafa, was strongly
opposed by the Americans and the British, and civil war began.
Salisbury rejected a German suggestion that they ask the USA to
withdraw from Samoa. Meanwhile, Chamberlain, smarting from the
dismissal of his alliance proposal with Germany, refused the
suggestion that Britain withdraw from
Samoa in return for compensation
elsewhere, remarking dismissively to Eckardstein "Last year we offered
you everything. Now it is too late." Official and public German
opinion was incensed by Britain's bullishness, and Chamberlain worked
hard to improve Anglo-German relations by facilitating a visit to
Britain by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Salisbury's decision to attend to his
sick wife allowed Chamberlain to assume control of British policy in
July 1899. In November, an agreement was made with the Germans about
Samoa in which Britain agreed to withdraw in return for
Tonga and the
Solomon Islands, and the ending of German claims to British territory
in West Africa.
On 21 November 1899, at a banquet in St. George's Hall, Windsor
Castle, Chamberlain reiterated his desire for an agreement between
Britain and Germany to Wilhelm II. The Kaiser spoke positively about
relations with Britain but added that he did not want to exacerbate
relations with Russia, and indicated that Salisbury's traditional
strategy of reneging on peacetime commitments made any Anglo-German
agreement problematic. Chamberlain, rather than Salisbury whose wife
had just died, visited von Bülow at Windsor Castle. Chamberlain
argued that Britain, Germany and the USA should combine to check
France and Russia, yet von Bülow thought British assistance would be
of little use in a war with Russia. Von Bülow suggested that
Chamberlain should speak positively of Germany in public. Chamberlain
inferred from von Bülow's statement that he would do the same in the
The day after the departure of the Kaiser and von Bülow, on 30
November, Chamberlain grandiloquently spoke at
Leicester of "a new
Triple Alliance between the Teutonic race and the two great
trans-Atlantic branches of the Anglo-Saxon race which would become a
potent influence on the future of the world." Though the Kaiser was
Friedrich von Holstein
Friedrich von Holstein described Chamberlain's speech
as a "blunder" and the Times attacked Chamberlain for using the term
"alliance" without inhibition. On 11 December, von Bülow spoke in the
Reichstag in support of the Second Navy Bill, and made no reference to
an agreement with Britain, which he described as a declining nation
jealous of Germany. Chamberlain was startled but von Hatzfeldt assured
him that von Bülow's motivation was to fend off opponents in the
Reichstag. Although Chamberlain was irritated by von Bülow's
behaviour, he still hoped for an agreement.
A cornerstone laid by Mrs Chamberlain during her husband's South
Chamberlain and the British government had long wished for the
federation of South Africa under the British crown, but it appeared
that the growing wealth of the Transvaal would ensure that any future
union of Southern African states would be as a
Boer dominated republic
outside the British Empire. Chamberlain sought British domination of
the Transvaal and
Orange Free State
Orange Free State by endorsing the civil rights of
the disenfranchised Uitlanders. Britain also exerted steady military
pressure. In April 1897, Chamberlain asked the Cabinet to increase the
British garrison in South Africa by three to four thousand men –
consequently, the quantity of British forces in the area grew during
the next two years.
Political cartoon by
Joaquín Xaudaró featuring Kruger and
Chamberlain (Blanco y Negro, 9 December 1899).
The government appointed Sir Alfred Milner to the posts of High
Commissioner and Governor-General of the Cape in August 1897 to pursue
the issue more decisively. Within a year, Milner concluded that war
with the Transvaal was inevitable, and he worked with Chamberlain to
publicise the cause of the Uitlanders to the British people. A meeting
between President Kruger and Milner at
Bloemfontein in May 1899 failed
to resolve the
Uitlander problem – Kruger's concessions were
considered inadequate by Milner, and the Boers left the conference
convinced that the British were determined to settle the future of
South Africa by force. By now, British public opinion was supportive
of a war in support of the Uitlanders, allowing Chamberlain to ask
successfully for further troop reinforcements. By the beginning of
October 1899, nearly 20,000 British troops were based in the Cape and
Natal, with thousands more en route. On 12 October, following a
Transvaal ultimatum (9 October) demanding that British troops be
withdrawn from her frontiers, and that any forces destined for South
Africa be turned back, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State
Boer War: early defeat and false dawn
Main article: Second
Chamberlain was in charge of the war from his base in the Colonial
Office. The Prime Minister rubber-stamped his decisions. Boer
regular army units outnumbered the British 3:1 on the front lines and
quickly besieged the towns of Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley. Some
ten thousand Cape Afrikaners joined the Boers. In mid-December 1899,
during 'Black Week', the British Army suffered reverses at Stormberg,
Magersfontein and Colenso. Chamberlain was critical privately of the
British Army's military performance and was often vexed by the
attitude of the War Office. When the Boers bombarded Ladysmith with
Creusot ninety-four pounder siege guns, Chamberlain asked for the
dispatch of comparable artillery to the war, but was exasperated by
the Secretary of State for War, Lord Lansdowne's argument that such
weapons required platforms that needed a year of preparation, even
though the Boers operated their "Long Tom" without elaborate
mountings. Chamberlain made a number of speeches to reassure the
public, and worked to strengthen bonds between Britain and the
self-governing colonies, gratefully receiving over 30,000 troops from
Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The slogan One Flag, One Queen, One
Tongue expressed their loyalty to the Empire, although they each had
some Opposition to the Second
Boer War. In particular, the
contributions of mounted men from these settler colonies helped fill
the British Army's shortfall of mounted infantry, vital in fighting
the mobile Boers (who were an entirely mounted force of skilled
Chamberlain managed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act
through the House of Commons, hoping that the newly established
federation would adopt a positive attitude towards imperial trade and
fighting the war. Wishing to reconcile the British and Afrikaner
populations of the Cape, Chamberlain was resistant to Milner's desire
to suspend the constitution of the colony, an act that would have
given Milner autocratic powers. Chamberlain, as the government's
foremost defender of the war, was denounced by many prominent anti-war
personalities, including David Lloyd George, a former admirer of the
When in January 1900 the government faced a vote of censure in the
House of Commons concerning the management of the war, Chamberlain
conducted the defence. On 5 February, Chamberlain spoke effectively in
the Commons for over an hour while referring to very few notes. He
defended the war, espoused the virtues of a South African federation
and promoted the empire; speaking with a confidence which earned him a
sympathetic hearing. The vote of censure was subsequently defeated by
213 votes. British fortunes changed after January 1900 with the
appointment of Lord Roberts to command British forces in South Africa.
Bloemfontein was occupied on 13 March,
Johannesburg on 31 May and
Pretoria on 5 June. When Roberts formally annexed the Transvaal on 3
September, the Salisbury ministry, emboldened by the apparent victory
in South Africa, asked for the dissolution of Parliament, with an
election set for October.
The Khaki Election
With Salisbury ill, Chamberlain dominated the Unionist election
campaign in 1900. Salisbury did not speak at all, and Balfour made few
public appearances, causing some to refer to the event as 'Joe's
Election'. Fostering a cult of personality, Chamberlain began to refer
to himself in the third person as 'the Colonial Secretary', and he
ensured that the
Boer War featured as the campaign's single issue,
arguing that a Liberal victory would result in defeat in South Africa.
Controversy ensued over the use of the phrase "Every seat lost to the
government is a seat sold to the Boers" as the Unionists waged a
personalised campaign against Liberal critics of the war – some
posters even portrayed Liberal MPs praising President Kruger and
helping him to haul down the Union Jack. Chamberlain was in the
forefront of such tactics, declaring in a speech that "we have come
practically to the end of the war... there is nothing going on now but
a guerrilla business, which is encouraged by these men; I was going to
say those traitors, but I will say instead these misguided
individuals." Some Liberals also resorted to sharp campaigning
practices, with Lloyd George in particular accusing the Chamberlain
family of profiteering. References were made to Kynochs, a cordite
manufacturing firm run by Chamberlain's brother, Arthur, as well as
Hoskins & Co., of which the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, Austen,
held some shares. Many Liberals rejected Lloyd George's claims, and
Chamberlain dismissed them as unworthy of reply, although the charges
troubled him more than he was prepared to make evident in
A 1901 cartoon of
Joseph Chamberlain from Vanity Fair
Twenty-six-year-old Winston Churchill, famous for his escape from a
Boer prisoner of war camp and his journalism for the Morning Post,
successfully stood as a Conservative candidate in Oldham, where
Chamberlain spoke on his behalf. Churchill recalled that
I watched my honoured guest with close attention. He loved the roar of
the multitude, and with my father could always say "I have never
feared the English democracy." The blood mantled in his cheek, and his
eye as it caught mine twinkled with pure enjoyment.
Churchill later wrote that 'Mr. Chamberlain was incomparably the most
live, sparkling, insurgent, compulsive figure in British affairs ...
'Joe' was the one who made the weather. He was the man the masses
knew.' Chamberlain used his popularity and the cause of imperialism in
the election to devastating effect, and with the Liberals split over
the issue of the war, the Unionists won a huge majority in the House
of Commons of 219. The mandate was not as comprehensive as Chamberlain
had hoped, but satisfactory enough to allow him to pursue his vision
for the empire and to strengthen his position in the Unionist
Anglo-German Alliance negotiations: third attempt
Under pressure from Balfour and Queen Victoria, the ailing Salisbury
surrendered the seals of the Foreign Office on 23 October though
remaining as Prime Minister. Lansdowne was appointed Foreign
Secretary, and Chamberlain's importance in the government grew further
still. Chamberlain took advantage of Lansdowne's inexperience to take
the initiative in British foreign affairs and attempt, yet again, to
formulate an agreement with Germany.
On 16 January 1901, Chamberlain and Devonshire made it known to
Eckardstein that they still planned to make Britain part of the Triple
Alliance. In Berlin, this news was received with some satisfaction,
although von Bülow continued to exercise caution, believing that
Germany could afford to wait. The Kaiser, who had come to the UK to
visit his dying grandmother Queen Victoria (Chamberlain had been the
last minister to visit her, a few days before her death), sent a
telegram from London to Berlin urging a positive response, yet von
Bülow wished to delay negotiations until Britain was more vulnerable,
especially from the ongoing war in South Africa. On 18 March,
Eckardstein asked Chamberlain to resume alliance negotiations, and
although the Colonial Secretary reaffirmed his support, he was
unwilling to commit himself, remembering von Bülow's rebuke in 1899.
Chamberlain had a lesser role this time, and it was to Lansdowne that
Eckardstein gave a proposal by von Bülow. A five-year Anglo-German
defensive alliance was presented, to be ratified by Parliament and the
Reichstag. When Lansdowne prevaricated, von Hatzfeldt took firmer
control of the negotiations, and presented a demanding invitation for
Britain to join the Triple Alliance, in which Britain would be
committed to the defence of Austria-Hungary. Salisbury decided
decisively against entering an alliance as a junior partner.
On 25 October 1901, Chamberlain defended the British Army's tactics in
South Africa against European press criticism, arguing that the
conduct of British soldiers was much more respectable than that of
troops in the Franco-Prussian War, a statement directed at Germany.
The German press was outraged, and when von Bülow demanded an
apology, Chamberlain was unrepentant. With this public dispute,
Chamberlain's hopes of an Anglo-German alliance were finally ended.
Denounced by von Bülow and German newspapers, Chamberlain's
popularity in Britain soared, with the Times commenting that 'Mr.
Chamberlain...is at this moment the most popular and trusted man in
With Chamberlain still seeking to end Britain's isolation and the
negotiations with Germany having been terminated, a settlement with
France was attractive. Chamberlain had begun negotiations to settle
colonial differences with the French Ambassador, Paul Cambon, in March
1901, although neither Lansdowne nor Cambon had moved as quickly as
Chamberlain would have liked. In February 1902, at a banquet at
Marlborough House held by King Edward VII, Chamberlain and Cambon
resumed their negotiations, with Eckardstein reputedly listening to
their conversation and only successfully managing to comprehend the
words "Morocco" and "Egypt". Chamberlain had contributed to making
possible the Anglo-French
Entente Cordiale that would occur in 1904.
Boer War: victory
The occupation of the Transvaal and the
Orange Free State
Orange Free State in 1900 did
not subdue the Boers, who waged a guerrilla campaign throughout 1901
until the end of the war in May 1902. Chamberlain was caught between
Unionists demanding a more effective military policy and many Liberals
denouncing the war. Publicly, Chamberlain insisted upon the separation
of civil and military authority, insisting that the conduct of the war
be left to the generals.
The revelation of concentration camps increased pressure on
Chamberlain and the government to intervene more effectively – and
humanely – in the management of the war. Chamberlain originally
questioned the wisdom of establishing the camps, but tolerated them in
deference to the military. During the autumn of 1901, Chamberlain took
more interest in proceedings when the scandal intensified,
strengthening civilian governance. Although he refused to criticise
the military publicly, he outlined to Milner the importance of making
the camps as habitable as possible, asking the Governor-General of the
Cape whether he considered medical provisions to be adequate.
Chamberlain also stipulated that unhealthy camps should be evacuated,
over-ruling the army where necessary.
By 1902, the death rate in the camps had halved, and was soon to
decrease below the usual mortality rate in rural South Africa. Despite
the concerns of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Michael Hicks
Beach, at the increasing costs of the war, Chamberlain maintained his
insistence that the Boers be made to surrender unconditionally, and
was supported by Salisbury. Though Lord Kitchener, commanding British
forces in South Africa, was eager to make peace with the Boers, Milner
was content to wait until the Boers sought peace terms themselves. In
Boer negotiators accepted Chamberlain's insistence upon
the loss of independence of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
However, the Boers insisted that Cape
Afrikaner rebels be given
amnesty and that Britain pay the
Boer republics' war debts.
Chamberlain overrode Milner's objections to accept the proposal,
arguing that the financial costs of continuing the war justified the
expenditure to relieve the debts of the
Boer republics. The Treaty of
Vereeniging (31 May 1902) ended the
Boer War. The conflict had not
been as decisive at Chamberlain had hoped, for the British had put
nearly 450,000 troops into the field and had spent nearly £200
million. Nevertheless, the end of war and the inclusion of Boer
territory as part of the
British Empire presented what Chamberlain
viewed as an opportunity to remodel Britain's imperial system.
Resignation of Salisbury
The end of the
Boer War allowed Salisbury, in declining health, to
finally retire. The Prime Minister was keen that Balfour, his nephew
should succeed him, but realised that Chamberlain's followers felt
that the Colonial Secretary had a legitimate claim to the premiership.
Chamberlain was the most popular figure in the government, and Leo
Maxse, editing the National Review, argued forcefully that Chamberlain
should be appointed Prime Minister when Salisbury retired. Chamberlain
himself was less concerned, assuring Balfour's Private Secretary in
February 1902 that 'I have my own work to do and...I shall be quite
willing to serve under Balfour.' On 7 July 1902, Chamberlain suffered
a head injury in a traffic accident. Chamberlain had three stitches
and was told by doctors to cease work immediately and remain in bed
for two weeks.
On 11 July, Salisbury went to Buckingham Palace, without notifying his
Cabinet colleagues, and resigned, with the King inviting Balfour to
form a new government later that day. Before accepting, Balfour
visited Chamberlain, who said he was content to remain Colonial
Secretary. Despite Chamberlain's organisational skills and immense
popularity, many Conservatives still mistrusted his Radicalism, and
Chamberlain was aware of the difficulties that would be presented by
being part of a
Liberal Unionist minority leading a Conservative
majority. Balfour and Chamberlain were both aware that the Unionist
government's survival depended on their co-operation.
1902 Education Act
Main article: Education Act 1902
Balfour's Education Bill was intended to promote National Efficiency,
a cause which Chamberlain thought worthy. However, the Education Bill
abolished the 2,568 school boards established under W.E. Forster's
1870 Act, bodies that were popular with Nonconformists and Radicals,
replacing them with local education authorities that would administer
a state centred system of primary, secondary and technical schools.
The Bill would also give ratepayer's money to voluntary, Church of
England schools. Chamberlain was aware that the Bill's proposals would
estrange Nonconformists, Radicals and many Liberal Unionists from the
government, but could not oppose it as he owed his position as
Colonial Secretary to Conservative support. In response to
Chamberlain's warning about
Nonconformist dissent, and suggestion that
voluntary schools receive funds from central rather than local
government, Robert Morant replied that the
Boer War had drained the
Chamberlain sought to stem the feared exodus of
by securing a major concession – local authorities would be given
the discretion over the issue of rate aid to voluntary schools, yet
even this was renounced before the guillotining of the Bill and its
passage through Parliament in December 1902. Thus, Chamberlain had to
make the best of a hopeless situation, writing fatalistically that 'I
consider the Unionist cause is hopeless at the next election, and we
shall certainly lose the majority of the Liberal Unionists once and
for all.' Chamberlain already regarded tariff reform as an issue that
could revitalise support for Unionism.
Tour of South Africa
Chamberlain visited South Africa between 26 December 1902 and 25
February 1903, seeking to promote Anglo-
Afrikaner conciliation and the
colonial contribution to the British Empire, and trying to meet people
in the newly unified South Africa, including those who had recently
been enemies during the
Boer War. In Natal, Chamberlain was given a
rapturous welcome. In the Transvaal, he met
Boer leaders who were
attempting unsuccessfully to alter the peace terms reached at
Vereeniging. The reception given to Chamberlain in the Orange River
Colony was surprisingly friendly, although he was engaged in a
two-hour argument with General Hertzog, who accused the British
government of violating three terms of the Treaty of Vereeniging.
During his visit, Chamberlain became convinced that the Boer
territories required a period of government by the British crown
before being granted self-governance within the empire. In the Cape,
Chamberlain found that the
Afrikaner Bond was more affable regarding
his visit than many members of the English speaking Progressive Party,
now under the leadership of Jameson, who called Chamberlain 'the
callous devil from Birmingham.' Chamberlain successfully persuaded the
Prime Minister, John Gordon Sprigg, to hold elections as soon as
possible, a positive act considering the hostile nature of the Cape
Parliament since 1899. During the tour, Chamberlain and his wife
visited 29 towns, and he delivered 64 speeches and received 84
Zionism and the "Uganda Proposal"
When he first met
Theodor Herzl on 23 October 1902, Chamberlain
expressed his sympathy to the Zionist cause. He was willing to
consider their plan for settlement near el
Arish and in the Sinai
Peninsula but his support was conditional on the approval of the Cairo
authorities. When it became evident that these efforts were coming to
naught, Chamberlain, on 24 April 1903, offered Herzl a territory in
East Africa. The proposal came to be known as the Uganda Plan (even
though the territory in question was in Kenya). The Zionist
Organization, after some deliberations, rejected the proposal, as did
the British settlers in East Africa. However, the proposal that
Chamberlain made was a major break-through for the Zionists—Great
Britain had engaged them diplomatically and recognised a need to find
a territory appropriate for Jewish autonomy under British
Tariff reform: Unionist split
Zebel explains Chamberlain's position by noting that for two decades
Boer War, he was not a blind supporter of free trade as a
goal in itself. Instead his goal was to both tighten the bonds of
Empire and, simultaneously, solve Britain's domestic economic and
political problems. He therefore merged political and economic
nationalism in coming up with a formula for imperial preference in
trade and tariffs.
Chamberlain desired an imperial federation formed on the model of
Bismarckian Germany to allow Britain to maintain its global role
amidst the growing economic challenge of the United States and
Germany. He wanted
Imperial Preference in trade with the empire and
tariffs on foreign imports. Chamberlain also believed that tariffs
would generate finance for a scheme of old-age pensions and other
social improvements. Such a programme would help Chamberlain secure
the Unionists' hold on the West Midlands, and further enhance his
power within the government. Chamberlain prepared to end the Free
Trade consensus that had dominated British economics since the repeal
Corn Laws in 1846.
In April 1902, Chamberlain dined with the Hughligans, a small
parliamentary clique which included
Lord Hugh Cecil
Lord Hugh Cecil and Churchill
among its membership. Churchill recalled that
As [Chamberlain] rose to leave he paused at the door, and turning said
with much deliberation, "You young gentlemen have entertained me
royally, and in return I will give you a priceless secret. Tariffs!
They are the politics of the future, and of the near future. Study
them closely and make yourself masters of them, and you will not
regret your hospitality to me."
In the same month, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hicks Beach,
levied a small duty on imported corn to raise revenue for the Boer
War. Chamberlain wanted to use this as a start for the reform of
Britain's trade, and he was encouraged by a report submitted in June
by the President of the Board of Trade, Gerald Balfour, the Prime
Minister's younger brother, recommending reciprocal agreements with
the colonies. In July, the Colonial Conference was convened in London,
and though it rejected Chamberlain's suggestion that an Imperial
Council should be established, it passed a resolution endorsing
Imperial Preference. Chamberlain was confident his proposals were
gathering popularity, and he brought the matter before the Cabinet
before embarking on a tour of South Africa in December 1902. The new
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Thomson Ritchie, was vigorously
opposed to any scheme of
Imperial Preference but although he made his
opinions known, the Cabinet was generally favourable towards
Chamberlain's proposal when it was considered on 21 October.
In November, the Cabinet agreed, at Chamberlain's prompting, to remit
the corn tax in favour of the self-governing colonies in the upcoming
budget. Thinking that he had gained the agreement of the Cabinet,
Chamberlain went to South Africa, while Ritchie worked to reverse the
Cabinet's earlier decision. In March 1903, before Chamberlain's
return, Ritchie asked Balfour to schedule a meeting to propose the
budget to the Cabinet. Balfour refused and warned Chamberlain, using
Austen as an intermediary, of Ritchie's continuing opposition.
Chamberlain arrived in Southampton on 14 March, prepared to struggle
with Ritchie and determined that the corn tax should be maintained in
the imminent budget.
Chamberlain was shocked to find on 17 March that the majority of the
Cabinet was in agreement with Ritchie, and that the Chancellor of the
Exchequer had reversed the decision made the previous November.
Balfour chose not to take sides, but did not oppose Ritchie for fear
of losing his Chancellor on the eve of the budget. Chamberlain
accepted that there was not enough time to debate the matter in
Cabinet before the budget, and allowed Ritchie to have his way. The
Chancellor presented a
Free Trade on 23 April, during which
Chamberlain was completely silent. Though Chamberlain had been taken
aback by the Cabinet's switch, he prepared to surprise his colleagues
in return. On 15 May, in the midst of his power base, Bingley Hall,
Chamberlain remarked before his speech to the event's chief organiser,
"You can burn your leaflets. We are going to talk about something
else." He lamented the demise of the corn tax to his audience and
insisted that the greatness of the empire could be preserved by
introducing Imperial Preference, which he hoped would dominate the
next general election. His impromptu speech stunned Balfour and the
Cabinet, the Prime Minister having just insisted publicly that it was
not yet time to implement a policy of Imperial Preference.
Furthermore, on 28 May, Chamberlain reiterated his challenge to Free
Trade orthodoxy in the House of Commons, amidst cheering from many
Unionists. Balfour hoped to calm the situation by devoting the summer
to the question and publicly professed support for neither policy,
earning him much criticism by the opposition Liberal Party.
Balfour was successful in preventing serious debate on the subject
while the Board of Trade compiled statistics on the matter. A Cabinet
meeting convened on 13 August failed to agree, and a final decision
was postponed until 14 September. Balfour hoped that Chamberlain would
moderate his espousal of tariff reform to satisfy the majority of the
Cabinet, and particularly the other prominent Liberal Unionist,
Devonshire. The Prime Minister was content with the prospect of losing
die-hard Free Traders, and prepared a memorandum which contained a
number of radical, reforming economic opinions. On 9 September,
Chamberlain dramatically sent a letter of resignation to Balfour,
explaining his wish to campaign publicly for Imperial Preference
outside the Cabinet. An hour before the Cabinet meeting on 14
September, Chamberlain and Balfour agreed that Chamberlain would
resign and attempt to rally public support for
Imperial Preference if
the Cabinet could not be persuaded to adopt the new policy. Balfour
agreed to promote Austen to the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer,
who would then speak for his father inside the Cabinet. If the
campaign was successful, Balfour could endorse
Imperial Preference at
the next general election.
When the Cabinet meeting failed to endorse his proposals, Chamberlain
announced his resignation, but Balfour did not tell the meeting about
Chamberlain's resignation letter, instead telling many members of his
belief that Chamberlain was not serious about resigning. The Prime
Minister then forced the resignations of Ritchie and Lord Balfour of
Burleigh for having submitted memoranda advocating Free Trade. The
Lord George Hamilton
Lord George Hamilton resigned, and the following day, 16
September, Balfour announced the resignations of Ritchie, Hamilton and
Free Trade ministers were appalled that Chamberlain's
letter of resignation had been kept secret, and the Duke of
Devonshire, who had also resigned, rescinded his decision. But when
Balfour explained his fiscal policy on 1 October, Devonshire
re-submitted his resignation. The resignations of Chamberlain, Ritchie
and Devonshire left the government gravely weakened.
Tariff reform: Chamberlain's last crusade
Tariff Reform League
Tariff Reform League poster
Chamberlain asserted his authority over the Liberal Unionists soon
after Devonshire's departure. The National Union of Conservative and
Unionist Associations also declared majority support for tariff
reform, which meant an end to free trade. With firm support from
provincial Unionism and most of the press, Chamberlain addressed vast
crowds and extolled the virtues of Empire and Imperial Preference,
campaigning with the slogan "Tariff Reform Means Work for All." On 6
October 1903, Chamberlain began the campaign with a speech at Glasgow.
The newly formed
Tariff Reform League
Tariff Reform League received vast funding, allowing
it to print and distribute large numbers of leaflets and even to play
Chamberlain's recorded messages to public meetings by gramophone.
Chamberlain himself spoke at Greenock, Newcastle,
Liverpool and Leeds
within a month of the outset. Chamberlain explained at
Free Trade threatened British industry, declaring that "sugar is gone;
silk has gone; iron is threatened; wool is threatened; cotton will go!
How long are you going to stand it? At the present moment these
industries...are like sheep in a field."
Liverpool on 27 October, Chamberlain was escorted to the
Conservative Working Men's Association by mounted police amidst wild
cheering. Intending to enlist the support of the working class,
Chamberlain assured his audience that tariff reform ensured low
unemployment. When the Liberal-supporting Daily News used official
import prices to demonstrate that a loaf of bread under tariff reform
would be smaller than a free trade loaf of bread, Chamberlain arranged
for two loaves to be baked based upon free trade and tariff reform
prices. On 4 November 1903, Chamberlain spoke at Bingley Hall,
Birmingham and put the loaves on display, raising them aloft. "Is it
not a sporting question ... as to which is the larger?" he asked the
While the Liberal Party healed its divisions and rallied for Free
Trade, the division inside the Unionist ranks became more apparent.
Balfour had endorsed cautious protectionism soon after Chamberlain's
resignation, but was unwilling to go further or to announce an early
general election, by-election results being comprehensively
unfavourable for the Unionists. While Chamberlain toured the country,
the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liberal
H. H. Asquith
H. H. Asquith stalked
him by preaching the virtues of
Free Trade in the same venues in which
Chamberlain had appeared a few evenings before. The campaign for
tariff reform had a brief intermission as Chamberlain's health began
to fail. Suffering from gout and neuralgia, Chamberlain took a
two-month holiday in February 1904. Chamberlain decided that the
Unionists were likely to lose the general election, and criticised
Balfour for delaying the inevitable. Indeed, Chamberlain now hoped
that Balfour would fail in promoting his guarded fiscal doctrine,
probably with a strategy of eventually leading the Unionists on a
purely protectionist platform after the expected defeat in the general
election. He wrote to his son Neville that 'The Free Traders are
common enemies. We must clear them out of the party & let them
By the end of 1904, the Tariff Reform League's numerous branches were
challenging the Conservative National Union. Chamberlain also
attempted to secure the Tariff Reform League's representation inside
Conservative Central Office. Balfour maintained his programme of
retaliatory tariffs and attempted to minimise the obvious differences
between Chamberlain and himself. Publicly, Chamberlain claimed that
Balfour's stance was the precursor to a fuller policy of Imperial
Preference. Now approaching seventy years of age, Chamberlain
continued to campaign for tariff reform with zeal and energy.
Reconciliation appeared imminent when Balfour agreed to a general
election after the 1906 Colonial Conference, in which tariff reform
would be discussed. However, threatened by backbench opposition,
Balfour rescinded the agreement and demanded party unity. Chamberlain
ignored this and intensified his campaign in November 1905, resulting
directly in Balfour's resignation on 4 December.
1906 general election
With the Unionists divided and out of favour with many of their former
supporters, the Liberal Party won the 1906 general election by a
landslide, with the Unionists reduced to just 157 seats in the House
of Commons. Although Balfour lost his seat in East Manchester,
Chamberlain and his followers increased their majorities in the West
Midlands. Chamberlain even became acting Leader of the Opposition in
the absence of Balfour. With approximately 102 of the remaining
Unionist MPs supportive of Chamberlain, it seemed that he might become
leader of the Unionists, or at least win a major concession in favour
of tariff reform. Chamberlain asked for a Party meeting, and Balfour,
now returned to the Commons, agreed on 14 February 1906 in the
'Valentine letters' to concede that
Fiscal Reform is, and must remain, the constructive work of the
Unionist Party. That the objects of such reforms are to secure more
equal terms of competition for British trade, and closer commercial
union within the Colonies.
Although in opposition, it appeared that Chamberlain had successfully
associated the Unionists with the cause of tariff reform, and that
Balfour would be compelled to accede to Chamberlain's future demands.
An ageing Chamberlain caricatured by "WHO" for Vanity Fair, 1908.
Although his family attempted to conceal his disability, Chamberlain
was barely capable of standing unaided by this time, and was no longer
an active member of the House of Commons.
On 8 July 1906, Chamberlain celebrated his seventieth birthday and
Birmingham was enlivened for a number of days by official luncheons,
public addresses, parades, bands and an influx of thousands of
congratulatory telegrams. Tens of thousands of people crowded into the
city when Chamberlain made a passionate speech on 10 July, promoting
the virtues of Radicalism and imperialism. Chamberlain collapsed on 13
July whilst dressing for dinner in the bathroom of his house at
Prince's Gardens. Mary found the door locked and called out, receiving
the weakened reply "I can't get out." Returning with help, she found
him exhausted on the floor, having turned the handle from the inside,
and having suffered a stroke that paralysed his right side.
After a month, Chamberlain was able to walk a small number of steps
and resolved to overcome his disabilities. Although unaffected
mentally, his sight had deteriorated, compelling him to wear
spectacles instead of his monocle. His ability to read had diminished,
forcing Mary to read him newspapers and letters. He lost the ability
to write with his right hand, and his speech altered noticeably, with
Chamberlain's colleague, William Hewins, noting that 'His voice has
lost all its old ring. ... He speaks very slowly and articulates with
evident difficulty.' Chamberlain barely regained his ability to
Though he had lost all hope of recovering his health and returning to
active politics, Chamberlain followed his son Austen's career with
interest and encouraged the tariff reform movement. He opposed Liberal
proposals to remove the House of Lords' veto, and gave his blessing to
the Unionists to fight to oppose Home Rule for Ireland. In the two
general elections of 1910 he was allowed to return unopposed in his
Birmingham constituency. In January 1914, Chamberlain decided to
not seek re-election. On 2 July, six days before his 78th birthday, he
suffered a heart attack and, surrounded by his family, he died in his
Joseph Chamberlain and his first two wives, Harriet (d. 1863)
and Florence (d. 1875), in Key Hill Cemetery, Hockley, Birmingham
Telegrams of condolence arrived from across the world, with the Prime
Minister H. H. Asquith, Chamberlain's adversary a decade before,
leading the tributes in the House of Commons, declaring that:
in that striking personality, vivid, masterful, resolute, tenacious,
there were no blurred or nebulous outlines, there were no relaxed
fibres, there were no moods of doubt and hesitation, there were no
pauses of lethargy or fear.
The family refused an offer of an official burial at Westminster Abbey
and a Unitarian ceremony was held in Birmingham. He was laid to rest
at Key Hill Cemetery, Hockley, in the same grave as his first two
wives, and close to that of his parents. On 31 March 1916, the
Chamberlain Memorial, a bust created by sculptor Mark Tweed, was
unveiled at Westminster Abbey. Amongst the dignitaries present were
former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, Bonar Law, Chamberlain's sons
Austen and Neville (then Lord Mayor of Birmingham), and other members
of the Chamberlain, Hutton and Martineau families.
Memory and historiography
Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower at the University of
Winston Churchill called Chamberlain "a splendid piebald: first black,
then white, or, in political terms, first fiery red, then true
blue". This is the conventional view of Chamberlain's politics,
that he became gradually more conservative, beginning to the left of
the Liberal party and ending to the right of the Conservatives. An
alternative view is that he was always a radical in home affairs and
an imperialist in foreign affairs, and that these stances were not in
great conflict with each other – with both he rejected
"laissez-faire capitalism". For instance, after leaving the Liberals
he remained a proponent of workmen's compensation and old-age
Historian J. A. R. Marriott says that in the 1870–1905 period
of all English statesman, the most representative and one of the most
influential. Firmly convinced of the merits of parliamentary
democracy, an ardent social reformer, though opposed to social
revolution, above all, a whole-hearted believer in the Imperial
mission of the British race, Chamberlain preeminently embodied the
most vital of the most characteristic ideas of that epoch....[in
Birmingham he was] A strong advocate of municipal enterprise, he
stimulated the Corporation to purchase the gas-works, the water-works,
the sewage farm, and by extensive scheme of slum clearance and
rehousing, he transformed the outward aspect of the city is his
adoption....[Once in Parliament,] from the [Liberal] Party point of
view Chamberlin's support became increasingly indispensable but it was
rendered with increasing reluctance.
Historian Dennis Judd says:
There is something so elemental and, in a way, timeless about the
meteoric rise of Chamberlain: from his modest London Unitarian
background, via his brilliant industrial and commercial career in
Birmingham, to a position of almost supreme political power, where he
could (and did) make and break the two major parties of late-Victorian
and Edwardian England, destroy the immediate prospect of Irish Home
Rule, reshape the British Empire, press for a restructuring of British
economic policies and bestride the international stage as
significantly as Rhodes or Bismarck.
Historian R. J. A. Adams writes: "A great patriot who burned to
guarantee his country's future, Chamberlain's brilliance and
impatience guaranteed that he would be judged a political messiah to
some, but an unstable destroyer to many more."
A. J. P. Taylor
A. J. P. Taylor states:
Joseph Chamberlain was the greatest force in British politics between
the decline of Gladstone and the rise of Lloyd George. He was a
pioneer in social reform and municipal enterprise. He defeated Irish
Home Rule. He inspired a new era in British Imperialism and directed
its triumph in the
Boer War....He challenged the accepted dogmas of
Free Trade and launched the movement for Tariff Reform, which was to
transform British economic life a generation after his death. Despite
these achievements, nothing went right with him. He stands pre-eminent
as a Splendid Failure.... Chamberlain, it seems, was successful only
in destruction, bringing ruin first to the Liberal, and then to the
He is commemorated by the large
Chamberlain Memorial in Chamberlain
Square, in central Birmingham, erected in 1880; and by the large
Chamberlain Clock in the city's Jewellery Quarter, erected
in 1903 (in both cases, therefore, during his lifetime). His
Birmingham home, Highbury Hall, is now a civic conference venue and a
venue for civil marriages, and is open occasionally to the public.
Highbury Hall is situated not far from Winterbourne House and Garden
which was commissioned as a family home for Chamberlain's niece
Margaret by her husband John Nettlefold: Winterbourne is now owned by
the University of Birmingham.
Midland Metro has a tram named after him.
Joseph Chamberlain Sixth
Form College in
Birmingham is named after him. Chamberlain School, a
pre-kindergarten-to-grade-12 public school in Grassy Lake, Alberta,
Canada, is named in his honour: the name was chosen by William
Salvage, a British immigrant and prosperous farmer, who donated land
for its construction in 1910.
University of Birmingham
Joseph Chamberlain in the Chancellor's robes of
The University of
Birmingham may be considered Chamberlain's most
enduring legacy. He proposed the establishment of a university to
complete his vision for the city, seeking to provide "a great school
of universal instruction", so that "the most important work of
original research should be continuously carried on under most
favourable circumstances". He is regarded as the University's main
founder, was its first Chancellor, and was largely responsible for its
gaining its royal charter in 1900, and for the development of the
Edgbaston campus. The 325-foot Joseph
Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower
("Old Joe") is named in his honour: it is the tallest free-standing
clock tower in the world. The papers of Joseph Chamberlain, Austen
Neville Chamberlain and Mary Chamberlain are held in the
Honorary Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Grocers, 1 August
Chamberlain was the subject of two parody novels based on Alice in
Wonderland, Caroline Lewis's
Clara in Blunderland
Clara in Blunderland (1902) and Lost in
Henry Hallett portrayed him in
Victoria the Great
Victoria the Great and Sixty Glorious
Gustaf Gründgens portrayed him as a villain in Ohm Kruger.
Chamberlain was portrayed by
Basil Dignam in the 1972 Richard
Attenborough film Young Winston.
G. K. Chesterton's anarchist society in
The Man Who Was Thursday
The Man Who Was Thursday uses
"Joseph Chamberlain" as their password.
Books by him
Joseph Chamberlain (1903). Imperial Union and Tariff Reform. G.
Joseph Chamberlain (1885). The Radical Programme. Chapman and
Joseph Chamberlain (1902). Mr. Chamberlain's Defence of the British
Troops in South Africa against the foreign slanders. John
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Joseph Chamberlain (1994) pp 17-19, 90-91
Joseph Chamberlain (1994) pp 289-312, 319-21
^ Tristram Hunt Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian
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Joseph Chamberlain and Free Education in the Election
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^ Richard Jay (1981). Joseph Chamberlain, a political study.
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^ James Morris, Pax Britannica: The Climax of an Empire (1968) pp
^ Thomas Heyck (2013). A History of the Peoples of the British Isles:
From 1688 to 1914. Routledge. p. 372.
^ Cook GC, Webb AJ (2001). "The Albert Dock Hospital, London: The
Original Site (in 1899) of Tropical Medicine as a New Discipline".
Acta Trop. 79 (3): 249–55. doi:10.1016/S0001-706X(01)00127-9.
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(1855-1931): public health and tropical medicine." Medical history
31.4 (1987): 450.
^ Ensor, p 237.
^ D. C. Hanes, The First British Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897
^ Marsh DAB page 929
^ George Miller (2000). On Fairness and Efficiency: The Privatisation
of the Public Income Over the Past Millennium. Policy Press.
^ a b Andrew Roberts, Salisbury, 1999, p. 636
^ Marsh, Chamberlain (1994) pp 413-435
^ Crosby (2011). Joseph Chamberlain: A Most Radical Imperialist.
^ Daniel R. Magaziner, "Removing the Blinders and Adjusting the View:
A Case Study from Early Colonial Sierra Leone," History in Africa
(2007), Vol. 34, pp 169-188.
^ G. W. Monger, "The End of Isolation: Britain, Germany and Japan,
1900–1902" Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 13 (1963):
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^ Andrew N. Porter, Origins of the South African War: Joseph
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Joseph Chamberlain (1994) ch 16
^ Avner Cohen, "Joseph Chamberlain, Lord Lansdowne and British Foreign
Policy 1901–1903: From Collaboration to Confrontation," Australian
Journal of Politics & History (1997) 43#2 pp 122-134
^ Adam Lajeunesse, "The Anglo-German Alliance Talks and the Failure of
Amateur Diplomacy," Past Imperfect (2007) , Vol. 13, pp 84-107
Joseph Chamberlain (1994) pp 529-31
^ Marsh, Joseph Chamberlain: Entrepreneur in Politics (1994) pp 543-45
^ Sydney Zebel, "
Joseph Chamberlain and the Genesis of Tariff Reform,"
Journal of British Studies (1967) 7#1 pp 131–157.
^ Niall Ferguson (2008). Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British
World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. Basic Books.
^ Sydney Zebel, "
Joseph Chamberlain and the Genesis of Tariff Reform,"
Journal of British Studies (1967) 7#1 pp 131-157.
^ a b Ian McDonald, Politics in Britain 1898–1914: Lords, Ladies,
Free Trade and Ireland – The Postcard Album, 1998, no 27
^ Denis Judd, Radical Joe: a life of
Joseph Chamberlain (1977) p
^ Joseph Chamberlain, An Honest Biography -. "An Honest Biography –
Joseph Chamberlain". By Alexander Macintosh, 1914 – page 358. Hodder
and Stoughton, London, New York etc. Retrieved July 3, 2013.
Chamberlain Memorial – Fitting Scene in
Westminster Abbey –
Unveiling of a Bust". The Straits Times. 11 May 1916. p. 9.
Retrieved 1 March 2013.
^ Winston Churchill, Great Contemporaries (1938), ch 4.
^ J. A. R. Marriott. Modern England: 1885–1945 (4th ed. 1948), pp.
^ Dennis Judd, "
Joseph Chamberlain A Most Radical Imperialist" History
Today (Nov 2011) 61#11, pp. 55–56.
^ R. J. A. Adams, " Chamberlain, Joseph," in John Ramsden, ed. The
Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century British Politics (2002), p. 109.
A. J. P. Taylor
A. J. P. Taylor (1980). Politicians, Socialism, and Historians.
^ "Chamberlain's vision: A great school of universal instruction –
University of Birmingham". www.birmingham.ac.uk.
^ "Establishment of the University 1900–1949".
^ "Mr Chamberlain and Lord Kitchener in the City". The Times (36836).
London. 2 August 1902. p. 10.
^ Sigler, Carolyn, ed. 1997: Alternative Alices: Visions and Revisions
of Lewis Carroll's "Alice" Books Lexington. Kentucky, University Press
of Kentucky, Pp. 340–347
^ Dickinson, Evelyn: "Literary Note and Books of the Month", in United
Australia, Vol. II, No. 12, 20 June 1902
Balfour, Michael. Britain and
Joseph Chamberlain ( 1985), scholarly
biography emphasizing economic topics
Browne, Harry. Joseph Chamberlain: Radical and Imperialist (Longman
Higher Education, 1974), 100 pp introduction
Cawood, Ian, and Chris Upton, eds Joseph Chamberlain: International
Statesman, National Leader, Local Icon (Springer, 2016) online; online
Cawood, Ian. "Conclusion Joseph Chamberlain: His Reputation and
Legacy." pp 229–243.
Carwood, Ian, The
Liberal Unionist Party: A History (2012) online
Cohen, Avner (1997). "Joseph Chamberlain, Lord Lansdowne and British
foreign policy 1901–1903: from collaboration to confrontation".
Australian Journal of Politics and History. 43 (2): 122–34.
Crosby, Travis L. Joseph Chamberlain: A Most Radical Imperialist
(London: IB Tauris, 2011). Pp. xii+ 271.
Ensor, R. C. K. England 1870-1914 (1936), scholarly survey
Fraser, Derek. "
Joseph Chamberlain and the Municipal Ideal," History
Today (April 1987) 37#4 pp 33–40
Fraser, Peter. Joseph Chamberlain: Radicalism and empire, 1868–1914
Garvin, J. L.; Amery, Julian (1932–69). The Life of Joseph
Chamberlain. London: Macmillan. (6 vols); highly detailed with
many letters; friendly to Chamberlain; vol. 1 online
Howell, P.A.. 'Joseph Chamberlain, 1836–1914'. In The Centenary
Companion to Australian Federation, edited by Helen Irving, (Cambridge
University Press, 1989)
Halevy, Elie. Imperialism and the rise of labour, 1895–1905 (Vol. 5.
1934), Survey of the era with considerable attention to Chamberlain's
position on major issues.
Hunt, Tristram. Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian
City, (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004) pp 232–265; his role in
Jay, Richard. Joseph Chamberlain, A Political Study (Oxford UP, 1981),
Scholarly biography focused on major national issues
Judd, Denis. Radical Joe: Life of
Joseph Chamberlain (H Hamilton,
1977), a scholarly biography.
Kubicek, Robert V. The administration of imperialism: Joseph
Chamberlain at the Colonial Office (Duke UP, 1969)
Mackintosh, Alexander. Joseph Chamberlain: An Honest Biography (2nd
ed. 1914), early scholarly biography online free
Marsh, Peter T. Joseph Chamberlain: Entrepreneur in Politics, (Yale
UP, 1994); 720pp; David Nichols says it is "comprehensive, judicious,
scholarly, and eminently readable....[and] successfully integrates the
public and the private to provide the first fully rounded account."
Marsh, Peter T. "Chamberlain, Joseph (1836–1914)", Oxford Dictionary
of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online ed., Sept
2013 accessed 3 July 2014, a short scholarly biography.
Nicholls, David, "Chamberlain, Joseph" in David Loades, ed. Reader's
Guide to British History (2003) 1: 243–44; historiography
Porter, Andrew N. (1980). The Origins of the South African War: Joseph
Chamberlain & the Diplomacy of Imperialism, 1895–99. Manchester:
Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719007637.
Porter, Andrew (1972). "Lord Salisbury, Mr. Chamberlain and South
Africa, 1895–9". Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. 1
Porter, Andrew (1990). "The South African War (1899–1902): context
and motive reconsidered". Journal of African History. 31 (1):
Powell, Enoch J. (1977). Joseph Chamberlain. London: Thames and
Hudson. ISBN 0500011850.
Strauss, William L. (1942).
Joseph Chamberlain and the Theory of
Imperialism. Washington: American Council on Public Affairs.
Sykes, Alan (1979). Tariff Reform in British Politics, 1903–1913.
Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 9780198224839.
Zebel, Sydney (1967). "
Joseph Chamberlain and the Genesis of Tariff
Reform". Journal of British Studies. 7 (1): 131–57.
Garvin, J. L.; Amery, Julian (1932–69). The Life of Joseph
Chamberlain. London: Macmillan. (6 vols); Reprints many of his
Mr Chamberlain's Speeches, ed. C. W. Boyd, (2 vol. 1914) online
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