1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Milner, Alfred Milner, Viscount
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Milner, Alfred Milner, Viscount
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MILNER, ALFRED MILNER, Viscount (1854- ), British statesman (see 18.476). After Lord Milner's return from South Africa he occupied himself mainly with business interests in the City of London. But, though he took up a somewhat detached attitude with regard to ordinary domestic politics, he was active on behalf of causes which appealed to him from the imperial side; and he made several speeches in different parts of the country in the next few years on behalf of Tariff Reform and Colonial Preference. He paid a visit to Canada, where he himself and his gospel of imperialism were well received. He was roused, however, by Mr. Lloyd George's budget of 1909, and he advised the House of Lords to reject the Finance bill, and, as he said at Glasgow, to “damn the consequences.” He made several speeches in the next twelve months in defence of the Lords' position; and when the Parliament bill came up to the House of Lords in 1911, he was a leading spirit among the “Die-hards” who advised resistance to the end. He did not take a very prominent part in the opposition to the Irish Home Rule bill; but he aptly decribed the state of affairs in Ireland in the early summer of 1914 as “smouldering war,” and he urged the remodelling of the Amending bill so as to reassure the Ulstermen.
The World War confirmed all his fears as to the disadvantages under which Great Britain and the Empire would labour during hostilities through the practice of unlimited Free Trade by the mother country for over half a century. He gladly accepted in the summer of 1915 the chairmanship of a committee of technical experts and practical agriculturists, appointed by Lord Selborne as President of the Board of Agriculture, to consider the means of maintaining and increasing food production in England and Wales. The committee reported that farmers should be encouraged to grow more wheat by a guaranteed minimum of 45s. a quarter for the four years following the harvest of 1916. Mr. Asquith's Coalition Government did not think the situation serious enough for this drastic remedy — shrinking here, as in other matters, from a bold decision. Lord Milner became critical of this “wait and see” attitude; and especially reprobated on several occasions the policy of concealing disagreeable facts. “Truth all around,” he said at Canterbury on Oct. 30, “is the most fortifying thing in the world”; Englishmen could not brace their nerves and steel their hearts to win through by emulating the ostrich. Similarly he endeavoured, in April 1916, to spur on doubting ministers to accept the policy, which the country demanded, of universal compulsory service.
Mr. Lloyd George, when he formed his Ministry in the following Dec., at once turned to this resolute statesman, the only British administrator who before 1914 had directed a war from the civil side, and constituted him one of his principal colleagues in his War Cabinet of four (or five including Mr. Bonar Law). Considering the attitude of the two men at the time of the South African War, the offer and acceptance argued magnanimity on both sides. From this time to the cessation of hostilities their relations were close, and, after Mr. Lloyd George, Lord Milner took the largest share in the civilian conduct of the war. In vigour, resolution and readiness to take responsibility they resembled each other; but Lord Milner's experience, scholarship, steadiness and somewhat bureaucratic habit of mind supplied an invaluable complement to his chief's daring, impatience of precedent, quickness of apprehension and intellectual agility. In Feb. 1917 he attended, on behalf of the British Government, a conference of the Allies in Petrograd, the object of which was to improve the coordination in the prosecution of the war between the Government of the Tsar and the Western Powers; and he does not seem to have at all realized that Russia was on the brink of a revolution. He devoted himself closely to his duties in the War Cabinet, never making speeches in the country, and seldom in the House of Lords, where his appearances were mostly in explanation and defence of the policy of the Government in regard to food production and control. In June 1917 he announced that ministers had added between 70,000 and 80,000 men to the people available for agricultural work. In Feb. 1918 he vigorously defended Lord Rhondda's administration at the Food Ministry against ignorant criticism, and said that in regard to food Britain was in a better position than any other country except the United States. Except for what was necessary for the conduct of the war, everything must give way to food supply. The Corn Production bill of 1917 and the acceptance by the Government of the principle of Imperial Preference, and of the conservation of the raw materials of the empire, must have owed much to his influence and support. He worked heartily for inter-Allied coordination in the conduct of the war, and with Mr. Lloyd George attended meetings of the Supreme War Council at Versailles. He was in France at the time of the victorious German advance in the last ten days of March 1918; and it was largely owing to his influence that Gen. Foch was appointed Generalissimo of the Allied forces in France. It being vital to have a man of unusual capacity and vigour at the War Office in this critical spring of 1918, he was given the seals of Secretary of State for War on April 19; and it was he who presided over the Army Council during the succeeding months of the year which ended with victory.
In the reconstruction of the Ministry after the general election, Lord Milner left the War Office and became Colonial Secretary, a position for which his lifelong interest in the Empire peculiarly qualified him. In that capacity he attended the Paris Peace Conference as one of the British plenipotentiaries, and was a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles; and he subsequently helped to deal with a number of difficult questions arising under the Treaty out of the disposal of the German colonies conquered in war. But his colleagues utilized his services also in other directions. His financial authority was invoked to defend ministerial finance in the House of Lords; and when a serious revolutionary outbreak took place in Egypt in 1919, he was sent there, as the author of England in Egypt, at the head of a special mission to inquire into the causes, and to report on the form of constitution best calculated to promote Egyptian peace and prosperity. The mission arrived at Cairo in Dec. and remained till March; then in the summer of 1920 Lord Milner and his colleagues had long conferences with Zaghlul Pasha, the leader of the Nationalists, in London; and ultimately in Nov. they issued a memorandum recommending the recognition of Egyptian independence. Great Britain was to guarantee the integrity of Egypt against aggression; she would have a privileged position in Egypt and would maintain a garrison in the canal zone. The Capitulations were to be abolished, and the veto on legislation affecting foreigners would be vested in the High Commissioner. The new constitution, of which these were to be the principal features, had not yet been accepted when Lord Milner, who had only accepted office because of the national need, resigned in Feb. 1921, and his great services were fittingly recognized by the Order of the Garter. Before the end of the month he married Lady Edward Cecil, the widow of Lord Edward Cecil, formerly Miss Violet Maxse. (G. E. B.)