1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chamberlain, Joseph
CHAMBERLAIN, JOSEPH (1836–), British statesman, third son of Joseph Chamberlain, master of the Cordwainers’ Company, was born at Camberwell Grove, London, on the 8th of July 1836. His father was a well-to-do man of business, a Unitarian in religion and a Liberal in politics. Young Chamberlain was educated at Canonbury from 1845 to 1850, and at University College school, London, from 1850 to 1852. After two years in his father’s office in London, he was sent to Birmingham to join his cousin Joseph Nettlefold in a screw business in which his father had an interest; and by degrees, largely owing to his own intelligent management, this business became very successful. Nettlefold & Chamberlain employed new methods of attracting customers, and judiciously amalgamated rival firms with their own so as to reduce competition, with the result that in 1874, after twenty-two years of commercial life, Mr Chamberlain was able to retire with an ample fortune. Meanwhile he had in 1861 married his first wife, Miss Harriet Kenrick (she died in 1863), and had gradually come to take an increasingly important part in the municipal and political life of Birmingham. He was a constant speaker at the Birmingham and Edgbaston Debating Society; and when in 1868 the Birmingham Liberal Association was reorganized, he became one of its leading members. In 1869 he was elected chairman of the executive council of the new National Education League, the outcome of Mr George Dixon’s movement for promoting the education of the children of the lower classes by paying their school fees, and agitating for more accommodation and a better national system. In the same year he was elected a member of the town council, and married his second wife—a cousin of his first—Miss Florence Kenrick (d. 1875).
In 1870 he was elected a member of the first school board for Birmingham; and for the next six years, and especially after 1873, when he became leader of a majority and chairman, he actively championed the Nonconformist opposition to denominationalism. He was then regarded as a Republican—the term signifying rather that he held advanced Radical opinions, which were construed by average men in the light of the current political developments in France, than that he really favoured Republican institutions. His programme was “free Church, free land, free schools, free labour.” At the general election of 1874 he stood as a parliamentary candidate for Sheffield, but without success. Between 1869 and 1873 he was a prominent advocate in the Birmingham town council of the gospel of municipal reform preached by Mr Dawson, Dr Dale and Mr Bunce (of the Birmingham Post); and in 1873 his party obtained a majority, and he was elected mayor, an office he retained until June 1876. As mayor he had to receive the prince and princess of Wales on their visit in June 1874, an occasion which excited some curiosity because of his reputation as a Republican; but those who looked for an exhibition of bad taste were disappointed, and the behaviour of the Radical mayor satisfied the requirements alike of The Times and of Punch.
The period of his mayoralty was one of historic importance in the growth of modern Birmingham. New municipal buildings were erected, Highgate Park was opened as a place of recreation, the free library and art gallery were developed. But the great work carried through by Mr Chamberlain for Birmingham was the municipalization of the supply of gas and water, and the improvement scheme by which slums were cleared away and forty acres laid out in new streets and open spaces. The prosperity of modern Birmingham dates from 1875 and 1876, when these admirably administered reforms were initiated, and by his share in them Mr Chamberlain became not only one of its most popular citizens but also a man of mark outside. An orator of a business-like, straightforward type, cool and hard-hitting, his spare figure, incisive features and single eye-glass soon made him a favourite subject for the caricaturist; and in later life his aggressive personality, and the peculiarly irritating effect it had on his opponents, made his actions and speeches the object of more controversy than was the lot of any other politician of his time. His hobby for orchid-growing at his house “Highbury” near Birmingham also became famous. In private life his loyalty to his friends, and his “genius for friendship” (as John Morley said) made a curious contrast to his capacity for arousing the bitterest political hostility. It may be added here that the interest taken by him in Birmingham remained undiminished during his life, and he was largely instrumental in starting the Birmingham University (1900), of which he became chancellor. His connexion with Birmingham University was indeed peculiarly appropriate to his character as a man of business; but in spite of his representing a departure among men of the front rank in politics from the “Eton and Oxford” type, his general culture sometimes surprised those who did not know him. In later life Oxford and Cambridge gave him their doctors’ degrees; and in 1897 he was made lord rector of Glasgow University (delivering an address on “Patriotism” at his installation).
In 1876 Mr Dixon resigned his seat in parliament, and Mr Chamberlain was returned for Birmingham in his place unopposed, as John Bright’s colleague. He made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on the 4th of August 1876, on Lord Sandon’s Education Bill. At this period, too, he paid much attention to the question of licensing reform, and in 1876 he examined the Gothenburg system in Sweden, and advocated a solution of the problem in England on similar lines. During 1877 the new federation of Liberal Associations which became known as the “Caucus” was started under Mr Chamberlain’s influence in Birmingham—its secretary, Mr Schnadhorst, quickly making himself felt as a wire-puller of exceptional ability; and the new organization had a remarkable effect in putting life into the Liberal party, which since Mr Gladstone’s retirement in 1874 had been much in need of a stimulus. When the general election came in 1880, Mr Schnadhorst’s powers were demonstrated in the successes won under his auspices. The Liberal party numbered 349, against 243 Conservatives and 60 Irish Nationalists; and the Radical section of the Liberal party, led by Mr Chamberlain and Sir Charles Dilke, was recognized by Mr Gladstone by his inclusion of the former in his cabinet as president of the Board of Trade, and the appointment of the latter as under secretary for foreign affairs. In his new capacity Mr Chamberlain was responsible for carrying such important measures as the Bankruptcy Act 1883, and the Patents Act. Another bill which he had much at heart, on merchant shipping, had to be abandoned, and a royal commission substituted, but the subsequent legislation in 1888–1894 owed much to his efforts. The Franchise Act of 1884 was also one in which he took a leading part as a champion of the opinions of the labouring class. At this time he took the current advanced Radical views of both Irish and foreign policy, hating “coercion,” disliking the occupation of Egypt, and prominently defending the Transvaal settlement after Majuba. Both before and after the defeat of Mr Gladstone’s government on the Budget in June 1885, he associated himself with what was known as the “Unauthorized Programme,” i.e. free education, small holdings, graduated taxation and local government. In June 1885 he made a speech at Birmingham, treating the reforms just mentioned as the “ransom” that property must pay to society for the security it enjoys—for which Lord Iddesleigh called him “Jack Cade”; and he continually urged the Liberal party to take up these Radical measures. At the general election of November 1885 Mr Chamberlain was returned for West Birmingham. The Liberal strength generally was, however, reduced to 335 members, though the Radical section held their own; and the Irish vote became necessary to Mr Gladstone if he was to command a majority. In December it was stated that Mr Gladstone intended to propose Home Rule for Ireland, and in January Lord Salisbury’s ministry was defeated on the Address, on an amendment moved by Mr Chamberlain’s Birmingham henchman, Mr Jesse Collings (b. 1831), embodying the “three acres and a cow” of the Radical programme. Unlike Lord Hartington (afterwards duke of Devonshire) and other Liberals, who declined to join Mr Gladstone in view of the altered attitude he was adopting towards Ireland, Mr Chamberlain entered the cabinet as president of the Local Government Board (with Mr Jesse Collings as parliamentary secretary), but on the 15th of March 1886 he resigned, explaining in the House of Commons (8th April) that, while he had always been in favour of the largest possible extension of local government to Ireland consistently with the integrity of the empire and the supremacy of parliament, and had therefore joined Mr Gladstone when he believed that this was what was intended, he was unable to consider that the scheme communicated by Mr Gladstone to his colleagues maintained those limitations. At the same time he was not irreconcilable, and he invited Mr Gladstone even then to modify his bill so as to remove the objections made to it. This indecisive attitude did not last long, and the split in the party rapidly widened. At Birmingham Mr Chamberlain was supported by the “Two Thousand,” but deserted by the “Caucus” and Mr Schnadhorst. In May the Radicals who followed Mr Bright and Mr Chamberlain, and the Whigs who took their cue from Lord Hartington, decided to vote against the second reading of the Home Rule Bill, instead of allowing it to be taken and then pressing for modifications in committee, and on 7th June the bill was defeated by 343 to 313, 94 Liberal Unionists—as they were generally called—voting against the government. Mr Chamberlain was the object of the bitterest attacks from the Gladstonians for his share in this result; he was stigmatized as “Judas,” and open war was proclaimed by the Home Rulers against the “dissentient Liberals”—the description used by Mr Gladstone. The general election, however, returned to parliament 316 Conservatives, 78 Liberal Unionists, and only 276 Gladstonians and Nationalists, Birmingham returning seven Unionist members. When the House met in August, it was decided by the Liberal Unionists, under Lord Hartington’s leadership, that their policy henceforth was essentially to combine with the Tories to keep Mr Gladstone out. The old Liberal feeling still prevailing among them was too strong, however, for their leaders to take office in a coalition ministry. It was enough for them to be able to tie down the Conservative government to such measures as were not offensive to Liberal Unionist principles. It still seemed possible, moreover, that the Gladstonians might be brought to modify their Home Rule proposals, and in January 1887 a Round Table conference (suggested by Mr Chamberlain) was held between Mr Chamberlain, Sir G. Trevelyan, Sir William Harcourt, Mr Morley and Lord Herschell. But no rapprochement was effected, and reconciliation became daily more and more difficult. The influence of Liberal Unionist views upon the domestic legislation of the government was steadily bringing about a more complete union in the Unionist party, and destroying the old lines of political cleavage. Before 1892 Mr Chamberlain had the satisfaction of seeing Lord Salisbury’s ministry pass such important acts, from a progressive point of view, as those dealing with Coal Mines Regulation, Allotments, County Councils, Housing of the Working Classes, Free Education and Agricultural Holdings, besides Irish legislation like the Ashbourne Act, the Land Act of 1891, and the Light Railways and Congested Districts Acts. In October 1887 Mr Chamberlain, Sir L. Sackville West and Sir Charles Tupper were selected by the government as British plenipotentiaries to discuss with the United States the Canadian fisheries dispute, and a treaty was arranged by them at Washington on the 15th of February 1888. The Senate refused to ratify it; but a protocol provided for a modus vivendi pending ratification, giving American fishing vessels similar advantages to those contemplated in the treaty; and on the whole Mr Chamberlain’s mission to America was accepted as a successful one in maintaining satisfactory relations with the United States. He returned to England in March 1888, and was presented with the freedom of the borough of Birmingham. The visit also resulted, in November 1888, in his marriage with his third wife, Miss Endicott, daughter of the United States secretary of war in President Cleveland’s first administration.
At the general election of 1892 Mr Chamberlain was again returned, with an increased majority, for West Birmingham; but the Unionist party as a whole came back with only 315 members against 355 Home Rulers. In August Lord Salisbury’s ministry was defeated; and on the 13th of February 1893 Mr Gladstone introduced his second Home Rule Bill, which was eventually read a third time on the 1st of September. During the eighty-two days’ discussion in the House of Commons Mr Chamberlain was the life and soul of the opposition, and his criticisms had a vital influence upon the attitude of the country when the House of Lords summarily threw out the bill. His chief contribution to the discussions during the later stages of the Gladstone and Rosebery ministries was in connexion with Mr Asquith’s abortive Employers’ Liability Bill, when he foreshadowed the method of dealing with this question afterwards carried out in the Compensation Act of 1897. Outside parliament he was busy formulating proposals for old age pensions, which had a prominent place in the Unionist programme of 1895. In that year, on the defeat of Lord Rosebery, the union of the Unionists was sealed by the inclusion of the Liberal Unionist leaders in Lord Salisbury’s ministry; and Mr Chamberlain became secretary of state for the colonies. There had been much speculation as to what his post would be, and his nomination to the colonial office, then considered one of secondary rank, excited some surprise; but Mr Chamberlain himself realized how important that department had become. He carried with him into the ministry his close Birmingham municipal associates, Mr Jesse Collings (as under secretary of the home office), and Mr J. Powell-Williams (1840–1904) as financial secretary to the war office. Mr Chamberlain’s influence in the Unionist cabinet was soon visible in the Workmen’s Compensation Act and other measures. This act, though in Sir Matthew White Ridley’s charge as home secretary, was universally and rightly associated with Mr Chamberlain; and its passage, in the face of much interested opposition from highly-placed, old-fashioned conservatives and capitalists on both sides, was principally due to his determined advocacy. Another “social” measure of less importance, which formed part of the Chamberlain programme, was the Small Houses Acquisition Act of 1899; but the problem of old age pensions was less easily solved. This subject had been handed over in 1893 to a royal commission, and further discussed by a select committee in 1899 and a departmental committee in 1900, but both of these threw cold water on the schemes laid before them—a result which, galling enough to one who had made so much play with the question in the country, offered welcome material to his opponents for electioneering recrimination, as year by year went by between 1895 and 1900 and nothing resulted from all the confident talk on the subject in which Mr Chamberlain had indulged when out of office. Eventually it was the Liberal and not the Unionist party that carried an Old Age Pensions scheme through parliament, during the 1908 session, when Mr Chamberlain was hors de combat.
From January 1896 (the date of the Jameson Raid) onwards South Africa demanded the chief attention of the colonial secretary (see South Africa, and for details Transvaal). In his negotiations with President Kruger one masterful temperament was pitted against another. Mr Chamberlain had a very difficult part to play, in a situation dominated by suspicion on both sides, and while he firmly insisted on the rights of Great Britain and of British subjects in the Transvaal, he was the continual object of Radical criticism at home. Never has a statesman’s personality been more bitterly associated by his political opponents with the developments they deplored. Attempts were even made to ascribe financial motives to Mr Chamberlain’s actions, and the political atmosphere was thick with suspicion and scandal. The report of the Commons committee (July 1897) definitely acquitted both Mr Chamberlain and the colonial office of any privity in the Jameson Raid, but Mr Chamberlain’s detractors continued to assert the contrary. Opposition hostility reached such a pitch that in 1899 there was hardly an act of the cabinet during the negotiations with President Kruger which was not attributed to the personal malignity and unscrupulousness of the colonial secretary. The elections of 1900 (when he was again returned, unopposed, for West Birmingham) turned upon the individuality of a single minister more than any since the days of Mr Gladstone’s ascendancy, and Mr Chamberlain, never conspicuous for inclination to turn his other cheek to the smiter, was not slow to return the blows with interest.
Apart from South Africa, his most important work at this time was the successful passing of the Australian Commonwealth Act (1900), in which both tact and firmness were needed to settle certain differences between the imperial government and the colonial delegates.
Mr Chamberlain’s tenure of the office of colonial secretary between 1895 and 1900 must always be regarded as a turning-point in the history of the relations between the British colonies and the mother country. His accession to office was marked by speeches breathing a new spirit of imperial consolidation, embodied either in suggestions for commercial union or in more immediately practicable proposals for improving the “imperial estate”; and at the Diamond Jubilee of 1897 the visits of the colonial premiers to London emphasized and confirmed the new policy, the fruits of which were afterwards seen in the cordial support given by the colonies in the Boer War. Even in what Mr Chamberlain called his “Radical days” he had never supported the “Manchester” view of the value of a colonial empire; and during the Gladstone ministry of 1882–1885 Mr Bright had remarked that the junior member for Birmingham was the only Jingo in the cabinet—meaning, no doubt, that he objected to the policy of laissez-faire and the timidity of what was afterwards known as “Little Englandism.” While he was still under Mr Gladstone’s influence these opinions were kept in subordination; but Mr Chamberlain was always an imperial federationist, and from 1887 onwards he constantly gave expression to his views on the desirability of drawing the different parts of the empire closer together for purposes of defence and commerce. In 1895 the time for the realization of these views had come; and Mr Chamberlain’s speeches, previously remarkable chiefly for debating power and directness of argument, were now dominated by a new note of constructive statesmanship, basing itself on the economic necessities of a world-wide empire. Not the least of the anxieties of the colonial office during this period was the situation in the West Indies, where the cane-sugar industry was being steadily undermined by the European bounties given to exports of continental beet; and though the government restricted themselves to attempts at removing the bounties by negotiation and to measures for palliating the worst effects in the West Indies, Mr Chamberlain made no secret of his repudiation of the Cobden Club view that retaliation would be contrary to the doctrines of free trade, and he did his utmost to educate public opinion at home into understanding that the responsibilities of the mother country are not merely to be construed according to the selfish interests of a nation of consumers. As regards foreign affairs, Mr Chamberlain more than once (and particularly at Leicester on 30th November 1899) indicated his leanings towards a closer understanding between the British empire, the United States and Germany,—a suggestion which did not save him from an extravagant outburst of German hostility during the Boer War. The unusually outspoken and pointed expression, however, of his disinclination to submit to Muscovite duplicity or to “pin-pricks” or “unmannerliness” from France was criticized on the score of discretion by a wider circle than that of his political adversaries.
During the progress of the Boer War from 1899 to 1902, Mr Chamberlain, as the statesman who had represented the cabinet in the negotiations which led to it, remained the object of constant attacks from his Radical opponents—the “little Englanders” and “Pro-Boers,” as he called them—and he was supported by the Imperialist and Unionist party with at least equal ardour. But as colonial secretary, except in so far as his consistent support of Lord Milner and his enthusiastic encouragement of colonial assistance were concerned, he naturally played only a subordinate part during the carrying out of the military operations. Among domestic statesmen he was felt, however, to be the backbone of the party in power. He was the hero of the one side, just as he was the bugbear of the other. On the 13th of February 1902 he was presented with an address in a gold casket by the city corporation, and entertained at luncheon at the Mansion House, an honour not unconnected with the strong feeling recently aroused by his firm reply (at Birmingham, January 11) to some remarks made by Count von Büllow, the German chancellor, in the Reichstag (January 8), reflecting the offensive allegations current in Germany against the conduct of the army in South Africa. Mr Chamberlain’s speech, in answer to what had been intended as a contemptuous rebuke, was universally applauded. His own imperialism was intensified by the way in which England’s difficulties resulted in calling forth colonial assistance and so cementing the bonds of empire. The domestic crisis, and the sharp cleavage between parties at home, had driven the bent of his mind and policy further and further away from the purely municipal and national ideals which he had followed so keenly before he became colonial minister. The problems of empire engrossed him, and a new enthusiasm for imperial projects arose in the Unionist party under his inspiration. No English statesman probably has ever been, at different times in his career, so able an advocate of absolutely contradictory policies, and his opponents were not slow to taunt him with quotations from his earlier speeches. As the war drew to its end, new plans for imperial consolidation were maturing in his brain. Subsidiary points of utility, such as the formation of the London and Liverpool schools of tropical medicine from 1899 onwards, were taken up by him with characteristic vigour. But the next step was to prove a critical one indeed for the loyalty of the party which had so far been unanimous in his favour.
The settlement after the war was full of difficulties, financial and others, in South Africa. When Mr Arthur Balfour succeeded Lord Salisbury as prime minister in July 1902, Mr Chamberlain agreed to serve loyally under him, and the friendship between the two leaders was indeed one of the most marked features of the political situation. In November 1902 it was arranged that Mr Chamberlain should go out to South Africa, and it was hoped, not without reason, that his personality would effect more good than any ordinary official negotiations. At the time the best results appeared to be secured. He went from place to place in South Africa (December 26-February 25); arranged with the leading Transvaal financiers that in return for support from the British government in raising a Transvaal loan they would guarantee a large proportion of a Transvaal debt of £30,000,000, which should repay the British treasury so much of the cost of the war; and when he returned in March 1903, satisfaction was general in the country over the success of his mission. But meantime two things had happened. He had looked at the empire from the colonial point of view, in a way only possible in a colonial atmosphere; and at home some of his colleagues had gone a long way, behind the scenes, to destroy one of the very factors on which the question of a practical scheme for imperial commercial federation seemed to hinge. In the budget of 1902 a duty of a shilling a quarter on imported corn had been reintroduced. This small tax was regarded as only a registration duty. Even by free-trade ministers like Gladstone it had been left up to 1869 untouched, and its removal by Robert Lowe (Lord Sherbrooke) had since then been widely regarded as a piece of economic pedantry. Its reimposition, officially supported for the sake of necessary revenue in war-time, and cordially welcomed by the Unionist party, had justified itself, as they contended, in spite of the criticisms of the Opposition (who raised the cry of the “dear loaf”), by proving during the year to have had no general or direct effect on the price of bread. And the more advanced Imperialists, as well as the more old-fashioned protectionists (like Mr Chaplin) who formed an integral body of the Conservative party, had looked forward to this tax being converted into a differential one between foreign and colonial corn, so as to introduce a scheme of colonial preference and commercial consolidation between the colonies and the mother country. In South Africa—as in any other British colony, since all of them were accustomed to tariffs of a protectionist nature, and the idea of a preference (already started by Canada) was fairly popular—Mr Chamberlain had found this view well established. The agitation in England against the tax had now blown over. The Unionist rank and file were committed to its support,—many even advocating its increase to two shillings at least. But Mr Ritchie, the chancellor of the exchequer, having a surplus in prospect and taxation to take off, carried the cabinet in favour of again remitting this tax on corn. Mr Chamberlain himself had proposed only to take it off as regards colonial, and not foreign corn,—thus inaugurating a preferential system. But a majority of the cabinet supported Mr Ritchie. The remission of this tax, after all the conviction with which its restoration had been supported a year before, was very difficult for the party itself to stomach, and on any ground it was a distasteful act, loyally as the party followed their leaders. But to those who had looked to it as providing a lever for a gradual change in the established fiscal system, the volte-face was a bitter blow, and at once there began, though not at first openly, a split between the more rigid free-traders—advocates of cheap food and free imports—and those who desired to use the opportunities of a tariff, of however moderate a kind, for attaining national and imperial and not merely revenue advantages. This idea, which had for some time been floating in Mr Chamberlain’s mind (see especially his speech at Birmingham of May 16, 1902), now took full possession of it. For the moment he remained in the cabinet, but the seed of dissension was sown. The first public intimation of his views was given in a speech to his constituents at Birmingham (May 15, 1903), when he outlined a plan for raising more money by a rearranged tariff, partly to obtain a preferential system for the empire and partly to produce funds for social reform at home. On May 28th in the House of Commons he spoke on the same subject, and declared “if you are to give a preference to the colonies, you must put a tax on food.” Considered in the light of after events, this putting the necessity of food-taxes in the forefront was decidedly injudicious; but imperialist conviction and enthusiasm were more conspicuous than electioneering tact in the launching of Mr Chamberlain’s new scheme.
The movement grew quickly, its supporters including a number of the cleverest younger politicians and journalists in the Unionist party. The idea of tariff reform—to broaden the basis of taxation, to introduce a preference, and to stimulate home industries and increase employment—took firm root; and the political economists of the party—Prof. W. Cunningham, Prof. W. Ashley and Prof. W. A. S. Hewins, in particular—brought effective criticism to bear on the one-sided “free trade” in vogue. The first demand was for inquiry. The country was still bearing an income-tax of elevenpence in the pound; it appeared that the old sources of revenue were inadequate; and meanwhile the statistics of trade, it was argued, showed that the English free-import system hampered English trade while providing the foreigner with a free market. Mr Chamberlain and his supporters argued that since 1870 certain other countries (Germany and the United States), with protective tariffs, had increased their trade in much larger proportion, while English trade had only been maintained by the increased business done with British colonies. A scientific inquiry into the facts was needed. By the Opposition, who now found themselves the defenders of conservatism in the established fiscal policy of the country, this whole argument was scouted; but for a time the demand merely for inquiry, and the production of figures, gave no sufficient occasion for dissension among Unionists, even when, like Sir M. Hicks Beach, they were convinced free-importers on purely economic grounds; and Mr Balfour (q.v.), as premier, managed to hold his colleagues and party together by taking the line that particular opinions on economic subjects should not be made a test of party loyalty. The Board of Trade was set to work to produce fiscal Blue-books, and hum-drum politicians who had never shown any genius for figures suddenly blossomed out into arithmeticians of the deepest dye. The Tariff Reform League was founded in order to further Mr Chamberlain’s policy, holding its inaugural meeting on July 21st; and it began to take an active part in issuing leaflets and in work at by-elections. Discussion proceeded hotly on the merits of a preferential tariff, and on August 15th a manifesto appeared against it signed by fourteen professors or lecturers on political economy, including Mr Leonard Courtney, Professor Edgeworth, Professor Marshall, Professor Bastable, Professor Smart, Professor J. S. Nicholson, Professor Conner, Mr Bowley, Mr E. Cannan and Mr L. R. Phelps,—men of admitted competence, yet, after all, of no higher authority than the economists supporting Mr Chamberlain, such as Dr Cunningham and Professor Ashley.
Meanwhile, the death of Lord Salisbury (August 22) removed a weighty figure from the councils of the Unionist party. The cabinet met several times at the beginning of September, and the question of their attitude towards the fiscal problem became acute. The public had its first intimation of impending events in the appearance on September 16th of Mr Balfour’s Economic Notes on Insular Free Trade, which had been previously circulated as a cabinet memorandum. The next day appeared the Board of Trade Fiscal Blue-book. And on the 18th the resignations were announced, not only of the more rigid free-traders in the cabinet, Mr Ritchie and Lord George Hamilton, but also of Mr Chamberlain. Letters in cordial terms were published, which had passed between Mr Chamberlain (September 9) and Mr Balfour (September 16). Mr Chamberlain pointed out that he was committed to a preferential scheme involving new duties on food, and could not remain in the government without prejudice while it was excluded from the party programme; remaining loyal to Mr Balfour and his general objects, he could best promote this course from outside, and he suggested that the government might confine its policy to the “assertion of our freedom in the case of all commercial relations with foreign countries.” Mr Balfour, while reluctantly admitting the necessity of Mr Chamberlain’s taking a freer hand, expressed his agreement in the desirability of a closer fiscal union with the colonies, but questioned the immediate practicability of any scheme; he was willing to adopt fiscal reform so far as it covered retaliatory duties, but thought that the exclusion of taxation of food from the party programme was in existing circumstances necessary, so long as public opinion was not ripe. At the same time he welcomed the fact that Mr Chamberlain’s son, Mr Austen Chamberlain, was ready to remain a member of the government. Mr Austen Chamberlain (b. 1863) accordingly became the new chancellor of the exchequer; he was already in the cabinet as postmaster-general, having previously made his mark as civil lord of the admiralty (1895–1900), and financial secretary to the treasury (1900–1902).
From the turning-point of Mr Chamberlain’s resignation, it is not necessary here to follow in detail the discussions and dissensions in the party as a whole in its relations with the prime minister (see Balfour, A. J.). It is sufficient to say that while Mr Balfour’s sympathetic “send off” appeared to indicate his inclination towards Mr Chamberlain’s programme, if only further support could be gained for it, his endeavour to keep the party together, and the violent opposition which gathered against Mr Chamberlain’s scheme, combined to make his real attitude during the next two years decidedly obscure, both sections of the party—free-traders and tariff reformers—being induced from time to time to regard him as on their side. The tariff reform movement itself was now, however, outside the purely official programme, and Mr Chamberlain (backed by a majority of the Unionist members) threw himself with impetuous ardour into a crusade on its behalf, while at the same time supporting Mr Balfour in parliament, and leaving it to him to decide as to the policy of going to the country when the time should be ripe. In his own words, he went in front of the Unionist army as a pioneer, and if his army was attacked he would go back to it; in no conceivable circumstances would he allow himself to be put in any sort of competition, direct or indirect, with Mr Balfour, his friend and leader, whom he meant to follow (October 6).
On October 6th he opened his campaign with a speech at Glasgow. Analysing the trade statistics as between 1872 and 1902, he insisted that British progress involved a relative decline compared with that of protectionist foreign countries like Germany and the United States; Great Britain exported less and less of manufactured goods, and imported more and more; the exports to foreign countries had decreased, and it was only the increased exports to the colonies that maintained the British position. This was the outcome of the working of a one-sided free-trade system. Now was the time, and it might soon be lost, for consolidating British trade relations with the colonies. If the mother country and her daughter states did not draw closer, they would inevitably drift apart. A further increase of £26,000,000 a year in the trade with the colonies might be obtained by a preferential tariff, and this meant additional employment at home for 166,000 workmen, or subsistence for a population of a far larger number. His positive proposals were: (1) no tax on raw materials; (2) a small tax on food other than colonial, e.g. two shillings a quarter on foreign corn but excepting maize, and 5% on meat and dairy produce excluding bacon; (3) a 10% general tariff on imported manufactured goods. To meet any increased cost of living, he proposed to reduce the duties on tea, sugar and other articles of general consumption, and he estimated that his scheme would in no case increase a working-man’s expenditure, and in most cases would reduce it. “The colonies,” he said, “are prepared to meet us; in return for a very moderate preference, they will give us a substantial advantage in their markets.” This speech, delivered with characteristic vigour and Imperialistic enthusiasm, was the type of others which followed in quick succession during the year. At Greenock next day he emphasized the necessity of retaliating against foreign tariffs—“I never like being hit without striking back.” The practice of “dumping” must be fairly met; if foreign goods were brought into England to undersell British manufacturers, either the Fair Wages Clause and the Factory Acts and the Compensation Act would have to be repealed, or the workmen would have to take lower wages, or lose their work. “Agriculture has been practically destroyed, sugar has gone, silk has gone, iron is threatened, wool is threatened, cotton will go! How long are you going to stand it?” On October 20th he spoke at Newcastle, on the 21st at Tynemouth, on the 27th at Liverpool, insisting that free-trade had never been a working-class measure and that it could not be reconciled with trade-unionism; on November 4th at Birmingham, on the 20th at Cardiff, on the 21st at Newport, and on December 16th at Leeds. In all these speeches he managed to point his argument by application to local industries. In the Leeds speech he announced that, with a view to drawing up a scientific model tariff, a non-political commission of representative experts would be appointed under the auspices of the Tariff Reform League to take evidence from every trade; it included many heads of businesses, and Mr Charles Booth, the eminent student of social and industrial London, with Sir Robert Herbert as chairman, and Professor W. A. S. Hewins as secretary. The name of “Tariff Commission,” given to this voluntary and unofficial body, was a good deal criticized, but though flouted by the political free-traders it set to work in earnest, and accumulated a mass of evidence as to the real facts of trade, which promised to be invaluable to economic inquirers. On January 18th, 1904, Mr Chamberlain ended his series of speeches by a great meeting at the Guildhall, in the city of London, the key-note being his exhortation to his audience to “think imperially.”
All this activity on Mr Chamberlain’s part represented a great physical and intellectual feat on the part of a man now sixty-seven years of age; but his bodily vigour and comparatively youthful appearance were essential features of his personality. Nothing like this campaign had been known in the political world since Mr Gladstone’s Midlothian days; and it produced a great public impression, stirring up both supporters and opponents. Free-trade unionists like Lord Goschen and Lord Hugh Cecil, and the Liberal leaders—for whom Mr Asquith became the principal spokesman, though Lord Rosebery’s criticisms also had considerable weight—found new matter in Mr Chamberlain’s speeches for their contention that any radical change in the traditional English fiscal policy, established now for sixty years, would only result in evil. The broad fact remained that while Mr Chamberlain’s activity gathered round him the bulk of the Unionist members and an enthusiastic band of economic sympathizers, the country as a whole remained apathetic and unconvinced. One reason was the intellectual difficulty of the subject and the double-faced character of all arguments from statistics, which were either incomprehensible or disputable; another was the fact that substantially this was a political movement, and that tariff reform was, after all, only one in a complexity of political issues, most of which during this period were being interpreted by the electorate in a sense hostile to the Unionist party. Mr Chamberlain had relied on his personal influence, which from 1895 to 1902 had been supreme; but his own resignation, and the course of events, had since 1903 made his personality less authoritative, and new interests—such as the opposition to the Education Act, to the heavy taxation, and to Chinese labour in the Transvaal, and indignation over the revelations concerned with the war—were monopolizing attention, to the weakening of his hold on the public. The revival in trade, and the production of new statistics which appeared to stultify Mr Chamberlain’s prophecies of progressive decline, enabled the free-trade champions to reassure their audiences as to the very foundation of his case, and to represent the whole tariff reform movement as no less unnecessary than risky. Moreover, the split in the Unionist party brought the united Liberal party in full force into the field, and at last the country began to think that the danger of Irish Home Rule was practically over, and that a Liberal majority might be returned to power in safety, with the prospect of providing an alternative government which would assure commercial repose (Lord Rosebery’s phrase), relief from extravagant expenditure, and—as the working-classes were led to believe—a certain amount of labour legislation which the Tory leaders would never propose. On the other hand the colonies took a great interest in the new movement, though without putting any such pressure on the home public as Mr Chamberlain might have expected. At the opening of 1904 he was officially invited by Mr Deakin, the prime minister of the Commonwealth, to pay a visit to Australia, in order to expound his scheme, being promised an enthusiastic welcome “as the harbinger of commercial reciprocity between the mother country and her colonies.” Mr Chamberlain, however, declined; his work at home was too pressing.
From the end of Mr Chamberlain’s series of expository speeches on his scheme of tariff reform, onwards during the various fiscal debates and discussions of 1904, it is unnecessary to follow events in detail. The scheme was now before the country, and Mr Chamberlain was anxious to take its verdict. Time was not on his side at his age, and if he had to be beaten at one election he was anxious to get rid of the other issues which would encumber the popular vote, and to press on to a second when he would be on the attacking side. But he would make no move which would embarrass Mr Balfour in parliament, and adhered to his promise of loyalty. The result was a long drawn out interval, while the government held on and its supporters became more embittered over their differences. Mr Chamberlain needed a rest, and was away in Italy and Egypt from March to May, and again in November. He made three important speeches at Welbeck (August 4), at Luton (October 5), and at Limehouse (December 15), but he had nothing substantial to add to his case, and the party situation continued in all its embarrassments. Mr Balfour’s introduction of his promise (at Edinburgh on October 3) to convene an imperial conference after the general election if the Unionists came back to power, in order to discuss a scheme for fiscal union, represented an academic rather than a practical advance, since the by-elections showed that the Unionists were certain to be defeated. The one important new development concerned the Liberal-Unionist organization. In January some correspondence was published between Mr Chamberlain and the duke of Devonshire, dating from the previous October, as to difficulties arising from the central Liberal-Unionist organization subsidizing local associations which had adopted the programme of tariff reform. The duke objected to this departure from neutrality, and suggested that it was becoming “impossible with any advantage to maintain under existing circumstances the existence of the Liberal-Unionist organization.” Mr Chamberlain retorted that this was a matter for a general meeting of delegates to decide; if the duke was outvoted he might resign his presidency; for his own part he was prepared to allow the local associations to be subsidized impartially, so long as they supported the government, but he was not prepared for the violent disruption, which the duke apparently contemplated, of an association so necessary to the success of the Unionist cause. The duke was in a difficult position as president of the organization, since most of the local associations supported Mr Chamberlain, and he replied that the differences between them were vital, and he would not be responsible for dividing the association into sections, but would rather resign. Mr Chamberlain then called a general meeting on his own responsibility in February, when a new constitution was proposed; and in May, at the annual meeting of the Liberal-Unionist council, the free-food Unionists, being in a minority, retired, and the association was reorganized under Mr Chamberlain’s auspices, Lord Lansdowne and Lord Selborne (both of them cabinet ministers) becoming vice-presidents. On July 14th the reconstituted Liberal-Unionist organization held a great demonstration in the Albert Hall, and Mr Chamberlain’s success in ousting the duke of Devonshire and the other free-trade members of the old Liberal-Unionist party, and imposing his own fiscal policy upon the Liberal-Unionist caucus, was now complete.
During the spring and summer of 1905 Mr Chamberlain’s more active supporters were in favour of forcing a dissolution by leaving the government in a minority, but he himself preferred to leave matters to take their course, so long as the prime minister was content to be publicly identified with the policy of eventually fighting on tariff reform lines. Speaking at the Albert Hall in July Mr Chamberlain pushed somewhat further than before his “embrace” of Mr Balfour; and in the autumn, when foreign affairs no longer dominated the attention of the government, the crisis rapidly came to a head. In reply to Mr Balfour’s appeal for the sinking of differences (Newcastle, November 14), Mr Chamberlain insisted at Bristol (November 21) on the adoption of his fiscal policy; and Mr Balfour resigned on December 4. on the ground that he no longer retained the confidence of the party. At the crushing Unionist defeat in the general election which followed in January 1906, Mr Chamberlain was triumphantly returned for West Birmingham, and all the divisions of Birmingham returned Chamberlainite members. Amid the wreck of the party—Mr Balfour and several of his colleagues themselves losing their seats—he had the consolation of knowing that the tariff reformers won the only conspicuous successes of the election. But he had no desire to set himself up as leader in Mr Balfour’s place, and after private negotiations with the ex-prime minister, a common platform was arranged between them, on which Mr Balfour, for whom a seat was found in the City of London, should continue to lead the remnant of the party. The formula was given in a letter from Mr Balfour of February 14th (see Balfour, A. J.) which admitted the necessity of making fiscal reform the first plank in the Unionist platform, and accepted a general tariff on manufactured goods and a small duty on foreign corn as “not in principle objectionable.”
It may be left to future historians to attempt a considered judgment on the English tariff reform movement, and on Mr Chamberlain’s responsibility for the Unionist débâcle of 1906. But while his enemies taunted him with having twice wrecked his party—first the Radical party under Mr Gladstone, and secondly the Unionist party under Mr Balfour—no well-informed critic doubted his sincerity, or failed to recognize that in leaving the cabinet and embarking on his fiscal campaign he showed real devotion to an idea. In championing the cause of imperial fiscal union, by means involving the abandonment of a system of taxation which had become part of British orthodoxy, he followed the guidance of a profound conviction that the stability of the empire and the very existence of the hegemony of the United Kingdom depended upon the conversion of public opinion to a revision of the current economic doctrine. There were doubtless miscalculations at the outset as to the resistance to be encountered. But from the purely party point of view he was entitled to say that he followed the path of loyalty to Mr Balfour which he had marked out from the moment of his resignation, and that he persistently, refused to be put in competition with him as leader. Even in the absence of the new issue, defeat was foredoomed for Mr Balfour’s administration by the ordinary course of political events; and it might fairly be claimed that “Chinese slavery,” “passive resistance,” and labour irritation at the Taff Vale judgment (see Trade Unions) were mainly responsible for the Unionist collapse. Time alone would show whether the system of free imports could be permanently reconciled with British imperial policy or commercial prosperity. It remained the fact that Mr Chamberlain staked an already established position on his refusal to compromise with his convictions on a question which appeared to him of vital and immediate importance.
Mr Chamberlain’s own activity in the political field was cut short in the middle of the session of 1906 by a serious attack of gout, which was at first minimized by his friends, but which, it was gradually discovered, had completely crippled him. Though encouragement was given to the idea that he might return to the House of Commons, where he continued to retain his seat for Birmingham, he was quite incapacitated for any public work; and this invalid condition was protracted throughout 1907, 1908 and 1909. But he remained in the background as the inspirer and adviser of the Tariff Reformers. The cause made continuous headway at by-elections, and though the general election of January 1910 gave the Unionists no majority it saw them returned in much increased strength, which was chiefly due to the support obtained for tariff reform principles. Mr Chamberlain himself was returned unopposed for West Birmingham again. (H. Ch.)