1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Smuts, Jan Christian
SMUTS, JAN CHRISTIAN (1870- ), S. African statesman, of Dutch descent, was born at Cape Town in 1870, the son of J. A. Smuts, member of the Legislative Assembly for Malmesbury, Cape Colony. He was educated at the Victoria College, Stellenbosch, at the Cape University, and then went to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he took a “double first” in the Law Tripos in 1894. In 1895 he returned to Cape Town and practised as an advocate of the Supreme Court of the Cape till the end of 1896, when he went to Johannesburg to practise as an advocate there. The rapidity of his success is shown by his appointment as State Attorney to the Transvaal Republic in 1898. Thus before he was 30 his remarkable ability was acknowledged and, though he was opposed to the policy of President Kruger, his hand is to be recognized in the State documents of the Transvaal during the critical period which ended in the sending of the ultimatum to Great Britain and the outbreak of the S. African War of 1899-1902. During that war Smuts served throughout with Boer forces, rising during its latter period to the rank of general, and to the authority among his own people of one who had shown the possession of gifts as a leader in the field as brilliant as those which he was known to possess in the realm of the law. Thus when the negotiations for peace began Smuts stood out as one of the recognized Boer leaders.
With Gen. Botha, he threw his influence during the negotiations into the scale for peace, and when, in 1907, responsible government was granted to the Transvaal, Smuts became the right-hand of Gen. Botha, the first Prime Minister of the Transvaal, in the Ministry which he then formed. As colonial secretary the bulk of the administrative work of the new Ministry fell to him, and his success as an administrator was then proved beyond subsequent doubt. He brought to his task an intellect of the first calibre keen, quick, penetrating. His industry was untiring. Already a man of the world, he commanded the admiring devotion of his subordinates. These gifts would have secured for Smuts a position of great influence in any Ministry. They were no more than one of Smuts' many claims to such a position in the Botha Cabinet. He showed at once that he had high parliamentary ability. His rapid brain made him a master in debate. The complexities of legislation had no difficulties for him. His mind had a natural bent towards compromise on unimportant points, and he showed again and again an almost uncanny gift for producing at a moment's notice the form of words that would give body to such compromises. His loyalty to, and affection for, Gen. Botha strengthened an influence thus already very strong, and when in 1909 the S. African National Convention met to draft an instrument for the union of the four S. African colonies, Smuts went to it as a delegate from the Transvaal with a reputation for ability and capacity second to that of no other delegate. High as it was, this reputation was enhanced by his work at the Convention. He had gathered round him a staff of experts, had thought out a scheme of union, had worked out its details, was prepared to put this framework before the first meeting. Such foresight had its reward, the more because it was buttressed during the debates of the Convention by the same readiness in debate, the same clear recognition of essentials, the same natural disposition towards compromise on details, and the same quickness in producing verbal formulae, as Smuts had already shown in the Transvaal Parliament.
When union was accomplished Smuts became for S. Africa what he had been for the Transvaal the right-hand of Gen. Botha, the first Prime Minister of the Union. His success, both administrative and parliamentary, in the Transvaal was repeated as a minister of the Union. As Minister of the Interior, of Mines, and of Defence, he bore the lion's share of the early administrative work of the Union. His Defence Act, passed in 1912, was a model of organization, and the speech in which he moved its second reading in the Union House of Assembly established his reputation throughout S. Africa.
Thus on the outbreak of the World War in 1914, when Gen. Botha declared for the most loyal support of the British Government, the bulk of the burden of organizing the military forces of the Union fell upon Smuts. It was sustained with complete success. The expedition against German S.W. Africa, and the crushing of the rebellion in the Union in 1914, both bore testimony to his capacity as an organizer of victory. He took command of the Union columns invading German S.W. Africa from the S. and carried through that part of the campaign with great boldness of strategy and complete success. Then Botha and Smuts turned to other fields of war. Expeditionary forces were organized against German E. Africa and to take part with the Allies in the fighting on the western front in Europe. In Feb. 1916 Smuts was appointed by the British Government commander-in-chief of the Imperial forces operating in German E. Africa. He had been offered the appointment in Nov. 1915, but had then declined. When he took command, the operations against German E. Africa had reached a state of stalemate. He conducted his campaign with great vigour, exacting from his troops heavy sacrifices of long marching in that trying climate, and before the end of 1916 he had reduced the German forces to the position of fugitive bands. Then another duty called him away from E. Africa. At the end of 1916 Mr. Lloyd George became Prime Minister of Great Britain and at once summoned the Imperial War Cabinet. General Smuts went to it as the representative of S. Africa. So useful did he prove himself to be in that position that he became the only permanent Dominion member of the Imperial War Cabinet. With Botha he represented S. Africa at the Peace Conference in Paris, and returned to S. Africa after peace was signed, only to lose Botha almost immediately and to find himself, by the sudden death of his leader and close friend, Prime Minister of the Union in Sept. 1919.
The political position in S. Africa was menacing. The Nationalist agitation, led by Gen. Hertzog, had grown among the Dutch-speaking people during the war. Resentment at being involved in the quarrels of Europe had fed it. The old passion of the Dutch of S. Africa for peaceful isolation had revived in full strength. Smuts speedily made up his mind that the sense of the country must be tested by a general election. It took place in the spring of 1920 and left Smuts and his party without the semblance of a clear majority in Parliament. Smuts held office by the grace of the Unionists. He had no doubt as to the needs of his position. S. Africa required an established Government; it must be formed by combination between his followers and one of the other parties. His natural impulse was for reconciliation with the Nationalists, and he sought reconciliation with them, but on one clear condition. They must repudiate their Republican aims; and S. Africa must remain willingly a state of the British group of nations. This condition the Nationalists refused. Then Smuts turned to the Unionists, who throughout the war had supported the Botha Ministry as the one safeguard of membership for the S. African state of the British Commonwealth of Nations. With ready self-sacrifice the Unionists accepted his invitation. The two parties were joined into one, the Unionists becoming members of the S. African party, which had been Botha's party and was now led by Smuts. The general election of March 1921 followed, and gave the new party a decisive victory at the polls and a clear and substantial majority in the Parliament of the Union. (B. K. L.)