Joseph Chamberlain

Joseph Chamberlain

Joseph Chamberlain, the son of a shopkeeper, was born in London 1836. After being educated at University College School he became a successful businessman in Birmingham. A member of the Liberal Party he became involved in local politics and in 1868 was elected as a town councillor. Chamberlain became mayor in 1873 and for the next three years introduced a series of social reforms. The council's acquisition of land and public utilities and the pioneering slum-clearance schemes, made Chamberlain a national political figure.

Chamberlain was extremely popular in Birmingham, and was elected unopposed in a parliamentary election held in 1876. Chamberlain soon made his mark in the House of Commons and after the 1880 General Election, William Gladstone appointed Chamberlain as President of the Board of Trade.

Beatrice Webb fell in love with Chamberlain during this period: "In 1882 came the catastrophe of my life. At a London dinner-party I met Joseph Chamberlain. I was ripe for love, revelling in newly acquired health and freedom, my intelligence wide awake, my heart unclaimed. He had energy and personal magnetism. But my intellect not only remained free but positively hostile to his influence." She described a speech he made two years later: "As he rose slowly and stood silently before his people, his whole face and form seemed transformed. The crowd became wild with enthusiasm. At the first sound of his voice they became as one man. Into the tones of his voice he threw the warmth and feeling which were lacking in his words, and every thought, every feeling, the slightest intonation or irony and contempt was reflected in the face of the crowd. It might have been a woman listening to the words of her lover."

In 1885 General Election Chamberlain was seen as the leader of the Radicals with his calls for land reform, housing reform and higher taxes on the rich. However, he was also a strong supporter of Imperialism, and resigned from Gladstone's cabinet over the issue of Irish Home Rule. This action helped to bring down the Liberal government. Chamberlain now became leader of the Liberal Unionists and in 1886 he formed an alliance with the Conservative Party. As a result, Marquess of Salisbury, gave him the post of Colonial Secretary in his government. Chamberlain was therefore primarily responsible for British policy during the Boer War.

In September 1903, Joseph Chamberlain resigned from office so that he would be free to advocate his scheme of tariff reform. Chamberlain wanted to transform the British Empire into a united trading block. According to Chamberlain, preferential treatment should be given to colonial imports and British companies producing goods for the home market should be given protection from cheap foreign goods. The issue split the Conservative Party and in the 1906 General Election the Liberal Party, who supported free trade, had a landslide victory.

Chamberlain was struck down by a stroke in 1906 and took no further part in politics. Joseph Chamberlain, whose son Neville Chamberlain also became a leading figure in politics, died in 1914.

In 1882 came the catastrophe of my life. But my intellect not only remained free but positively hostile to his influence.

I met Sidney (Webb) one day early in January 1890; from the first meeting I realised that he would fall in love with me. his energy, his ingenuity, his faith in intellectual principles, his desire for reform and capacity for absorbing knowledge, made him at once my comrade. His lack of social position, even his lack of personal attractiveness gave him in his relation to me, the odd charm of being in every respect the exact contrary to Chamberlain and my ill-fated emotion for that great personage.

As he rose slowly and stood silently before his people, his whole face and form seemed transformed. It might have been a woman listening to the words of her lover.


Joseph Chamberlain, 1836-1914

In a picture postcard (Tuck & Sons Ltd, c. 1905) Radical Joseph was pictured wearing a coat of many colours. Each segment was labelled with different stages in his political career: socialist, extreme radical, Gladstonian, Liberal Unionist, Conservative and protectionist and food taxer. Inconsistent was one of the more favourable epithets used of Chamberlain. To the Liberals he was a traitor, to the Conservatives a dangerous radical, and to the people of Birmingham a hero, despite the fact that by birth he was a Londoner.

Joseph Chamberlain, the eldest son of a prosperous shoemaker, was born on 8 July 1836. As a Unitarian, Chamberlain was forbidden entry to a public school, so he was educated at University College School until he was sixteen. He joined the family business for two years and then moved to Birmingham. His uncle, J. S. Nettlefold, had decided to introduce steam-powered lathes to his screw-manufacturing business and approached his brother for financial help. The latter agreed on condition that his son should join the firm. Chamberlain’s energy and organisational abilities drove out Nettlefold’s competitors and in 1874 he was able to retire with a substantial fortune at age thirty-eight.

Chamberlain married Harriet Kenrick in July 1861 and they had a daughter, Beatrice, and a son, Austen. Harriet died suddenly in 1863 and Chamberlain went on to marry one of her cousins, Florence, in June 1868. The eldest of their four children and only son was the future Prime Minister, Neville. This marriage also ended suddenly, with Florence’s death in 1875 after she gave birth to another son, who did not survive. Chamberlain dealt with his grief by throwing himself into public work.

The second Reform Act of 1867 encouraged Chamberlain to become involved in educational provision to educate our new masters, and he contributed £1000 to the Birmingham Education League, founded in 1869. He was elected a town councillor in 1869 and a member of the Birmingham School Board. In 1873 he was elected mayor, a post to which he was re-elected in 1874 and 1875. Chamberlain focused on improving the physical condition of the town and its people. He organised the purchase of the two gas companies and the water works he appointed a Medical Officer of Health, established a Drainage Board, extended the paving and lighting of streets, opened six public parks, saw the start of the public transport service and personally laid the foundation stone of the new Council House. His Improvement Scheme saw the demolition of ninety acres of slums in the town centre. The council bought the freehold of about half the land to build Corporation Street. His pioneering efforts brought him to national prominence and marked social reform as a Liberal platform.

At the general election of 1874 he stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate for Sheffield but was returned unopposed in 1876 as one of Birmingham’s MPs, representing the constituency for the rest of his life. In Parliament he was distrusted as a Dissenter and upstart his genuinely radical speeches frightened the Conservatives. He was a constructive radical, caring more for practical success than party loyalty or ideological commitment. His industrial middle class constituents adored him his efficient party organisation (the Caucus) resulted in huge Liberal votes in the Midlands. With the Caucus as his pattern, Chamberlain established the National Liberal Federation, launched by Gladstone on 31 May 1877. The Federation was intended to provide Liberals with a political apparatus for fighting elections, publishing posters and pamphlets, enlisting new members, collecting subscriptions and organising meeting and social events.

By 1880 the Liberal Party was increasingly divided over the question of social reform. Chamberlain and Sir Charles Dilke led the radical Liberals in Gladstone’s second ministry (1880-85) which was largely occupied by Irish affairs. In 1882 Chamberlain was appointed as President of the Board of Trade and was keen to see further reforms. However Gladstone found the whole issue boring and Hartington was positively hostile. In 1885 the radical wing embarked on the Unauthorised Programme, which demanded a graduated income tax, free education, improved housing for the poor, local government reform and three acres and a cow for agricultural labourers. In one of his speeches Chamberlain declared: “I am told if I pursue this course that I shall break up the party …. but I care little for the party …. except to promote the objects which I publicly avowed when I first entered Parliament.” Although Chamberlain’s programme was largely responsible for the Liberal victory of 1885, Gladstone made no concessions to him and ignored the case for social reform, thus setting the party on the road to deeper divisions.

While Chamberlain favoured Irish reform and supported Gladstone in opposing the use of force in quashing Irish agitation, he advocated imperial unity and opposed Gladstone when he committed the party to Irish Home Rule in 1885. In 1886 Chamberlain and the other so-called Liberal Unionists defeated Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill and the consequent split in the party proved permanent. The Conservatives, supported by the Liberal Unionists, dominated British politics for most of the next twenty years. Chamberlain used his control of the Liberal Unionists to pressure the Conservatives into adopting a more progressive social policy, but Conservative supremacy marked a new emphasis upon empire and foreign affairs and Chamberlain turned increasingly to these interests.

In 1895 he joined Salisbury’s Conservative Cabinet as Secretary of State for the Colonies. He soon became involved in South African affairs and was accused of complicity in the Jameson Raid of December 1895, possibly with foundation, although he claimed not to have known about Jameson’s planned invasion of the Transvaal. A select committee of the House of Commons (1897) looked at the evidence and revealed nothing to Chamberlain’s discredit – a tactful choice since Chamberlain presided over the committee. However, he was determined to form under British rule a southern African federation incorporating Cape Colony, Natal and the two Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The main result was the Boer War (1899-1902) which Chamberlain supported enthusiastically even though it soon became apparent that Britain was militarily vulnerable and diplomatically isolated in Europe. Consequently Chamberlain looked to the self-governing colonies for international support, announcing a preferential tariff scheme that he hoped would draw Britain and its dependencies together and raise revenue for social reform. When Balfour refused to commit himself to the idea, Chamberlain resigned his Cabinet post and from 1903 to 1906 conducted a campaign to think imperially.

Free trade had been the basis of Britain’s economic policy since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, and the Liberals continued to advocate cheap bread. The Conservatives split over tariff reform as irrevocably as the Liberals had over Home Rule in the general election of 1906 the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists were defeated, largely because of Chamberlain’s abandonment of free trade. Chamberlain was himself re-elected in Birmingham, however, by a huge majority. It was his last political victory in July 1906 he suffered a paralytic stroke that left him a helpless invalid for the rest of his life. He died on 2 July 1914 in London.

Chamberlain’s political papers are in Birmingham University library. A six-volume history of his life by J. L. Garvin and J. Amery was published between 1932 and 1969. Other sources include M. Hurst, Joseph Chamberlain and Liberal Reunion (1967) P. Marsh, Joseph Chamberlain: entrepreneur in politics (1994), and Robert V. Kubicek, The Administration of Imperialism: Joseph Chamberlain at the Colonial Office (1969).

Marjie Bloy is a history teacher. She graduated from London University in 1981 and was awarded a PhD by the University of Sheffield in 1986.


WI: Joseph Chamberlain died in 1902?

On the 7th July 1902, Joseph Chamberlain almost died in a horse cab crash whilst travelling from the Colonial Office to the Athenaeum Club (a gentleman's club at 107 Pall Mall).

IOTL, he suffered a deep gash in his head but survived. What if his head wounds were fatal and he died that day in Trafalgar Square?

Without Chamberlain as the figurehead of Tariff Reform, would the Conservatives still have split over the issue and gone on to lose in 1906?

David T

I discuss not exactly that but a related POD--that Chamberlain does not become a protectionist--at https://groups.google.com/d/msg/soc.history.what-if/KNpGe1qWi10/yGelvUzoALkJ

***
Joseph Chamberlain had the unusual distinction in British political
history of splitting *both* of the parties to which he belonged: the
Liberals (by his opposition to Gladstone's proposals for Home Rule) and
the Unionists (by his conversion to protectionism--"Imperial Preference"--
in 1903). In another thread, I mentioned the possibility of avoiding the
Gladstone/Chamberlain split if Sir Charles Dilke's political career had
not been ruined by the Crawford divorce case.
http://groups.google.com/ group/soc.history.what-if/msg/ 31d8d3360e20573f
In this post, it is Chamberlain's split of the Unionists that I wish to
discuss.

Chamberlain's conversion to Protection differs from Baldwin's experience
in 1923 (of which I have posted previously) in some important respects.
Baldwin's conversion seems to have been motivated mostly by politics--he
mistakenly thought it would be a popular move. Once it turned out that it
wasn't, he quickly abandoned it, not to embrace it again until it became
more popular in the 1930s. [1] The harm done to his party by Baldwin's
flirtation with protectionism was relatively short-lived within a year
the Conservatives were back in power, with an even bigger majority than in
1922.

By contrast, Chamberlain's conversion seems to have been sincere, and
based both on a desire for closer political unity in the Empire and by a
belief that protectionist countries like Germany and the United States
were making progress more rapidly than Great Britain. (This is not to
deny that he also thought there would be political advantages in it,
especially in terms of attracting working-class voters to the Unionists.)
Baldwin probably never lost an hour's sleep over the fate of Protection
Chamberlain exhausted himself in his campaign for Imperial Preference, and
suffered a paralytic stroke in July 1906 from which he never recovered.
Meanwhile, he had badly divided his party the most famous Free-Trade
Conservative defection to the Liberals was that of Winston Churchill.

Let's just suppose that Chamberlain had not abandoned Free Trade. Would
the Conservative/Unionist cause have suffered the debacle it did in OTL?
(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ United_Kingdom_general_ election,_1906
for the results. Chamberlain himself, incidentally, did very well in the
election, and Birmingham remained a Unionist stronghold.) Free Trade was
not the only reason for the Liberal triumph. For example, the Taff Vale
decision http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Taff_Vale_Case cemented an alliance
between Labour and the Liberals. The Education Act of 1902 angered
Nonconformists. (As
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Joseph_Chamberlain#1902_ Education_Act notes,
Chamberlain anticipated this reaction, and had grave misgivings about the
law.) And the end of the Boer War also aided the Liberals by helping to
heal the breach between Liberal Imperialists like Herbert Asquith and Pro-
Boer Radicals like John Morley and David Lloyd George. Liberals also made
an issue of the use of Chinese indentured labor in the South African gold
mines. Chris Cook in his *A Short History of the Liberal Party 1900-2001*
notes that the Unionists were already doing badly in by-elections before
Chamberlain's launching of his campaign for Tariff Reform and Imperial
Preference in his famous Birmingham speech of May 15, 1903.

Still, there is no doubt that Free Trade played a major role in the
Liberal triumph. One indication is that "The greatest single disaster for
the Conservatives came in the textile districts of East Lancashire and the
West Riding, where 29 of the 30 seats won in 1900 were lost." Cook, p.
40. So, without the Free Trade issue, either Balfour and the Government
would have managed to squeeze out a victory or--somewhat more likely IMO--
they would in any event have lost by a lesser margin. (Would the latter
result have made a difference? Possibly, because the Liberals did poorly
in by-elections in the years after 1906. For example, of the 15 Liberal-
held seats which saw by-elections in 1908, the Liberals only retained 9.
Cook, p. 47. So a narrowly elected Liberal Government might have
collapsed within a couple of years of its inception, and before people
like Lloyd George had helped to re-define Liberalism in terms of radical
social reform.) Another point: If Chamberlain had not made Tariff Reform an issue,
would Churchill have switched to the Liberals.

Someone replied that "'the conservative/liberal unionists not doing as badly' doesn't equal 'a narrowly elected Liberal Government': 1906 was a landslide. The Liberals had a absolute majority of 64, and that'a not counting the IPP and Labour who both would have supported them if it ever got closeish." I replied to the reply:

True enough. To envisage (in the absence of the split in Unionist ranks
caused by Chamberlain) a shaky Liberal Government (dependent on Irish
nationalist and Labour support and with a narrow majority even when they
are counted) one must assume that the Protection/Free Trade issue was not
just the icing on the Liberals' cake, but *the* major (though not sole)
reason for their victory. Some sources do give that impression. For
example, the 1957 Encyclopedia Britannica's article on "Engish History"
(volume 8, p. 541) writes that "Free trade had beyond all question played
the largest part in the results. " and also noted that the mere fact of a
Unionist split (regardless of the cause of it) was bound to have an impact
on public opinion: "It was obvious, too, that Balfour's long continuance
in office after his party had become disunited had stimulated the
electorate's desire for a change, and had also revived the distrust of the
government's efficiency that had been so vocal during the South African
War."

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography essay on the election. though noting the
significance of such things as the Education Act and the "Chinese
slavery" issue still emphasizes the importance of Tariff Reform:

"An even greater political and propaganda gift to the Liberal Party was
handed to them in May 1903 when Chamberlain, hitherto colonial secretary,
began his campaign for tariff reform. He advocated the protection of
British industry from foreign competition and preference for imperial
goods, to ensure, as he contended, that business would enjoy assured
markets, workers would have secure jobs, and that the empire would be
brought into closer union. But the economic and moral advantages of free
trade were an article of faith among Liberals, and were very widely
accepted among the working class. That Chamberlain's plans would have
entailed tariffs on imported foodstuffs as well as manufactures, with a
preferential rate for those colonies that offered a preference in favour
of British exports, raised the old cry of 'taxes on food' not heard since
they had been abolished in the 1840s, and encouraged the belief that under
any future Conservative administration the cost of living must increase.
The Liberal 'big loaf' set beside the Tory 'little loaf' was a potent
electoral symbol. Chamberlain created the Tariff Reform League in July
1903 and resigned from the cabinet on 14 September. He stumped the country
thereafter, seeking to convert the British people from free trade. He was
opposed by many in his own party including such leading Unionist free-
traders in the cabinet as the chancellor of the exchequer, Charles
Ritchie the duke of Devonshire, the Liberal Unionist leader [see
Cavendish, Spencer Compton] Lord Balfour of Burleigh [see Bruce,
Alexander Hugh] and Lord George Hamilton and also leading figures
outside it, among them the veterans G. J. Goschen, first Viscount Goschen,
Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, and Lord James of Hereford. Among the leading
Liberal opponents of protectionism Herbert Asquith enhanced his reputation
as the coming man in politics with some highly effective public speeches
in opposition to 'Radical Joe'."

The essay also notes that the landslide, though impressive, was not quite
as overwhelming as it appeared: "Yet Britain's 'first past the post'
electoral system had magnified the scale of the victory, as it often does.
In votes cast the Conservative total of approximately 2.5 million was much
closer to the Liberal total (2.75 million) than is commonly imagined."
(Of course that ignores the Labour vote and the Irish Parliamentary Party
vote--though the latter was actually very small because most of the
party's candidates were unopposed. Still, a switch of a relatively small
percentage of the vote could have led to a much more closely divided House
of Commons.)

I guess my conclusion would be that if Tariff Reform had not split the Unionists (whether through Chamberlain dying or simply not raising the issue) the Liberals would still win in 1906--but it would definitely be closer than in OTL and they even *might* have had to depend on the IPP and Labour.


History hero: Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914)

Why have I chosen Joseph Chamberlain for my history hero? The main reason is I see him as a particularly decisive politician at a time of great change and uncertainty. I admire his capacity for confronting a series of problems – Britain’s economy, the empire, political organisation, social reform, Irish nationalism, the crisis in South Africa – head-on. He didn’t fudge: he proposed solutions, which is perhaps why his enemies accused him of ruthlessness.

Is he the type of politician we lack today? Certainly, there’s not been many like him. Among his qualities were the clarity of his vision and the indefatigable capacity to assess problems and do something practical about them.

I first began to study Chamberlain seriously in the early 1960s when I was at Birkbeck College, London, researching for my PhD on the evolution of the British empire. In that process, Joseph Chamberlain became a key player.

Chamberlain was born in London in 1836 his father was a relatively modest tradesman. His family were religious dissenters, in the Unitarian tradition, and Joseph went to University College School in London, though he never went to university. Throughout his life I think he regretted that.

What changed Chamberlain’s life was that his uncle, a Birmingham businessman, bought a patent in a new type of wood screw, on display at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Joseph’s father invested in the business, and sent him to work in Birmingham. That helped make the family fortune, and meant Chamberlain would come to prominence there as a successful industrialist, then as a radical Liberal, being elected lord mayor in 1873, and subsequently an MP in 1876.

Chamberlain helped lay the foundations for modern local government. He ensured regular gas and water supplies, taking these vital commodities out of the hands of private enterprise, launched slum clearance programmes and was an advocate of educational reform. Birmingham held up a torch for radical, municipal progress: contemporaries even dubbed it ‘the Athens of the Midlands’! The national stage soon beckoned. As an MP, his impact was equally marked, and he became a radical member of Gladstone’s cabinet in 1880.

Of course, what marked Chamberlain’s subsequent career was that he was twice instrumental in splitting the two major parties to which he belonged. He split with Gladstone in 1886 over Irish Home Rule, taking his ‘Liberal Unionist’ followers with him. Chamberlain was no reactionary, but arguably more radical than Gladstone. As such, he argued for ‘home rule all round’ for England, Scotland and Wales too, which he thought would preserve the United Kingdom.

Then, having allied himself with the Conservatives in 1895, and serving as an energetic, single-minded colonial secretary, he dramatically quit Arthur Balfour’s Unionist government over tariff reform. Chamberlain believed that only by taxing certain foreign imports, but not similar goods from the empire, could British economic and political preeminence be assured. The empire, he believed, was the future, and out of the profits of expanding commerce, social reforms could be financed without ‘socialist’ levels of direct taxation.

The Liberals won the 1906 general election on a free-trade policy, but Chamberlain was set to dominate the opposition. Then, days after his 70th birthday, he suffered a serious stroke, which effectively finished his career, even though his constituents continued to re-elect him until he died on the eve of the First World War.

He was a charismatic figure a radical in almost every sphere in his pursuit of what he thought was right. I come from the East Midlands, not the West, but my grandmother often told me how influential Chamberlain had been. She called him ‘Joey’ and he still seemed a star in her eyes.

Denis Judd was talking to Greg Neale

Professor Denis Judd’s biography of Chamberlain, Radical Joe, is published in the new Faber Finds series next year.


A formal agreement relating to the gift of the papers of Joseph Chamberlain and his son, Austen Chamberlain to the University of Birmingham was drawn up with the Chamberlain Family and Chamberlain Trustees in 1959. Both collections were presented to the University of Birmingham at a public ceremony on 18 October 1960, chaired by the University's Vice-Chancellor, Sir Robert Aitken. In 1968 additional papers of Joseph Chamberlain which had been loaned by the family to Lord Amery (Julian Amery, 1st Baron Amery of Lustleigh: biographer of Joseph Chamberlain) in order to complete the biography were passed to the University Library and these were added to the Joseph Chamberlain Collection. Subsequent gifts of papers from the family have also been added to the Joseph Chamberlain Collection. These gifts include the correspondence between Joseph Chamberlain and his third wife, Mary Endicott Chamberlain which were presented in 1980 by Colonel and Mrs A. T. Maxwell (JC28). More papers of Joseph Chamberlain were also found by the executors of Lord Amery in 1997 and these too were passed on to the University Library and incorporated into the collection (JC29-JC37).

The collection is available on microfilm . Facilities are available in the University of Birmingham Library for researchers to make paper copies of individual items from these microfilms for their own private research purposes. Most of the collection has been micropublished by Primary Source Media, in six separate units on a total of 137 reels, and some or all these units have been purchased by other research libraries in this country and elsewhere. It is possible for individuals to purchase single reels, rather than whole units, from Primary Source Media.


Joseph Chamberlain: Man 'who made the political weather'

He is also noted for the mark he left on Birmingham, including building schools, swimming pools and libraries.

He was the father of former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Austen Chamberlain, who became chancellor of the exchequer.

Historians, government ministers and MPs are meeting in Birmingham to mark his achievements, 100 years since his death.

Joseph Chamberlain was born in Camberwell, London, on 8 July, 1836.

While attending University College School in London he also worked in his father's shoemaking business.

At the age of 18 he was sent to his uncle's screw-making business, Nettlefolds, in Birmingham, mainly to protect his father's £10,000 investment in the firm.

By his 30s he had made enough money to retire, but had garnered an appetite for local politics and in 1867 joined what was then Birmingham town council.

It was not granted city status until 1889.

"He was strongly influenced to get into politics by the Unitarian church who believed the only form of faith was what they called 'up and doing' - putting a civic gospel into practice," said Dr Ian Cawood, from Newman University in Birmingham.

"He was one of the more successful at doing this because he had great business sense and the money to support himself."

Chamberlain became mayor of Birmingham in 1873.

His first major decision was to buy both the Birmingham and Staffordshire gas companies and effect a hostile takeover of Birmingham Waterworks.

The following year he launched his £1.75m city improvement scheme, which used money from the gas industry and public funds to build libraries, schools and swimming pools.

It also included clearing slum housing to build a "Parisian boulevard-style" road, Corporation Street.

His legacy can still be seen across the city and includes the Victorian Law Courts on Corporation Street and his family home, Highbury Hall, built in 1880.

The estate, which includes Highbury Park, has been run by Birmingham City Council under the terms of a trust set up by the Chamberlain family in the 1930s. The hall is used as a wedding venue.

It was Chamberlain's achievements in Birmingham that catapulted him on to the national stage as Liberal MP for the then town in 1876 and President of the Board of Trade in William Gladstone's government in 1880.

Prof Peter Marsh, who wrote Chamberlain's biography in 1994, said: "Under his guidance Birmingham was known as the best-governed city in the industrial world.

"Although he had his critics, the thinking then was if you could carry Birmingham you could carry the country - it had huge national prominence."

The BBC's political editor for the Midlands, Patrick Burns, said: "His rise was fast - he was just over 40 when he became the first industrialist to hold a cabinet position.

"We have seen examples where people have been put forward after capitalising on local issues - David Blunkett was a big figure in Sheffield before he moved to government - but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule."

Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore said he believed local authorities now yearned for a return to Chamberlain's values.

"He showed that a great city must not only have thriving businesses, but powerful civic institutions and governance that cares about health, housing and the education of its citizens," said the Labour politician.

"Today, we are far too reliant on central government for funding and hemmed in by regulations.

"I believe if we were given more freedom we could really drive economic growth and improve the lives of our citizens."

Dr Cawood said Chamberlain was seen as Britain's "first truly modern, professional politician".

He is credited as the first MP to print and hand out propaganda leaflets, much like today's election flyers, he said.

But while his public persona grew, his ambitions to land the job of prime minister all but ended in 1886, when he resigned from the government over William Gladstone's Irish Home Rule proposals.

"Chamberlain believed giving Ireland a separate parliament could lead to the eventual break-up of the British Empire," said Mr Cawood.

"It was a desperate mistake which left him on the wrong side of the government divide.

"He ended up having to become an ally of the Conservatives, but neither they nor the Liberals really wholly trusted him after that."

Following the setback Chamberlain became colonial secretary in Lord Salisbury's government in 1895.

"His issue was empire building. He had worked to build up the screws business he had built up Birmingham and he used the same ethos for his work with the colonies," said Prof Marsh.

"He raised the Empire to the height of its power at the beginning of the 20th Century to see off the growing rivalry from France, Germany and the rising United States."

In September 1903, Joseph Chamberlain resigned from office so he could advocate a scheme abandoning free trade and imposing taxes on foreign imports.

The issue split the Conservative Party and resulted in a landslide victory for the Liberal Party in the 1906 general election.

The following July, days after his 70th birthday, Chamberlain suffered a stroke that paralysed his right side and ended his political career.

He died in July 1914 and was buried in Keyhill Cemetery, Birmingham, after his family turned down the offer for him to be laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.

"In Birmingham there are tributes to him, but the name of Joseph Chamberlain is not as famous as you would expect based on the colossal influence he had in his day," said Patrick Burns.

"I think to some extent it's the passage of time partly it is because he never became prime minister and when people hear the Chamberlain name they think of his son Neville who did get to number 10."


Gettysburgਊnd Appomattox

The 20th Maine was present at several significant battles but is best remembered for its key role in the Battle of Gettysburg. Joshua Chamberlain was by that time a colonel and in command of the regiment. On July 2, the second day of fighting there, he and his troops came face to face with Confederate soldiers at Little Round Top, and after harsh fighting, Chamberlain led a bayonet charge and successfully secured their part of the hill for the Union. (One story�ted—holds that the men of the 20th Maine charged with bayonets because they ran out of ammunition.) Thirty years later, Joshua Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor for 𠇌onspicuous gallantry” in the battle. 


Improved Housing

Providing clean water was an important measure in combating widespread illness and premature death in the poorest parishes of Birmingham. Yet, as Chamberlain understood, the larger issue was overcrowding in the city's slums. Sir Robert Rawlinson's Report to the General Board of Health on the Sewerage, Drainage, and Supply of Water, and the Sanitary Condition of the Inhabitants of Birmingham ( 1849 ), reported that houses that had cost £60 could be let for rents that varied between 2s., 6d. and 4s. per week. Construction costs were kept down by making supporting walls 4-1/2 inches thick and placing sub-sized joists approximately 17 inches apart (Gill 1952 : 368). Soon, cracks and water damage affected the buildings. Though Parliament expressed enormous concern over the conditions affecting cities, initial measures to reform housing codes faltered on the interests of builders, the inability of cities to begin providing sound working-class housing at affordable rates, and the reluctance of medical inspectors to force families in overcrowded conditions to find other dwellings (Reigeluth 1981 : 235). Nonetheless, the Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwelling Act of 1868 (Torrens Act) and the Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvement Act of 1875 (Cross Act), by providing compulsory purchase rights for local authorities, did begin to breach the rights of property that had slowed reform.

Birmingham made extensive use of the Cross Act. It had expanded the power of local authorities to buyout unsanitary and overcrowded areas within their boundaries and provided for payment of no more than the market value of the properties. Chamberlain had consulted heavily with the national government as the bill was being prepared and expressed his happiness: “For the first time an English Parliament has recognized the duty of looking after something higher than property—the duty which it owes to life, health and happiness of the people” (Borough of Birmingham, 1875c : 83). Once the property at issue had been purchased, the 1875 bill allowed for localities to borrow money at 3.5 percent for renewal efforts (Borough of Birmingham 1875b : 32).

In the first place (the Committee) will probably provide lodging houses. … The Committee will also no doubt erect buildings which will be in flats or storeys, much higher than buildings have hitherto been built in Birmingham. … All of them I hope will have perfect ventilation, and a supply of improved water and will be provided with accommodation in the shape of separate privies for each family concerned. (Borough of Birmingham 1875b : 25)

What folly it is to talk about the moral and intellectual elevation of the masses when the conditions of life are such as to render elevation impossible! What can the schoolmaster or the minister of religion do, when the influences of home undo all he does? We find bad air, polluted water, crowded and filthy homes, and ill-ventilated courts everywhere prevailing in the midst of our boasted wealth, luxury, and civilization … and then, when these people whom we have suffered to grow up like beasts behave like brutes, we rush to the Home Secretary, Mr. Cross, in a blind paroxysm of terror, and ask him to give us the humanizing influence of “the lash,” in order to repress the instincts which our neglect and indifference have allowed to develop. (Boyd 1914 : 63)

We have got to face that difficulty. We have got to teach the poor people that they must pay more for the rent of their houses than they have hitherto done. … What we have a right to say is that those who are tolerably well-to-do amongst the artisan class must spend more on their houses and less on their drink, and those who are so poor as already to have to apply for public assistance must receive such increased public assistance as will at least provide them with the necessaries of life, one of those necessaries being a decent dwelling. (Borough of Birmingham, 1875b : 26)

Beyond providing the necessaries, however, the improvement scheme had to pay for itself and here the financial calculations of the Improvement Committee did become complex. Chamberlain believed the scheme would bring enormous economic benefits to the city in the long run. Initially, the net cost of the scheme was estimated to be just over £500,000 after the land had been purchased, the new streets constructed, and surplus land sold. After increases in the taxable value of land had been accounted for, it was assumed that overall costs might well be less (Reigeluth 1981 : 260).

Schemes of showy and complacent benevolence may look well on paper, but when the poorest artisan occupier has to pay his full share in their carrying out, they may not prove an unmixed advantage. … Your Committee … believe that Corporation management of property always involves the maximum of payment and the minimum of profit, and they fear that even a worse experience may be yet in store for the ratepayers of Birmingham. (The Birmingham Landlords’ … Association 1878 : 24)

Driving a broad roadway through what was once the most crowded, the poorest, and the most insanitary quarter of the town, seems to have carried light, and air, and life throughout the district. Slums and rookeries, pestilential morally and physically, have disappeared as if by magic, and have given place to streets and buildings worthy of occupying the centre of a great town, while other portions of the improvement area have been so benefited and purified that an artisan population may now occupy them without injury to health or the sacrifice of self-respect.

We are not going to build a single house. We are not allowed to build a single house—the Act does not entrust us with that duty. We are land-letters, and not builders. All we have to do is to let our land to builders. The kind of houses which they will put upon the land, and the rent of the houses, will rest wholly with them, and not with us, except so far as this, that we shall have to see that the houses which they erect fulfill proper sanitary conditions. Our part is to let out land, to see that there is plenty of ventilation, to see that the streets are wide, to make open spaces, and make the most of our property, subject to those conditions of sanitation. (Chamberlain 1878 : 17)

Chamberlain had already become an MP and resigned his position as mayor by the time Parliament gave final approval to the “Great Improvement Scheme.” Radical politics had led him to stand for Parliament as a Liberal in 1876 in a victorious campaign in which he benefited immeasurably from the votes generated by the Liberal Association. His position as mayor was assumed by George Baker, and the spirit of his radical reformism continued, though with somewhat less gusto due to the lack of such an overwhelming personality to lead it. The same socially concerned middle-class groups did continue to participate in politics as they had during Chamberlain's time, though already by the late 1870s there were complaints about rising debt. Henry Hawkes ( 1879 ) proclaimed at a meeting of the Householders’ and Ratepayers’ Protection Association that the total debt for Birmingham had risen to over £6 million.


Joseph Chamberlain souvenir notebook

In 1907, whilst he was living in South Africa, this notebook was given to my grandfather, Harley Firman, following the visit of Joseph Chamberlain (father of Neville Chamberlain) when Colonial Secretary during the Boer War. Chamberlain went on to sign and ratify the peace treaty which brought to an end the Transvaal and Orange Free State as Boer republics. Returning from his peace negotiations in South Africa, Chamberlain announced a new tariff scheme that he hoped would draw Britain and its dependencies together in a kind of 'common market'.

When the Conservative leader, Arthur Balfour, refused to commit himself Chamberlain resigned his cabinet post but continued to conduct a forceful private campaign. In the general election of 1906 the Conservatories went down to a resounding defeat, in great part due to Chamberlain's abandonment of free trade.

There is archival newsreel film of Chamberlain leaving for South Africa, by train from London and then boarding the HMS Good Hope.

I feel his is a remarkable souvenir of a piece of important trade history.

Note: This is a very accurate drawing of Joseph Chamberlain and his walking stick is a pencil!

Comments are closed for this object

Share this link:

Most of the content on A History of the World is created by the contributors, who are the museums and members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC or the British Museum. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site’s House Rules please Flag This Object.


Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum

For more than 50 years, this Potter Street building was home to Joshua L. Chamberlain. Just like the man himself, this house went through incredible transformations during its life, gaining fame and witnessing major historic events.

Today, the house is operated as a museum of the Pejepscot History Center. We offer guided tours from Memorial Day weekend through October. To learn more about the house, visiting the museum, and the work the Pejepscot History Center has done to preserve the building, click one of the links below:

The House in 2020

This spring, we continue our major exterior restoration project begun in 2019, with the two-level historic porches, the Maine Street (front) face of the house, and finally, the north side and west end of the ell. Restoration repairs by Tony Simmons Carpentry and painting by Mid Coast Painting should be complete by the fall. By the end of Maine’s Bicentennial year, the home of one of the state’s most beloved figures will be largely restored on the exterior.

Despite generous grants and individual contributions for this work, we are still raising money. Please consider helping us toward our goal. Visit our campaign page to give now! We’ll include you in a private thank-you reception when the work is complete.


Watch the video: Why Joseph Chamberlain is back in vogue - BBC Newsnight