Chamberlain, Joseph

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Chamberlain, Joseph

Joseph Chamberlain, 1836–1914, British statesman. After a successful business career, he entered local politics and won distinction as a reforming mayor of Birmingham (1873–76). Entering Parliament as a Liberal in 1876, Chamberlain advocated radical social reform and served under William Gladstone as president of the Board of Trade (1880–85). In 1886, however, he broke with Gladstone, leading the defection from the Liberal party of the Liberal Unionists (those Liberals who opposed Home Rule for Ireland). In 1887–88 he negotiated a treaty with the United States to settle the fisheries dispute between that country and Canada. Chamberlain became leader of the Liberal Unionists in the House of Commons in 1891, and in 1895 he joined the Conservative government as colonial secretary. While maintaining his interest in social reform at home, he pursued a vigorous colonial policy aimed at imperial expansion, cooperation, and consolidation. Although a parliamentary inquiry cleared him of complicity in the Jameson Raid (see Jameson, Sir Leander Starr), there is some evidence that he was at least aware of the conspiracy. His subsequent attempts to reach a settlement with the Boers failed, resulting in the South African War (1899–1902). After the war he worked for a conciliatory peace. Chamberlain's belief in the need for closer imperial union led him to espouse the cause of imperial preference in tariffs. However, this proposed abandonment of Great Britain's traditional free trade policy provoked great controversy, and in 1903 he resigned from office to spend three years in an attempt, through the Tariff Reform League, to convert the country to his views. His campaign split the Liberal Unionist–Conservative bloc and contributed to its defeat in the election of 1906. Ill health ended Chamberlain's public life in 1906, but his tariff policy was adopted (1919, 1932) within the lifetime of his sons, Austen and Neville.

See E. E. Gulley, Joseph Chamberlain and English Social Politics (1926); W. L. Strauss, Joseph Chamberlain and the Theory of Imperialism (1942, repr. 1971); biography (to 1903 only) by J. L. Garvin and J. Amery (6 vol., 1932–51); studies by R. V. Kubicek (1969) and M. Balfour (1985).

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