Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
814
CHAMBERLAIN, J.

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