Facts and Events
Joseph Chamberlain (8 July 1836 – 2 July 1914) was a British politician and statesman. He was best known as the leading imperialist of the day in Britain, first in the radical wing of the Liberal Party then in the Liberal Unionist alliance partner of the Conservative Party. He was the chief advocate and supervisor of the Second Boer War (1899–1902), and by 1906, when a stroke ended his career, was the leading advocate of "tariff reform" (that is, imposing high tariffs in place of free trade). Chamberlain divided both major British political parties– Gladstone's Liberals in 1886 and the Unionists in 1903 – in each case helping to derail the political prospects of that party.
Chamberlain made his career in Birmingham, first as a manufacturer of screws and then as a notable Mayor of the city. During his early adulthood he was a radical Liberal Party member and a campaigner for educational reform. As a self-made businessman who never attended university, he had contempt for the aristocracy. He entered the House of Commons aged almost forty, relatively late in life for a front-rank politician. Rising to power through his influence with the Liberal grassroots organisation, he served as President of the Board of Trade in Gladstone's Second Government (1880–85). At the time, Chamberlain was notable for his attacks on the Conservative leader Lord Salisbury, and in the 1885 general election he proposed the "Unauthorised Programme" of benefits for newly enfranchised agricultural labourers. Chamberlain resigned from Gladstone's Third Government in 1886 in opposition to Irish Home Rule, and after the Liberal Party split he became a Liberal Unionist, a party which included a bloc of MPs based in and around Birmingham.
From the 1895 general election the Liberal Unionists were in coalition with the Conservative Party, under Chamberlain's former opponent Lord Salisbury. Chamberlain accepted the post of Secretary of State for the Colonies, declining other positions. In this job, he presided over the Second Boer War and was the dominant figure in the Unionist Government's re-election at the "Khaki Election" in 1900. In 1903, he resigned from the Cabinet to campaign for tariff reform. He obtained the support of most Unionist MPs for this stance, but the split contributed to the landslide Unionist defeat at the 1906 general election. Some months later, shortly after turning seventy, he was disabled by a stroke.
Despite never becoming Prime Minister, he is regarded as one of the most important British politicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as a renowned orator and an interesting character who split both main parties. Winston Churchill later wrote of him that he was the man "who made the weather". Chamberlain was the father, by different marriages, of Sir Austen Chamberlain and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.