Joseph Chamberlain

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Joseph Chamberlain

Joseph Chamberlain (8 July 18362 July 1914) was a British statesman of the Liberal party and then of the Liberal Unionist party.


  • Hitherto, the well-to-do have governed this country for their own interest; and I will do them this credit—they have achieved their object. Now I trust the time is approaching for those who work and have not. My aim in life is to make life pleasanter for this great majority; I do not care if it becomes in the process less pleasant for the well-to-do minority. Take America, for instance. Cultured persons complain that the society there is vulgar; less agreeable to the delicate tastes of delicately trained minds. But it is infinitely preferable to the ordinary worker.
    • Said to Beatrice Webb as recorded in her diary (12 January 1884), quoted in Webb, My Apprenticeship (Penguin, 1971), p. 141.
  • During the last 100 years, the House of Lords has never contributed one iota to popular liberties or popular freedom, or done anything to advance the common weal; but during that time it has protected every abuse and sheltered every privilege.
    • Speech at Birmingham, 4th August 1884, quoted in "The House of Lords: A handbook for Liberal speakers, writers and workers" (Liberal Publication Department, 1910), p. 96.
  • What is to be the nature of the domestic legislation of the future? (Hear, hear.) I cannot help thinking that it will be more directed to what are called social subjects than has hitherto been the case.—How to promote the greater happiness of the masses of the people (hear, hear), how to increase their enjoyment of life (cheers), that is the problem of the future; and just as there are politicians who would occupy all the world and leave nothing for the ambition of anybody else, so we have their counterpart at home in the men who, having already annexed everything that is worth having, expect everybody else to be content with the crumbs that fall from their table. If you will go back to the origin of things you will find that when our social arrangements first began to shape themselves every man was born into the world with natural rights, with a right to a share in the great inheritance of the community, with a right to a part of the land of his birth. (Cheers.) But all these rights have passed away. The common rights of ownership have disappeared. Some of them have been sold; some of them have been given away by people who had no right to dispose of them; some of them have been lost through apathy and ignorance; some have been stolen by fraud (cheers); and some have been acquired by violence. Private ownership has taken the place of these communal rights, and this system has become so interwoven with our habits and usages, it has been so sanctioned by law and protected by custom, that it might be very difficult and perhaps impossible to reverse it. But then, I ask, what ransom will property pay for the security which it enjoys? What substitute will it find for the natural rights which have ceased to be recognized?
    • Speech to the Birmingham Artisans' Association at Birmingham Town Hall (5 January 1885), quoted in ‘Mr. Chamberlain At Birmingham.’, The Times (6 January 1885), p. 7.
  • The great problem of our civilization is still unsolved. We have to account for and grapple with the mass of misery and destitution in our midst, co-existent as it is with the evidence of abundant wealth and teeming prosperity. It is a problem which some men would put aside by reference to the eternal laws of supply and demand, to the necessity of freedom of contract, and to the sanctity of every private right of property...Our object is the elevation of the poor, of the masses of the people—a levelling up of them by which we shall do something to remove the excessive inequality in social life.
  • If we fail, let us try again and again until we succeed.
    • As a response to Prime Minister Gladstone's criticism of Chamberlain's "Radical Programme," from a Speech at Warrington, cited in "Great Issues in Western Civilization, Volume II" (Donald Kagan, 1992), pg. 419.
  • You can not have omelettes without breaking eggs; you can not destroy the practises of barbarism, of slavery, of superstition, which for centuries have desolated the interior of Africa, without the use of force; but if you will fairly contrast the gain to humanity with the price which we are bound to pay for it, I think you may well rejoice in the result of such expeditions as those which have recently been conducted with such signal success in Nyassaland, Ashanti, Benin, and Nupé—expeditions which may have, and indeed have, cost valuable lives, but as to which we may rest assured that for one life lost a hundred will be gained, and the cause of civilization and the prosperity of the people will in the long run be eminently advanced.
    • The True Conception of Empire, 31 March 1897. Speech given to the Royal Colonial Institute.
    • The phrase "omlets are not made without breaking eggs" first appeared in English in 1796. It is from the French, "on ne saurait faire d'omelette sans casser des œufs" (1742 and earlier), attributed to François de Charette.
  • I venture to claim two qualifications for the great office which I hold, which to my mind, without making invidious distinctions, is one of the most important that can be held by any Englishman; and those qualifications are that in the first place I believe in the British Empire, and in the second place I believe in the British race. I believe that the British race is the greatest of the governing races that the world has ever seen.
    • Speech given to the Imperial Institute on 11 November, 1895; quoted in "Mr. Chamberlain On The Australian Colonies", The Times (12 November, 1895), p. 6.
  • Let it be our endeavour, let it be our task, to keep alight the torch of imperial patriotism, to hold fast the affection and the confidence of our kinsmen across the seas; so that in every vicissitude of fortune the British Empire may present an unbroken front to all her foes, and may carry on even to distant ages the glorious traditions of the British flag.
  • ...the expression was, "If you want our aid, call us to your Councils." Gentlemen, we do want your aid. We do require your assistance in the administration of the vast Empire which is yours as well as ours. The weary Titan staggers under the too vast orb of its fate. We have borne the burden for many years. We think it is time that our children should assist us, be very sure that we shall hasten gladly to call you to our Councils. If you are prepared at any time to take any share, any proportionate share, in the burdens of the Empire, we are prepared to meet you with any proposal for giving to you a corresponding voice in the policy of the Empire.
    • Speech to the Colonial Conference, quoted in 'Mr. Chamberlain's Opening Speech', The Times (4 November 1902), p. 5.
  • What are our objects? They are two. In the first place, we all desire the maintenance and increase of the national strength and the prosperity of the United the second place, our object is, or should be, the realization of the greatest ideal which has ever come to statesmen in any country or in any age—the creation of an Empire such as the world has never seen. (Cheers.) We have to cement the union of the States beyond the Seas. We have to consolidate the British race. We have to meet the clash of competition, commercial now. Sometimes in the past it has been otherwise; it may be again in the future. Whatever it be, whatever danger threatens, we have to meet it no longer as an isolated country. We have to meet it as fortified and strengthened and buttressed by all those of our kinsmen, all those powerful and continually rising States which speak our common tongue and pay allegiance to our common flag.
    • Speech in Glasgow (6 October 1903), quoted in The Times (7 October 1903), p. 4.
  • When Mr. Cobden preached his doctrine he believed, as he had at that time considerable reason to suppose, that while foreign countries would supply us with our foods and raw materials we should remain the workshop of the world and should send them in exchange our manufactures. But that is exactly what we have not done. On the contrary...we are sending less and less of our manufactures to them, and they are sending more and more of their manufactures to us...Our existence as a nation depends upon our manufacturing capacity and production.
    • Speech in Glasgow (6 October 1903), quoted in The Times (7 October 1903), p. 4.
  • In 1872 we sent to the protected countries of Europe and to the United States of America 116,000,000 of exported manufactures. In fell to 88,000,000. In fell to 75,000,000. In 1902, last year, although the general exports had increased, the exports of manufactures had decreased again to 73½ millions. And the total result of this is that after 30 years you are sending 42½ millions of manufactures less to the protected countries than you did 30 years ago. Then there the neutral countries...they have fallen 3½ have lost altogether in your export of manufactures 46 millions. How is it that that has not impressed the people before? Because the change has been concealed by our statistics...You have failed to observe that the continuance of your trade is dependent entirely on British possessions. While these foreign countries have declined 46 millions your British possessions have increased 40 millions.
    • Speech in Glasgow (6 October 1903), quoted in The Times (7 October 1903), p. 4.
  • Our Imperial trade is absolutely essential to our prosperity at the present time. If that trade declines, or if it does not increase in proportion to our population and to the loss of trade with foreign countries, then we sink at once into a fifth-rate nation. Our fate will be the fate of the empires and kingdoms of the past. We have reached our highest point...I do not believe in the setting of the British star; but then I do not believe in the folly of the British people. I trust them, I trust the working classes of this country. I have confidence that they who are our masters, electorally speaking, that they will have intelligence to see that they must wake up. They must modify their policy to suit new conditions.
    • Speech in Glasgow (6 October 1903), quoted in The Times (7 October 1903), p. 4.
  • The Colonies are prepared to meet us. In return for a very moderate preference they will give us a substantial advantage. They will give us, in the first place—I believe they will reserve to us the trade which we already enjoy. They will arrange for tariffs in the future in order not to start industries in competition with those which are already in existence in the mother country...But they will do a great deal more for you. This is certain. Not only will they enable you to retain the trade which you have, but they are ready to give you preference to all the trade which is now done with them by foreign competitors...We must either draw closer together or we shall drift apart...It is, I believe, absolutely impossible for you to maintain in the long run your present loose and indefinable relations and preserve these Colonies parts of the Empire...Can we invent a tie which must be a practical one, which will prevent separation...I say that it is only by commercial union, reciprocal preference, that you can lay the foundations of the confederation of the Empire to which we all look forward as a brilliant possibility.
    • Speech in Glasgow (6 October 1903), quoted in The Times (7 October 1903), p. 4.
  • We, in a spirit of humanity of which I entirely approve, have passed legislation—to which I may say I have without boasting myself contributed very largely—to raise the standard of living amongst our working people, to secure to them higher wages, to save them from the competition of men of a lower social scale. We have surrounded them with regulations which are intended to provide for their safety. We have secured them, or the majority of them, against the pecuniary loss which would follow upon accidents incurred in the course of their employment. There is not one of those things which I have not supported...But they have all entailed expense, they have all raised the cost of production; and what can be more illogical than to raise the cost of production in this country in order to promote the welfare of the working classes, and then to allow the products of other countries—which are not surrounded by any similar legislation, which are free from all similar cost and expenditure—to allow them freely to bring each country in competition with our goods, which are hampered in the struggle?
    • Speech in Greenock (7 October 1903), quoted in The Times (8 October 1903), p. 8.
  • If you allow this state of things to go on, what will follow? If these foreign goods come in cheaper, one of two things must follow. Either you will have to give up the conditions you have gained, either you will have to abolish and repeal the fair-wages clause of our Factory Acts, and the compensation to workmen, and either you will have to take lower wages, or you will lose work. You cannot keep your work at this higher standard of living and pay if at the same time you allow foreigners at a lower standard and lower rate of pay to send their goods freely in competition with yours.
    • Speech in Greenock (7 October 1903), quoted in The Times (8 October 1903), p. 8.
  • Now the Cobden Club all this time rubs its hands in the most patriotic spirit and says, "Ah, yes; but how cheap you are buying." Yes, but think how that effects different classes in the community. Take the capitalist...His interest is to buy in the cheapest market, because he does not produce, but can get every article he consumes. He need not buy a single article in this country; he need not make a single article. He can invest his money in foreign countries and live upon the interest, and then in the returns of the prosperity of the country it will be said that the country is growing richer because he is growing richer. What about the working men? What about the class that depends upon having work in order to earn wages or subsistence at all? They cannot do without the work; and yet the work will go if it is not produced in this country. This is the state of things which I am protesting.
    • Speech in Greenock (7 October 1903), quoted in The Times (8 October 1903), p. 8.
  • Greenock was one of the great centres of the sugar trade...Then came foreign competition, aided by bounties; and your trade declines so seriously that only the very best, the very richest, the most enterprising, the most inventive can possibly retain their hold upon it. If there had been no bounties and no unfair competition of this kind what would have happened? In the last 20 or 30 years the consumption of sugar throughout the world has increased enormously. The consumption in this country has increased enormously; and you would have had your share...if normal conditions and equal fairness had prevailed; and at this moment in Greenock, quite independently of the other industries you may have found to occupy you, there would have been in sugar alone ten times as many men employed as there were in the most palmy days of the trade. But normal conditions have not obtained. You have been the sufferers; and, as I have said, a great number of your refineries have been closed, have disappeared altogether. The capital invested in them has been lost, and the workmen who work in them—what has become of them?
    • Speech in Greenock (7 October 1903), quoted in The Times (8 October 1903), p. 8.
  • Free imports have destroyed this industry, at all events for the time, and it is not easy to recover an industry when it has once been lost...They have destroyed agriculture...Agriculture as the greatest of all trades and industries of this country has been practically destroyed. Sugar has gone, silk has gone, iron is threatened, wool is threatened, cotton will go! How long are you going to stand it? At the present moment these industries, and the working men who depend upon them, are like sheep in a field. One by one they allow themselves to be led out to slaughter, and there is no combination, no apparent prevision of what is in store for the rest of them. Do you think, if you belong at present to a prosperous industry, that your industry will be allowed to continue? Do you think that the same causes which have destroyed some of our industries, and which are in the course of destroying others, will not be equally applicable to you when your turn comes?
    • Speech in Greenock (7 October 1903), quoted in Julian Amery, Joseph Chamberlain and the Tariff Reform Campaign (London: Macmillan, 1969), p. 471.
  • One great cause for the prosperity of the United States of America, admitted by every one to be a fact, is that there is a great Empire of 70,000,000 of people; that the numbers of these people alone, without any assistance from the rest of the world, would ensure a large amount of prosperity. Yes; but the British Empire is even greater than the United States of America. We have a...white population of over 60,000,000...against the 70,000,000 of America...The Colonies are no longer in their infancy. They are growing rapidly to a vigorous manhood. Now is the time—the last time—that you can bind them closer to you. If now you disregard their aspirations and wishes, if when they make you an offer not specially in their interests but in the interests of the Empire of which we are all a portion—if when they make you this offer you reject it or treat it with scorn you may do an injury which will be irreparable, and, whatever you yourselves may feel in after life, be sure that your descendants will scorn and denounce the cowardly and selfish policy which you will have pursued.
    • Speech in Greenock (7 October 1903), quoted in The Times (8 October 1903), p. 8.
  • When I was in South Africa nothing was more inspiring, nothing more encouraging, to a Briton to find how the men who had either themselves come from its shore or were the descendants of those who had still retained the old traditions, still remembered that their forefathers were buried in its churchyards, that they spoke a common language, that they were under a common flag, still in their hearts desired to be remembered above all as British subjects, equally entitled with us to a part in the great Empire which they, as well as us, have contributed to make...I did not hesitate, however, to preach to them that it was not enough to shout for Empire...but that they and we alike must be content to make a common order to secure the common good. To my appeal they rose. And I cannot believe that here in this country, in the mother country, their enthusiasm will not find an echo. They felt, as I felt, and as you feel, that all history is the history of States once powerful and now decaying. Is Britain to be numbered among the decaying States? Has all the glory of the past to be forgotten? Have we to prove ourselves unregenerate sons of the forefathers who left us so glorious an inheritance? Are we to be a decaying State? Are the efforts of all our sons to be frittered away? Are their sacrifices to be vain? Or are we to take up a new youth as members of a great Empire which will continue for generation after generation, the strength, the power, and the glory of the British race?
    • Speech in Greenock (7 October 1903), quoted in The Times (8 October 1903), p. 8.
  • Lord Goschen tells you that France only takes 2 per cent. of its corn from abroad, that it is self-sufficient, and that Germany only takes 30 per cent., whereas, he says, we take four-fifths. That is not a comforting is not a comforting reflection to think that we, a part of the British Empire that might be self-sufficient and self-contained, are, nevertheless, dependent, according to Lord Goschen, for four-fifths of our supplies upon foreign countries, any one of which, by shutting their doors upon us, might reduce us to a state of almost absolute starvation...the working man has to fear the result of a shortage of supplies and of a consequent monopoly. If in time of war one of the great countries, Russia, Germany, France, or the United States of America, were to cut off its supply, it would infallibly raise the price according to the quantity which we received from that country. If there were no war, if in times of peace these countries wanted their corn for themselves, which they will do, or if there were bad harvests, which there may be in either of these cases, you will find the price of corn rising many times higher than any tax I have ever suggested. And there is only one remedy for it. There is only one remedy for a short supply. It is to increase your sources of supply. You must call in the new world, the Colonies, to redress the balance of the old. Call in the Colonies, and they will answer to your call with very little stimulus or encouragement. They will give you a supply which will be never failing and all sufficient.
    • Speech in Newcastle (20 October 1903), quoted in The Times (21 October 1903), p. 10.
  • What is the whole problem as it effects the working classes of this country? It is all contained in one word—employment. Cheap food, a higher standard of living, higher wages—all these things, important as they are, are contained in the word employment. If this policy will give you more employment, all the others would be added unto you. If you lose your employment, all the others put together will not compensate you for that loss.
    • Speech in Liverpool (27 October 1903), quoted in The Times (28 October 1903), p. 6.
  • It is absolutely impossible to reconcile free trade with trade unionism. You can have one or you can have the other, but you cannot have both; and I am glad to say that in saying that I have the support of a trade unionist with whom I have disagreed upon almost every other question, Mr. Keir is not only the consumer you have got to consider. The producer is of still more importance; and to buy in the cheapest market is not the sole duty of man, and it is not in the best interest of the working classes.
    • Speech in Liverpool (27 October 1903), quoted in The Times (28 October 1903), p. 6.
  • What is the good, I ask, in the name of common sense, of prohibiting sweating in this country if you allow sweated goods to come in from foreign countries? If you insist on limitation, of hours and upon precautions for security, bear in mind all these things add to the cost of production, to the difficulties of the manufacturer in selling his goods, and unless you give him some increased price, some increased advantage in compensation, then he cannot carry on competition any longer. All these conditions in the long run will result not to your advantage, for you will have no work to do, but to the advantage of the foreigner, who is not so scrupulous and who conducts his work without any of these conditions...If protected labour is good, and I think in many ways it is...then it is good to protect the results of labour, and you cannot do one without the other.
    • Speech in Liverpool (27 October 1903), quoted in The Times (28 October 1903), p. 6.
  • The day of small nations has passed away; the day of Empires has come.
  • You are suffering from the unrestricted imports of cheaper goods. You are suffering also from the unrestricted immigration of the people who make these goods. (Loud and prolonged cheers.)...The evils of immigration have increased during recent years. And behind those people who have already reached these shores, remember there are millions of the same kind who, under easily conceivable circumstances, might follow in their track, and might invade this country in a way and to an extent of which few people have at present any conception. The same causes that brought 10,000 and 20,000, and tens of thousands, may bring hundreds of thousands, or even millions. (Hear, hear.) If that would be an evil, surely he is a statesman who would deal with it in the beginning. (Hear, hear.)...When it began we were told it was so small that it would not matter to us. Now it has been growing with great rapidity, it has already affected a whole district, it is spreading into other parts of the country...Will you take it in time (hear, hear), or will you wait, hoping for something to turn up which will preserve you from what you all see to be the natural consequences of such an invasion? is a fact that when these aliens come here they are answerable for a larger amount of crime and disease and hopeless poverty than are proportionate to their numbers. (Cheers.) They come here—I do not blame them, I am speaking of the results—they come here and change the whole character of a district. (Cheers.) The speech, the nationality of whole streets has been altered; and British workmen have been driven by the fierce competition of famished men from trades which they previously followed. (Cheers.)...But the party of free importers is against any reform. How could they be otherwise?...they are perfectly consistent. If sweated goods are to be allowed in this country without restriction, why not the people who make them? Where is the difference? There is no difference either in the principle or in the results. It all comes to the same thing—less labour for the British working man. (Cheers.)
    • Speech in Limehouse in the East End of London (15 December 1904), quoted in ‘Mr. Chamberlain In The East-End.’, The Times (16 December 1904), p. 8.
  • Is the Unionist party, the Conservative party, to be without a definite policy of social reform? It is to our party that they owe the whole of that body of legislation connected with the Factory Acts, free education, the distribution of lands in the shape of allotments and small holdings, the compensation for accidents to workmen in the course of their employment...The policy of resistance, of negation, is no sufficient answer to that Socialist opinion which is growing up amongst us—the Socialist opinion the objects of which are, after all, worthy of earnest and even favourable consideration...that policy, by whomsoever propounded, is a policy which means money, which means expenditure, it is closely connected with the third object of our party officially declared—that fiscal reform is the first constructive policy of the Unionist party. (Cheers.)
    • Speech (25 June 1906), quoted in ‘The 1900 Club.’, The Times (26 June 1906), p. 14.
  • There are men in the House of Commons, who profess in a special sense to be the representatives of Labour, who would not allow me, who represent a great working-class claim to represent you. In order to do so I must be a man who did some work 30 years ago and never did any since. (Loud laughter.) It is these men who are at the present time blackening the characters of those who are upholding the British dominion and British honour throughout the world...They have no ear of sympathy for the men who suffered for the Imperial cause. The other day some officers, British soldiers, were murdered with savage brutality for no reason or provocation. They had no sympathy with those officers or the families that they left behind them, their only idea was to shield the assassins from the proper penalty of their crime. ("Traitors.")...But one thing I will say, and I say it in your name; these men at any rate do not represent the working classes of England (loud cheering), and never yet in our history or in the history of the British race has a great democracy been unpatriotic. (Hear, hear.)
    • On the Labour Party (7 July 1906), quoted in ‘The Chamberlain Celebration In Birmingham.’, The Times (10 July 1906), p. 11.

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