Henry Campbell-Bannerman

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Liberal politics meant the politics of common-sense.

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman GCB (September 7, 1836April 22, 1908) was a British Liberal statesman who served as Prime Minister from December 5, 1905 until resigning due to ill health on April 3, 1908. No previous First Lord of the Treasury had been officially called "Prime Minister"; this term only came into official usage after he took office. In the 1906 general election he led the Liberal Party to their biggest ever majority.


  • Liberal politics meant the politics of common-sense.
    • The Spectator (17 February 1884), pp. 223-224, quoted in John Wilson, C.B.: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (London: Constable, 1973), p. 230
  • What do we mean by this Liberalism of which we talk? … I should say it means the acknowledgement in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can, at least, avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life.
    • The Liberal Magazine (January 1898), p. 530, quoted in John Wilson, C.B.: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (London: Constable, 1973), p. 232

Leader of the Opposition[edit]

  • I am half-surprised to find that as I go on I get more and more confirmed in the old advanced Liberal principles, economic, social, & political, with which I entered Parliament 30 years ago.
    • Letter to John Spencer (19 February 1900), quoted in John Wilson, C.B.: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (London: Constable, 1973), p. 326
  • What is that policy? That now that we had got the men we had been fighting against down, we should punish them as severely as possible, devastate their country, burn their homes, break up their very instruments of agriculture.. It is that we should sweep – as the Spaniards did in Cuba; and how we denounced the Spaniards! – the women and children into camps...in some of which the death-rate has risen so high as 430 in the thousand. I do not say for a moment, because I do not think for a moment, that this is the deliberate and intentional policy of His Majesty's Government...at all events, it is the thing which is being done at this moment in the name and by the authority of this most humane and Christian nation. Yesterday I asked the leader of the House of Commons when the information would be afforded, of which we are so sadly in want. My request was refused. Mr. Balfour treated us with a short disquisition on the nature of war. A phrase often used is that "war is war", but when one comes to ask about it one is told that no war is going on, that it is not war. When is a war not a war? When it is carried on by methods of barbarism in South Africa.
    • Speech at the Holborn Restaurant (14 June 1901), quoted in John Wilson, C.B.: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (London: Constable, 1973), p. 349
  • All that he said about the clean state and efficiency was an affront to Liberalism & was pure claptrap – Efficiency as a watchword! Who is against it? This is all a mere réchauffé of Mr. Sydney Webb who is evidently the chief instructor of the whole faction
    • Letter to Herbert Gladstone on Lord Rosebery's speech advocating national efficiency collectivism (18 December 1901), quoted in John Wilson, C.B.: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (London: Constable, 1973), p. 371
  • ...what is the constitutional bearing of these stipulations? ...It is perfectly monstrous...It means that we abandon our fiscal independence, together with our free-trade ways; that we subside into the tenth part of a Vehmgericht which is to direct us what sugar is to be countervailed, at what rate per cent. we are to countervail it, how much is to be put on for the bounty, and how much for the tariff being in excess of the convention tariff; and this being the established order of things, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer in his robes obeys the orders that he receives from this foreign convention, in which the Britisher is only one out of ten, and the House of Commons humbly submits to the whole transaction. ("Shame.") Sir, of all the insane schemes ever offered to a free country as a boon this is surely the maddest. (Cheers.)
    • Speech to the Cobden Club denouncing the Brussels sugar convention (28 November 1902), quoted in The Times (29 November 1902), p. 12
  • We are keenly in sympathy with the representatives of Labour. We have too few of them in the House of Commons. ...The Liberal party, high and low, have discovered, if they ever forgot it, that the real road to success...lies in adhering to the old principles of the party.
    • Speech to Liberals in Belmont (2 January 1903), quoted in John Wilson, C.B.: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (London: Constable, 1973), p. 394
  • We are satisfied that it is right because it gives the freest play to individual energy and initiative and character and the largest liberty both to producer and consumer. ...trade is injured when it is not allowed to follow its natural course, and when it is either hampered or diverted by artificial obstacles. ...We believe in free trade because we believe in the capacity of our countrymen. That at least is why I oppose protection root and branch, veiled and unveiled, one-sided or reciprocal. I oppose it in any form. Besides we have experience of fifty years, during which our prosperity has become the envy of the world.
    • Speech in Bolton (15 October 1903), quoted in John Wilson, C.B.: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (London: Constable, 1973), p. 413

Prime Minister[edit]

  • I hold that the growth of armaments is a great danger to the peace of the world. A policy of huge armaments keeps alive and stimulates and feeds the belief that force is the best, if not the only, solution of international differences. It is a policy that tends to inflame old sores and to create new sores. And I submit to you that as the principles of peaceful arbitration gains ground it becomes one of the highest tasks of a statesman to adjust those armaments to the newer and happier condition of things. (Cheers.) What nobler role could this great country assume than at the fitting moment to place itself at the head of a league of peace, through whose instrumentality this great work could be effected? (Cheers.)
    • Speech in the Albert Hall, London (21 December 1905) launching the Liberal Party's election campaign, quoted in The Times (22 December 1905), p. 7
  • We want two things. We want relief from the pressure of excessive taxation, and at the same time we want money to meet our own domestic needs at home, which have been too long starved and neglected owing to the demands on the taxpayer for military purposes abroad.
    • Speech in the Albert Hall, London (21 December 1905), quoted in The Times (22 December 1905), p. 7
  • ...with an increasing military expenditure, how can we do the work of reform that remains to be done at home and at the same time bring relief to the taxpayers? Do not let us mind if in their folly they call us “Little Englanders.” (Cheers.) I at least am patriot enough not to desire to see the weakening of my country by such a waste of money as we have had for the last ten years. What has it brought us, this waste of money for ten years? Shall I recite some links in the dismal and ugly chain? Dear money. Lower credit. Less enterprise in business and manufactures. A reduced home demand. Therefore, reduced output to meet it. Therefore, reductions in wages, increase of pauperism, non-employment. (Cheers.) The fact is, Sir, you cannot pile up debt and taxation as they have been piled up without feeling the strain in every fibre of society. We are going to have a good deal said for the next few weeks about free trade. Let me add another thing. Did you ever hear a fiscal reformer pleading for economy, or crying out for lighter taxes and fewer of them? No, Sir, if peace and retrenchment were the order of the day, Othello's occupation would be gone. (Cheers.)
    • Speech in the Albert Hall, London (21 December 1905), quoted in The Times (22 December 1905), p. 7
  • Expenditure calls for taxes, and taxes are the plaything of the tariff reformer. Militarism, extravagance, protection are weeds which grow in the same field, and if you want to clear the field for honest cultivation you must root them all out. For my own part, I do not believe that we should have been confronted by the spectre of protection if it had not been for the South African war. ... Depend upon it that in fighting for our open ports and for the cheap food and material upon which the welfare of the people and the prosperity of our commerce depend we are fighting against those powers, privileges, injustices, and monopolies which are unalterably opposed to the triumph of democratic principles.
    • Speech in the Albert Hall, London (21 December 1905), quoted in The Times (22 December 1905), p. 7
  • For ten years they [the Unionist Party] have been supported by an immense majority in the House of Commons. ... The period over which we are looking back presents itself to me, I confess, as a well-nigh unbroken expanse of mismanagement; of legislation conducted for the benefit of privileged classes and powerful interests; of wars and adventures abroad hastily embarked upon and recklessly pursued. The legacy which they have bequeathed to their successors...is in the main a legacy of embarrassment, an accumulation of public mischief appalling in its extent and ramifications.
    • Election Address, quoted in The Times (8 January 1906), p. 8
  • Ten years ago the incoming Conservative Government found the national finances in good order. .... What do we find to-day? Expenditure and indebtedness have been piled up, the income-tax stands at a shilling, war taxes are continued in peace time, the national credit is impaired, and a heavy depreciation has taken place in securities of every description. You only have to look around to see the result. Industry is burdened, enterprise is restricted, workmen are thrown out of employment, and the poorer classes are straitened still further in their circumstances.
    • Election Address, quoted in The Times (8 January 1906), p. 8
  • I hold that protection is not only bad economy, but that it is an agency at once immoral and oppressive, based as it is and must be on the exploitation of the community in the interest of favoured trades and financial groups. I hold it to be a corrupting system, because honesty and purity of administration must be driven to the wall if once the principle of taxes for revenue be departed from in favour of the other principle, which I conceive to be of the essence of protection—that, namely, of taxes for private beneficiaries.
    • Election Address, quoted in The Times (8 January 1906), p. 8
  • The right hon. gentleman is like the Bourbons. He has learned nothing. He comes back to this new House of Commons with the same airy graces – the same subtle dialectics – and the same light and frivolous way of dealing with great questions. He little knows the temper of the new House of Commons if he thinks those methods will prevail here. The right hon. gentleman has...asked certain questions which he seemed to think were posers. ...I have no direct answer to give to them. They are utterly futile, nonsensical and misleading. They are invented by the right hon. gentleman for the purpose of occupying time in this debate. I say, enough of this foolery. … Move your amendments and let us get to business.
    • Speech in the House of Commons answering the Conservative leader, Arthur Balfour (12 March 1906), quoted in John Wilson, C.B.: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (London: Constable, 1973), p. 497
  • The bonds of mutual understanding and esteem are strengthening between the peoples, and the time is approaching when nothing can hold back from them the knowledge that it is they who are the victims of war and militarism; that war in its tawdry triumphs scatters the fruits of their labour, breaks down the paths of progress, and turns the fire of constructive energy into a destroying force.
    • Speech to the opening of the 14th Inter-Parliamentary Conference in the Royal Gallery of Westminster Palace (23 July 1906), quoted in The Times (24 July 1906), p. 3
  • [W]e who base our confidence and our hopes on the Parliamentary system—New institutions have often a disturbed, if not a stormy youth. The Duma will revive in one form or another. We can say with all sincerity, “The Duma is dead; long live the Duma.”
    • Speech to the opening of the 14th Inter-Parliamentary Conference in the Royal Gallery of Westminster Palace (23 July 1906), quoted in The Times (24 July 1906), p. 3
  • [T]he concentration of human beings in towns...is contrary to nature, and...this abnormal existence is bound to issue in suffering, deterioration, and gradual destruction to the mass of the population...countless thousands of our fellow-men, and still a larger number of children...are starved of air and space and sunshine. ... This view of city life, which is gradually coming home to the heart and understanding and the conscience of our people, is so terrible that it cannot be put away. What is all our wealth and learning and the fine flower of our civilisation and our Constitution and our political theories – what are all these but dust and ashes, if the men and women, on whose labour the whole social fabric is maintained, are doomed to live and die in darkness and misery in the recesses of our great cities? We may undertake expeditions on behalf of oppressed tribes and races, we may conduct foreign missions, we may sympathise with the cause of unfortunate nationalities; but it is our own people, surely, who have the first claim upon us. ... [T]he air must be purified...the sunshine must be allowed to stream in, the water and the food must be kept pure and unadulterated, the streets light and clean. ... [T]he measure of your success in bringing these things to pass will be the measure of the arresting of the terrible powers of race degeneration which is going on in the countless sunless streets.
    • Speech in Belmont (25 January 1907), quoted in John Wilson, C.B.: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (London: Constable, 1973), p. 588

Quotes about Campbell-Bannerman[edit]

  • South Africans will always retain a grateful memory of the statesman who had the courage to carry into effect self-government for the Transvaal and Orange Free State, which paved the way to the establishment of the Union of South Africa. I deem it a grand privilege and honour to be associated with the movement in connexion with the memorial to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.
    • Louis Botha's message to the unveiling of a statue of Campbell-Bannerman in Stirling, quoted in The Times (13 November 1913), p. 10
  • I think it will be felt by the community as a whole as if they had lost a relative. Certainly those who have been associated with him closely for years will feel a deep sense of personal bereavement. I have never met a great public figure since I have been in politics who so completely won the attachment and affection of the men who came into contact with him. He was not merely admired and respected; he was absolutely loved by us all. I really cannot trust myself to say more. The masses of the people of this country, especially the more unfortunate of them, have lost the best friend they ever had in the high places of the land. His sympathy in all suffering was real, deep, and unaffected. He was truly a great man—a great head and a great heart. He was absolutely the bravest man I ever met in politics. He was entirely free from fear. He was a man of supreme courage. Ireland has certainly lost one of her truest friends, and what is true of Ireland is true of every section of the community of this Empire which has a fight to maintain against powerful foes.
    • David Lloyd George's tribute to Campbell-Bannerman, quoted in The Times (23 April 1908), p. 5
  • He deserves all the credit [for the South African constitution]. It was all done in a ten minutes' speech at the Cabinet – the most dramatic, the most important ten minutes' speech ever delivered in our time. In ten minutes he brushed aside all the checks and all the safeguards devised by Asquith, Winston and Loreburn. At the outset only two of us were with him, John Burns and myself. But his speech convinced the whole Cabinet. It was the utterance of a plain, kindly, simple man. The speech moved one at least of the Cabinet to tears. It was the most impressive thing I ever saw. ... The result of CB's policy has been remarkable. It captured Gen. Botha by its magnanimity. ... If we had a war tomorrow, Botha and 50,000 Boers would march with us side by side. He would, if necessary, drive the Germans out of South Africa.
    • David Lloyd George's remarks to George Riddell, as recorded in Riddell's diary (27 April 1913), quoted in The Riddell Diaries 1908–1923, ed. J. M. McEwen (1986), p. 63
  • The Boers—the Dutch—are the rulers in S. Africa. We had to give them back their land to rule—for us! And more—for whereas they had ruled the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, they were given in addition Cape Colony and Natal to rule. Had we not done this, we should now have been driven from S. Africa. C.B. was wise enough to see that safety lay in giving them autonomy. Had we not done so, Botha and the others would have gone back to their farms, and waited for the moment—this moment—when all our energies were wanted elsewhere, to drive us from S. Africa. We didn't win the Boer War!
    • David Lloyd George's remarks to Frances Stevenson, as recorded in Stevenson's diary (25 January 1915), quoted in Frances Stevenson, Lloyd George: A Diary, ed. A. J. P. Taylor (1971), p. 25
  • It was expected that he would meet Irish wit with dull, unimaginative answers, and that he would be, so to speak, roasted alive. What turned out to be the fact was that Campbell-Bannerman had wit as ready as that of any of his opponents, that he had immense force of character; above all, that he had unfathomable, unreachable depths of imperturbability. It might have been self-confidence, it was probably indifference; but there was no human being who seemed so absolutely impervious to attack.
  • Went to lunch at the Savoy with Smuts. ... He spoke of the time after the [Boer] War when he was in England endeavouring to secure a settlement on the basis of responsible self-government. Campbell-Bannerman he said was the one man on whose support he felt he could absolutely rely. I asked about Churchill. Yes, he said, Churchill was good, but Campbell-Bannerman was like a rock. The other day he had told the Imperial War Cabinet...that whenever they were commemorating England's great men they must never forget to set up a statue to Campbell-Bannerman.
    • C. P. Scott, diary (3 May 1917), quoted in The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911–1928, ed. Trevor Wilson (1970), p. 284
  • One day eight years later, I found myself talking over these events with General Botha, who was visiting this country as first Prime Minister of the South African Union. Just as I was leaving he stopped me for a moment and said: ‘After all, three words made peace and union in South Africa: “methods of barbarism.”’ Softening the epigram a little, he went on to speak of the tremendous impression which had been made upon men fighting a losing battle with an apparently hopeless future by the fact that the leader of one of the great English parties had had the courage to say this thing, and to brave the obloquy which it brought upon him. So far from encouraging them to a hopeless resistance, it touched their hearts and made them think seriously of the possibility of reconciliation.
    • J. A. Spender, The Life of The Right Hon. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, G.C.B. Vol. I (1923), p. 351

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