Biography of Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914)

British politician, born on July 8, 1836, in Camberwell (London) and died on July 2, 1914 in Birmingham (London). Minister under the Government of William Ewart Gladstone and the third Marquis of Salisbury, reformed commercial law and supported the extension of the electoral vote in your country. Contrary to colonial expansion, as Minister of the colonies was the director of the British colonialist and imperialist movement and main architect of the Commonwealth concept at first. His performance was decisive for the trigger of the war of the Boers (1899-1902).

Beginning of political career

Son of a prosperous manufacturer of screws of London, at the age of sixteen became involved in industrial and commercial activities of the family. In 1854, Chamberlain moved to Birmingham where the prosperity of the family business allowed him to live a life quite comfortable. To the death of his father, he/she started his political career by being elected Liberal Party mayor of Birmingham. Imbued by a fairly liberal vocational and business training, said supporter of major internal reforms: it abolished and rebuilt the slums (rotten burgos) and the Council Government took charge of the Administration and distribution of the water and gas res. At the same time, he/she devoted himself to publish a series of articles in the Fortnight Review on social and political issues of great importance, which made known their agreement in the separation between Church and State and the establishment of free education in the first cycle of education, work, the latter which allowed which was named President of the National League of instruction.

Entry into the Government

In the year 1876, Chamberlain was elected member of the Chamber of the Comunespor the Liberal Party, in whose work soon began to stand out as one of the most distinguished of the more radical faction of the party leaders. Despite that, in the year 1880 Prime Minister Gladstone decided to call him to join his Cabinet in front of the Ministry of Commerce. Chamberlain amply proved their worthiness for the position, both in internal economic issues such as foreign, but also represented more than the most exalted of the Government stance demanding the lifting of the repressive measures used against Ireland and the establishment of a status of partial autonomy for its citizens. Their political projects with respect to Ireland were not pleased Gladstone or own Irish, precipitating his departure from the Cabinet in the month of June 1885.

In January of the following year, Gladstone returned to rely on his experience to take charge of the important Ministry of the Interior, but only two few months as a result of the famous the Home Rule crisis could be held. Distanced from his former political protector, Chamberlain went on to become, along with lord Hartington, Duke of Devonshire, one of the heads of the new Liberal Unionist Party, that ended up bringing down the liberal Cabinet of Gladstone. Once consummated the enmity between the two, Chamberlain lent its full support to the new Government formed by the conservative lord Salisbury, where he/she went on to manage the important Ministry of the colonies, which led to a more conservative policy, defending imperialist and expansionist positions.

Colonial policy

At the end of the 19th century, Great Britain enjoyed maximum splendour and apogee of its colonial empire. The British had come to dominate large tracts of territory in Africa, in India (the jewel in the Crown) and a huge strip of the Pacific and Indian Ocean. Returning to the colonialist postulates more in vogue, Chamberlain conceived colonization of the underdeveloped world as if it were a providential mission to as a huge business. The ultimate aim of its policy was not to establish a close union of the colonies between them and with the own metropolis as supreme governing body.

Chamberlain put special attention in South Africa, when it discovered rich deposits of gold in Orange and diamonds in Kimberley, he/she did conceive a country with fabulous potential. But the British penetration by the area ran inexorably with the strength of the boers. In this regard, could not be clear if Chamberlain advised the British military Jameson carried out a fierce operation punishment for the region of the Transvaal extended considerably the area of British influence but that was the trigger for the bloody Guerra of the Boers, who eventually won Great Britain thanks to wing stubborn obstinacy of Chamberlain and conflict which cost many lives on both sides. Anyway, Chamberlain was acquitted of any charge by the Parliament. Just end the war, Chamberlain made a triumphant tour of South Africa to check the stability of the newly conquered colonial British rule.

But, without a doubt, the most important commitment of Chamberlain at the forefront of the colonies was oriented around the creation of "new Britanias", that is, British colonies repopulated by British and assimilated to the metropolis in its political regime and their ways of life. Under a set of fairly weighted autonomies, the territories would get sense of responsibility and belonging to the British community, all through three fundamental principles enunciated by Chamberlain: Conference, periodic meeting of all the Prime Ministers of the communities; Preference, understood as the preferential treatment of each colony to the rest of the community; and defense, which required each Member to come to the aid of any of them against possible attack from a third country. Although the Commonwealth term would not be used until well into the 20th century, their sense was already outlined and implemented by Chamberlain.

Precisely because of its colonial policy, Chamberlain became a staunch supporter of economic protectionism as a need to defend against the competition of other countries British commercial interests in expansion program involving necessarily the end of the English tradition of free trade and market. The measure was deeply unpopular across the country, including a large segment of his own party, which ended up causing his resignation from the post, in December of the year 1905.

Exhausted and embittered, as well as seriously ill, in 1906 he/she suffered an attack of apoplexy that left him virtually disabled for the rest of his life, causing its definitive withdrawal from the world of politics. Chamberlain died at his beloved Birmingham on the eve of the first world war.

Energetic and very dynamic, Chamberlain practiced all political ranges. To his credit is the fact that knew how to print an air of greatness very akin to the characteristic of Victorian-era British pride to British colonialism.


BROWNE, Harry. Joseph Chamberlain, radical and imperialist. (London: Ed. Longman. 1974).

KUBICEK, Robert V. The administration of imperialism, Joseph chamberlain at the Colonial Office. (Durham: Ed. University Commonwealth Studies Center. 1969).

STRACHEY, John. The end of the Empire. (Mexico D. F.: Ed. Fondo de Cultura economic. 1974).

Carlos Herraiz GarcĂ­a.