Oddly for a radical, Chamberlain was not anti-imperialist, although he was critical of Benjamin Disraeli 's handling of foreign affairs, arguing that the Conservative government's forward policy diverted attention from the requirements of domestic reform. He was eager to see the protection of British overseas interests, but placed greater emphasis on a conception of justice in the pursuit of such interests.
The National Liberal Federation played an important part in ensuring a Liberal victory, so when Gladstone formed the new government Chamberlain was in a good position to be rewarded with a cabinet position, even though he had only been in the British Parliament for four years. Gladstone invited Chamberlain on to assume the Presidency of the Board of Trade. Until , Chamberlain was able to achieve little in this office because the Cabinet was preoccupied with difficulties concerning Ireland , Transvaal and Egypt. However, he was able to introduce the Grain Cargoes Bill, for the safer transportation of grain , an Electric Lighting Bill which enabled municipal bodies to establish electricity supplies and a Seaman's Wages Bill, which ensured a fairer system of payment.
A Bankruptcy Bill established a Bankruptcy Department at the Board of Trade responsible for enquiring into failed business deals. In Cabinet, Ireland was of special interest to Chamberlain.
When a Home Rule Bill came up for debate, Chamberlain opposed this, reasoning that Ireland's separation from the United Kingdom would lead to the eventual break up of the Empire. Instead of Home Rule, Chamberlain wanted to strengthen local government so that the Irish would have a greater say in the running of their communities. Chamberlain was always supportive of communities exercising a large degree of self governance. In April , Gladstone's government introduced the Irish Land Act, but in response, Parnell, leading the Irish nationalists, encouraged tenants to withhold rents.
As a result, Parnell and other leaders, including John Dillon, were imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol on October 13, Keen that there should be no more concessions, Chamberlain supported their imprisonment, and used their incarceration to bargain with them in in an attempt to reconcile them to the government. In the ensuing 'Kilmainham Treaty', the government agreed to release Parnell in return for his cooperation in making the Land Act work.
Having brokered the agreement, many including Parnell believed that Chamberlain would be offered a new post but instead Gladstone kept him at the Board of Trade, where his inability to introduce more creative legislation at the Board of Trade was the cause of much frustration. However, he saw the Board of Trade as little more than a stepping stone for the attainment for higher office, seeing the post as a platform for the promotion of Radicalism. Early into the Gladstone ministry, Chamberlain suggested without success that the franchise should be extended, with the Prime Minister arguing that the matter should be deferred until the end of the Parliament's lifespan.
In , the parliament passed a major measure of franchise reform, the Reform Act, which gave hundreds of thousands of rural laborers the vote. Chamberlain sought to capture the newly enfranchised voters, and threw himself into a campaign of Radicalism. Chamberlain earned a reputation for provocative speeches during the period, especially during debate surrounding the County Franchise Bill, which was opposed by Conservatives, who argued that the Bill gave the Liberals an unfair electoral advantage.
In July , the Radical Programme, the first campaign handbook in British political history was published, with the preface written by Chamberlain himself. It called for land reform, more direct taxation, free public education, the disestablishment of the Church, universal male suffrage, and more protection for trade unions.
Chamberlain resigned from the government on May 20, when the Cabinet rejected his scheme for the creation of National Councils in England, Scotland and Wales and when a proposed Land Purchase Bill had no provision for the reform of Irish local government. The resignation was not made public, however, on June 9, Gladstone's government itself resigned following a Conservative amendment to the Budget that was passed with the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party.
In the general election, Chamberlain campaigned on the agenda of the Radical Programme in particular taking up the cause of rural laborers, offering to make smallholdings available to them via funds from local authorities.
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His campaign proved to be immensely popular, with large crowds gathering to listen to his espousal of the Radical Programme. The Conservatives denounced Chamberlain as an anarchist, with some even comparing him to Dick Turpin. In October, Chamberlain and William E. Gladstone sought to close ranks and eliminate a number of differences between their respective electoral programs in a meeting at Hawarden. The meeting, although good natured, was largely unproductive.
Gladstone was determined to settle the Irish question by a program of Irish Home Rule. Whilst maintaining a low profile publicly, Chamberlain privately damned Gladstone and the concept of Home Rule to colleagues, believing that maintaining the Conservatives in power for a further year would make the Irish question easier to settle. In January , a Radical-inspired amendment was moved by Collings in the House of Commons which was carried by 79 votes. The Liberals took power, although tellingly, Hartington, Goschen and 18 Liberals had voted with the Conservatives. Gladstone assembled his third administration and offered Chamberlain the Admiralty, a suggestion Chamberlain declined.
Gladstone rejected Chamberlain's preference for the Colonial Office and eventually appointed him President of the Local Government Board, a suitable post considering Chamberlain's connections with municipal government. Chamberlain's renewed scheme for National Councils was not discussed in Cabinet, and only on March 13 were Gladstone's proposals for Ireland revealed. A Land Purchase Bill would accompany a Home Rule Bill, and Chamberlain argued that the details of the latter should be made known in order for a fair judgment to be made on the former.
When Gladstone stated his intention to give Ireland a separate Parliament with full powers to deal with Irish affairs, Chamberlain resolved to resign, writing to inform Gladstone of his decision two days later. His resignation was made public on March 27, He was then instrumental in forming the Liberal Unionist Association, originally an ad hoc alliance to demonstrate the unity of anti-Home Rulers.
Chamberlain also founded the National Radical Union to rival the National Liberal Federation, which had since slipped from his grasp since many members supported Home Rule.
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During its second reading on June 8, the Home Rule Bill was defeated by 30 votes, with 93 Liberals, including Chamberlain and Hartington, voting against the government. A general election was called.
Chamberlain now found new allies among both Liberal and Conservatives who supported the Union with Ireland but given Conservative opposition to his radical policies cooperation with them was limited to the Irish question. When a Conservative-Liberal Unionist government was returned, Chamberlain stayed outside, not wishing to alienate his Radical support base.
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When he took his seat in the new parliament, he was denounced as a "Judas" and a "traitor" from the Liberal benches. Chamberlain refrained from reaching a broader settlement. Chamberlain hoped that an accord would enable him to place a claim to the future leadership of the party. Although a preliminary agreement was reached, Gladstone was unwilling to compromise further, and negotiations withered by March. Endicott, at a reception at the British legation. Before he left the United States in March , Chamberlain, at age 51, proposed to Mary, whom he married in November In Mary, Chamberlain found a suitable partner and a faithful supporter of his political ambitions.
Meanwhile, the Salisbury ministry was in the process of implementing a number of reforms that satisfied Chamberlain, in that Radicalism was making progress, surprisingly under a Conservative banner. Between and , democratic County Councils were established in Great Britain.
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By , measures for the provision of smallholdings had been made, and to Chamberlain's delight, the extension of free, compulsory education to the entire country. Chamberlain's son, Austen also entered the House of Commons having been returned unopposed for East Worcestershire in March With Gladstone returned to power and singularly unwilling to see Chamberlain back with the Liberal Party and the Liberal Unionists reduced to 47 seats nationwide, a closer relationship with the Conservatives was increasingly necessary.
Chamberlain now assumed the leadership of the Liberal Unionists in the House of Commons. The upper house rejected the Bill by a huge margin. With his party split, Gladstone prepared to dissolve Parliament on the issue of the House of Lords' veto, but was compelled to resign in March by his colleagues, being replaced by Lord Rosebery.
Whilst Rosebery put Home Rule on ice, Chamberlain continued to build bridges with the Conservatives, and spoke warily about socialism and the Independent Labour Party, which had one member in the House of Commons. Chamberlain warned of the dangers of socialism in his play The Game of Politics, characterizing its proponents as the instigators of class conflict. In response to the socialist challenge, he sought to divert the energy of collectivism and use it for the good of Unionism, and continued to propose reforms to the Conservatives. In his 'Memorandum of a Programme for Social Reform' sent to Salisbury in , Chamberlain made a number of suggestions, including old age pensions , the provision of loans to the working class for the purchase of houses, an amendment to the Artisans' Dwellings Act to encourage street improvements, compensation for industrial accidents, cheaper train fares for workers, tighter border controls and shorter working hours.
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Salisbury was generally sympathetic to the proposals, although somewhat guarded, yet his constructive response demonstrated how far Chamberlain and the Conservative leadership had come in settling the monumental differences that had separated them in the s. Salisbury was invited to form a government, and prepared to include Chamberlain in his Cabinet. Having agreed to a set of policies, the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists formed a government on June 24, Salisbury offered four Cabinet posts to Liberal Unionists, including Chamberlain.
Instead of choosing a Treasury post of the Home Office, as many expected, he again asked for, and this time was given, the Colonial Office. Amidst European competition for territory and popular sentiment surrounding imperialism , Chamberlain saw the potential of using the Colonial Office as a platform for global prominence. Opportunities were present for the expansion of the British Empire and the reordering of imperial trade and resources.
Furthermore, the Colonial Office would provide Chamberlain with the chance of pursuing the ambition of fostering closer relations between Britain and the settler colonies, aiming for the remolding of the empire on federal lines into a family of Anglo-Saxon nations.
With the empire at its zenith, Chamberlain's responsibilities at the department were vast, governing over ten million square miles of territory and 50 million people of exceptional diversity.
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Believing that positive government action could bind the empire's peoples closer to the crown, Chamberlain stated confidently that "I believe that the British race is the greatest of the governing races that the world has ever seen…It is not enough to occupy great spaces of the world's surface unless you can make the best of them.
It is the duty of a landlord to develop his estate. He was instrumental in recognizing the need to treat the "new" tropical diseases being brought back by travelers and sailors from the colonies, helping to establish the London School of Tropical Medicine, the world's first centre for the discipline. While in office, Chamberlain had interactions with M. Gandhi at the beginning of his political career.