British politician, reformist mayor of and member of Parliament for Birmingham. In 1886 he resigned from the cabinet over William Gladstone's policy of home rule for Ireland, and led the revolt of the Liberal-Unionists that saw them merge with the Conservative Party.
By 1874 Chamberlain had made a sufficient fortune in the Birmingham screw-manufacturing business to devote himself entirely to politics. He adopted radical views, and took an active part in local affairs. Three times mayor of Birmingham, he carried through many schemes of municipal development. In 1876 he was elected to Parliament and joined the republican group led by Charles Dilke, the extreme left wing of the Liberal Party. In 1880 he entered Gladstone's cabinet as president of the Board of Trade. The climax of his radical period was reached with the so-called ‘unauthorized programme’, which advocated, among other things, free education, graduated taxation, and smallholdings of ‘three acres and a cow’.
As colonial secretary in the Marquess of Salisbury's Conservative government, Chamberlain was responsible for relations with the Boer republics up to the outbreak of war in 1899. In this position he also negotiated the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Bill with representatives from Australia. In 1903 he resigned to campaign for imperial preference or tariff reform as a means of consolidating the empire. In 1906, the Conservatives were routed in a general election, and Chamberlain was incapacitated by a stroke. Chamberlain was one of the most colourful figures of British politics, and his monocle and orchid made him a favourite subject for political cartoonists.
Chamberlain was born in London, and educated at Canonbury and at University College School, London. For ten years after his entry into Parliament, he supported the Liberal position on Ireland, but, while serving as president of the Local Government Board in Gladstone's government of 1886, he suddenly resigned in opposition to the proposed home rule bill. The feeling of the Gladstonian Liberals towards Chamberlain was, not unnaturally, deep and bitter. As Chamberlain's followers, the Liberal-Unionists, distanced themselves from the Gladstone faction and drew closer to the Conservative Party, the Conservatives responded by adopting a number of progressive policies of their new colleagues, and by 1895 Lord Salisbury's administration included a number of Liberal-Unionists. This was the first great step towards the formal union of the parties. As colonial secretary under Salisbury, Chamberlain's hard line towards the Boers was vindicated by the results of the election of 1902. During this time, he was also responsible for passing the Australian Commonwealth Act (1900). The Boer War had convinced Chamberlain that the economic links of the British Empire must be strengthened, and in 1903 he stated his belief in an imperial preferential tariff. However, the Conservative Party was bitterly divided on the tariff question, and as a result of adopting Chamberlain's policy, lost heavily in the Liberal landslide election of 1906.
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