Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Chamberlain, Neville (1869–1940)
from The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Thematic Encyclopedia

Neville Chamberlain was the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, in charge of the country’s finances, from 1931 until 1937, and then Prime Minister from 1937 until his resignation in 1940. His name is heavily associated with the policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler just before the outbreak of World War II. He was born on March 18, 1869, at Birmingham, in the English Midlands, his father being the politician Joseph Chamberlain. After school he managed the family’s sisal plantations in the Bahamas, and then ran a metalworking business in Birmingham where he made his fortune. He was Lord Mayor of Birmingham in 1915, the Director General of National Service from December 1916 until August 1917, when he resigned. From December 1918 Chamberlain, was a Conservative member of the House of Commons. He was Postmaster General, then briefly Paymaster General of the Armed Forces, Minister of Health and Chancellor of the Exchequer, before returning to the Health portfolio from 1924 until 1929, and again in 1931. With the onset of the Great Depression in England, Chamberlain became Chancellor of the Exchequer, where he had the role of trying to combat the increasing rates of unemployment. A believer in market forces, Chamberlain did not support raising government expenditure to help increase demand in the economy.

With the emergence of Nazi Germany, Chamberlain was a supporter of what became known as the “policy of appeasement,” and with the resignation of Stanley Baldwin, he became Prime Minister on May 28, 1937. In the previous year he had supported the British non-intervention policy in Spain, and in 1938, he recognized the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. However, with Germany claiming parts of Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain went to Germany on three occasions in September 1938 to try to broker a compromise that would avoid war. On September 30, he and the French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier agreed to Hitler’s annexation of the parts of Czechoslovakia which had a German majority. This became known as the Munich Agreement and Chamberlain returned to London where, at the airport, he spoke of “Peace in Our Time.” However, the Munich Agreement had left Czechoslovakia defenseless, and in March 1939 Hitler seized the rest of the country. Chamberlain was horrified by this and in April he announced the first peacetime military conscription in the country’s history. He tried to negotiate an agreement with the Soviet Union but they instead signed a treaty with Nazi Germany, leading Britain to forge an agreement with Poland. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Two days later Chamberlain led Britain into war with Germany.

With the outbreak of World War II, Chamberlain tried to rally the country, appointing one of his fiercest critics, Winston Churchill, to be First Lord of the Admiralty. The Nazi invasion of Denmark and Norway, and the failure of the British to protect Norwegian sovereignty, led to Chamberlain resigning on May 10, 1940—the same day that the Germans invaded Belgium and the Netherlands. Chamberlain remained in the cabinet until September 30, 1940, when he resigned owing to ill health, and died on November 9, 1940.

References and Further Reading
  • Dilks, David. 1984 Neville Chamberlain. Cambridge University Press New York.
  • Feiling, Keith. 1946 The Life of Neville Chamberlain. Macmillan & Co London.
  • Macleod, Iain. 1961 Neville Chamberlain. Frederick Muller London.
  • Parker, R.A.C. 1993 Chamberlain and Appeasement. Macmillan Press Basingstoke, UK.
  • Corfield, Justin
    Copyright 2010 by ABC-CLIO, LLC

    Related Articles

    Full text Article Chamberlain, Neville 1869-1940
    Reader's Guide to British History

    Conservative politician, statesman, and prime minister Aster Sidney , “ ‘Guilty Men’: The Case of Neville Chamberlain ” in Paths to...

    Full text Article appeasement
    The Macmillan Encyclopedia

    The policy implemented by the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain , and his French counterpart, Édouard Daladier , of giving...

    Full text Article Chamberlain (Arthur), Neville (1869 - 1940)
    Bloomsbury Biographical Dictionary of Quotations

    Quotations about Chamberlain The people of Birmingham have a specially heavy burden for they have given the world the...

    See more from Credo