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Chamberlain, (Arthur) Neville

Chamberlain, (Arthur) Neville (1869–1940). Prime minister. Chamberlain was born in Birmingham, a son of Joseph Chamberlain by his second wife. Educated at Rugby and Mason College, Birmingham, he seemed destined for a business career, but his election to the city council in 1911 provided an opportunity for him to display his considerable talents as a municipal reformer; in 1915 he became lord mayor of Birmingham and in 1916 he was instrumental in establishing in Birmingham the nation's first—and only—municipal savings bank. His record of conscientious and effective service in local government led to appointments first as a member of the control board established to oversee the liquor trade during the First World War, and then as director-general of national service (1916).

In 1918, at the late age of 49, he determined to enter politics, and was elected as a Conservative MP for Birmingham. Chamberlain had conceived a healthy dislike of Lloyd George, but supported the coalition government (1918–22) as being in the national interest. In 1922 his half-brother Austen tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Conservative Party to continue in membership of the coalition; Neville agreed with Baldwin and Bonar Law that it had outlived its usefulness, and that Lloyd George's political judgement could no longer be trusted. In 1922, clearly marked out for high office, Chamberlain joined Bonar Law's government as postmaster-general, becoming minister of health in 1923, chancellor of the Exchequer 1923–4, and returning to the health portfolio in Baldwin's second government (1924–9).

Chamberlain's years at the Ministry of Health establish his claim to be one of the greatest social reformers in Britain in the 20th cent. It was at his urging that the cabinet agreed to finance a widows', orphans', and old-age pensions bill in 1925. He piloted through the Commons the Rating and Valuation Act of 1925, which gave relief from local rates to agriculture and industry, and he initiated the great Local Government Act of 1929, which abolished the Poor Law Guardians, transferring their powers, and the institutions they administered (including hospitals), to the counties and county boroughs. Meanwhile, he was able to bring about a partnership between private builders and local authorities to build almost 1 million houses for the working classes.

At the general election of 1929 Baldwin's government was voted out of office. Chamberlain agreed to Baldwin's suggestion that he undertake a reorganization of Conservative central office, establishing a research department, but he used this period (1929–31) and this position to work strenuously for the abandonment of free trade, which he correctly viewed as a millstone around the neck of British industry. During Baldwin's absence abroad Chamberlain represented the Conservative Party in the negotiations which led to the formation of the National Government. He held office in that administration as chancellor of the Exchequer, until succeeding Baldwin as prime minister in 1937.

Neville Chamberlain's years at the Treasury, coinciding with the depression of the 1930s, were years of challenge: he stood the test. In 1932 he persuaded the cabinet to agree to the abandonment of free trade: a general duty of 10 per cent was placed on almost all imports, but goods originating from within the British empire were exempted. As Chancellor, Chamberlain professed a desire to balance the books: in fact, perhaps more by accident than design, his budgets were frankly inflationary. The first, in 1932, was meant to be orthodox, but was wrongly calculated, and led to an excess of expenditure over revenue of some £32 million; this sum was simply added to the national debt. In 1933 the sinking-fund was suspended: repayment of the national debt was met through borrowing. The war loan was converted from 5 per cent to 3.5 per cent, and bank rate reduced. In 1934 he was able to restore earlier cuts in unemployment pay, and in 1935 to lower income tax. It is true that this policy of financial good housekeeping was blown off course by the need to rearm in the face of the Nazi menace. It is equally true that his budgets assisted economic recovery, and put the nation's finances into a position whereby they were able to meet the early demands of war in 1939. In 1937 he had no hesitation in taxing business profits (the ‘National Defence Contribution’), a move which delighted the socialists and caused a short-lived panic on the Stock Exchange.

In May 1937 Baldwin resigned the premiership; Chamberlain's succession was automatic. Almost exactly three years later he resigned in a welter of criticism, triggered by Britain's withdrawal from Norway but largely informed by public disenchantment with his pre-war foreign policy.

Chamberlain's policy towards Nazi Germany is commonly associated with ‘appeasement’. It is as well to remember, therefore, that ‘appeasement’ of the Nazis was a popular policy in Britain in the 1930s. There was widespread agreement that Germany had been treated badly at Versailles in 1919, that if the principle of national self-determination had any meaning then the Austrian Germans could not be prohibited from joining Germany proper, and that the plight of ethnic Germans incorporated within other states created after the First World War needed attention. Neville Chamberlain believed in the League of Nations, and would have joined France in bolstering the League in its efforts to counter the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. When that did not happen he became disenchanted with French diplomacy, and also unnerved by it. He saw it as his mission to prevent war with Germany and, if that could not be achieved, to postpone hostilities as long as possible in order to give the maximum time for rearmament.

But he had been unable to prevent or curtail Italian intervention in the Spanish Civil War, and Hitler's so-called ‘invasion’ of Austria caught him off guard. His policy during the Czech crisis (September 1938) was much affected, and undermined, by the unwillingness of the French to fulfil their treaty obligations towards the Czechs. Of course the 3 million Sudeten Germans living in Czechoslovakia were manipulated by the Nazis. None the less, Chamberlain's dramatic airline flight to Berchtesgaden (15 September), to meet Hitler, was tremendously popular at home, and his second visit, to sign the Munich agreement, though certainly paving the way for the Nazi take-over of the Czech state, was at the time widely hailed as a triumph.

In 1939, in relation to the British guarantee of Poland's borders, Chamberlain saw that appeasement was at an end. His honourable intentions were quickly erased from the public mind once Britain and Germany were at war. Chamberlain was then seen as a gullible English gentleman who had been totally outmanœuvred by a ruthless Führer. He had no stomach for war, and was not a war leader. In May 1940 he resigned to make way for Winston Churchill, and died shortly afterwards.

Geoffrey Alderman

Bibliography

Dilks, D. , Neville Chamberlain (Cambridge, 1984);
Feiling, K. G. , The Life of Neville Chamberlain (1946);
Neville, P. , Neville Chamberlain: A Study in Failure? (1992).

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Arthur Neville Chamberlain

Arthur Neville Chamberlain

The English statesman Arthur Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) was prime minister of Great Britain in the years preceding World War II. He is associated with the policy of appeasement toward Nazi Germany that culminated in the Munich Agreement of 1938.

Neville Chamberlain was born on March 18, 1869, at Edgbaston, Birmingham, the son of Joseph Chamberlain, colonial secretary from 1895 to 1903, and Florence Kenrick Chamberlain. Neville's home and family were the most influential aspects of his education and upbringing. He went to Rugby and then attended Mason College (later a part of the University of Birmingham) for 2 years to study science and engineering, but he did not distinguish himself in his studies. He then worked briefly and more successfully as an apprentice with an accounting firm.

In 1890 his father sent Neville to the island of Andros in the Bahamas to manage his 20,000-acre sisal plantation. Although the venture failed, the 7 years of comparative social isolation contributed to young Chamberlain's natural reserve and also gave him confidence in his own decisions. After returning to Birmingham, he became a leader in the city's industrial and political life.

Political Career

In 1911 Chamberlain married Annie Cole. He was elected that year to the city council of Birmingham, and in 1915 he became lord mayor of Birmingham.

Chamberlain's record led Lloyd George, the Liberal prime minister, to appoint him as the first director general of National Service in December 1916. Chamberlain was in charge of voluntary recruitment of labor in war industry, but he found himself without authority or organization to execute his duties. He lost confidence in Lloyd George and soon resigned.

In 1918, at the age of 49, Chamberlain entered national politics and was elected to Parliament. As a Conservative, he supported the coalition but would not accept a post under Lloyd George. When a Conservative administration was formed in 1922 under Bonar Law, he accepted appointment as postmaster general; his administrative talents were at once evident, and within a year he advanced rapidly to paymaster general, then to minister of health, and finally to chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1924, in the administration of Stanley Baldwin, he chose to return to the Ministry of Health for he was convinced that the government would rise or fall on its record of social reform.

Social Reformer

Indeed, Chamberlain made his reputation as a "radical Conservative" and energetic legislator during these years. His guiding principle in social legislation was that national resources should be used to help those who help themselves. His achievements included the Rating and Valuation Act of 1925, which assisted both agriculture and industry; the Widow, Orphans and Old Age Pension Act of 1925, which extended the act of 1908; the Local Government Act of 1929, which transferred care of the poor from Poor Law Unions to county agencies; and the construction of 400,000 new houses.

In 1931 Chamberlain joined the National government under Ramsay MacDonald, first as minister of health, then as chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1932, when he secured approval for a general tariff of 10 percent, he was adopting proposals urged by his father in 1903. He was responsible for the significant Unemployment Act of 1934, which reformed the system of administering relief. It was with good reason that Winston Churchill called him "the pack horse" of the administration.

Prime Minister

If his career had ended in 1937, Chamberlain might well have been recorded as the Conservative who did most for social reform between the wars. Instead, he succeeded Baldwin as prime minister in May 1937 and had to turn his attention abruptly to foreign affairs. Not that he did so with hesitation; here, as always, he faced his task with confidence. He was determined to avert a war, for which neither England nor France was prepared, through a policy of pacification involving collaboration with Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. Since he believed the League of Nations had failed, he turned to direct negotiation, seeking by compromise and appeasement to dissipate tensions that might lead to war—an approach already accepted by most Englishmen. However, his efforts with Mussolini led only to the resignation of Anthony Eden, his foreign secretary. And as for Hitler, Chamberlain accepted the Nazi takeover of Austria in March 1938 but attempted through negotiation to avert a similar fate for Czechoslovakia.

Chamberlain and Hitler conferred at Berchtesgaden and Godesberg in September and then met at Munich with Mussolini and Edouard Daladier, the French premier. The Munich Agreement was hailed enthusiastically in Britain, and it gave the nation precious time to rearm. But when the Reich absorbed Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Chamberlain realized that his policy of appeasement had failed. He announced military support for Poland and sought to include Russia in a security system. But on Sept. 1, 1939, German forces moved into Poland, and on September 3 Chamberlain broadcast to the nation that Britain was at war.

As a wartime leader, Chamberlain had no talent. The Germans invaded Scandinavia in April 1940, and the fall of Norway, despite desperate British aid, brought a division in the Commons which Chamberlain survived, though some 100 Conservatives either voted against him or abstained. On May 10 he resigned and was succeeded by Winston Churchill. Chamberlain remained as lord president of the council until illness forced him to retire in October. He died a month later on Nov. 9, 1940. His ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey.

Further Reading

There are two useful biographies of Chamberlain, Keith Feiling, The Life of Neville Chamberlain (1946), and lain Macleod, Neville Chamberlain (1961), although neither is objective. They should be supplemented by the relevant volumes of A. J. Toynbee, ed., Survey of International Affairs (1920), and by A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945 (1965). Additional background works are Edward Hallett Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations (1939; 2d rev. ed. 1946); W. N. Medlicott, British Foreign Policy since Versailles, 1919-1963 (1940; 2d ed. 1968); Alfred Leslie Rowse, Appeasement: A Study in Political Decline, 1933-1939 (1961); and Martin Gilbert and Richard Gott, The Appeasers (1963; 2d ed. 1967).

Additional Sources

Dilks, David, Neville Chamberlain, Cambridge Cambridgeshire; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Hyde, H. Montgomery (Harford Montgomery), Neville Chamberlain, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976. □

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Chamberlain, Neville

Chamberlain, Neville 1869-1940

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Although Arthur Neville Chamberlain entered Parliament in 1918 at the age of almost fifty, the election of a Conservative government in 1922 paved the way for his meteoric rise from postmaster-general, via the Ministry of Health to the Treasury and the second place in Stanley Baldwins government within only ten months. Thereafter, a dynamic period of social reform between 1924 and 1929 and his leading role during the Conservative Party and financial crises of 1930-1931 ensured that he emerged swiftly as Baldwins heir-apparent; claims powerfully reinforced by his success as chancellor of the exchequer between 1931 and 1937 when he presided over Britains spectacular recovery from the Great Depression. Although there is much debate about the reasons for Britains rapid return to prosperity, Chamberlain attributed it to a combination of a general tariff (introduced March 1932) and a cheap money policy designed to stimulate economic activity through low interest rates. Equally central to Chamberlains strategy was an ostensibly rigid commitment to balanced budgets. Although condemned by critics as proof of an unimaginative passivity in face of mass unemployment, Chamberlain staunchly defended the policy as crucial to the maintenance of investor confidence that there would be no departure from sound finance into the hazardous realms of loan-financed public works.

From 1934 onward, Chamberlain was deeply preoccupied with the problems of defending a vast and vulnerable global empire from the cumulative threats posed by Japan, Italy, and Germany at a time when Britain could not afford to rearm sufficiently ever to contemplate the possibility of fighting three major powers in widely separated areas. After his succession to the premiership in May 1937, Chamberlains response to this conundrum was to pursue with far greater vigor and determination his so-called double policy of rearmament and appeasement. The former was intended to repair defensive deficiencies at a pace the country could afford without jeopardizing long-term economic stability: Britains so-called fourth arm of defense. The latter policy simultaneously attempted to achieve better diplomatic relations with the dictators by redressing their legitimate grievances, and in so doing either to remove the underlying causes of tension or to expose Germanys Adolf Hitler as an insatiable mentally unstable leader bent on world domination. Chamberlain thus described his strategy as one of hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.

In September 1938 this policy culminated in the Munich conference at which the largely German-speaking Sudeten area of Czechoslovakia was ignominiously ceded to Hitler. Although Chamberlains success in averting an imminent and probably unwinnable war was initially hailed as a great personal triumph, his ill-judged promise of peace for our time soon came back to haunt him when Hitler seized the remaining (non-German) part of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and then invaded Poland six months later. Despite continuing as prime minister throughout the so-called Phoney War, increasing discontent with Chamberlains leadership erupted in a parliamentary debate on May 7-8, 1940, when a substantial revolt of Members of Parliament inflicted a crushing moral (but not technical) defeat upon Chamberlain. He resigned as prime minister two days later but remained a key member of Winston Churchills all-party coalition until shortly before his death from cancer on November 9, 1940.

SEE ALSO Appeasement; Churchill, Winston; Conservative Party (Britain); Great Depression; Hitler, Adolf; Nazism; World War II

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dutton, David. 2001. Neville Chamberlain. London: Arnold.

Self, Robert. 2006. Neville Chamberlain: A Biography. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate.

Robert Self

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Chamberlain, Neville

Neville Chamberlain (Arthur Neville Chamberlain), 1869–1940, British statesman; son of Joseph Chamberlain and half-brother of Sir Austen Chamberlain. The first half of his career was spent in business and, after 1911, in the city government of Birmingham, of which he became lord mayor in 1915. In 1917 he was director of national service, supervising conscription, and the following year, at the age of 50, he was elected to Parliament as a Conservative. During the 1920s he served both as chancellor of the exchequer (1923–24) and minister of health (1923, 1924–29). In the latter position, he enacted a series of important reforms that simplified the administration of Britain's social services and systematized local government. In 1931 he again became chancellor of the exchequer and held that office until he succeeded Stanley Baldwin as prime minister in 1937.

During the 1930s, Chamberlain's professed commitment to avoiding war with Hitler resulted in his controversial policy of "appeasement," which culminated in the Munich Pact (1938). Although contemporaries and scholars during and after the war criticized Chamberlain for believing that Hitler could be appeased, recent research argues that Chamberlain was not so naive and that appeasement was a shrewd policy developed to buy time for an ill-prepared Britain to rearm. After Germany's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939, he pledged military support to Poland and led Britain to war in September. After the British debacle in Norway, he was forced to resign in May, 1940. He was lord president of the council under Winston Churchill until Oct., 1940, and died a few weeks later.

See biographies by W. R. Rock (1969) and D. Dilks (vol. 1, 1984); R. Cockett, Twilight of Truth (1989); J. Charmley, Chamberlain and the Lost Peace (1990).

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