Austen Chamberlain

British politician (1863-1937)

Sir Joseph Austen Chamberlain (16 October 186317 March 1937) was a British statesman and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Austen Chamberlain, 1920




  • The combination of the Liberal and Labour Parties is much stronger than the Liberal Party would be if there were no third Party in existence. Many men who would in that case have voted for us voted on this occasion as the Labour Party told them i.e. for the Liberals. The Labour Party has "come to stay"...the existence of the third Party deprives us of the full benefits of the 'swing of the pendulum', introduces a new element into politics and confronts us with a new difficulty.
    • Late 1910s, quoted in E. H. H. Green, The Crisis of Conservatism (1996), p. 141


  • [I believe in] the throne...parliamentary institutions...private enterprise and individual opinion against the socialization of the state...equity in the distribution of public burdens and strict maintenance of public faith with the creditors of the state [and] a fresh guarantee of peace by an alliance with France and...Belgium for the defence of our common interests against unprovoked attack.
    • Speech to the Oxford Carlton Club (3 March 1922), quoted in Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Labour, 1920-1924: The Beginnings of Modern British Politics (1971), p. 147
  • The danger which threatens us comes from Labour... Those who think that the Conservative or Unionist Party, standing as such and disavowing its Liberal allies, could return with a working majority are living in a fools paradise and, if they persist, may easily involve themselves and the country in dangers the outcome of which it is hard to predict.
    • Letter to Parker Smith (11 October 1922), quoted in Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Labour, 1920-1924: The Beginnings of Modern British Politics (1971), p. 181
  • The first thoughts of an Englishman on appointment to the office of Foreign Secretary must be that he speaks in the name, not of Great Britain only, but of the British Dominions beyond the seas, and that it is his imperative duty to preserve in word and act the diplomatic unity of the British Empire. Our interests are one. Our intercourse must be intimate and constant, and we must speak with one voice in the Councils of the world.
    • 1924. Quoted in H. Blair Neatby, William Lyon Mackenzie King (1963), p. 40
  • The affairs of the world do not stand still...I could not go, as the representative of His Majesty's Government, to meeting after meeting of the League of Nations, to conference after conference with the representatives of foreign countries, and say, "Great Britain is without a policy. We have not yet been able to meet all the Governments of the Empire, and we can do nothing." That might be possible for an Empire wholly removed from Europe, which existed in a different hemisphere. It was not possible for an Empire the heart of which lies in Europe and next door to the Continent of Europe, and where every peril to the peace of Europe jeopardised the peace of this country.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (18 November 1925).
  • No British Government ever will and ever can risk the bones of a British grenadier.
    • Letter to Sir Eyre Crowe on the Polish Corridor (16 February 1925), quoted in Keith Middlemas and John Barnes, Baldwin: A Biography (1969), p. 356
  • We have a peculiar interest because the true defence of our country, owing to scientific development, is now no longer the Channel...but upon the Rhine.
    • Speech at the Imperial Conference, 1926.
  • Scratch me and you will find the Nonconformist.
    • 1927. Quoted in Sir Charles Petrie, The Life and Letters of Sir Austen Chamberlain: Vol. II (1940), p. 321


  • Revision is a dangerous word. Revision should never appear, I venture to think, in the mouth of a statesman or in the policy of a Government until they are prepared to define very closely the limits within which they think revision should take place. The long history of this country has in one sense been a history of the revision of Treaties. We have revised and revised and what have we got for it? What concession once made has any longer kept the value it had before it was revised? Of which of these concessions can it be said at this present moment that it has tempered feeling in Germany, that it has produced that friendly spirit that those who made it desired to promote? What is passing in Germany seems to me to render this a singularly inopportune moment to talk about the revision of Treaties.
    • Speech in the House of Commons questioning revisions of the Treaty of Versailles (13 April 1933)
  • I beg the right hon. Gentleman to beware of what he is doing. After all, we stand for something in this country. Our traditions count, for our own people, for Europe and for the world. Europe is menaced and Germany is afflicted by this narrow, exclusive, aggressive spirit, by which it is a crime to be in favour of peace and a crime to be a Jew. That is not a Germany to which we can afford to make concessions. That is not a Germany to which Europe can afford to give the equality of which the Prime Minister spoke. 
    • Speech in the House of Commons (13 April 1933)
  • No country is more exposed to danger than ours. We will all do our best, wherever we sit in this House, according to our lights, to preserve peace, but we can none of us guarantee it by fine phrases; we can none of us guarantee that the whole of the nations will combine in case of aggression. If war breaks out, if we become the victims of aggression or become involved in a struggle, and if the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) and his friends be sitting on the Government bench while London is bombed, do you think he will hold the language that he held to-day? Do you think that that is the defence he will make? If he does, he will be one of the first victims of the war, for he will be strung up by an angry, and a justifiably angry, populace to the nearest lamp-post.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (11 March 1935)
  • It is all very well for the hon. Member for Limehouse and the right hon. Member for Darwen to paint the horrors of war, or, rather, for the right hon. Member for Darwen—the hon. Member for Limehouse did not descend to that—to draw pictures of what you might do with the money that you could save if only you kept your Army in barracks in their present inadequate condition, if only you left your Air Force insufficient for the protection even of this capital, if only you left your Navy without any sort of protection against aircraft bombing. It is all very well to do that, but the country will not accept those excuses or those picas if the day of trial comes. It is the business of this House, of men of courage in it, to tell the country the truth, to call upon them to bear these sacrifices, to tell them that they are necessary for our own defence, and that our membership of the League of Nations, our promises to contribute to collective security, and our guarantees under Locarno, are worthless unless we put our forces in a proper condition and maintain a strength comparable to the dangers which we may have to meet.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (11 March 1935)
  • Gentlemen do not behave in such a way.
    • On the Hoare-Laval Pact (1935). Quoted in Harold Macmillan Winds of Change (1966), pp. 411-412
  • I wonder how many members can realise what [the remilitarisation of the Rhineland] means not merely to the excited politicians in Paris, but to the French peasant in his hovel, to the mother who feels that once again the...peril has come near and that once again her children will be mowed down by the scythe of war.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (6 May 1936)

Quotes about Chamberlain

  • Warm-hearted, considerate and generous...incapable of a mean action and conscientious to a fault.
    • Anthony Eden, The Eden Memoirs: Facing the Dictators (1962), p. 7
  • Chamberlain is a Liberal.
    • David Lloyd George's remarks to C. P. Scott (23 October 1922), quoted in The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911–1928, ed. Trevor Wilson (1970), p. 429
  • His was rather the excellence of character than of capacity.
  • It was cruelly said of Austen Chamberlain that he always played the game and always lost it. But that is really a tribute to his deep sense of honour and loyalty.
  • Austen Chamberlain did not seem to me to be a man of first-rate mind, but he obviously possessed high character and the sort of disinterested goodness and amateur methods that now and then have enabled British statesmen to play notable roles in negotiations with foreign diplomats, even when the latter have been armed with subtler minds and the traditional techniques.
  • The most famous and significant conference of the 1920s took place at Locarno, on Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, in October 1925. The principals were the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany—Austen Chamberlain, Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann. Their great achievements were to guarantee the Rhineland borders of France and Germany and to bring Germany into the League of Nations. The so-called spirit of Locarno became a benchmark for diplomacy. In retrospect, however, Locarno looks more ambiguous. Stresemann had succeeded in bringing Germany in from the cold without abandoning any of its demands for lost territory in the east. These demands, particularly over Poland, were to prove the fuel for the next war.
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings that Changed the Twentieth Century (2007), pp. 31-32
  • But at the time praise was showered on Chamberlain for brokering the deal. On his return from Locarno, he received a special welcome at Victoria Station and, in further similarity to Disraeli in 1878, was immediately made a Knight of the Garter. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin praised him for resolving an issue that had “so far defied the efforts of every statesman since the war.” One of Baldwin’s predecessors, Lord Arthur Balfour, said that Chamberlain’s name would be “indissolubly associated” with this probable “turning point in civilisation.” A few months later Chamberlain was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. For a politician who had grown up in the shadow of his famous father, “Radical Joe,” it was an intoxicating apotheosis. “I am astonished and a little frightened by the completeness of my success and by its immediate recognition everywhere,” Chamberlain told his sister On October 22, 1925, he dined alone with his younger half-brother Neville, who noted in his diary that Austen "talked almost without stopping from 8 till 11.00 on Locarno. Very naturally, perhaps, the rest of the world does not exist for him . . . Looking back he felt that no mistake had been made from beginning to end." Neville found it hard to conceal his envy at Austen’s success. Nor, as we shall see, did he forget it.
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings that Changed the Twentieth Century (2007), p. 32
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