Joseph Chamberlain

British businessman, politician, and statesman
Joseph Chamberlain

Joseph Chamberlain (8 July 18362 July 1914) was a British statesman of the Liberal party and then of the Liberal Unionist party.


  • Hitherto, the well-to-do have governed this country for their own interest; and I will do them this credit—they have achieved their object. Now I trust the time is approaching for those who work and have not. My aim in life is to make life pleasanter for this great majority; I do not care if it becomes in the process less pleasant for the well-to-do minority. Take America, for instance. Cultured persons complain that the society there is vulgar; less agreeable to the delicate tastes of delicately trained minds. but it is infinitely preferable to the ordinary worker.
    • Said to Beatrice Webb as recorded in her diary (12 January 1884), quoted in Webb, My Apprenticeship (Penguin, 1971), p. 141.
  • During the last 100 years, the House of Lords has never contributed one iota to popular liberties or popular freedom, or done anything to advance the common weal; but during that time it has protected every abuse and sheltered every privilege.
    • Speech at Birmingham, 4th August 1884. Cited in "The House of Lords: A handbook for Liberal speakers, writers and workers" (Liberal Publication Department, 1910), p. 96.
  • ...our fellow subjects may rest assured that their liberties, their rights, and their interests are as dear to us as our own; and if ever they are seriously menaced the whole power of the country will be exerted for their defence (cheers), and the English democracy will stand shoulder to shoulder throughout the world to maintain the honour and integrity of the Empire. (Cheers.) Now, gentlemen, I turn to the last point upon which I promise to address you. What is to be the nature of the domestic legislation of the future? (Hear, hear.) I cannot help thinking that it will be more directed to what are called social subjects than has hitherto been the case.—How to promote the greater happiness of the masses of the people (hear, hear), how to increase their enjoyment of life (cheers), that is the problem of the future; and just as there are politicians who would occupy all the world and leave nothing for the ambition of anybody else, so we have their counterpart at home in the men who, having already annexed everything that is worth having, expect everybody else to be content with the crumbs that fall from their table. If you will go back to the origin of things you will find that when our social arrangements first began to shape themselves every man was born into the world with natural rights, with a right to a share in the great inheritence of the community, with a right to a part of the land of his birth. (Cheers.) But all these rights have passed away. The common rights of ownership have disappeared. Some of them have been sold; some of them have been given away by people who had no right to dispose of them; some of them have been lost through apathy and ignorance; some have been stolen by fraud (cheers); and some have been acquired by violence. Private ownership has taken the place of these communal rights, and this system has become so interwoven with our habits and usages, it has been so sanctioned by law and protected by custom, that it might be very difficult and perhaps impossible to reverse it. But then, I ask, what ransom will property pay for the security which it enjoys? What substitute will it find for the natural rights which have ceased to be recognized?
    • Speech to the Birmingham Artisans' Association at Birmingham Town Hall (5 January 1885).
    • ‘Mr. Chamberlain At Birmingham.’, The Times (6 January 1885), p. 7.
  • The great problem of our civilization is still unsolved. We have to account for and grapple with the mass of misery and destitution in our midst, co-existent as it is with the evidence of abundant wealth and teeming prosperity. It is a problem which some men would put aside by reference to the eternal laws of supply and demand, to the necessity of freedom of contract, and to the sanctity of every private right of property...Our object is the elevation of the poor, of the masses of the people—a levelling up of them by which we shall do something to remove the excessive inequality in social life.
  • If we fail, let us try again and again until we succeed.
    • As a response to Prime Minister Gladstone's criticism of Chamberlain's "Radical Programme," from a Speech at Warrington, cited in "Great Issues in Western Civilization, Volume II" (Donald Kagan, 1992), pg. 419.
  • I venture to claim two qualifications for the great office which I hold, which to my mind, without making invidious distinctions, is one of the most important that can be held by any Englishman; and those qualifications are that in the first place I believe in the British Empire, and in the second place I believe in the British race. I believe that the British race is the greatest of the governing races that the world has ever seen.
    • Speech given to the Imperial Institute on 11 November, 1895; quoted in "Mr. Chamberlain On The Australian Colonies", The Times (12 November, 1895), p. 6.
  • Let it be our endeavour, let it be our task, to keep alight the torch of imperial patriotism, to hold fast the affection and the confidence of our kinsmen across the seas; so that in every vicissitude of fortune the British Empire may present an unbroken front to all her foes, and may carry on even to distant ages the glorious traditions of the British flag.
  • Sugar is gone; silk has gone; iron is threatened; wool is threatened; cotton will go! How long are you going to stand it? At the present moment these industries...are like sheep in a field.
  • [Social legislation] raised the cost of production; and what can be more illogical than to raise the cost of production in the country and then to allow the products of other countries which are not surrounded by any similar legislation, which are free from any similar cost and expenditure—freely to enter our country in competition with our own goods...If these foreign goods come in cheaper, one of two things must follow...either you will take lower wages or you will lose your work.
  • The day of small nations has passed away; the day of Empires has come.
  • You are suffering from the unrestricted imports of cheaper goods. You are suffering also from the unrestricted immigration of the people who make these goods. (Loud and prolonged cheers.)...The evils of immigration have increased during recent years. And behind those people who have already reached these shores, remember there are millions of the same kind who, under easily conceivable circumstances, might follow in their track, and might invade this country in a way and to an extent of which few people have at present any conception. The same causes that brought 10,000 and 20,000, and tens of thousands, may bring hundreds of thousands, or even millions. (Hear, hear.) If that would be an evil, surely he is a statesman who would deal with it in the beginning. (Hear, hear.)...When it began we were told it was so small that it would not matter to us. Now it has been growing with great rapidity, it has already affected a whole district, it is spreading into other parts of the country...Will you take it in time (hear, hear), or will you wait, hoping for something to turn up which will preserve you from what you all see to be the natural consequences of such an invasion? is a fact that when these aliens come here they are answerable for a larger amount of crime and disease and hopeless poverty than are proportionate to their numbers. (Cheers.) They come here—I do not blame them, I am speaking of the results—they come here and change the whole character of a district. (Cheers.) The speech, the nationality of whole streets has been altered; and British workmen have been driven by the fierce competition of famished men from trades which they previously followed. (Cheers.)...But the party of free importers is against any reform. How could they be otherwise?...they are perfectly consistent. If sweated goods are to be allowed in this country without restriction, why not the people who make them? Where is the difference? There is no difference either in the principle or in the results. It all comes to the same thing—less labour for the British working man. (Cheers.)
    • Speech in Limehouse in the East End of London (15 December 1904.)
    • ‘Mr. Chamberlain In The East-End.’, The Times (16 December 1904), p. 8.
  • Is the Unionist party, the Conservative party, to be without a definite policy of social reform? It is to our party that they owe the whole of that body of legislation connected with the Factory Acts, free education, the distribution of lands in the shape of allotments and small holdings, the compensation for accidents to workmen in the course of their employment...The policy of resistance, of negation, is no sufficient answer to that Socialist opinion which is growing up amongst us—the Socialist opinion the objects of which are, after all, worthy of earnest and even favourable consideration...that policy, by whomsoever propounded, is a policy which means money, which means expenditure, it is closely connected with the third object of our party officially declared—that fiscal reform is the first constructive policy of the Unionist party. (Cheers.)
    • Speech (25 June 1906).
    • ‘The 1900 Club.’, The Times (26 June 1906), p. 14.
  • There are men in the House of Commons, who profess in a special sense to be the representatives of Labour, who would not allow me, who represent a great working-class claim to represent you. In order to do so I must be a man who did some work 30 years ago and never did any since. (Loud laughter.) It is these men who are at the present time blackening the characters of those who are upholding the British dominion and British honour throughout the world...They have no ear of sympathy for the men who suffered for the Imperial cause. The other day some officers, British soldiers, were murdered with savage brutality for no reason or provocation. They had no sympathy with those officers or the families that they left behind them, their only idea was to shield the assassins from the proper penalty of their crime. ("Traitors.")...But one thing I will say, and I say it in your name; these men at any rate do not represent the working classes of England (loud cheering), and never yet in our history or in the history of the British race has a great democracy been unpatriotic. (Hear, hear.)
    • On the Labour Party (7 July 1906.)
    • ‘The Chamberlain Celebration In Birmingham.’, The Times (10 July 1906), p. 11.
  • You can not have omelettes without breaking eggs; you can not destroy the practises of barbarism, of slavery, of superstition, which for centuries have desolated the interior of Africa, without the use of force; but if you will fairly contrast the gain to humanity with the price which we are bound to pay for it, I think you may well rejoice in the result of such expeditions as those which have recently been conducted with such signal success in Nyassaland, Ashanti, Benin, and Nupé—expeditions which may have, and indeed have, cost valuable lives, but as to which we may rest assured that for one life lost a hundred will be gained, and the cause of civilization and the prosperity of the people will in the long run be eminently advanced.
    • The True Conception of Empire, 31 March 1897. Speech given to the Royal Colonial Institute.
    • The phrase "omlets are not made without breaking eggs" first appeared in English in 1796. It is from the French, "on ne saurait faire d'omelette sans casser des œufs" (1742 and earlier), attributed to François de Charette.

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