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Campbell-Bannerman, Sir Henry

CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN, SIR HENRY (1836-1908), English prime minister, was born on the 7th of September 1836, being the second son of Sir James Campbell, Bart., of Stracathro, Forfarshire, lord provost of Glasgow. His elder brother James, who just outlived him, was Conservative M.P. for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities from 1880 to 1906. Both his father and his uncle William Campbell, who had together founded an important drapery business in Glasgow, left him considerable fortunes; and he assumed the name of Bannerman in 1872, in compliance with the provisions of the will of his maternal uncle, Henry Bannerman, from whom he inherited a large property in Kent. He was educated at Glasgow University and at Trinity College, Cambridge (senior optime, and classical honours); was returned to parliament for Stirling as a Liberal in 1868 (after an unsuccessful attempt at a by-election); and became financial secretary at the war office (1871-1874; 1880-1882), secretary to the admiralty (1882-1884), and chief secretary for Ireland (1884-1885). When Mr Gladstone suddenly adopted the cause of Home Rule for Ireland, he "found salvation", to use his own phrase, and followed his leader. In Mr Gladstone's 1886 ministry he was secretary for war, and filled the same office in the Liberal ministry of 1892-1895. In the latter year he was knighted (G.C.B.). It fell to his lot as war minister to obtain the duke of Cambridge's resignation of the office of commander-in-chief; but his intended appointment of a chief of the staff in substitution for that office was frustrated by the resignation of the ministry. It was an imputed omission on the part of the war office, and therefore of the war minister, to provide a sufficient supply of small-arms ammunition for the army which on the 21st of June 1895 led to the defeat of the Rosebery government. Wealthy, popular and possessed of a vein of oratorical humour (Mr T. Healy had said that he tried to govern Ireland with Scottish jokes), Sir Henry had already earned the general respect of all parties, and in April 1895, when Mr Speaker Peel retired, his claims for the vacant post were prominently canvassed; but his colleagues were averse from his retirement from active politics and Mr Gully was selected. Though a prominent member of the inner Liberal circle and a stanch party man, it was not supposed by the public at this time that any ambition for the highest place could be associated with Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman; but the divisions among the Liberals, and the rivalry between Lord Rosebery and Sir William Harcourt, made the political situation an anomalous one. The very fact that he was apparently unambitious of personal supremacy combined with his honourable record and experience to make him a safe man; and in December 1898, on Sir W. Harcourt's formal resignation of the leadership of the Opposition, he was elected to fill the position in the House of Commons with the general assent of the party. In view of its parliamentary impotence, and its legacy of an unpopular Home Rule programme, Sir Henry had a difficult task to perform, but he prudently interpreted his duty as chiefly consisting in the effort to keep the Radical party together in the midst of its pronounced differences. In this he was successful, although the advent of the Boer War of 1899-1902 created new difficulties with the Liberal Imperialists. The leader of the Opposition from the first denounced the diplomatic steps taken by Lord Milner and Mr Chamberlain, and objected to all armed intervention or even preparation for hostilities. Sir Henry's own tendency to favour the anti-war section, his refusal to support the government in any way, and his allusion to "methods of barbarism" in connexion with the conduct of the British army (June 14, 1901), accentuated the crisis within the party; and in 1901 the Liberal Imperialists, who looked to Lord Rosebery (q.v.) and Mr Asquith (q.v.) for their political inspiration, showed pronounced signs of restiveness. But a party meeting was called on the 9th of July, and Sir Henry was unanimously confirmed in the leadership.

The end of the war in 1902 showed the value of his persistency throughout the years of Liberal unpopularity and disunion. The political conflict once more resumed its normal condition, for the first time since 1892. The blunders of the government were open to a united attack, and Mr Chamberlain's tariff-reform movement in 1903 provided a new rallying point in defence of the existing fiscal system. In the Liberal campaign on behalf of free trade the real leader, however, was Mr Asquith. Sir Henry's own principal contribution to the discussion was rather unfortunate, for while insisting on the blessings derived by England from its free-trade policy, he coupled this with the rhetorical admission (at Bolton in 1903) that "12,000,000 British citizens were underfed and on the verge of hunger." But Lord Salisbury's retirement, Unionist divisions, the staleness of the ministry, and the accumulating opposition in the country to the Education Act of 1902 and to the continued weight of taxation, together with the growth of the Labour movement, and the antagonism to the introduction of Chinese coolies (1904) into South Africa under conditions represented by Radical spokesmen as those of "slavery," made the political pendulum swing back. A Liberal majority at the dissolution was promised by all the signs at by-elections. The government held on, but collapse was only a question of time (see the articles on Balfour, A.J., and Chamberlain, J.). On the 4th of December 1905 the Unionist government resigned, and the king sent for Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who in a few days formed his cabinet. Lord Rosebery, who until a short time before had seemed likely to co-operate, alone held aloof. In a speech at Stirling on the 23rd of November, Sir Henry appeared to him to have deliberately flouted his well-known susceptibilities by once more writing Home Rule in large letters on the party programme, and he declared at Bodmin that he would "never serve under that banner." Sir Henry's actual words, which undoubtedly influenced the Irish vote, were that he "desired to see the effective management of Irish affairs in the hands of a representative Irish assembly. If an instalment of representative control was offered to Ireland, or any administrative improvement, he would advise the Nationalists to accept it, provided it was consistent and led up to their larger policy." But if Lord Rosebery once more separated himself from the official Liberals, his principal henchmen in the Liberal League were included in the cabinet, Mr Asquith becoming chancellor of the exchequer, Sir Edward Grey foreign secretary, and Mr Haldane war minister. Other sections of the party were strongly represented by Mr John Morley as secretary for India, Mr Bryce (afterwards ambassador at Washington) as chief secretary for Ireland, Sir R.T. Reid (Lord Loreburn) as lord chancellor, Mr Augustine Birrell as education minister (afterwards Irish secretary), Mr Lloyd-George as president of the Board of Trade, Mr Herbert Gladstone as home secretary, and Mr John Burns - a notable rise for a Labour leader - as president of the Local Government Board. Lord Ripon became leader in the House of Lords; and Lord Elgin (colonial secretary), Lord Carrington (agriculture), Lord Aberdeen (lord lieutenant of Ireland), Sir Henry Fowler (chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster), Mr Sidney Buxton (postmaster-general), Mr L.V. Harcourt (first commissioner of works), and Captain John Sinclair (secretary for Scotland) completed the ministry, a place of prominence outside the cabinet being found for Mr Winston Churchill as under-secretary for the colonies. In 1907 Mr R. McKenna was brought into the cabinet as education minister. There had been some question as to whether Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman should go to the House of Lords, but there was a decided unwillingness in the party, and he determined to keep his seat in the Commons.

At the general election in January 1906 an overwhelming Liberal majority was returned, irrespective of the Labour and Nationalist vote, and Sir Henry himself was again elected for Stirling. The Liberals numbered 379, the Labour members 51, the Nationalists 83, and the Unionists only 157. His premiership was the reward of undoubted services rendered to his party; it may be said, however, that, in contradistinction to the prime ministers for some time previous, he represented the party, rather than that the party represented him. It was not his ideas or his commanding personality, nor any positive programme, that brought the Liberals back to power, but the country's weariness of their predecessors and the successful employment at the elections of a number of miscellaneous issues. But as the man who had doggedly, yet unpretentiously, filled the gap in the days of difficulty, and been somewhat contemptuously criticized by the Unionist press for his pains, Sir Henry was clearly marked out for the post of prime minister when his party got its chance; and, as the head of a strongly composed cabinet, he satisfied the demands of the situation and was accepted as leader by all sections. Once prime minister, his personal popularity proved to be a powerful unifying influence in a somewhat heterogeneous party; and though the illness and death (August 30, 1906) of his wife (daughter of General Sir Charles Bruce), whom he had married in 1860, made his constant attendance in the House of Commons impossible, his domestic sorrow excited widespread sympathy and appealed afresh to the affection of his political followers. This became all the more apparent as his own health failed during 1907; for, though he was obliged to leave much of the leadership in the Commons to Mr Asquith, his possible resignation of the premiership was strongly deprecated; and even after November, when it became clear that his health was not equal to active work, four or five months elapsed before the necessary change became a fait accompli. Personal affection and political devotion had in these two years made him appear indispensable to the party, although nobody ever regarded him as in the front line of English statesmen so far as originality of ideas or brilliance of debating power were concerned. It is not the fortune of many more brilliant statesmen to earn this testimonial to character. From the beginning of the session of 1908 it was evident, however, that Mr Asquith, who was acting as deputy prime minister, would before long succeed to the Liberal leadership; and on the 5th of April Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's resignation was formally announced. He died on the 22nd of the same month He had spoken in the House of Commons on the 13th of February, but since then had been prostrated and unable to transact business, his illness dating really from a serious heart attack in the night of the 13th of November at Bristol, after a speech at the Colston banquet.

From a party-political point of view the period of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's premiership was chiefly marked by the continued controversies remaining from the general election of 1906, - tariff reform and free trade, the South African question and the allied Liberal policy for abolishing Chinese labour, the administration of Ireland, and the amendment of the Education Act of 1902 so as to remove its supposed denominational character. In his speech at the Albert Hall on the 21st of December 1905 it was noticeable that, before the elections, the prime minister laid stress on only one subject which could be regarded as part of a constructive programme - the necessity of doing something for canals, which was soon shelved to a royal commission. But in spite of the fiasco of the Irish Councils Bill (1907), the struggles over education (Mr Birrell's bill of 1906 being dropped on account of the Lords' amendments), the rejection by the peers of the Plural Voting Abolition Bill (1906), and the failure (again due to the Lords) of the Scottish Small Holdings Bill and Valuation Bill (1907), which at the time made his premiership appear to be a period of bitter and unproductive debate, a good many reforming measures of some moment were carried. A new Small Holdings Act (1907) for England was passed; the Trades Disputes Act (1906) removed the position of trades unions from the controversy excited over the Taff Vale decision; Mr Lloyd-George's Patents Act (1907) and Merchant Shipping Act (1906) were welcomed by the tariff reformers as embodying their own policy; a long-standing debate was closed by the passing of the Deceased Wife's Sister Act (1907); and acts for establishing a public trustee, a court of criminal appeal, a system of probation for juvenile offenders, and a census of production, were passed in 1907. Meanwhile, though the Colonial Conference (re-named Imperial) of 1907 showed that there was a wide difference of opinion on the tariff question between the free-trade government and the colonial premiers, in one part of the empire the ministry took a decided step - in the establishment of a self-governing constitution for the Transvaal and Orange River colonies - which, for good or ill, would make the period memorable. Mr Haldane's new army scheme was no less epoch-making in Great Britain. In foreign affairs, the conclusion of a treaty with Russia for delimiting the British and Russian spheres of influence in the Middle East laid the foundations of entirely new relations between the British and Russian governments. On the other hand, so far as concerned the ultimate fortunes of the Liberal party, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's premiership can only be regarded as a period of marking time. He had become its leader as a conciliator of the various sections, and it was as a conciliator, ready to sympathize with the strong views of all sections of his following, that he kept the party together, while his colleagues went their own ways in their own departments. His own special "leads" were few, owing to the personal reasons given above; his declaration at the Queen's Hall, London, early in 1907, in favour of drastic land reform, served only to encourage a number of extremists; and the Liberal enthusiasm against the House of Lords, violently excited in 1906 by the fate of the Education Bill and Plural Voting Bill, was rather damped than otherwise, when his method of procedure by resolution of the House of Commons was disclosed in 1907. The House passed by an enormous majority a resolution (introduced on June 25) "that in order to give effect to the will of the people, as expressed by their representatives, it is necessary that the power of the other House to alter or reject bills passed by this House should be so restricted by law as to secure that within the limits of a single parliament the final decision of the Commons shall prevail"; but the prime minister's explanation that statutory provision should be made for two or three successive private conferences between the two Houses as to any bill in dispute at intervals of about six months, and that, only after that, the bill in question should be finally sent up by the Commons with the intimation that unless passed in that form it would become law over their heads, was obviously not what was wanted by enthusiastic opponents of the second chamber. The problem still remained, how to get the House of Lords to pass a "law" to restrict their own powers. After the passing of this resolution the cry against the House of Lords rapidly weakened, since it became clear at the by-elections (culminating at Peckham in March 1908) that the "will of the people" was by no means unanimously on the side of the bills which had failed to pass.

The result of the two years was undoubtedly to revive the confidence of the Opposition, who found that they had outlived the criticisms of the general election, and both on the question of tariff reform and on matters of general politics were again holding their own. The failure of the government in Ireland (where the only success was Mr Birrell's introduction of the Universities Bill in April 1908), their internal divisions as regards socialistic legislation, their variance from the views of the self-governing colonies on Imperial administration, the admission after the general election that the alleged "slavery" of the Chinese in the Transvaal was, in Mr Winston Churchill's phrase, a "terminological inexactitude," and the introduction of extreme measures such as the Licensing Bill of 1908, offered excellent opportunities of electioneering attack. Moreover, the Liberal promises of economy had been largely falsified, the reductions in the navy estimates being dangerous in themselves, while the income tax still remained at practically the war level. For much of all this the prime minister's colleagues were primarily responsible; but he himself had given a lead to the anti-militarist section by prominently advocating international disarmament, and the marked rebuff to the British proposals at the Hague conference of 1907 exposed alike the futility of this Radical ideal and the general inadequacy of the prime minister's policy of pacificism. Sir Henry's rather petulant intolerance of Unionist opposition, shown at the opening of the 1906 session in his dismissal of a speech by Mr Balfour with the words "Enough of this foolery!" gradually gave way before the signs of Unionist reintegration. His resignation took place at a moment when the Liberal, Irish and Labour parties were growing restive under their obligations, government policy stood in need of concentration against an Opposition no longer divided and making marked headway in the country, and the ministry had to be reconstituted under a successor, Mr Asquith, towards whom, so far, there was no such feeling of personal devotion as had been the chief factor in Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's leadership.

(H. Ch.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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