UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The tariff reform movement in Great Britain, 1895-1914 Swainson, Neil Alexander


Joseph Chamberlain and the Tariff Reform Movement in Great Britain are inseparable. Free Trade had triumphed in 1846 and remained the dominant politico-economic theory in the United Kingdom until the closing years of the nineteenth century. After 1870 serious challenges to Britain's industrial and commercial supremacy came from Germany and the United States. Attempts at Tariff Reform were made in the early 1880's by Lord Randolph Churchill and others, but they came to nothing. Joseph Chamberlain was at this period a radical reformer, but in 1886 he became a Liberal Unionist in opposition to Home Rule. He was not yet a Tariff Reformer. In 1895 Chamberlain became Secretary of State for the Colonies, and also an ardent Imperialist. Although still nominally a Free Trader he began to interest himself in imperial preference. The Unionist party, however, was still staunchly Free Trade in sentiment. By 1902 the combined issues of protection and imperial preference were raised in Parliament. The Education Bill of- that year, sponsored by Lord Salisbury's government, was most unpopular and the Unionists were looking for a new issue. Lord Salisbury retired, and Arthur Balfour became Prime Minister. Chamberlain, still at the Colonial Office, was now veering towards Tariff Reform. It was his visit to South Africa in 1902-03 which clarified his views on this all important subject. In 1903 he launched his Tariff Reform campaign and resigned from the cabinet. A rift in the Unionist ranks soon became apparent. Even the Prime Minister was unable to heal the breach. From 1904 to 1906 Chamberlain campaigned hard for Tariff Reform. He was successful in capturing the Liberal Unionist "machine" and also obtained a strong following among the Conservative Unionists. But the Liberal party, hitherto split, closed ranks on the Free Trade issue, and secured the support of Labour. Balfour attempted, unsuccessfully, to hold the various sections of the Unionist party together, but, at length he tendered his resignation on December 4, 1905. The Liberals, under Campbell-Bannerman were triumphantly returned to power in January 1906. In the same year Joseph Chamberlain suffered a stroke and was never, thereafter, able publicly to lead the Tariff Reform campaign. The campaign, however, continued with varying success. Balfour, as usual, would not declare himself, but Tariff Reform sentiment was growing. In 1908 the tide seemed to be turning towards Tariff Reform and in the next year it reached its height. But Lloyd George in 1909 introduced the People's Budget, and in the controversy which ensued and which culminated in the Parliament Act of 1911, the Tariff Reform issue was sidetracked. The 1910 elections showed the strength of Free Trade. Balfour was forced to resign as Leader of the Opposition in 1911. Bonar Law, the new leader, was not enthusiastic over Tariff Reform and did not favour Balfour's proposed referendum on that subject. The international situation after 1911 went from bad to worse and 1914 witnessed not only the .outbreak of the First World War, but the death of Joseph Chamberlain. Chamberlain had accomplished much with his Tariff Reform League and his research schemes, but he was not able to overthrow Free Trade. It was not until the early 1930's that Great Britain changed her tariff policy.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.