Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, GCB (7 September 1836 – 22 April 1908) was a British Liberal Party politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1905 to 1908 and Leader of the Liberal Party from 1899 to 1908. He also served as Secretary of State for War twice, in the Cabinets of Gladstone and Rosebery. He was the first First Lord of the Treasury to be officially called "Prime Minister", the term only coming into official usage five days after he took office. He also remains the only person to date to hold the positions of both Prime Minister and Father of the House at the same time.
Known colloquially as "CB", he was a firm believer in free trade, Irish Home Rule and the improvement of social conditions. He has been referred to as "Britain's first, and only, radical Prime Minister". Following a general election defeat in 1900, Campbell-Bannerman went on to lead the Liberal Party to a landslide victory over the Conservative Party at the 1906 general election, also the last election in which the Liberals gained an overall majority in the House of Commons. The government he subsequently led passed legislation to ensure trade unions could not be liable for damages incurred during strike action, introduced free school meals for all children, and empowered local authorities to purchase agricultural land from private landlords. Campbell-Bannerman resigned as Prime Minister on 3 April 1908 due to ill health and was replaced by his Chancellor, Herbert Asquith. He died nineteen days later.
Early life and family
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was born on 7 September 1836 at Kelvinside House in Glasgow as Henry Campbell, the second son and youngest of the six children born to Sir James Campbell of Stracathro (1790–1876) and his wife Janet Bannerman (1799–1873). Sir James Campbell had started work at a young age in the clothing trade in Glasgow, before going into partnership with his brother in 1817 to found J.& W. Campbell & Co., a warehousing, general wholesale and retail drapery business. Sir James was elected as a member of Glasgow Town Council in 1831 and stood as a Conservative candidate for the Glasgow constituency in the 1837 and 1841 general elections, before being appointed to serve as the Lord Provost of Glasgow from 1840 to 1843.
Henry's older brother, James, served as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities from 1880 to 1906. He was opposed to the majority of his younger brother's policies, and chose to stand down in the same election that would bring Campbell-Bannerman to power. In 1871, Henry Campbell became Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the addition of the surname Bannerman being a requirement of the will of his uncle, Henry Bannerman, from whom he inherited the estate of Hunton Court in Kent.
Campbell-Bannerman was educated at the High School of Glasgow (1845–1847), the University of Glasgow (1851–1853), and Trinity College, Cambridge (1854–1858), where he achieved a Third-Class Degree in Classical Tripos. After graduating, he joined the family firm of J.& W. Campbell & Co., based in Glasgow’s Ingram Street. Campbell was made a partner in the firm in 1860. Following his marriage that year to Sarah Charlotte Bruce, Henry and his new bride set up residence at 6 Clairmont Gardens in the Park district in the West End of Glasgow. The couple never had any children.
Physically the couple, both reportedly enormous eaters, each weighed nearly 20 stone in later years.
Member of Parliament
In April 1868, at the age of thirty-one, Campbell-Bannerman stood as a Liberal candidate in a by-election for the Stirling Burghs constituency, narrowly losing to fellow Liberal John Ramsay. However, at the general election in November of that year, Campbell-Bannerman defeated Ramsay and was elected to the House of Commons as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Stirling Burghs, a constituency that he would go on to represent for almost forty years.
Campbell-Bannerman rose quickly through the ministerial ranks, being appointed as Financial Secretary to the War Office in Gladstone's first government in November 1871, serving in this position until 1874. He was appointed to the same position from 1880 to 1882 in Gladstone's second government, and after serving as Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty between 1882 and 1884, Campbell-Bannerman was promoted to the Cabinet as Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1884.
In Gladstone's third and fourth governments, in 1886 and 1892 to 1894 respectively, as well as Rosebery's government from 1894 to 1895, he served as Secretary of State for War. During his time in this office, he persuaded the Duke of Cambridge, the Queen's cousin, to resign as Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces. This earned Campbell-Bannerman a knighthood.
Leader of the Liberal Party
On 6 February 1899 Campbell-Bannerman succeeded Sir William Vernon Harcourt as Leader of the Liberals in the House of Commons, and Leader of the Opposition. The Boer War of 1899 split the Liberal Party into Imperialist and Pro-Boer camps, leaving Campbell-Bannerman with a difficult task of holding together the strongly divided party, which was subsequently and unsurprisingly defeated in the "khaki election" of 1900. However, the Liberal Party was later able to unify over its opposition to the Education Act 1902 and the Brussels Sugar Convention of 1902, in which Britain and nine other nations attempted to stabilise world sugar prices by setting up a commission to investigate export bounties and decide on penalties. The Conservative Government of Arthur Balfour had threatened countervailing duties and subsidies of West Indian sugar producers as a negotiating tool. The Convention's intent was to lead to the gradual phasing out of export bounties, and Britain would then forbid the importation of subsidised sugar. In a speech to the Cobden Club on 28 November 1902, Campbell-Bannerman denounced the Convention as threatening the sovereignty of Britain.
"It means that we abandon our fiscal independence, together with our free-trade ways; that we subside into the tenth part of a Vehmgericht which is to direct us what sugar is to be countervailed, at what rate per cent. we are to countervail it, how much is to be put on for the bounty, and how much for the tariff being in excess of the convention tariff; and this being the established order of things, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer in his robes obeys the orders that he receives from this foreign convention, in which the Britisher is only one out of ten, and the House of Commons humbly submits to the whole transaction. ("Shame.") Sir, of all the insane schemes ever offered to a free country as a boon this is surely the maddest."
However, it was Joseph Chamberlain's proposals for Tariff Reform in May 1903 that provided the Liberals with a great and nationally-resonating cause on which to campaign and unify, due to its protectionist nature. Chamberlain's proposals dominated politics through the rest of 1903 up until the general election of 1906. Campbell-Bannerman, like other Liberals, held an unshakable belief in free trade. In a speech at Bolton on 15 October 1903 he explained in greater detail the reasoning behind Liberal support for free trade.
"We are satisfied that it is right because it gives the freest play to individual energy and initiative and character and the largest liberty both to producer and consumer. We say that trade is injured when it is not allowed to follow its natural course, and when it is either hampered or diverted by artificial obstacles.... We believe in free trade because we believe in the capacity of our countrymen. That at least is why I oppose protection root and branch, veiled and unveiled, one-sided or reciprocal. I oppose it in any form. Besides we have experience of fifty years, during which our prosperity has become the envy of the world."
In 1903, the Liberal Party's Chief Whip Herbert Gladstone negotiated a pact with Ramsay MacDonald of the Labour Representation Committee to withdraw Liberal candidates in order to help LRC candidates in certain seats, in return for LRC withdrawal in other seats to help Liberal candidates. This attempt to undermine and outflank the Conservatives, which would prove to be successful, formed what became known as the "Gladstone–MacDonald pact". Campbell-Bannerman got on well with Labour leaders, and he said in 1903 "we are keenly in sympathy with the representatives of Labour. We have too few of them in the House of Commons". Despite this comment, and his sympathies with many elements of the Labour movement, he was not a socialist. One biographer has written that "he was deeply and genuinely concerned about the plight of the poor and so had readily adopted the rhetoric of progressivism, but he was not a progressive".
The Liberals found themselves suddenly returned to power in December 1905 when Arthur Balfour resigned as Prime Minister, prompting Edward VII to invite Campbell-Bannerman to form a minority government as the first Liberal Prime Minister of the 20th century. At 69, he was the oldest person to become Prime Minister for the first time in the 20th century. Balfour had hoped that Campbell-Bannerman would not be able to form a strong government, ushering in a general election that he could win. Campbell-Bannerman also faced problems within his own party, through the so-called "Relugas Compact" between H. H. Asquith, Sir Edward Grey and Richard Haldane, who planned to force him into the House of Lords, weakening him as Prime Minister and effectively allowing Asquith to govern as Leader of the House of Commons. Campbell-Bannerman saw off both of these issues by immediately dissolving Parliament and calling a general election, whilst offering the positions of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for War to Asquith, Grey and Haldane respectively, which all three accepted. In his first public speech as Prime Minister on 22 December 1905, Campbell-Bannerman launched the Liberal election campaign, focusing on the traditional Liberal platform of "peace, retrenchment and reform":
"Expenditure calls for taxes, and taxes are the plaything of the tariff reformer. Militarism, extravagance, protection are weeds which grow in the same field, and if you want to clear the field for honest cultivation you must root them all out. For my own part, I do not believe that we should have been confronted by the spectre of protection if it had not been for the South African war. Depend upon it that in fighting for our open ports and for the cheap food and material upon which the welfare of the people and the prosperity of our commerce depend we are fighting against those powers, privileges, injustices, and monopolies which are unalterably opposed to the triumph of democratic principles."
Helped by the Lib-Lab pact that he had negotiated, the splits in the Conservatives over free trade and the positive election campaign that he fought, the Liberals won by a landslide, gaining 216 seats. The Conservatives saw their number of seats more than halve, and Arthur Balfour, now as Leader of the Opposition, lost his Manchester East seat to the Liberals. Campbell-Bannerman would be the last ever Liberal to lead his party to an absolute majority in the House of Commons. Now with a majority of 125, Campbell-Bannerman was successfully returned to Downing Street as a considerably-strengthened Prime Minister. The defeat of the Relugas conspirators in the wake of this stunning victory was later referred to as "one of the most delicious comedies in British political history".
Whereas in the past it had never been used formally, Campbell-Bannerman was the first First Lord of the Treasury to be given official use of the title "Prime Minister", a standard that continues to the present day. In 1907, by virtue of being the Member of Parliament with the longest continuous service, Campbell-Bannerman achieved the honour of becoming the Father of the House, the only serving British Prime Minister to do so to date.
Though the 1906 election had not seen either of the two main parties make poverty an important issue, the social and liberal reforms introduced by the Campbell-Bannerman Government and beyond were incredibly wide-ranging. As Prime Minister, Campbell-Bannerman shifted the Liberal position from that of a "laissez-faire" approach, to a more collectivist one. As had happened under his leadership generally, the Liberals in government appeared now to be enacting progressive liberalism, as opposed to traditional, Gladstonian liberalism which was by now in decline. To that end, the government of Campbell-Bannerman introduced free school meals, considerably more relaxed laws for trade unions, moved towards unemployment and sickness pay and moved towards a system of free medical care, albeit for wage owners only. As Prime Minister, Campbell-Bannerman also passed the Probation Act 1907, which established supervision within the community for young offenders as an alternative to prison, and the Children's Charter, which formed the basis of modern child welfare law, including a clause imposing punishment for those neglecting children. It was also made illegal for children to purchase alcohol, tobacco or fireworks, and medical inspections began to be rolled out across the nation. In essence, as Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman either directly enacted, or laid the groundwork for later developments, in the "Great Liberal Reforms" of the early 20th Century, which effectively represented the emergence of the welfare state within the UK.
Campbell-Bannerman's premiership saw the Entente with Russia in 1907, brought about principally by the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey. In January 1906 Grey sanctioned staff talks between Britain and France's army and navy but without any binding commitment. These included the plan to send one hundred thousand British soldiers to France within two weeks of a Franco-German war. Campbell-Bannerman was not informed of these at first but when Grey told him about them he gave them his blessing. This was the origin of the British Expeditionary Force that would be sent to France in 1914 at the start of the Great War with Germany. Campbell-Bannerman did not inform the rest of the Cabinet of these staff talks because there was no binding commitment and because he wanted to preserve the unity of the government. The radical members of the Cabinet such as Lord Loreburn, Lord Morley and Lord Bryce would have opposed such cooperation with the French.
Campbell-Bannerman visited France in April 1907 and met the Radical Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau. Clemenceau believed that the British would help France in a war with Germany but Campbell-Bannerman told him Britain was in no way committed. He may have been unaware that the staff talks were still ongoing. Not long after this Violet Cecil met Clemenceau and she wrote down what he had said to her about the meeting:
Clemenceau said...‘I am totally opposed to you – we both recognise a great danger and you are...reducing your army and weakening your navy.’ ‘Ah’ said Bannerman ‘but that is for economy!’...[Clemenceau] then said that he thought the English ought to have some kind of military service, at which Bannerman nearly fainted...‘It comes to this’ said Clemenceau ‘in the event of your supporting us against Germany are you ready to abide by the plans agreed upon between our War Offices and to land 110,000 men on the coast while Italy marches with us in the ranks?’ Then came the crowning touch of the interview. ‘The sentiments of the English people would be totally averse to any troops being landed by England on the continent under any circumstances.’ Clemenceau looks upon this as undoing the whole result of the entente cordiale and says that if that represents the final mind of the British Government, he has done with us.
Campbell-Bannerman's biographer John Wilson has described the meeting as "a clash between two fundamentally different philosophies". The Liberal journalist and friend of Campbell-Bannerman, F. W. Hirst, claimed that Campbell-Bannerman "had not a ghost of a notion that the French Entente was being converted into a...return to the old balance of power which had involved Great Britain in so many wars on the Continent. That...Grey and Haldane did not inform the Cabinet is astonishing; that a true-hearted apostle of peace like Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman should have known of the danger and yet concealed it from his colleagues is incredible, and I am happy to conclude...with an assurance that in the days of his triumph the Liberal leader, having fought a good fight, kept the faith to the end and was in no way responsible for the European tragedy that came to pass six years after his death".
Campbell-Bannerman's government granted the Boer states, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, self-government within the British Empire through an Order in Council so as to bypass the House of Lords. This led to the Union of South Africa in 1910. The first South African Prime Minister, General Louis Botha, believed that "Campbell-Bannerman's act [in giving self-government back to the Boers] had redressed the balance of the Anglo-Boer War, or had, at any rate, given full power to the South Africans themselves to redress it". The former Boer general, Jan Smuts, wrote to David Lloyd George in 1919: "My experience in South Africa has made me a firm believer in political magnanimity, and your and Campbell-Bannerman's great record still remains not only the noblest but also the most successful page in recent British statesmanship". However the Unionist politician Lord Milner opposed it, saying in August 1907: "People here – not only Liberals – seem delighted, and to think themselves wonderfully fine fellows for having given South Africa back to the Boers. I think it all sheer lunacy".
Retirement and death
Not long after he became Father of the House in 1907, Campbell-Bannerman's health took a turn for the worse. Following a series of heart attacks, the most serious in November 1907, he began to fear that he would not be able to survive to the end of his term. He eventually resigned as Prime Minister on 3 April 1908, and was succeeded by his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Herbert Asquith. Campbell-Bannerman remained both a Member of Parliament and Leader of the Liberal Party, and continued to live at 10 Downing Street in the immediate aftermath of his resignation, intending to make other arrangements in the near future. However, his health began to decline at an even quicker pace than before, and he died nineteen days following his resignation on 22 April 1908. His last words were "This is not the end of me". He remains to date the only former Prime Minister to die within 10 Downing Street. Campbell-Bannerman was buried in the churchyard of Meigle Parish Church, Perthshire, near Belmont Castle, his home since 1887. A relatively modest stone plaque set in the exterior wall of the church serves as a memorial.
On the day of Campbell-Bannerman's death the flag of the National Liberal Club was lowered to half-mast, the blinds were drawn and his portrait was draped in black as a sign of mourning. John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Nationalist Party, paid tribute to Campbell-Bannerman by saying that "We all feel that Ireland has lost a brave and considerate friend". David Lloyd George said on hearing of Campbell-Bannerman's death:
"I think it will be felt by the community as a whole as if they had lost a relative. Certainly those who have been associated with him closely for years will feel a deep sense of personal bereavement. I have never met a great public figure since I have been in politics who so completely won the attachment and affection of the men who came into contact with him. He was not merely admired and respected; he was absolutely loved by us all. I really cannot trust myself to say more. The masses of the people of this country, especially the more unfortunate of them, have lost the best friend they ever had in the high places of the land. His sympathy in all suffering was real, deep, and unaffected. He was truly a great man—a great head and a great heart. He was absolutely the bravest man I ever met in politics. He was entirely free from fear. He was a man of supreme courage. Ireland has certainly lost one of her truest friends, and what is true of Ireland is true of every section of the community of this Empire which has a fight to maintain against powerful foes."
In an uncharacteristically emotional speech on 27 April, the day of Campbell-Bannerman's funeral, his successor H. H. Asquith told the House of Commons:
"What was the secret of the hold which in these later days he unquestionably had on the admiration and affection of men of all parties and all creeds? ...he was singularly sensitive to human suffering and wrong doing, delicate and even tender in his sympathies, always disposed to despise victories won in any sphere by mere brute force, an almost passionate lover of peace. And yet we have not seen in our time a man of greater courage—courage not of the defiant or aggressive type, but calm, patient, persistent, indomitable...In politics I think he may be fairly described as an idealist in aim, and an optimist by temperament. Great causes appealed to him. He was not ashamed, even on the verge of old age, to see visions and to dream dreams. He had no misgivings as to the future of democracy. He had a single-minded and unquenchable faith in the unceasing progress and the growing unity of mankind...He never put himself forward, yet no one had greater tenacity of purpose. He was the least cynical of mankind, but no one had a keener eye for the humours and ironies of the political situation. He was a strenuous and uncompromising fighter, a strong Party man, but he harboured no resentments, and was generous to a fault in appreciation of the work of others, whether friends or foes. He met both good and evil fortune with the same unclouded brow, the same unruffled temper, the same unshakable confidence in the justice and righteousness of his cause...He has gone to his rest, and to-day in this House, of which he was the senior and the most honoured Member, we may call a truce in the strife of parties, while we remember together our common loss, and pay our united homage to a gracious and cherished memory—
How happy is he born and taught
That serveth not another's will;
Whose armour is his honest thought,
And simple truth his utmost skill;
This man is freed from servile bands
Of hope to rise or fear to fall;
Lord of himself, though not of lands,
And, having nothing, yet hath all.
George Dangerfield said Campbell-Bannerman's death "was like the passing of true Liberalism. Sir Henry had believed in Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform, those amiable deities who presided so complacently over large portions of the Victorian era... And now almost the last true worshipper at those large, equivocal altars lay dead". Campbell-Bannerman held firmly to the Liberal principles of Richard Cobden and William Ewart Gladstone. It was not until Campbell-Bannerman's departure that the doctrines of New Liberalism came to be implemented. R. B. McCallum stated that "Campbell-Bannerman was of pure Gladstonian vintage and a hero to the Radicals". Friedrich Hayek said: "Perhaps the government of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman... should be regarded as the last Liberal government of the old type, while under his successor, H. H. Asquith, new experiments in social policy were undertaken which were only doubtfully compatible with the older Liberal principles".
There is a blue plaque outside Campbell-Bannerman's house at 6 Grosvenor Place in London. On 6 December 2008, former leaders of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy and Lord Steel, unveiled a plaque to commemorate Sir Henry at the home in Bath Street, Glasgow. Lord Steel praised his predecessor as Liberal Leader as an "overlooked radical" whose 1906 landslide victory had paved the way for a succession of reforming governments. "He led the way for the longest period of successful radical government ever, which was continued by Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George," Lord Steel said.
- Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman — Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons
- The Lord Loreburn — Lord Chancellor
- The Earl of Crewe — Lord President of the Council
- Lord Ripon — Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords
- H. H. Asquith — Chancellor of the Exchequer
- Herbert Gladstone — Secretary of State for the Home Department
- Sir Edward Grey, Bt — Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
- The Earl of Elgin — Secretary of State for the Colonies
- Richard Haldane — Secretary of State for War
- John Morley — Secretary of State for India
- The Lord Tweedmouth — First Lord of the Admiralty
- David Lloyd George — President of the Board of Trade
- Sir Henry Fowler — Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
- Sir John Sinclair — Secretary for Scotland
- James Bryce — Chief Secretary for Ireland
- John Burns — President of the Local Government Board
- The Earl Carrington — President of the Board of Agriculture
- Augustine Birrell — President of the Board of Education
- Sydney Buxton — Postmaster-General
- January 1907 — Augustine Birrell succeeds Bryce as Irish Secretary. Reginald McKenna succeeds Birrell at the Board of Education.
- March 1907 — Lewis Harcourt, the First Commissioner of Works, enters the Cabinet.
- Campbell-Bannerman was the subject of several parody novels based on Alice in Wonderland, such as Caroline Lewis's Clara in Blunderland (1902) and Lost in Blunderland (1903).
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- Robert Smillie, My Life for Labour (Richmond, 1926), p. 242.
- George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (Serif, 1997), p. 27.
- W. H. Greenleaf, The British Political Tradition. Volume Two: The Ideological Heritage (London: Methuen, 1983), p. 150.
- R. B. McCallum, The Liberal Party from Earl Grey to Asquith (London: Victor Gollancz, 1963), p. 140.
- Friedrich Hayek, New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas (Taylor & Francis, 1978), p. 130.
- "Plaque unveiled to the forgotten Prime Minister, Glasgow Herald, 7 December 2008". Retrieved 2008-12-07.
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- Sigler, Carolyn, ed. 1997. Alternative Alices: Visions and Revisions of Lewis Carroll's "Alice" Books. Lexington, KY, University Press of Kentucky. Pp. 340-347
- Dickinson, Evelyn. 1902. "Literary Note and Books of the Month", in United Australia, Vol. II, No. 12, 20 June 1902
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- Self, Robert (2006). Neville Chamberlain: A Biography. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-5615-9.
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- Ewen A. Cameron, '‘Maistly Scotch’ Campbell-Bannerman and Liberal Leadership', Journal of Liberal History, Issue 54, Spring 2007.
- Tony Greaves, ‘Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman’, in Duncan Brack (ed.), Dictionary of Liberal Biography (Politico's, 1998), pp. 69–73.
- J. F. Harris and C. Hazlehurst, ‘Campbell-Bannerman as prime minister’, History, 55 (1970), pp. 360–83.
- Roy Hattersley, Campbell-Bannerman (British Prime Ministers of the 20th century series) (Haus, 2006).
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- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Henry Campbell Bannerman
- Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman biography from the Liberal Democrat History Group
- More about Henry Campbell-Bannerman on the Downing Street website.
- Archival material relating to Henry Campbell-Bannerman listed at the UK National Archives
- Portraits of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- Political posters including Henry Campbell-Bannerman on the LSE Digital Library