December 7, 2020

Finest Hour 188, Second Quarter 2020

Page 08

By Fred Glueckstein

Fred Glueckstein is a frequent contributor to Finest Hour and author of Churchill and Colonist II (2015).

On 18 February 1901, Winston Churchill, a member of the Conservative Party, gave his maiden speech in the House of Commons. Churchill presented his views and recommendations concerning the state of affairs in South Africa.

The speech was widely recognized as a success, and Churchill received many congratulatory letters. One was from the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who had been unanimously elected in February 1899 as the Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons. The letter to Churchill read: “I hope you will allow me to say with how much pleasure I listened to your speech.”1

Three years later, in 1904, Churchill crossed the floor of the House to join the Liberals as a supporter of free trade, a policy the Conservatives were abandoning. On 13 December 1905, Campbell-Bannerman, now Prime Minister, appointed Churchill to the junior ministerial post of Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. The non-Cabinet-level portfolio was Churchill’s first Government position.

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Rise to Power

The first Liberal prime minister in the twentieth century, Henry Campbell was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1836. In 1881 he changed his name by letters patent to Campbell-Bannerman to fulfill the terms of a bequest left to him by an uncle. He disliked the resulting long name, however, and invited his friends simply to call him “CB.”

Campbell-Bannerman’s political journey started in April 1868 when he first ran as a Liberal candidate in a by-election for the Scottish seat of Stirling Burghs but was defeated by his fellow Liberal, John Ramsay. In the general election that followed just seven months later in November, however, Campbell-Bannerman defeated Ramsay and went on to represent the constituency for the next forty years.

In the late Victorian era, Campbell-Bannerman served under Prime Minister William Gladstone as Financial Secretary to the War Office (1871–74 and 1880–82), Parliamentary and Financial secretary to the Admiralty (1882–84), and Chief Secretary for Ireland (1884–85).

As Secretary of State for War in 1886, a post he held again in 1892–95, Campbell-Bannerman removed the main obstacle to the reform of the armed forces by persuading the commander-in-chief, the Duke of Cambridge (the Queen’s cousin), to resign. For this he was awarded a knighthood and thereafter formally known as Sir Henry.

On 20 February 1895, twentyyear-old Winston Churchill was gazetted a Second Lieutenant with the 4th Hussars. His commission was issued according to custom from Queen Victoria to “Our Trusty and well beloved Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, Gentleman.”2 The certificate was signed by Campbell-Bannerman [see FH 184].

Liberal Leader

When the South African war broke out in 1899, Campbell-Bannerman became Leader of the Opposition in the Commons. At the time, the Liberal Party was split into those who supported the war, such as H. H. Asquith and Sir Edward Grey, and those who opposed it, like David Lloyd George. Campbell-Bannerman took a middle ground and fought to keep his party together.

An uproar occurred in the summer of 1901 when Campbell- Bannerman gave a speech at the Holborn Restaurant. He denounced the British action of putting Boer women and children into concentration camps as “methods of barbarism.”3

In December 1905, Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Balfour resigned, and Campbell- Bannerman formed a minority government pending a January election. The new Prime Minister offered Churchill the prestigious office of Financial Secretary to the Treasury at an annual salary of £2000. Knowing that the new Colonial Secretary sat in the Lords, however, Churchill asked for and was granted the office of Colonial Under-Secretary despite the annual salary being just £1500. Churchill did this so that he could shine as the representative of the Colonial Office in the House of Commons.

Campbell-Bannerman’s desire to have Churchill in his Government was satirized by Punch:

Dear Mr. Churchill,

I trust you will see your way to join my administration as Secretary of State for War. It is imperatively necessary that we should keep a tight hand on [Gen.] Kitchener, and you are the only man to do it. Otherwise I should have offered you the Chancellorship of the Exchequer or the Foreign Office. Perhaps, however, you could manage to take all three?

Obediently Yours,

Henry Campbell- Bannerman4

The Liberal Party went on to win the January 1906 general election in a landslide. As the Liberal candidate for the seat of Manchester North West, Churchill defeated the Conservative candidate William Joynson-Hicks.

South African Settlement

In his new office, Churchill negotiated the establishment of self-government for the Transvaal. This was part of an effort to establish a lasting settlement in South Africa following the end of the war there in 1902. In defending the settlement, Churchill wrote King Edward VII in July 1906: “Any intelligent community will much rather govern itself, than be well governed by some other community; & we, whatever our intentions, have not the knowledge of their problems to enable us to give even good government.”5

During August, Churchill left England for a prolonged holiday on the Continent. From Switzerland, he went to Berlin and then travelled to Silesia as the guest of the Kaiser—an uncle of whose was Edward VII—at German Army maneuvers. Campbell-Bannerman sent Churchill a word of caution. He had spoken with the King who “asked me to warn you against being too communicative and frank with his nephew.”6

In the autumn, the Orange Free State was also granted self-government. This prompted Campbell-Bannerman to send Churchill “a special line of congratulation and recognition of the large part you have had in our success.” Official Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert observed that the Prime Minister “added that the creation of self-governing States in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State was not only the ‘greatest achievement’ of his Government but ‘the finest & noblest work of the British power in modern times.’” “You have so greatly contributed to its successful enforcement,” Campbell-Bannerman told Churchill, “that a large part of the credit of it must always be attributed to you.”7

In January 1907, the Cabinet was reconstituted. “There had been some talk at this time about Churchill’s promotion to the Cabinet,” wrote Campbell-Bannerman’s biographer Alexander S. Waugh, “but Sir Henry thought that although Winston had ‘done his job brilliantly’ where he is, and is full of go and ebullient ambition…he is only a Liberal of yesterday [since 1904], his tomorrow being a little doubtful.’”8 This proved prophetic.

Also in 1907, Campbell-Bannerman became the Father of the House, a title bestowed on the senior member of the House of Commons with the longest continuous service. CB is the only serving British Prime Minister to have held the title. Churchill long afterwards became Father of the House himself, but not until he had retired from Downing Street.

Churchill always respected Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister. The Liberal journalist George Riddell recorded Churchill as saying, “Premiers have to give so many important decisions and are pressed for so many concessions that they have to protect themselves by some sort of shield. Campbell-Bannerman’s was a kindly manner which caused the applicant to go away feeling that his request would if possible be granted and that, if it was refused, the Premier would regret the refusal more than anyone else.”9

Resignation and Death

While Churchill was travelling through East Africa in 1908, news reached him that Campbell-Bannerman’s health had deteriorated. This troubled him. “His removal from the scene,” wrote Churchill, “would lead to many changes; and I should be sorry to lose a good friend who has always shown me kindness.”10

On 5 April 1908, Campbell- Bannerman resigned as Prime Minister in favor of his Chancellor of the Exchequer, H. H. Asquith. Campbell-Bannerman remained both a Member of Parliament and Leader of the Liberal Party. He also continued to live at 10 Downing Street while seeking to make other housing arrangements. The move never came. Campbell-Bannerman’s health declined so rapidly that he died on 22 April, just three weeks after he had sent his resignation to the King. He remains the only Prime Minister, technically former PM, to pass away in 10 Downing Street.

The news reached Churchill in Manchester, where he was contesting a by-election made necessary under the rules of the time by his elevation to the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade under Asquith. Speaking of Campbell-Bannerman to a Manchester audience, Churchill said, “I should like to say as one of the younger men of the Liberal Party, how generous and indulgent he always was. It was only at the end of his life that he emerged into the sunshine—the sunset it was—of popularity.”11

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman won the respect and affection of those who knew him from his school days to his final days as Prime Minister. Certainly, Churchill admired CB and appreciated his personal attributes both as a politician and as a man. Churchill also knew that it was Campbell-Bannerman’s recognition of Churchill’s own abilities that started his journey in government, a journey that also led to Downing Street.


1. Randolph S. Churchill, ed., The Churchill Documents, volume III, Early Years 1901–1907 (Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press, 2007), p. 21.

2. Alexander S. Waugh, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman: A Scottish Life and UK Politics, 1836–1908 (London: Austin Macauley, 2019), pp. 313–14.

3. The National Archives, Exhibitions, 1901 Census: Gov.UK, Britain in the World of Events of 1901, Concentration Camps. pathways/census/events/britain7.htm

4. Punch, 13 December 1905.

5. Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (London: Pimlico, 1991), p. 180.

6. Ibid., p. 181.

7. Ibid., p. 182.

8. Waugh, pp. 252–53.

9. Ibid., p. 313.

10. Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, volume II, Young Statesman 1901–1914 (Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press, 2007), p. 239.

11. Waugh, p. 306.

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