Arthur Balfour

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The Rt Hon. Arthur Balfour


Period in Office: 11 July, 1902 - 5 December, 1905
PM Predecessor: The Marquess of Salisbury
PM Successor: Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Date of Birth: 25 July 1848
Place of Birth: Whittingehame, Haddingtonshire
Political Party: Conservative
Retirement honour: Earldom of Balfour

Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour (25 July 1848 - 19 March 1930) was a British statesman and the thirty-third Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.


Early Life

The eldest son of James Maitland Balfour of Whittingehame, Haddingtonshire, and of Lady Blanche Gascoyne Cecil, he was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1874 he became Conservative M.P. for Hertford, and represented that constituency until 1885. In the spring of 1878 Balfour became private secretary to his uncle, Lord Salisbury. In that capacity he accompanied Salisbury to the Congress of Berlin, and gained his first experience of international politics in connection with the settlement of the Russo-Turkish conflict. At the same time, he became known in the world of letters, the intellectual subtlety and literary capacity of his Defence of Philosophic Doubt (1879) suggesting that he might make a reputation as a speculative thinker.

Balfour divided his time between the political arena and the study. Released from his duties as private secretary by the general election of 1880, he began to take a more active part in parliamentary affairs. He was for a time politically associated with Lord Randolph Churchill, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff and John Gorst, the quartet becoming known as the "Fourth Party," and gaining notoriety by the freedom of the criticisms directed by its leader, Lord Randolph Churchill, against Sir Stafford Northcote, Lord Cross and other prominent members of the "old gang." Balfour was thought to be merely amusing himself with politics. The House did not take him quite seriously. Members looked upon him merely as a young member of the governing classes who remained in the House because it was the proper thing for a man of family to do.

In Lord Salisbury's Governments

Lord Salisbury disagreed, and made Balfour President of the Local Government Board (1885 - 1886), and later Secretary for Scotland (1886) with a seat in the cabinet. These offices, while having few opportunities for distinction, served as a sort of apprenticeship for Balfour. In early 1887 Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, resigned because of illness, and Salisbury appointed his nephew in his place. The selection took the political world by surprise, and was much criticized, possibly leading to the British phrase "Bob's your uncle!" Balfour surprised his critics by his ruthless enforcement of the Crimes Act, earning the nickname "Bloody Balfour." Coupled with steady administration, Balfour did much to destroy his reputation as a public lightweight.

He broke down the Plan of Campaign in Ireland, and in parliament he not only withstood the Irish nationalists, but also waged successful warfare with the entire Home Rule party. The disclosures before the Parnell Commission, the O'Shea divorce proceedings, the downfall of Charles Stewart Parnell and the disruption of the Irish party assisted him in reducing crime in Ireland to a vanishing point. He broadened the basis of material prosperity and social progress by creating the Congested Districts Board in 1890. During the period 1886 - 1892, he developed gifts of oratory that made him one of the most effective of public speakers. Impressive in matter rather than in delivery, and seldom rising to the level of eloquence as had Bright and Gladstone, his speeches were logical and convincing, and delighted a wider audience.

On the death of W. H. Smith in 1891, he became First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons. After the fall of the government in 1892 he spent three years as leader of the opposition. On the return of the Conservatives to power in 1895, he resumed the leadership of the House, but not at first successfully, his management of the abortive education proposals of 1896 being thought to show a disinclination for the continuous drudgery of parliamentary management. After the opening session things went more smoothly, and Balfour regained his old reputation. He had the satisfaction of seeing a bill pass for providing Ireland with an improved system of local government, and took an active share in the debates on the various foreign and domestic questions that came before parliament during 1895 - 1900.

During the illness of Lord Salisbury in 1898, and again in Lord Salisbury's absence abroad, he was in charge of the foreign office, and it was his job to conduct the critical negotiations with Russia on the question of railways in North China. As a member of the cabinet responsible for the Transvaal negotiations in 1899, he bore his full share of controversy, and when the war began disastrously, he was the first to realize the need to put the full military strength of the country into the field. His leadership of the House of Commons was marked by considerable firmness in the suppression of obstruction, but there was a slight revival of the criticisms that had been current in 1896. Balfour's inability to get the maximum amount of work out of the House was largely due to the situation in South Africa, which absorbed the intellectual energies of the House and of the country.

Balfour as Prime Minister

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Cover of Time magazine (13 April 1925)

On Lord Salisbury's resignation on 11 July 1902, Balfour succeeded him as prime minister, with the approval of all sections of the unionist party. The new prime minister came into power practically at the same moment as the coronation of Edward VII and the end of the South African War. For a while no cloud appeared on the horizon: and the Liberal party was still disorganized over their attitude towards the Boers. The two chief items of the ministerial parliamentary program were the extension of the new Education Act to London and the Irish Land Purchase Act, by which the British exchequer should advance the capital for enabling the tenants in Ireland to buy out the landlords. Moreover, the budget was certain to show a surplus and taxation could be remitted. As events proved, it was the budget that was to provide a cause of dissension, bringing a new political movement into being, and an issue overriding all the legislative interest of the session. Ritchie's remission of the shilling import-duty on corn led to Chamberlain's crusade in favor of tariff reform and colonial preference, and as the session preceded the rift grew in the unionist ranks.

The debate over Imperial Preference (see article for detailed explanation) and the subsequent split of the Conservative-Unionist Party dominated the three years of Balfour's premiership. Balfour eventually resigned in December of 1905, and the Conservatives were soundly defeated by the Liberals at the general election, Balfour himself losing his seat (he quickly found another seat). A notable achievement of his government was the establishment of the Committee on Imperial Defence.

Later Career

After the disaster of 1905 Balfour remained party leader, and made the controversial decision, with Lord Lansdowne, to use the heavily Unionist House of Lords as an active check on the Liberal party. Numerous pieces of reforming legislation were vetoed or mangled by amendment between 1906 and 1909, leading David Lloyd George to remark that the Lords had become "not the watchdog of the Constitution, but Mr. Balfour's poodle." The issue was eventually forced by the Liberals with Lloyd George's famous People's Budget, provoking the constitutional crisis that eventually led the Parliament Act of 1911, which eliminated the Lord's veto power. Exhausted, Balfour resigned as party leader after the crisis, and was succeeded by Andrew Bonar Law.

He remained an important figure within the party, however, and when the Unionists joined Asquith's coalition government in May 1915, Balfour succeeded Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty. When Asquith's government collapsed in December, 1916, Balfour became Foreign Secretary in Lloyd George's new war cabinet, but was not included in the Cabinet, and was frequently left out of the loop. Balfour's service as Foreign Secretary was most notable for the issuance of the so-called Balfour Declaration of 1917, a letter to Lord Rothschild promising the Jews a national homeland in Palestine. Balfour resigned as foreign secretary following the Versailles Conference in 1919, but continued on in the government (and now, the cabinet) as Lord President of the Council until 1922, when he, along with most of the Conservative leadership, resigned with Lloyd George's government following the Conservative back-bencher revolt that put Law into office.

In 1922 Balfour was created Earl of Balfour and in 1925 once again returned to the Cabinet, serving as Lord President of the Council in Stanley Baldwin's second government. Balfour died in 1930.


Balfour's other publications, not yet mentioned, include Essays and Addresses (1893) and The Foundations of Belief, being Notes introductory to the Study of Theology (1895). He was made LL.D. of Edinburgh University in 1881; of St Andrews University in 1885; of Cambridge University in 1888; of Dublin and Glasgow Universities in 1891; lord rector of St Andrews University in 1886; of Glasgow University in 1890; chancellor of Edinburgh University in 1891; member of the senate London University in 1888; and DCL of Oxford University in 1891. He was president of the British Association in 1904, and became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1888. He was known from early life as a cultured musician, and became an enthusiastic golf player, having been captain of the Royal and Antient Golf Club of St Andrews in 1894-1895.

Arthur James Balfour's Government, July 1902 - December 1905

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Arms of Arthur Balfour



Preceded by:
Sir Charles Dilke
President of the Local Government Board
Succeeded by:
Joseph Chamberlain
Preceded by:
The Earl of Dalhousie
Secretary for Scotland
Succeeded by:
The Marquess of Lothian
Preceded by:
Sir Michael Hicks-Beach
Chief Secretary for Ireland
Succeeded by:
William Lawies Jackson

Template:Succession box two to two

Preceded by:
The Earl of Rosebery
First Lord of the Treasury
Succeeded by:
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Preceded by:
Sir William Harcourt
Leader of the House of Commons
Succeeded by:
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman

Template:Succession box one to three

Preceded by:
Winston Churchill
First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by:
Sir Edward Carson
Preceded by:
The Viscount Grey of Fallodon
Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by:
The Earl Curzon of Kedleston
Preceded by:
The Earl Curzon of Kedleston
Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by:
The Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded by:
The Marquess Curzon of Kedleston
Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by:
The Lord Parmoor

Template:End box

Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Balfour
Succeeded by:
Gerald William Balfour

Template:End box Template:Wikisource author


de:Arthur Balfour, 1. Earl of Balfour

fr:Arthur James Balfour id:Arthur James Balfour he:ארתור בלפור


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