Written by Winston S. Churchill’s son, Randolph, the second volume of this authoritative, eight-volume biography begins as Churchill takes his seat in the House of Commons at the age of twenty-six. An independent spirit and rebel, his maiden speech received cheers from the Leader of the Opposition.
In the years leading up to the Great War, Churchill was at the center of British political life. At the Home Office, he introduced substantial prison reforms and took a lead in curbing the powers of the House of Lords. At the Admiralty, beginning in 1911, he helped build the Royal Navy into a formidable fighting force. He learned to fly, and founded the Royal Naval Air Service. He was also active in attempts to resolve the Irish Question and to prevent civil war in Ireland.
In 1914, as war in Europe loomed, Churchill wrote to his wife from the Admiralty: “The preparations have a hideous fascination for me . . . yet I would do my best for peace, and nothing would induce me wrongfully to strike the blow. I cannot feel that we in this island are in any serious degree responsible for the wave of madness which has swept the mind of Christendom.”
When war came, the fleet was ready. It was one of Churchill’s greatest early achievements.
“A milestone, a monument . . . rightly regarded as the most comprehensive life ever written of any age.” —Andrew Roberts, historian and author of The Storm of War
“The most scholarly study of Churchill in war and peace ever written.” —Herbert Mitgang, The New York Times
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About the Author
Between 1938 and 1961 he edited six volumes of his father’s speeches. His own books include The Rise and Fall of Sir Anthony Eden; The Six Day War, a history of the six-day Arab-Israeli war of 1967, written with his son, Winston; and the first two main and five document volumes of the biography of his father: Youth, 1874–1900 and Young Statesman, 1901–1914. An Honorary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, Randolph Churchill died at his home, Stour, East Bergholt, Suffolk, on 6 June 1968.
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The Young Member
Churchill took his seat in the new Parliament on 14 February 1901. He was just twenty-six years old, but he had already equipped himself by his own exertions for the long parliamentary life which lay ahead. He owed little to anyone save his name and his family tradition; he had been a true soldier of fortune who had made his way to the front with his own sword and pen. He had gathered a modest fortune of £10,000 by unremitting toil. On this he could hope to support himself as a bachelor for the next four or five years.
His had been no automatic entry into Parliament such as was often found in those days for the connections of noble and powerful families. He had twice fought the overwhelmingly working-class constituency of Oldham in the Tory interest and had proved successful only at the second attempt. He had incomparably more experience of life and of the world than many of his parliamentary colleagues ten or twenty years older than himself. What he lacked in book learning and formal education he was to assimilate by his ambition and his growing powers of concentration as he ruthlessly thrust himself forward along the parliamentary path which he had long been determined to follow. Nearly fifty years later Bernard Shaw, at the age of ninety-four and a week or two before his death, sent Churchill a copy of his new book, Sixteen Half Sketches, in return for a gift of flowers he had received in hospital. Shaw wrote: 'You need only read "Am I an Educated Person" as you and I are officially classed as ignoramuses.' Self-reliant, spurred by a burning sense of personal destiny as vivid as that of the young Bonaparte, Churchill faced his new opportunities with composure allied to a spirit of adventure.
Though his means for a parliamentary career were modest for those days, Churchill still found it possible to help his mother, who was as usual in financial difficulties. At the age of 47 she was now married to George Cornwallis-West, the handsome but impecunious subaltern in the Scots Guards who was hardly older than Churchill himself and whose marriage gave rise to the displeasure as well as the chaff of the social and military circle in which he moved. On the day Churchill took his seat in Parliament he wrote to his mother: 'I enclose a cheque for £300. In a certain sense it belongs to you; for I could never have earned it had you not transmitted to me the wit and energy which are necessary.' And towards the end of the year he felt able to relieve his mother of her obligation to pay the allowance of £500 a year to him. In a memorandum to the family lawyers, of which he sent her a copy, Churchill wrote:
WSC to Lumley & Lumley
17 December 1901
... I recognise that it is difficult for her to make me or my brother any allowance, and I feel it my duty on the other hand to assist her in any manner possible without seriously prejudicing my reversionary interests. I therefore forego the allowance of £500 a year she and my father had always intended to give me. ...
What I desire in my brother's interest as in my own is that there should be a clear understanding, necessarily not of a legal nature, that in the event of Mr George Cornwallis-West being at some future time in a superior financial position my mother will make suitable provision for her children out of her own income; in other words that she will reciprocate the attitude I am now adopting. ...
* * *
The Parliament that was opened by King Edward VII on February 14 was the first of his reign. The war in South Africa was foremost in the Speech from the Throne, and was to dominate the subsequent session. Lord Roberts had handed over his command to Lord Kitchener and had returned from the war at the beginning of January; the Queen had conferred an Earldom on him and had invested him with the Garter just twenty days before she died on January 23. But the hopes of an early victory and peace which the capture of Pretoria had engendered in the previous July, and which had largely contributed to the Tories' victory in the October 'Khaki election', gradually diminished. By the beginning of 1901 the country was facing the prospect of an extended war of attrition. Now what mattered most was that the war should be conducted effectively and that the Army should be properly organized for that purpose.
The Liberal Opposition was divided now as it had been in October between the 'Imperialists' like Rosebery, Asquith, Grey and R. B. Haldane, who supported the vigorous prosecution of the war and the so-called 'pro-Boer' little Englanders like Campbell- Bannerman, Morley and Lloyd George. Opposition to the Government would merely serve to advertise their differences.
Within an hour of subscribing to the Oath, Churchill took part in his first division, on a motion by Mr Balfour to pass the sessional order forbidding peers from taking part in Parliamentary elections. Churchill was on the side of James Lowther, the Tory member for the Isle of Thanet, whose amendment opposing the motion was, however, defeated by 328 votes to 70. Although the Whips do not seem to have been 'on', and voting somewhat cut across party lines, Churchill found himself in the same Lobby as most of the Irish and Radical members, and in a different lobby to that of Balfour and other leading members of the Tory Party.
The Chamber in which he had taken his seat was instinctively known to him. It was unchanged since the days of his father, one of the four or five greatest parliamentarians of the previous century. He had never heard him speak in the House, but he had read all his speeches and memorized many. His vivid visual imagination had made familiar to him, while still a schoolboy at Harrow and a cavalry subaltern in India, the historic arena where he was to live his life and fulfil his destiny. For a new member he was well-equipped with the traditional parliamentary vocabulary —'upstairs' for Committees: 'another place' for the House of Lords: 'out of doors' for speeches made away from Westminster: 'my right honourable friend' for the leaders of his own Party: 'the right honourable gentleman' for the chieftains of the opposite side: 'the honourable and gallant member' for those who had held the King's Commission: 'the honourable and learned member' for those who had some pretension to legal knowledge. He knew that in theory, though not in practice, speeches must not be read, that they must be addressed exclusively to the Speaker: that the Mace on the table was the symbol of the King in Parliament, which is where the legality of the state is vested: but that when money matters are discussed the Mace is put under the table, the Speaker leaves and the House goes into Committee under a Chairman so as to emphasize the Commons' power over the purse.
He knew about the Army Annual, the first Bill introduced each session, which begins 'Whereas it is illegal for the King to keep a standing army in time of peace ...' He knew these forms symbolized the cause for which the Commons had fought and decapitated Charles I, and that all this was enshrined in the doctrine that the Redress of Grievances must precede the voting of Supply. He knew that unbelievably harsh and wounding things could be said and should be said without rupturing cordial private relations. There was much else, some of it of an intricate character, but he had no difficulty in picking this up quickly since, to use a phrase favourite with him all his life, 'he had the root of the matter in him'.
More than forty years later, when Hitler's bombs had devastated the Chamber where he had spent his life, it fell to him, as the wartime Prime Minister to move:
'That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report upon plans for the rebuilding of the House of Commons, and upon such alterations as may be considered desirable while preserving all its essential features.'
He took good care, while he still had his wartime authority, to make sure that the Chamber should be rebuilt almost exactly as it had been before. Since it embodies the kernel of all he had learned about Parliamentary government, it may be convenient to quote here an extract from his speech on that occasion:
There are two main characteristics of the House of Commons which will command the approval and the support of reflective and experienced members. They will, I have no doubt, sound odd to foreign ears. The first is that its shape should be oblong and not semi-circular. Here is a very potent factor in our political life. The semi-circular assembly, which appeals to political theorists, enables every individual or every group to move round the centre, adopting various shades of pink according as the weather changes. I am a convinced supporter of the party system in preference to the group system. I have seen many earnest and ardent Parliaments destroyed by the group system. The party system is much favoured by the oblong form of Chamber. It is easy for an individual to move through those insensible gradations from Left to Right, but the act of crossing the Floor is one which requires serious consideration. I am well informed on this matter, for I have accomplished that difficult process, not only once but twice. Logic is a poor guide compared with custom. Logic, which has created in so many countries semi-circular assemblies with buildings that give to every member, not only a seat to sit in, but often a desk to write at, with a lid to bang, has proved fatal to Parliamentary Government as we know it here in its home and in the land of its birth.
The second characteristic of a Chamber formed on the lines of the House of Commons is that it should not be big enough to contain all its members at once without over-crowding, and that there should be no question of every member having a separate seat reserved for him. The reason for this has long been a puzzle to uninstructed outsiders, and has frequently excited the curiosity and even the criticism of new members. Yet it is not so difficult to understand if you look at it from a practical point of view. If the House is big enough to contain all its members, nine-tenths of its Debates will be conducted in the depressing atmosphere of an almost empty or half-empty Chamber. The essence of good House of Commons speaking is the conversational style, the facility for quick, informal interruptions and interchanges. Harangues from a rostrum would be a bad substitute for the conversational style in which so much of our business is done. But the conversational style requires a fairly small space, and there should be on great occasions a sense of crowd and urgency. There should be a sense of the importance of much that is said, and a sense that great matters are being decided, there and then, by the House.
Four days after his first division, on Monday, February 18, shortly before 10.30 p.m. Churchill rose from the corner seat of the second Bench above the gangway immediately behind the Ministerial Front Bench to make his maiden speech. The word had gone round the dining-room and smoking-room that he intended to speak, and the House had begun to fill soon after dinner to be treated to a swashbuckling speech by the member for Carnarvon Boroughs, Mr David Lloyd George, who was emerging with a growing reputation after more than ten years in the House. In the Ladies' Gallery were Lady Randolph and four of Churchill's paternal aunts, Lady Wimborne, Lady Tweedmouth, Lady Howe and Lady de Ramsey, as well as Mrs Gully, the Speaker's wife, Lady Hilda Brodrick, Mrs Joseph Chamberlain, Lady Harcourt and Lady Cranborne. Balfour was there on the Government Benches, and so was Joseph Chamberlain. On the opposite side were Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Sir William Harcourt and Mr Asquith. 'He had an audience to listen to his maiden speech,' noted the Morning Post, 'which very few new members have commanded.' 'And in that packed assembly,' added the Yorkshire Post, 'everybody a critic, watching to see what sort of a start he would make in politics, Winston Churchill made his debut.' His audience was not so much prompted by direct interest in himself as to judge how 'Randolph's boy' would do. Even after Churchill had begun his speech members were still streaming into the Chamber.
Lloyd George had had an amendment to the Address on the King's Speech on the order paper, but when he rose to speak he announced straight away that he did not propose to move the amendment. Instead, he devoted himself to a bitter attack on the methods of warfare being practised by the Generals, and in particular by Kitchener, in South Africa. For Churchill, who had prepared every word of his speech with painstaking care, Lloyd George's failure to move his amendment was an unexpected reverse: he would now have to improvise, at any rate his opening remarks. Next to him sat Thomas Gibson Bowles, the member for King's Lynn, a colourful personality who had in his time been proprietor of Vanity Fair. Bowles now came to Churchill's rescue, and whispered to him that he might say, 'Instead of making his violent speech without moving his moderate amendment he had better have moved his moderate amendment without making his violent speech.' 'Manna,' recalled Churchill, 'could not have been more welcome in the Wilderness.' Churchill said:
When we compare the moderation of the amendment with the very bitter speech which the honourable member has just delivered, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the moderation of the amendment was the moderation of the honourable member's political friends and leaders, and that the bitterness of the speech was all his own.
Then with a graceful gesture and a generous acknowledgement to the benefactor by his side, Churchill went on:
It has been suggested to me that it might perhaps have been better, upon the whole, if the honourable member instead of making his speech without moving his amendment, had moved his amendment without making his speech.
Not that Lloyd George's words were to be invested with any significance:
I do not believe that the Boers would attach particular importance to the utterances of the honourable member. No people in the world received so much verbal sympathy and so little support. If I were a Boer fighting in the field — and if I were a Boer I hope I should be fighting in the field — I would not allow myself to be taken in by any message of sympathy, not even if it were signed by a hundred honourable members.
This sentence gave both sides something to cheer. When Churchill said 'and if I were a Boer I hope I should be fighting in the field', the Irish members shouted their delight and Chamberlain was heard to turn to a neighbour and say: 'That's the way to throw away seats.' But when Churchill mentioned the message of sympathy 'not even if it were signed by a hundred members' the Tories chuckled at the allusion to a telegram sent by one hundred Radical MPs to the King of Greece four years before, just a week or two before he was forced to sue for peace from the Turks.
Churchill went on to make some observations on the future of South Africa. He appealed for delay in implementing a new constitution for the Transvaal after the war until the British settlers had returned. 'The interim', he said, 'should be filled by a civilian not a military administration'— and here he went out of his way to pay tribute to Sir Alfred Milner. As he had done the previous year when still in South Africa, Churchill appealed for leniency towards the rebels and called for a promise to those willing to surrender that their security, their religion, their rights and 'all the honours of war' should be guaranteed. He went on:
Of course we can only promise, and it rests with the Boers whether they will accept our conditions. They may refuse the generous terms offered them, and stand or fall by their old cry, 'death or independence'.
Once again the Irish cheered. But this time Churchill turned on them: already he was showing an ability to lay traps in debate, to anticipate the reactions of the other side of the House.
I do not see anything to rejoice at in that prospect, because if it be so, the war will enter upon a very sad and gloomy phase. If the Boers remain deaf to the voice of reason, and blind to the hand of friendship, if they refuse all overtures and disdain all terms, then, while we cannot help admiring their determination and endurance, we can only hope that our own race, in the pursuit of what they feel to be a righteous cause, will show determination as strong and endurance as lasting. It is wonderful that honourable members who form the Irish party should find it in their hearts to speak and act as they do in regard to a war in which so much has been accomplished by the courage, the sacrifices, and, above all, by the military capacity of Irishmen. There is a practical reason, which I trust honourable members will not think it presumptuous in me to bring to their notice: it is that they would be well advised cordially to co-operate with His Majesty's Government in bringing the war to a speedy conclusion, because they must know that no Irish question or agitation can possibly take any hold on the imagination of the people of Great Britain so long as all our thoughts are with the soldiers who are fighting in South Africa.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Winston S. Churchill Volume II Young Statesman 1901–1914"
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Table of Contents
Acknowledgements to the New Edition,
Introduction to the New Edition-Martin Gilbert,
1 YOUNG MEMBER,
2 CROSSING THE FLOOR,
3 THE YOUNG LIBERAL,
4 THE 1906 ELECTION,
5 LIFE OF LORD RANDOLPH,
6 CONCILIATION OF SOUTH AFRICA,
7 COLONIAL OFFICE,
8 CABINET AND MARRIAGE,
9 BOARD OF TRADE,
10 THE PARLIAMENT ACT,
11 HOME OFFICE,
12 HOME RULE,
13 THE CURRAGH,
14 FIRST LORD,
15 BRITAIN'S NAVAL DEFENCE,
16 PALACE AND ADMIRALTY,
17 NAVAL ESTIMATES CRISIS,
18 EVE OF WAR,