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Joseph Chamberlain

Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), British statesman. Having made his fortune from his Birmingham screw-making business, he was able to retire at 38 and devote himself to politics. As mayor of Birmingham, his radical reforms brought him to national prominence and he became known as the “gas-and-water socialist”. He entered Parliament in 1876 as a Liberal but resigned over the issue of Home Rule for Ireland and subsequently led the Liberal Unionists. His monocle and orchid made him a popular subject for cartoonists. He was forced to retire from public life following a stroke in 1906. His son Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) was also a politician, who first entered the House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1918. He became prime minister in 1937 and is remembered for his attempts to placate Hitler immediately before World War II. On his return from his third visit to Germany in September 1938 he brandished a signed undertaking from Hitler and was welcomed as a hero for having avoided war and announced that he had brought back “peace with honour”. However, Germany’s invasion of Poland forced him to declare war on 3 September 1939. He resigned as prime minister in 1940, and died six months later.

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