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Neville Chamberlain

Chamberlain, Neville (Arthur Neville Chamberlain), 1869–1940, British statesman; son of Joseph Chamberlain and half-brother of Sir Austen Chamberlain. The first half of his career was spent in business and, after 1911, in the city government of Birmingham, of which he became lord mayor in 1915. In 1917 he was director of national service, supervising conscription, and the following year, at the age of 50, he was elected to Parliament as a Conservative. During the 1920s he served both as chancellor of the exchequer (1923–24) and minister of health (1923, 1924–29). In the latter position, he enacted a series of important reforms that simplified the administration of Britain's social services and systematized local government. In 1931 he again became chancellor of the exchequer and held that office until he succeeded Stanley Baldwin as prime minister in 1937.

During the 1930s, Chamberlain's professed commitment to avoiding war with Hitler resulted in his controversial policy of "appeasement," which culminated in the Munich Pact (1938). Although contemporaries and scholars during and after the war criticized Chamberlain for believing that Hitler could be appeased, recent research argues that Chamberlain was not so naive and that appeasement was a shrewd policy developed to buy time for an ill-prepared Britain to rearm. After Germany's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939, he pledged military support to Poland and led Britain to war in September. After the British debacle in Norway, he was forced to resign in May, 1940. He was lord president of the council under Winston Churchill until Oct., 1940, and died a few weeks later.

See biographies by W. R. Rock (1969) and D. Dilks (vol. 1, 1984); R. Cockett, Twilight of Truth (1989); J. Charmley, Chamberlain and the Lost Peace (1990).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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