The tariff campaign began with Joseph Chamberlain’s hymn to the Empire at Bingley Hall, Birmingham on 15 May 1903. For eight years imperial unity had been a constant theme of Chamberlain’s career. In June 1895 he had refused the positions of Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Salisbury’s third administration in order to take the post of Colonial Secretary, telling Salisbury, ‘I should prefer the Colonies-in the hope of furthering closer union between them and the United Kingdom’.2 That autumn Chamberlain made a number of speeches calling for closer economic and political unity within the Empire. In 1897 he floated the idea of an imperial ‘Zollverein’ at the Imperial Conference, and when the Colonies proved unreceptive he looked instead to colonial offers of preferential trade to establish closer imperial relations. In the light of the colonial contributions to the Boer War and the ‘Canadian offer’ at the 1902 Imperial Conference, Chamberlain sought Cabinet approval for imperial preference, and when his hopes were dashed he launched the tariff campaign. He was not alone in regarding imperial unity as central to the tariff campaign. In 1903 the industrial magnate Sir Vincent Caillard, who was to be closely involved with the tariff campaign, spoke of his ‘intimate conviction that the welfare and prosperity of the United Kingdom, and of almost all, if not of all, the British colonies, must depend to an immense extent upon the maintenance of the Empire’,3 whilst the Rules of the Compatriots’ Club stated that ‘[t]he object of the Club is to advance the ideal of a United British Empire, and to advocate consistently those principles of constructive policy on all constitutional,
economic, defensive and educational questions which will help towards the fulfilment of that ideal’.4 The tariff campaign contended that imperial unity was essential to the maintenance of Britain’s imperial role and, by implication, crucial to the fortunes of ‘the imperial Party’.