History and Tour

Arthur James Balfour

Arthur James Balfour Born: 25 July 1848 in Whittingehame, East Lothian, Scotland

First entered Parliament: 30 January 1874

Age he became PM: 53 years, 352 days

Maiden Speech: 10 August 1876 on Indian silver currency

Total time as PM: Three years, 145 days

Died: 19 March 1930 at Fisher’s Hill, Woking, Surrey

Facts and figures

Nickname: “Bloody Balfour”

Education: Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge

Family: Balfour was the eldest son and third of eight children. He was unmarried.

Interests: Sport, music, philosophy


Renowned philosopher

Arthur James Balfour succeeded his uncle, Lord Salisbury, who had been his political mentor and champion. However, his initial interests were not political. He enjoyed music and poetry, and was first known as a renowned philosopher, publishing A Defence of Philosophic Doubt , The Foundations of Belief , and Theism and Humanism .

In 1874 he was elected the Conservative Member of Parliament for Hertford.

Four years later he became private secretary to Salisbury, then Foreign Secretary in Disraeli’s government.

Balfour paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel In 1885 Balfour was a member of Randolph Churchill’s “Fourth Party” group (distinct from the Conservatives, Liberals and Irish Nationalists), which brought down Gladstone’s government with a motion opposing the Home Rule for Ireland Bill.

Balfour was thought to be merely amusing himself with politics - indeed 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.

Later, he joined the Cabinet as Secretary for Scotland and then for Ireland under Salisbury. Despite widespread scepticism that he was up to the gruelling job of Irish Secretary, Balfour proved to be a tough incumbent, restoring the rule of law.

Calming the Irish

His land development legislation was considered well judged, and has been credited with calming the Irish conflict for a generation.

In 1891 Balfour became First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the Commons, and gained the same positions again on the Conservatives’ re-election in 1895. When his uncle retired, he himself became Prime Minister. But his cabinet split on the free trade issue, and his relations with the king were poor.

Defeats in the Commons and in by-elections led to his resignation in December 1905.

In the subsequent Liberal landslide, Balfour lost his own seat, but returned via a by-election soon after. He continued to lead his party until 1911. But despite stepping down, his career was far from over.

He became First Lord of the Admiralty in the wartime coalition, and then Foreign Secretary.

At this time he wrote a letter, which has become known as the Balfour Declaration, stating the Government’s view to “favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” on the understanding that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

For the greater part of the 1920s he was Lord President of the Council until the Baldwin government fell in 1929. He had always been a delicate and poorly man and he died the following year from circulatory failure.

Quote unquote

“I am more or less happy when being praised, not very comfortable when being abused, but I have moments of uneasiness when being explained”

Did you know?

Balfour was the first PM to own a car.

Read an extract from the “Balfour Declaration” which paved the way for the creation of Israel

“His Majesty’s government favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to faciliate the advancement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by jews in other country.”

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