July 21

This Day in History

World War I

Jul 21, 1911:

David Lloyd George delivers Mansion House speech

On July 21, 1911, at the Mansion House in London, David Lloyd George delivers the customary annual address of the British chancellor of the exchequer.

Lloyd George, a radical member of the Liberal government of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, had made a name for himself as a leftist, anti-imperialist influence in the party, promoting pension plans for the elderly and national insurance and opposing Britain's policies in the South African (or Boer) War in 1899-1902. His speech at the Mansion House, however, came in the wake of the Second Moroccan Crisis, a clash between the great European powers that began on May 21, 1911, when French troops occupied the city of Fez in Morocco, at the appeal of the sultan, to restore order after rebel tribes threatened the city. On July 1, 1911, Germany sent its gunboat Panther to the port of Agadir as a forceful protest against French influence in Morocco and the Congo. Though Germany assumed Britain would stay out of the conflict and that, once isolated, France would give way, that was not the case. Rather than use his annual speech as an opportunity to advocate for pacifism and disengagement from the conflict between France–Britain's ally, along with Russia, in the so-called Triple Entente–and an aggressive Germany, Lloyd George made clear that Britain would not stand down.

Indeed, in a rousing speech on July 21, the chancellor of the exchequer–and future prime minister–implied that war might be the price of continued threats to the security of his country and its allies: "I would make great sacrifices to preserve peace. I conceive that nothing would justify a disturbance of international good will except questions of the greatest national moment. But if a situation were to be forced upon us in which peace could only be preserved by the surrender of the great and beneficent position Britain has won by centuries of heroism and achievement, by allowing Britain to be treated where her interests were vitally affected as if she were of no account in the Cabinet of nations, then I say emphatically that peace at that price would be a humiliation intolerable for a great country like ours to endure."

The Mansion House speech made it clear to Germany that France was not isolated. Kaiser Wilhelm, reluctant from the beginning to make such an aggressive move, directed his foreign office to back down. In an agreement concluded in November 1911, France received German recognition of its protectorate over Morocco, which it added to its North African holdings of Algeria and Tunisia. Germany, in return, was awarded some compensation in other areas of Africa, which it considered inadequate. From that point forward, the battle lines of the future war–World War I–became increasingly clear: Britain, and Russia, would stand with France in any future conflict that threatened its security. Meanwhile, an isolated Germany began to shore up its own alliances–namely with the Austro-Hungarian Empire–and build up its own strength in order to be prepared for the next move.

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