The Cabinet crisis of 1903 was an event of major significance in recent British political history. The Annual Register declared of the 1903 crisis that it was “one of the most sensational political events recorded in the long series of volumes of the Annual Register.” Randolph Churchill, in his great biography of his father, referred to the crisis as a “remarkable and probably unique series of events.” Lord Blake, in The Observer, wrote that it was one of “the most drastic series of expulsions, resignations and reshuffles engineered by any Prime Minister in the twentieth century.” The present writer in a book entitled Balfour's Burden wrote of the 1903 crisis that “this Cabinet was a decisive moment in British history. Ministers had come together in order to decide upon the economic and Imperial future of their country.”
Historians have always recognised the high importance of the 1903 crisis in British affairs. But they have been unable to agree upon the details of it, and they have differed regularly about the role in it played by Arthur Balfour, the Prime Minister of the day. Nevertheless, material in the Public Record Office in London, recently made available to scholars, now enables us to resolve the differences which have occupied the attention of scholars for a long time past. Nor is it simply a matter of detail. Significant conclusions about British political practice can be made when the crisis of 1903 is understood, in all its aspects. The crisis occurred as the result of British failures during the Boer War which revealed that Britain was either unable or unprepared to defend the distant reaches of her Empire. Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, resolved to restore the situation.