Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Lord Balfour, Father of Historic Balfour Declaration and Noted British Statesman, Dies in England at

March 20, 1930
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

“His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement 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 any other country.”

Arthur James Balfour, the author of the Balfour Declaration, which to world Jewry has come to be known as the charter of national liberty, died here today after a brief illness at the age of 82.

Lord Balfour was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 1874 was elected to Parliament for Hertford. From 1878 to 1880 he was private secretary to the Marquis of Salisbury when the latter was Secretary for Foreign Affairs. In 1885 he was named Privy Councellor and the following year became a member of the Cabinet as secretary for Scotland.

He first came into real political prominence in 1891 when he was the Leader of the House of Commons and First Lord of the Treasury. From 1892 to 1895 he led the government opposition and from 1902 to 1905 he was Prime Minister. In the early years of the war he was First Lord of the Admiralty and from 1916 to 1919 he was Foreign Secretary in the Lloyd George Ministry. In 1917 he headed the British Mission to the United States and he was also a member of the British Mission to the Washington Conference in 1921.


Lord Balfour’s political career was not his only claim to fame, for he was a recognized leader in British academic life. He held honorary degrees from the leading British and Scotch Universities and in 1886 was Vice-President of the Committee of Council on Education for Scotland as well as Lord Rector of St. Andrew’s University. At various other times he held administrative positions for London University, Glasgow University, and he was Chancellor of the Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities. Since 1921 he was President of the British Academy.


To world Jewry Lord Balfour is best known as the author of the famous Balfour Declaration, which was issued on November 2nd, in 1917, in a letter to Lord Rothschild which read:

“Dear Lord Rothschild:

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionsts’ aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet:

Yours sincerely,

Arthur James Balfour.”

Lord Balfour’s active sympathy with the Zionist movement dates back to 1906 in which year he had what was to prove an historic conversation with Dr. Weizmann in Manchester during the excitement of a Parliamentary election campaign. Lord Balfour, who was then plain “Mister” was an M. P. for Manchester and Dr. Weizmann, an instructor in Chemistry at Manchester University sought him out in an endeavor to explain to the Conservative leader the aims and hopes of Zionism. How well Dr. Weizmann succeeded was revealed eight years later when he again visited Mr. Balfour and was greeted with: “How are you? I am very glad to see you again. You made me a Zionist years ago.”


These early conversations with Dr. Weizmann convinced Lord Balfour that “History could not thus be ignored, and that if a home was to be found for the Jewish people, homeless now for 19 centuries, it was vain to seek it anywhere but in Palestine.” Balfour had always been interested in the Jewish question and in the early years of the 20th century when anti-Semitism in Europe was in an acute stage, he did his best to support the schemes devised by the then Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain for establishing a Jewish settlement in Uganda under a Jewish flag.

The period of the Balfour declaration was not only the time of the World War, but was also a time when there was a revival of the anti-Semitism which had enlisted Lord Balfour’s first efforts for the Jewish people. What he had learned in the intervening decade impelled him to go to the root of the question and the offer which came from the British Government then did not concern a territory far removed from the land “in which the Jewish people were nurtured and in which the Jewish religion came into being,” but it related to Palestine itself.

Lord Balfour’s understanding of the Jewish problem which went so deep was not satisfied with a single act, even such a far-reaching one as the Balfour Declaration. After the issuance of the Declaration he continued to exert himself in the furtherance of the aims of the Zionist movement. The services which Lord Balfour rendered in subsequent years were not less important than those embodied in the Declaration. Any fear that England’s interest in Zionism had been ephemeral and the support of its ministers merely a matter of temporary expediency was dispelled by the reiterated acts and utterances of Lord Balfour.

During the present political crisis resulting from last summer’s riots in Palestine, Lord Balfour once more championed the Zionist cause. While the Palestine Inquiry Commission was on its way home, Lord Balfour joined with General Smuts and Lloyd George, both of whom had been members of the British Cabinet which issued the Declaration, in calling for a new Commission that would study and examine the workings of the Palestine Mandate which was predicated upon the Balfour Declaration.


In January 1922, Lord Balfour came to the United States and at a reception which he gave to a Zionist Delegation in Washington, he reaffirmed the interest which he himself still maintained in the Zionist movement and the desire of the Government which he represented to aid in the building of a Jewish national home. He said: “Where I stood in 1917, I stand now. The hope I entertained then I entertain still; the ideals for which I strove then are my ideals at this moment. My interest in the cause, my belief in its final success, my intense desire to see the ideal of the Jewish Home transformed into a great reality has not diminished or suffered any cooling during the years that have elapsed since the original declaration was made.”

Despite his advanced age, he accepted the invitation to preside at the opening of the Hebrew University at Jerusalem, an event which he considered of prime importance. Not only did he attend the opening ceremonies, but he made a complete tour of the Colonies which he considered the foundation on which his dream of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine was to become a reality. At the inauguration of the Hebrew University, Lord Balfour declared: “Unless I utterly misunderstand the signs of the times, unless I have profoundly mistaken the many gifted Jewish people, this experiment is predestined to inevitable success on which not only men of Jewish birth but others sharing the common civilization of mankind will have reason to congratulate themselves… The Hebrew University as it stands today is of small dimensions, but I venture to say that these small beginnings indicate a large measure of wisdom on the part of those who control its destinies. Despite limitations, the University will play a part in keeping with the role which the Jews today, as always, play in the intellectual development of the world.”

Recommended from JTA