Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston

From New World Encyclopedia

The Viscount Palmerston
Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston

In office
June 12 1859 – October 18 1865
Preceded by The Earl of Derby
Succeeded by The Earl Russell
In office
February 6, 1855 – February 19, 1858
Preceded by The Earl of Aberdeen
Succeeded by The Earl of Derby

Born October 20 1784(1784-10-20)
Died 18 October 1865 (aged 80)
Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire
Political party Whig and Liberal
Alma mater St John's College, Cambridge

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, KG, GCB, PC (October 20, 1784 – October 18, 1865) was a British statesman who served twice as Prime Minister in the mid-nineteenth century. He was in government office almost continuously from 1807 until his death in 1865, beginning his parliamentary career as a Tory and concluding it as a Liberal. He was Secretary for War 1809 to 1828. He is best remembered for his direction of British foreign policy through a period when the United Kingdom was at the height of its power, serving terms as both Foreign Secretary (1830-1834, 1835-1841, and 1846-1851) and Prime Minister (1855-1858, 1859-1865). Palmerston helped to re-shape the European map; he convened the conferences that recognized Greek and also Belgian independence, the latter treaty taking Britain into World War I in defense of Belgium's neutrality. Palmerston's legacy, then, also impacted a major twentieth century event.

Some of his aggressive actions, now termed liberal interventionist, were greatly controversial at the time, and remain so today. On the other hand, he advocated that moral responsibility to do what is right and to defend justice had a vital role in international relations. He argued that Britain's governance of her colonies was for the benefit of the governed, not of British industry. Commercial interests and national self-interest, in practice, continued to play dominant roles yet the idea that nations might act in the interest of others' even if this does not advance their own interests suggests that humanity might one day build a fairer, better world order. Ultimately, the world cannot become a place of peace and prosperity, health and wholeness for all if nations only ever act in self-interest. Only a world where nations cooperate to ensure that all people are fed, housed, educated and enjoy their right, that the planet itself is protected from exploitation and ecological.

Early life and career

Henry John Temple was born in his family's London house to the Irish branch of the Temple family on October 20, 1784.

Educated at Harrow School, Edinburgh University, and St John's College, Cambridge, he succeeded his father to the title of Viscount Palmerston on April 17, 1802, before he had turned 18. Over the next 6 years he was defeated in two elections for the University of Cambridge constituency, but entered parliament as Tory MP for the pocket borough of Newport on the Isle of Wight in June 1807. Thanks to the patronage of Lord Chichester and Lord Malmesbury, he was given the post of Junior Lord of the Admiralty in the ministry of the Duke of Portland. A few months later, he delivered his first speech in the House of Commons in defense of the expedition to Copenhagen, which he justified by reference to the ambitions of Napoleon to take control of the Danish court.

Secretary at War

Lord Palmerston's speech was so successful that Perceval, who formed his government in 1809, asked him to become Chancellor of the Exchequer, then a less important office than it was to become from the mid nineteenth century. Lord Palmerston preferred the office of Secretary at War, charged exclusively with the financial business of the army. Without a seat in the cabinet, he remained in the latter post for 20 years.

In the later years of Lord Liverpool's Tory administration, after the suicide of Lord Londonderry in 1822, the cabinet began to split along political lines. The more liberal wing of the Tory government made some ground, with George Canning becoming Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons, William Huskisson advocating and applying the doctrines of free trade, and Catholic emancipation emerging as an open question. Although Lord Palmerston was not in the cabinet, he cordially supported the measures of Canning and his friends.

Upon the death of Lord Liverpool, Canning was called to be Prime Minister. The Tories, including Peel, withdrew their support, and an alliance was formed between the liberal members of the late ministry and the Whigs. The post of Chancellor of the Exchequer was offered to Lord Palmerston, who accepted it, but this appointment was frustrated by some intrigue between the King and John Charles Herries. Lord Palmerston remained Secretary at War, though he gained a seat in the cabinet for the first time. The Canning administration ended after only four months on the death of the Prime Minister, and was followed by the ministry of Lord Goderich, which barely survived the year.

The Canningites remained influential, and the Duke of Wellington hastened to include Lord Palmerston, Huskisson, Charles Grant, William Lamb, and The Earl of Dudley in the government he subsequently formed. However, a dispute between Wellington and Huskisson over the issue of parliamentary representation for Manchester and Birmingham led to the resignation of Huskisson and his allies, including Lord Palmerston. In the spring of 1828, after more than twenty years continuously in office, Lord Palmerston found himself in opposition.

Foreign Secretary

Statue of Lord Palmerston in Parliament Square, London
Statue of Lord Palmerston in Southampton

Following his move to opposition, Lord Palmerston appears to have focused closely on foreign policy. He had already urged Wellington into active interference in the affairs of Greece, and he had made several visits to Paris, where he foresaw with great accuracy the impending overthrow of the Bourbons. On 1 June 1829 he made his first great speech on foreign affairs.

Palmerston was a great orator. His language was relatively unstudied and his delivery somewhat embarrassed, but he generally found words to say the right thing at the right time and to address the House of Commons in the language best adapted to the capacity and the temper of his audience. An attempt was made by the Duke of Wellington in September 1830 to induce Lord Palmerston to re-enter the cabinet, but he refused to do so without Lord Lansdowne and Lord Grey, two notable Whigs. This can be said to be the point at which his party allegiance changed.

When Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey Lord Grey came to power a few months later in 1830, he not surprisingly placed foreign affairs in Lord Palmerston's hands. He entered the office with great energy and continued to exert his influence there for twenty years, which he held it from 1830-1834, 1835-1841, and 1846-1851. His abrasive style earned him the nickname "Lord Pumice Stone," and his manner of dealing with foreign governments who crossed him was the original "gunboat diplomacy."

Belgium, 1830

The revolutions of 1830 gave a jolt to the settled European system that had been created after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The Kingdom of the Netherlands was rent in half by the revolution of the Belgians, Portugal was the scene of civil war, and the Spanish were about to place an infant princess on the throne. Poland was in arms against Russia, while the northern powers formed a closer alliance that seemed to threaten the peace and liberties of Europe. Lord Palmerston was prepared to act with spirit and resolution in the face of these varied difficulties, and the result was notable diplomatic success.

William I of the Netherlands appealed to the great powers that had placed him on the throne after the Napoleonic Wars to maintain his rights; a conference assembled accordingly in London. The British solution involved the independence of Belgium, which Lord Palmerston believed would greatly contribute to the security of Britain, but any solution was not straightforward. On the one hand, the northern powers were anxious to defend William I; on the other, many Belgian revolutionaries, like Charles de Brouckère and Charles Rogier, supported the reunion of the Belgian provinces to France. The policy of the UK government was a close alliance with France, but one subject to the balance of power on the Continent, and in particular the preservation of Belgium. If the northern powers supported William I by force, they would encounter the resistance of France and the UK united in arms. If France sought to annex Belgium, she would forfeit the alliance of the UK, and find herself opposed by the whole of Europe. In the end the UK's policy prevailed. Although the continent had been close to war, peace was maintained on UK terms and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, the widower of a British princess, was placed upon the throne of Belgium.

The 1839 Treaty of London, which guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium, was masterminded by Palmerston. In 1914, it was this treaty that led to Britain's declaration of war against Germany, which had invaded Belgium.

France, Spain, and Portugal 1830s

In 1833 and 1834, the youthful Queens Maria II of Portugal and Isabella II of Spain were the representatives and the hope of the constitutional parties of their countries. Their positions were under some pressure from their absolutist kinsmen, Dom Miguel of Portugal and Don Carlos of Spain, who were the closest males in the lines of succession. Lord Palmerston conceived and executed the plan of a quadruple alliance of the constitutional states of the West to serve as a counterpoise to the northern alliance. A treaty for the pacification of the Peninsula was signed in London on April 22, 1834, and, although the struggle was somewhat prolonged in Spain, it accomplished its objective.

France had been a reluctant party to the treaty, and never executed her role in it with much zeal. Louis Philippe was accused of secretly favoring the Carlists—the supporters of Don Carlo—and he rejected direct interference in Spain. It is probable that the hesitation of the French court on this question was one of the causes of the enduring personal hostility Lord Palmerston showed towards the French King thereafter, though that sentiment may well have arisen earlier. Although Lord Palmerston wrote in June 1834 that Paris was "the pivot of my foreign policy," the differences between the two countries grew into a constant but sterile rivalry that brought no benefit to either.[1]

Balkans and Near East: Defending Turkey, 1830s

Lord Palmerston was greatly interested by the diplomatic questions of Eastern Europe. During the Greek War of Independence he had energetically supported the Greek cause and backed the Treaty of Constantinople that gave Greece its independence. However, from 1830, the defense of the Ottoman Empire became one of the cardinal objects of his policy. He believed in the regeneration of Turkey. "All that we hear," he wrote to Bulwer (Lord Dalling), "about the decay of the Turkish Empire, and its being a dead body or a sapless trunk, and so forth, is pure unadulterated nonsense."[2] His two great aims were to prevent Russia establishing itself on the Bosporus and to prevent France doing likewise on the Nile. He regarded the maintenance of the authority of the Sublime Porte as the chief barrier against both these developments. However, it was Palmerston who convened the congress of 1832 that recognized Greek independence, determined the new state's borders and decided that a suitable candidate from a European royal house would become king.

Lord Palmerston had long maintained a suspicious and hostile attitude towards Russia, whose autocratic government offended his liberal principles and whose ever-growing size challenged the strength of the British Empire. He was angered by the 1833 Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi, a mutual assistance pact between Russia and the Ottomans, and he was a party to the mission of the Vixen to run the Russian blockade of Circassia in the late 1830s.

In 1833 and 1835, his proposals to afford material aid to the Turks against Muhammad Ali, the pasha of Egypt, was overruled by the cabinet. However, when the power of Ali appeared to threaten the existence of the Ottoman dynasty, particularly given the death of the Sultan on July 1, 1839, he succeeded in bringing the great powers together to sign a collective note on the July 27 pledging them to maintain the independence and integrity of the Turkish Empire in order to preserve the security and peace of Europe. However, by 1840, Ali had occupied Syria and won the Battle of Nezib against the Turkish forces. Lord Ponsonby, the British ambassador at Constantinople, vehemently urged the British government to intervene. Having close ties to the pasha than most, France refused to be a party to coercive measures against Ali despite having signed the note in the previous year.

Lord Palmerston, irritated at France's Egyptian policy, signed the London Convention of 15 July 1840 in London with Austria, Russia and Prussia—without the knowledge of the French government. This measure was not taken without great hesitation, and strong opposition on the part of several members of the UK cabinet. Lord Palmerston forced the measure through in part by declaring in a letter to the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, that he would resign from the ministry if his policy were not adopted.

The London Convention granted Muhammad Ali hereditary rule in Egypt in return for withdrawal from Syria and Lebanon, but was rejected by the pasha. The European powers intervened with force, and the bombardment of Beirut, the fall of Acre, and the total collapse of the power of Ali followed in rapid succession. Lord Palmerston's policy was triumphant, and the author of it had won a reputation as one of the most powerful statesmen of the age.

At the same time as she was acting with Russia in the Levant, the British government engaged in the affairs of Afghanistan in order to stem her advance into Central Asia, and fought the First Opium War with China which ended in the conquest of Chusan, later to be exchanged for the island of Hong Kong.

In all these actions Lord Palmerston brought to bear a great deal of patriotic vigor and energy. This made him very popular among the ordinary people of Britain, but his passion, propensity to act through personal animosity, and imperious language made him seem dangerous and destabilizing in the eyes of the Queen and his more conservative colleagues in government.

Opposition to Peel, 1841-46

Within a few months Melbourne's administration came to an end (1841) and Lord Palmerston remained for five years out of office. The crisis was past, but the change which took place by the substitution of François Guizot for Adolphe Thiers in France, and of Lord Aberdeen for Lord Palmerston in the UK, was a fortunate event for the peace of the world. Lord Palmerston had adopted the opinion that peace with France was not to be relied on, and indeed that war between the two countries was sooner or later inevitable. Aberdeen and Guizot inaugurated a different policy; by mutual confidence and friendly offices, they entirely succeeded in restoring the most cordial understanding between the two governments, and the irritation which Lord Palmerston had inflamed gradually subsided. During the administration of Sir Robert Peel, Lord Palmerston led a retired life, but he attacked with characteristic bitterness the Webster-Ashburton Treaty with the United States, which closed successfully some other questions he had long kept open.

Lord Palmerston's reputation as an interventionist and his unpopularity with the Queen and other Whig grandees was such that when Lord John Russell attempted in December 1845 to form a ministry, the combination failed because Lord Grey refused to join a government in which Lord Palmerston should resume the direction of foreign affairs. A few months later, however, this difficulty was surmounted; the Whigs returned to power, and Lord Palmerston to the foreign office (July 1846) with a strong assurance that Russell should exercise a strict control over his proceedings. A few days sufficed to show how vain this expectation was.

France and Spain, 1845

The French government regarded the appointment of Lord Palmerston as a certain sign of renewed hostilities. They availed themselves of a dispatch in which he had put forward the name of a Coburg prince as a candidate for the hand of the young queen of Spain as a justification for a departure from the engagements entered into between Guizot and Lord Aberdeen. However little the conduct of the French government in this transaction of the Spanish marriages can be vindicated, it is certain that it originated in the belief that in Lord Palmerston France had a restless and subtle enemy. The efforts of the British minister to defeat the French marriages of the Spanish princesses, by an appeal to the Treaty of Utrecht and the other powers of Europe, were wholly unsuccessful; France won the game, though with no small loss of honorable reputation.

Support for revolutions abroad and Civis Romanus sum, 1848-50

The revolutions of 1848 spread like a conflagration through Europe, and shook every throne on the Continent except those of Russia, Spain, and Belgium. Lord Palmerston sympathized, or was supposed to sympathize, openly with the revolutionary party abroad. In particular, he was a strong advocate of national self-determination, and stood firmly on the side of constitutional liberties on the Continent.

Italian independence

No state was regarded by him with more aversion than Austria. Yet, his opposition to Austria was chiefly based upon her occupation of northeastern Italy and her Italian policy. Lord Palmerston maintained that the existence of Austria as a great power north of the Alps was an essential element in the system of Europe. Antipathies and sympathies had a large share in the political views of Lord Palmerston, and his sympathies had ever been passionately awakened by the cause of Italian independence. He supported the Sicilians against the King of Naples, and even allowed arms to be sent them from the arsenal at Woolwich. Although he had endeavored to restrain the King of Sardinia from his rash attack on the superior forces of Austria, he obtained for him a reduction of the penalty of defeat. Austria, weakened by the revolution, sent an envoy to London to request the mediation of the UK, based on a large cession of Italian territory. Lord Palmerston rejected the terms he might have obtained for Piedmont. After a couple of years this wave of revolution was replaced by a wave of reaction.

Hungarian independence

In Hungary the civil war, which had thundered at the gates of Vienna, was brought to a close by Russian intervention. Prince Schwarzenberg assumed the government of the empire with dictatorial power. In spite of what Lord Palmerston termed his judicious bottle-holding, the movement he had encouraged and applauded, but to which he could give no material aid, was everywhere subdued. The British government, or at least Lord Palmerston as its representative, was regarded with suspicion and resentment by every power in Europe, except the French republic. Even that was shortly afterward to be alienated by Lord Palmerston's attack on Greece. When Louis Kossuth, the Hungarian democrat and leader of its constitutionalists, landed in the UK, Lord Palmerston proposed to receive him at Broadlands, a design which was only prevented by a peremptory vote of the cabinet.

Royal and parliamentary reaction to 1848

This state of things was regarded with the utmost annoyance by the British court and by most of the British ministers. On many occasions, Lord Palmerston had taken important steps without their knowledge, which they disapproved. Over the Foreign Office he asserted and exercised an arbitrary dominion, which the feeble efforts of the premier could not control. The Queen and the Prince Consort did not conceal their indignation at the fact that they were held responsible for Lord Palmerston's actions by the other Courts of Europe.

When Benjamin Disraeli and others took several nights in the House of Commons to impeach Lord Palmerston's foreign policy, the foreign minister responded to a five-hour speech by Anstey with a five-hour speech of his own, the first of two great speeches in which he laid out a comprehensive defense of his foreign policy and of liberal interventionism more generally. Palmerston supported intervention when the aim was to help establish constitutional monarchy and liberal governance. Reviewing his whole parliamentary career—reminding him, he joked, of a drowning man's visions of his past life—he said:

I hold that the real policy of England… is to be the champion of justice and right, pursuing that course with moderation and prudence, not becoming the Quixote of the world, but giving the weight of her moral sanction and support wherever she thinks that justice is, and whenever she thinks that wrong has been done.[3]

Partly, this speech justified Britain's gunboat action in Greece in 1850 to right a wrong against a British subject whose home had been looted; wherever a British subject was in the world they could rely on the help and protection of the Empire. However, it was also a plea for Britain to act in the world on the side of right against wrong, to defend justice. In doing so, she would be wary of permanent alliances but as long as Britain sympathized "with right and justice" she would not find herself alone. Others would support her in the cause of justice.

It is generally supposed that Russell and the Queen both hoped that the other would take the initiative and dismiss Lord Palmerston; the Queen was dissuaded by Prince Albert, who took the limits of constitutional power very seriously, and Russell by Lord Palmerston's prestige with the people and his competence in an otherwise remarkably inept Cabinet.

Don Pacifico Affair: Parliament and the Queen, 1850

In 1850, he took advantage of Don Pacifico's claims on the Hellenic government and blockaded the kingdom of Greece. Greece being a state under the joint protection of three powers, Russia and France protested against its coercion by the British fleet. The French ambassador temporarily left London, which promptly led to the termination of the affair. Nevertheless, it was taken up in parliament with great warmth.

After a memorable debate (June 17), Lord Palmerston's policy was condemned by a vote of the House of Lords. The House of Commons was moved by Roebuck to reverse the sentence, which it did June 29, by a majority of 46, after having heard from Lord Palmerston. This was the most eloquent and powerful speech he ever delivered, wherein he sought to vindicate not only his claims on the Greek government for Don Pacifico, but his entire administration of foreign affairs.

It was in this speech, which lasted five hours, Lord Palmerston made the well known declaration that a British subject ought everywhere to be protected by the strong arm of the British government against injustice and wrong; comparing the reach of the British Empire to that of the Roman Empire, in which a Roman citizen could walk the earth unmolested by any foreign power. This was the famous Civis Romanus sum speech.

Yet, notwithstanding this parliamentary triumph, there were not a few of his own colleagues and supporters who condemned the spirit in which the foreign relations of the Crown were carried on. In that same year, the Queen addressed a minute to the Prime Minister in which she recorded her dissatisfaction at the manner in which Lord Palmerston evaded the obligation to submit his measures for the royal sanction as failing in sincerity to the Crown. This minute was communicated to Lord Palmerston, who did not resign upon it; a crucial precedent, this was taken to be an indication that he viewed the source of his power as no longer being royal approval, but constitutional power.

These various circumstances, and many more, had given rise to distrust and uneasiness in the cabinet, and these feelings reached their climax when Lord Palmerston on the occurrence of the coup d'état by which Louis Napoleon, President since 1848, made himself master of France, expressed to the French ambassador in London, without the concurrence of his colleagues, his personal approval of that act. Upon this Lord John Russell advised his dismissal from office (Dec. 1851). Lord Palmerston got his revenge a few weeks later, when he brought down the Russell government in an amendment to the Militia Bill—his "tit for tat with Johnny Russell" as he put it.[4]

Home Secretary

After a brief period of Tory minority government, the Earl of Aberdeen became Prime Minister in a coalition government of Whigs and Peelites (with Russell taking the role of Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons). Being impossible for them to form a government without Lord Palmerston, he was made Home Secretary in December 1852. Many people considered this a curious appointment because Lord Palmerston's expertise was so obviously in foreign affairs.

Crimean War and reform

Lord Palmerston's exile from his traditional realm of the Foreign Office meant he did not have full control over British policy during the events precipitating the Crimean War. One of his biographers, Jasper Ridley, argues that had he been in control of foreign policy at this time, war in the Crimea would have been avoided.[5] Lord Palmerston argued in Cabinet, after Russian troops concentrated on the Ottoman border in February 1853, that the Royal Navy should join the French fleet in the Dardanelles as a warning to Russia. He was overruled, however.

In May 1853, the Russians threatened to invade the principalities Wallachia and Moldavia unless the Ottoman Sultan surrendered to their demands. Lord Palmerston argued for immediate decisive action; the Royal Navy should be sent to the Dardanelles to assist the Turkish navy and that Britain should inform Russia of her intention to go to war with her if she invaded the principalities. However, Lord Aberdeen objected to all of Lord Palmerston's proposals. After prolonged arguments, Lord Aberdeen agreed to send a fleet to the Dardanelles but objected to his other proposals. The Russian Tsar was annoyed by Britain's actions but it was not enough to deter him. When the British fleet arrived at the Dardanelles the weather was rough so the fleet took refuge in the outer waters of the straits. The Russians argued that this was a violation of the Straits Convention of 1841 and therefore invaded the two principalities. Lord Palmerston thought that this was the result of British weakness and thought that if Russia had been told that if they invaded the principalities the British and French fleets would enter the Bosphorus or the Black Sea, she would have been deterred.[6] In Cabinet, Lord Palmerston argued for a vigorous prosecution of the war against Russia by Britain but Lord Aberdeen objected, as he wanted peace. Public opinion was on the side of the Turks and with Aberdeen becoming steadily unpopular, Lord Dudley Stuart in February 1854 noted, "Wherever I go, I have heard but one opinion on the subject, and that one opinion has been pronounced in a single word, or in a single name—Palmerston."[7]

As Home Secretary, Lord Palmerston strongly opposed Lord John Russell's plans for giving the vote to sections of the urban working-classes. When the Cabinet agreed in December 1853 to introduce a bill during the next session of Parliament in the form which Russell wanted, Lord Palmerston resigned. However, Aberdeen told him that no definite decision on reform had been taken and persuaded Lord Palmerston to return to the Cabinet.

On March 28, 1854, Aberdeen, along with France, declared war on Russia for refusing to withdraw from the principalities. In the winter of 1854-5, the British troops at Sevastopol suffered from the harsh conditions and military setbacks such as the Charge of the Light Brigade. An angry mood swept the country and in January 1855, Aberdeen's government was forced to set up a Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into the conduct of the war after losing a Commons vote on the matter. After the vote, the government resigned. Queen Victoria did not want to ask Lord Palmerston to form a government and so asked Lord Derby to accept the premiership. Derby offered Lord Palmerston the office of Secretary of State for War which he accepted under the condition that Clarendon remained as Foreign Secretary. Clarendon refused and so Lord Palmerston refused Derby's offer and Derby subsequently gave up trying to form a government. The Queen sent for Lansdowne but he was too old to accept so she asked Russell, but none of his former colleagues except Lord Palmerston wanted to serve under him. Having exhausted the possible alternatives, the Queen invited Lord Palmerston to Buckingham Palace on February 4, 1855, to form a government.

Prime Minister

In March 1855, the old Tsar, Nicholas I, died and was succeeded by his son, Alexander II, who wished to make peace. However, Lord Palmerston found the peace terms too soft on Russia and so persuaded Napoleon III of France to break off the peace negotiations. Lord Palmerston was confident that Sevastopol could be captured and so put Britain in a stronger negotiating position. In September, Sevastopol surrendered when the French captured the Malakov whilst the British were driven back from the Redan after many casualties. On February 27, 1856, an armistice was signed and after a month's negotiations an agreement was signed at the Congress of Paris. Lord Palmerston's demand for a demilitarized Black Sea was secured, although his wish for the Crimea to be returned to the Ottomans was not. The peace treaty was signed on March 30, 1856. In April 1856, Lord Palmerston was awarded the Order of the Garter by Victoria.

Arrow controversy and the Second Opium War

In October 1856 the Chinese seized the pirate ship Arrow. It had been registered as a British ship two years previously but was owned by a notorious Chinese pirate. The titular captain was British, and the crew was Chinese. It was intercepted in Chinese territorial waters by Chinese coastguards and the Union Flag was pulled down. The Chinese crew was arrested and the British captain was released. The British Consul at Canton, Harry Parkes, protested against this insult to the flag and demanded an apology. The Chinese Commissioner Ye Mingchen refused and it was discovered that the Arrow's registration as a British vessel expired three weeks before it was seized and therefore had no right to fly the flag or to be exempt from interception under international law. However, in disregard of international conventions, Parkes refused to back down in order to save face and protested that the Chinese did not know it was not a British ship at the time they accosted it. Parkes sent the Royal Navy to bombard Ye's palace and it was duly destroyed, along with a large part of the city and a large loss of life.

When news of this reached the UK Cabinet, many Ministers thought that Parkes' action had been both legally and morally wrong, and the Attorney-General had no doubt that Parkes had acted in breach of international law. Lord Palmerston, however, backed Parkes. The government's policy was subsequently strongly attacked in the Commons on high moral grounds by Cobden and Gladstone during a censure debate. On the fourth night of the debate (March 3, 1857), Lord Palmerston attacked Cobden and his speech as being pervaded by "an anti-English feeling, an abnegation of all those ties which bind men to their country and to their fellow-countrymen, which I should hardly have expected from the lips of any member of this House. Everything that was English was wrong, and everything that was hostile to England was right."[8] Lord Palmerston went on to claim that if the motion of censure was carried it would signal that the House had voted to "abandon a large community of British subjects at the extreme end of the globe to a set of barbarians—a set of kidnapping, murdering, poisoning barbarians."[8] The censure motion was carried by a majority of sixteen and Lord Palmerston requested to the Queen that Parliament be dissolved for a general election, which it duly was. On the international front, the Sino-British crisis escalated subsequently and culminated in the Second Opium War.

Lord Palmerston's stance was very popular in the country and his party achieved the biggest parliamentary majority since 1835. Cobden and Bright lost their seats and Lord Shaftesbury wrote of the election:

[Palmerston]'s popularity is wonderful—strange to say, the whole turns on his name. There seems to be no measure, no principle, no cry, to influence men's minds and determine elections; it is simply, "Were you, or were you not? are you, or are you not, for Palmerston?"[9]

Resignation and return

After the election, Lord Palmerston passed the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 which for the first time made it possible for courts to grant a divorce and removed divorce from the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts. The opponents in Parliament, which included Gladstone, were the first in British history to try and kill a bill by talking it out. Nonetheless, Palmerston was determined to get the bill through, which he did.

In June, news came to Britain of the Indian Mutiny and the attacks on British people there. Lord Palmerston sent Sir Colin Campbell and reinforcements to India. Lord Palmerston also agreed to transfer the authority of the British East India Company to the Crown. This was enacted in the Government of India Act 1858. Palmerston resisted demands for retribution and initiated a policy of leniency in India, where the Viceroy, Charles Canning was given the nickname Clemency Canning.

After an Italian republican named Felice Orsini tried to assassinate the French emperor with a bomb made in Britain, the French were outraged. Lord Palmerston introduced a Conspiracy to Murder Bill which made it a felony to plot in Britain to murder someone abroad. At first reading, the Conservatives voted for it but at second reading they voted against it. Lord Palmerston lost by nineteen votes. Therefore, in February 1858, he was forced to resign. However, the Conservatives lacked a majority and Russell introduced a resolution in March 1859 arguing for widening the franchise, which the Conservatives opposed but which was carried. Parliament was dissolved and a general election ensued. Lord Palmerston rejected an offer from Benjamin Disraeli to become Conservative leader, but he attended the meeting of June 6, 1859, in Willis's Rooms at St James Street where the Liberal Party was formed. The queen asked Lord Granville to form a government but although Palmerston agreed, Russell did not. Therefore, on June 12, the Queen asked Lord Palmerston to become Prime Minister. Russell and Gladstone agreed to serve under him.

American Civil War

Lord Palmerston's sympathies in the American Civil War (1861-5) were with the secessionist Southern Confederacy of pro-slavery states. Although a professed opponent of the slave trade and slavery, he also had a deep life-long hostility towards the United States and believed that a dissolution of the Union would weaken the United States (and therefore enhance British power) and that a southern Confederacy "would afford a valuable and extensive market for British manufactures."[10]

At the beginning of the Civil War, Britain had issued a proclamation of neutrality on May 31, 1861. Lord Palmerston decided to recognize the Confederacy as a belligerent and to receive their unofficial representatives (although he decided against recognizing the South as a sovereign state because he thought this would be premature). The United States Secretary of State, William Seward, threatened to treat any country which recognized the Southern separatists as a belligerent, as an enemy of the Union and the North. Lord Palmerston ordered that reinforcements be sent to Canada because he was convinced that the North would make peace with the South and then invade Canada. When news reached him of the Confederate victory at Bull Run in July 1861, he was very pleased, although 15 months later he wrote that "the American [Civil] War…has manifestly ceased to have any attainable object as far as the Northerns are concerned, except to get rid of some more thousand troublesome Irish and Germans. It must be owned, however, that the Anglo-Saxon race on both sides have shown courage and endurance highly honorable to their stock."[11] When news came of the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Antietam a week later, this made Palmerston reject Napoleon III of France's offer to recognize the Confederacy.[11] Palmerston continued to reject subsequent attempts by Confederate supporters to persuade him to recognize the South as he thought the military situation did not warrant it. The tide eventually turned in the United States' favor when the Confederacy was defeated in 1865.

After the seizure of the British ship Trent by a United States Navy vessel under Captain Charles Wilkes in November 1861, to prevent two Southern separatist diplomats making their way to Europe to campaign for support for the Confederacy against the United States, Lord Palmerston ordered the Secretary of State for War to send an extra 3,000 troops to Canada and demanded the release of the two diplomats. Lord Palmerston called Wilke's actions "a declared and gross insult" and in a letter to Queen Victoria on December 5, 1861, he said, "Great Britain is in a better state than at any former time to inflict a severe blow upon and to read a lesson to the United States which will not soon be forgotten."[12] In another letter to his Foreign Secretary the next day, he expected there was going to be war between Britain and the North:

It is difficult not to come to the conclusion that the rabid hatred of England which animates the exiled Irishmen who direct almost all the Northern newspapers, will so excite the masses as to make it impossible for Lincoln and Seward to grant our demands; and we must therefore look forward to war as the probable result.[12]

However, the United States of America's government decided to hand back the prisoners. Lord Palmerston was convinced that the reinforcements he had sent to Canada had persuaded the North to acquiesce.

Lord Palmerston received a law officer's report he had commissioned on July 26, 1862, which advised him to detain the CSS Alabama because it was being built for the South in the port of Birkenhead and it was therefore a breach of Britain's neutrality. Further, the cotton famine in industrial regions of the North was beginning to bite, just at the time when British popular opinion was starting to harden against the Confederates. The ship had left the port after the order had been sent on the July 31, but departed too soon for it to be detained, and it went on to damage Northern shipping. The United States government accused the British government of complicity in the construction of the ship and, in the so-called Alabama claims, demanded damages from Britain. Lord Palmerston refused to pay damages or to refer the dispute to arbitration. It was not until after his death that his successor (Gladstone) agreed to these demands and paid the United States $15,500,000 in gold as damages.

Electoral victory and death

Lord Palmerston won another general election in July 1865, increasing his majority. He then had to deal with the outbreak of Fenian violence in Ireland. Lord Palmerston ordered the Viceroy of Ireland, Lord Wodehouse, to take drastic measures, including a possible suspension of trial-by-jury and a monitoring of Americans traveling to Ireland. He believed that the Fenian agitation was caused by America. On September 27, 1865, he wrote to the Secretary for War:

The American assault on Ireland under the name of Fenianism may be now held to have failed, but the snake is only scotched and not killed. It is far from impossible that the American conspirators may try and obtain in our North American provinces compensation for their defeat in Ireland.[13]

He advised that more armaments be sent to Canada and more troops sent to Ireland. During these last few weeks of his life, Lord Palmerston pondered on developments in foreign affairs. He began thinking of a new friendship with France as "a sort of preliminary defensive alliance" against America and looked forward to Prussia becoming more powerful as this would balance against the growing threat from Russia. In a letter to Russell he warned him that Russia "will in due time become a power almost as great as the old Roman Empire … Germany ought to be strong in order to resist Russian aggression."[14]

In early October Lord Palmerston caught a chill and a violent fever. His last words were, "That's Article 98; now go on to the next." (He was thinking about diplomatic treaties.)[15] Another apocryphal version of his last words is: "Die, my dear doctor. That is the last thing I shall do." He died at 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday, October 18, 1865 two days before his eighty-first birthday. Although Lord Palmerston wanted to be buried at Romsey Abbey, the Cabinet insisted that he should have a state funeral and be buried at Westminster Abbey, which he was, on October 27, 1865. He was the third person not royalty to be granted a state funeral.

Personality and personal life

Lord Palmerston was an Irish peer who always sat in the British House of Commons. He was regarded as a nationalist and as a social conservative.

He was considered by some of his contemporaries to be a womanizer; The Times named him Lord Cupid, and he was cited, at the age of 79, as co-respondent in an 1863 divorce case. In 1839, following the death of her husband, he married his mistress of many years, Emily, Lady Cowper (née Lamb), a noted Whig hostess and sister of Lord Melbourne. They had no legitimate children, although at least one of Lord Cowper's putative children, Lady Emily Cowper, later Countess of Shaftesbury, was widely believed to have been Palmerston's. Palmerston left his family seat Broadlands to her fourth, but 2nd surviving son Rt. Hon. Evelyn Melbourne Ashley (July 24, 1836–November 15, 1907).

He was also an abolitionist where it suited his foreign policy; when not, he was a firm supporter of the pro-slavery South in the American Civil War in opposition to the anti-slavery societies.

Lord Palmerston is remembered for his light-hearted approach to government. He is once said to have claimed of a particularly intractable problem relating to Schleswig-Holstein, that only three people had ever understood the problem: one was Prince Albert, who was dead; the second was a German professor, who had gone insane; and the third was himself, who had forgotten it.

In actuality, Palmerston's attitude during the Second Schleswig War in 1864, considerably helped the German decisive victory in that war, by letting the Danes get the wrong impression that Britain would fight on their side and thus emboldening them to embark on a war they had no chance of winning alone. In that way, Palmerston unwittingly facilitated the meteoric rise of Otto von Bismarck and the Unification of Germany to become a dominant European power—with dire consequences which Palmerston's successors had to grapple with for many decades later.

Florence Nightingale said of him after his death, "Tho' he made a joke when asked to do the right thing, he always did it… He was so much more in earnest than he appeared, he did not do himself justice."[16] Palmerston favored religious toleration at home and overseas although he supported the Church of England's status as the established church, appointing several notable evangelicals to office.[17]


Palmerston make an important contribution to the development of the idea that morality should be central to a powerful nation's formulation and practice of international relations. Palmerston was Prime Minister during Britain's most powerful period when it possessed an empire that stretched around the world. There is no doubt that British imperialism was often exploitative and that Britain did not always rule or act in the best interests of the colonized. On the other hand, while paternalistic and often racist in practice, the idea that it was Britain's duty to defend justice meant that considerations other than pure self-interest impacted policy and action. While the rebellion in India was crushed, Palmerston and Charles Canning both knew that India would be impossible to govern unless they were acted lenient and were seen to be just in how they dealt with the rebels. The Government of India Act 1858 required each Presidency to report annually to London on moral and material progress, which was thus an important goal of the colonial government.[18] Responding to criticism that England's industrialists dictated imperial policy, Palmerston declared in 1863 that, "India was governed for India … not for the Manchester people."[19]

In an international order dominated by imperialist policies and practices that almost always saw powers acting out of self-interest, even the recognition that policy should aim to improve the quality of others' lives without also meeting domestic needs was a step towards building a better world. It would not be until the middle of the next century that freedom would be granted to many British colonies but Palmerston's insistence on justice and on "doing right" may, in the end, have contributed to Britain's willingness to part peacefully with many of her former possessions. Palmerston believed in constitutional governance and in the free exchange of ideas[20] and although his Britain was not a full-blown democracy, it was already moving in that direction. The more democratic Britain became, with fundamental rights and freedoms protected by law, the more difficult it became to deny the same privileges to the colonized.

Cultural references

  • Flashman in the Great Game—Early in this historical novel, Lord Palmerston sends Harry Paget Flashman on a mission to India. It happens that the Indian rebellion of 1857 is about to break out.
  • "Homer at the Bat"—in this episode of The Simpsons, Barney Gumble and Wade Boggs come to blows over who the UK's greatest prime Minister was (Barney supported Lord Palmerston, while Boggs favored Pitt the Elder).

Places named

  • Two distant places in New Zealand are named after him: the town of Palmerston, in the South Island, and the city of Palmerston North, in the North.
  • The Australian city of Darwin was previously named Palmerston in honor of the Viscount. However a satellite city called Palmerston was established adjacent to Darwin in 1971.
  • Palmerston Atoll is the most northerly of the Southern Group of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Amongst the 15 or so islands of the atoll, Palmerston Island is the only one which is inhabited.
  • In the Dartry area of Dublin 6 in the southern suburbs, villas are named after Lord Palmerston, as well as Temple Road and Palmerston Road. Both are quasi-translated variously as Bóthar an Stiguaire, Bóthar P(h)almerston, Bóthar Baile an Phámar and Bóthar an Teampaill.
  • Queen of the South, a Scottish football team, play at Palmerston Park in Dumfries.
  • The Town of Palmerston located in Southwestern Ontario, Canada was founded and named after Lord Palmerston in 1875. Palmerston is now part of the amalgamated town of Minto.

Lord Palmerston's First Cabinet, February 1855-February 1858

  • Lord Palmerston—First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons
  • Lord Cranworth—Lord Chancellor
  • Lord Granville—Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords
  • The Duke of Argyll—Lord Privy Seal
  • Sir George Grey—Secretary of State for the Home Department
  • Lord Clarendon—Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
  • Sidney Herbert—Secretary of State for the Colonies
  • Lord Panmure—Secretary of State for War
  • Sir James Graham—First Lord of the Admiralty
  • William Ewart Gladstone—Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Sir Charles Wood—President of the Board of Control
  • Lord Stanley of Alderley—President of the Board of Trade
  • Lord Harrowby—Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
  • Sir William Molesworth, 8th Baronet—First Commissioner of Works
  • Lord Canning—Postmaster-General
  • Lord Lansdowne—Minister without Portfolio


  • Later in February 1855—Sir George Cornewall Lewis succeeds Gladstone as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lord John Russell succeeds Herbert as Colonial Secretary. Sir Charles Wood succeeds Sir James Graham as First Lord of the Admiralty. R.V. Smith succeeds Wood as President of the Board of Control
  • July 1855—Sir William Molesworth succeeds Russell as Colonial Secretary. Molesworth's successor as First Commissioner of Public Works is not in the Cabinet.
  • November 1855—Henry Labouchere succeeds Molesworth as Colonial Secretary
  • December 1855—The Duke of Argyll succeeds Lord Canning as Postmaster-General. Lord Harrowby succeeds Argyll as Lord Privy Seal. Harrowby's successor as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is not in the Cabinet
  • 1857—M.T. Baines, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, enters the Cabinet.
  • February 1858—Lord Clanricarde succeeds Harrowby as Lord Privy Seal.

Lord Palmerston's Second Cabinet, June 1859-October 1865

Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston.
  • Lord Palmerston—First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons
  • Lord Campbell—Lord Chancellor
  • Lord Granville—Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords
  • The Duke of Argyll—Lord Privy Seal
  • Sir George Cornewall Lewis—Secretary of State for the Home Department
  • Lord John Russell—Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
  • The Duke of Newcastle—Secretary of State for the Colonies
  • Sidney Herbert—Secretary of State for War
  • Sir Charles Wood—Secretary of State for India
  • The Duke of Somerset—First Lord of the Admiralty
  • William Ewart Gladstone—Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Edward Cardwell—Chief Secretary for Ireland
  • Thomas Milner Gibson—President of the Board of Trade and of the Poor Law Board
  • Sir George Grey—Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
  • Lord Elgin—Postmaster-General


  • July 1859—Charles Pelham Villiers succeeds Milner-Gibson as President of the Poor Law Board (Milner-Gibson remains at the Board of Trade)
  • May 1860—Lord Stanley of Alderley succeeds Lord Elgin as Postmaster-General
  • June 1861—Lord Westbury succeeds Lord Campbell as Lord Chancellor
  • July 1861—Sir George Cornewall Lewis succeeds Herbert as Secretary for War. Sir George Grey succeeds Lewis as Home Secretary. Edward Cardwell succeeds Grey as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Cardwell's successor as Chief Secretary for Ireland is not in the Cabinet.
  • April 1863—Lord de Grey becomes Secretary for War following Sir George Lewis's death.
  • April 1864—Edward Cardwell succeeds the Duke of Newcastle as Colonial Secretary. Lord Clarendon succeeds Cardwell as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
  • July 1865—Lord Cranworth succeeds Lord Westbury as Lord Chancellor
Lord Palmerston addressing the House of Commons

Political offices
Preceded by:
Lord Granville Leveson-Gower
Secretary at War
1809 – 1828
Succeeded by: Sir Henry Hardinge
Preceded by:
The Earl of Aberdeen
Foreign Secretary
1830 – 1834
Succeeded by: The Duke of Wellington
Preceded by:
The Duke of Wellington
Foreign Secretary
1835 – 1841
Succeeded by: The Earl of Aberdeen
Preceded by:
The Earl of Aberdeen
Foreign Secretary
1846 – 1851
Succeeded by: The Earl Granville
Preceded by:
Spencer Walpole
Home Secretary
1852 – 1855
Succeeded by: Sir George Grey
Preceded by:
The Earl of Aberdeen
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
6 February 1855 – 19 February 1858
Succeeded by: The Earl of Derby
Preceded by:
Lord John Russell
Leader of the House of Commons
1855 – 1858
Succeeded by: Benjamin Disraeli
Preceded by:
The Earl of Derby
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
12 June 1859 – 18 October 1865
Succeeded by: The Earl Russell
Preceded by:
Benjamin Disraeli
Leader of the House of Commons
1859 – 1865
Succeeded by: William Ewart Gladstone
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by:
Isaac Corry
John Doyle
Member of Parliament for Newport, Isle of Wight
with Sir Arthur Wellesley 1807–1809
Sir Leonard Worsley-Holmes 1809–1811

1807 – 1811
Succeeded by: Sir Leonard Worsley-Holmes
Cecil Bisshopp
Preceded by:
Earl of Euston
Sir Vicary Gibbs
Member of Parliament for Cambridge University
with Sir Vicary Gibbs 1811–1812
John Henry Smyth 1812–1822
William John Bankes 1822–1826
Sir John Singleton Copley 1826–1827
Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal 1827–1829
William Cavendish 1829–1831

1811 – 1831
Succeeded by: Henry Goulburn
William Yates Peel
Preceded by:
Charles Tennyson
John Ponsonby
Member of Parliament for Bletchingley
with Thomas Hyde Villiers

1831 – 1832
Constituency abolished
New Title Member of Parliament for Hampshire South
with Sir George Thomas Staunton

1832 – 1835
Succeeded by: John Willis Fleming
Henry Combe Compton
Preceded by:
John Heathcoat
James Kennedy
Member of Parliament for Tiverton
with John Heathcoat 1835–1859
George Denman 1859–1865

1835 – 1865
Succeeded by: Sir John Walrond
George Denman
Party Political Offices
New Title Leader of the British Liberal Party
1859 – 1865
Succeeded by: The Earl Russell
Liberal Leader in the Commons
1859 – 1865
Succeeded by: William Ewart Gladstone
Academic offices
Preceded by:
The Earl of Elgin
Rector of the University of Glasgow
1862 – 1865
Succeeded by: Lord Glencorse
Honorary Titles
Preceded by:
The Marquess of Dalhousie
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
1861 – 1865
Succeeded by: The Earl Granville
Peerage of Ireland

Preceded by:
Henry Temple
Viscount Palmerston
1802 – 1865


  1. The Encyclopaedia Britannica; a Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information (New York, NY: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910), 646.
  2. Britannica (1910), 647.
  3. Great Britain and T. C. Hansard, Hansard's Parliamentary Debates (London, UK: Hansard, 1829), 122.
  4. Paul Scherer, Lord John Russell: A Biography (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 1999, ISBN 9781575910215), 204.
  5. Ridley (1970), 414.
  6. Ridley (1970), 415-6.
  7. Ridley (1970), 419.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Ridley (1970), 467.
  9. Ridley (1970), 470.
  10. Ridley (1970), 552.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Ridley (1970), 559.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Ridley (1970), 554.
  13. Ridley (1970), 581.
  14. Ridley (1970), 582.
  15. Ridley (1970), 583.
  16. No. 10, Viscount Palmerston, The Official Site of the Prime Minister's Office.
  17. John Wolffe, Lord Palmerston and Religion: A Reappraisal, The English Historical Review 120(488): 907-936.
  18. South Dakota State University, Government of India Act, 1858 (21 & 22 Vict. c. 106), Project South Asia. Retrieved December 20, 2008.
  19. William Russell Easterly, The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done so Much ill and so Little Good (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2006, ISBN 9781594200373), 279.
  20. Glenn Melancon, Britain's China Policy and the Opium Crisis: Balancing Drugs, Violence, and National Honor, 1833-1840 (Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, ISBN 9780754607045), 32.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bourne, Kenneth. 1982. Palmerston, the Early Years, 1784-1841. New York, NY: Macmillan. ISBN 9780029037409.
  • Bullen, Roger. 1974. Palmerston, Guizot and the Collapse of the Entente Cordiale. London, UK: Athlone Press. ISBN 9780485131369.
  • Chamberlain, Muriel Evelyn. 1987. Lord Palmerston. Washington, DC: Catholic Univ. of America Press. ISBN 9780813206639.
  • Krein, David F. 1978. The Last Palmerston Government: Foreign Policy, Domestic Politics, and the Genesis of "Splendid Isolation". Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press. ISBN 9780813819457.
  • Fraser, George MacDonald. 1975. Flashman in the Great Game. New York, NY: Knopf. ISBN 9780394498935.
  • Palmerston, Henry John Temple, Laurence Sulivan, Elizabeth Sulivan, and Kenneth Bourne. 1979. The Letters of the Third Viscount Palmerston to Laurence and Elizabeth Sulivan, 1804-1863. Camden fourth series, v. 23. London, UK: Royal Historical Society. ISBN 9780901050557.
  • Ridley,Jasper. 1970. Lord Palmerston. New York, NY: Dutton. ISBN 9780525148739.
  • Steele, E.D. 1991. Palmerston and Liberalism, 1855-1865. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521400459.
  • Swartzwelder, John, Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and Sam Simon. 1991. The Simpsons. Homer at the Bat. Los Angeles, CA: 20th Century Fox Television.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

External links

All links retrieved July 14, 2024.


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