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"And I say, England's greatest prime minister is Lord Palmerson"
- Barney Gumble
Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, English statesman, was born at Broadlands, near Romsey, Hants, on the 20th of October 1784. The Irish branch of the Temple family, from which Lord Palmerston descended, was very distantly related to the great English house of the same name, but these Irish Temples were not without distinction. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I they had furnished a secretary to Sir Philip Sidney and to Essex in Sir William Temple (1555-1627), afterwards provost of Trinity College, Dublin, whose son, Sir John Temple (1600-1677), was master of the rolls in Ireland. The latter's son, Sir William Temple, figured as one of the ablest diplomatists of the age. From his younger brother, Sir John Temple (1632-1704), who was speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Lord Palmerston descended. The eldest son of the speaker, Henry, 1st Viscount Palmerston (c.1673-1757), was created a peer of Ireland on the 12th of March 1723, and was succeeded by his grandson, Henry the second viscount (1739-1802), who married Miss Mary Mee, a lady celebrated for her beauty.
The 2nd viscount's eldest son, Henry John, is mentioned by Lady Elliot in her correspondence as a boy of singular vivacity and energy. These qualities adhered to him through life, and he had scarcely left Harrow, at the age of eighteen, when the death of his father (April 17, 1802) raised him to the Irish peerage. It was no doubt owing to his birth and connections, but still more to his own talents and character, that Lord Palmerston was thrown at a very early age into the full stream of political and official life. Before he was twenty-four he had stood two contested elections for the university of Cambridge, at which he was defeated, and he entered parliament for a pocket-borough, Newtown, Isle of Wight, in June 1807. Through the interest of his guardians Lord Malmesbury and Lord Chichester, the Duke of Portland made him one of the junior lords of the Admiralty on the formation of his administration in 1807. A few months later he delivered his maiden speech in the House of Commons in defense of the expedition against Copenhagen, which he conceived to be justified by the known designs of Napoleon on the Danish court. This speech was so successful that when Perceval formed his government in 1809, he proposed to this young man of twenty-five to take the chancellorship of the exchequer. Lord Palmerston, however, preferred the less important office of secretary-at-war, charged exclusively with the financial business of the army, without a seat in the cabinet, and in this position he remained, without any signs of an ambitious temperament or of great political abilities, for twenty years (1809-28). During the whole of that period Lord Palmerston was chiefly known as a man of fashion, and a subordinate minister without influence on the general policy of the cabinets he served. Some of the most humorous poetical pieces in the New Whig Guide were from his pen, and he was entirely devoted, like his friends Robert Peel and Croker, to the Tory party of that day. Lord Palmerston never was a Whig, still less a Radical; he was a statesman of the old English aristocratic type, liberal in his sentiments, favorable to the march of progress, but entirely opposed to the claims of democratic government.
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In the later years of Lord Liverpool's administration, after the death of Lord Londonderry in 1822, strong dissensions existed in the cabinet. The Liberal section of the government was gaining ground. George Canning became foreign minister and leader of the House of Commons. Huskisson began to advocate and apply the doctrines of free trade. Roman Catholic emancipation was made 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 the head of affairs; the Tories, including Peel, withdrew their support, and an alliance was formed between the Liberal members of the late ministry and the Whigs. In this combination the chancellorship of the exchequer was first offered to Lord Palmerston, who accepted it, but this appointment was frustrated by the king's intrigue with Herries, and Palmerston was content to remain secretary-at-war with a seat in the cabinet, which he now entered for the first time. The Canning administration ended in four months by the death of its illustrious chief, and was succeeded by the feeble ministry of Lord Goderich, which barely survived the year. But the "Canningites", as they were termed, remained, and the Duke of Wellington hastened to include Palmerston, Huskisson, Charles Grant, Lamb (Lord Melbourne) and Dudley in his government. A dispute between the duke and Huskisson soon led to the resignation of that minister, and his friends felt bound to share his fate. In the spring of 1828 Palmerston found himself in opposition. From that moment he appears to have directed his attention closely to foreign affairs; indeed he had already urged on the Duke of Wellington a more active interference in the affairs of Greece; he had made several visits to Paris, where he foresaw with great accuracy the impending revolution; and on the 1st of June 1829 he made his first great speech on foreign affairs. Lord Palmerston was no orator; his language was 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 Palmerston to re-enter the cabinet, which he refused to do without Lord Lansdowne and Lord Grey, and from that time forward he may be said to have associated his political fortunes with those of the Whig party. It was therefore natural that Lord Grey should place the department of foreign affairs in his hands upon the formation of the great ministry of 1830, and Palmerston entered with zeal on the duties of an office over which he continued to exert his powerful influence, both in and out of office, for twenty years.
The revolution of July 1830 had just given a strong shock to the existing settlement of Europe. The kingdom of the Netherlands was rent asunder by the Belgian revolution; Portugal was the scene of civil war; the Spanish succession was about to open and place an infant princess on the throne. Poland was in arms against Russia, and the northern powers formed a closer alliance, threatening to the peace and the liberties of Europe. In presence of these varied dangers, Lord Palmerston was prepared to act with spirit and resolution, and the result was a notable achievement of his diplomacy. The king of the Netherlands had appealed to the powers who had placed him on the throne to maintain his rights; and a conference assembled accordingly in London to settle the question, which involved the independence of Belgium and the security of England. On the one hand, the northern powers were anxious to defend the king of Holland; on the other hand a party in France aspired to annex the Belgian provinces. The policy of the British government was a close alliance with France, but an alliance based on the principle that no interests were to be promoted at variance with the just rights of others, or which could give to any other nation well-founded cause of jealousy. If the northern powers supported the king of Holland by force, they would encounter the resistance of France and England united in arms, if France sought to annex Belgium she would forfeit the alliance of England, and find herself opposed by the whole continent of Europe. In the end the policy of England prevailed; numerous difficulties, both great and small, were overcome by the conference, although on the verge of war, peace was maintained; and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was placed upon the throne of Belgium as that nation's first king, Leopold I.
In 1833 and 1834 the youthful queens Donna Maria of Portugal and Isabella of Spain were the representatives and the hope of the constitutional party in those countries -- assailed and hard pressed by their absolutist kinsmen Don Miguel and Don Carlos, who were the representatives of the male line 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 the 22nd of April 1834; and, although the struggle was somewhat prolonged in Spain, it accomplished its object. France, however, had been a reluctant party to this treaty. She never executed her share in it with zeal or fidelity. Louis-Philippe was accused of secretly favoring the Carlists, and he positively refused to be a party to direct interference in Spain. It is probable that the hesitation of the French court on this question was one of the causes of the extreme personal hostility Lord Palmerston never ceased to show towards the king of the French down to the end of his life, if indeed that sentiment had not taken its origin at a much earlier period. Nevertheless, at this same time (June 1834) Lord Palmerston wrote that "Paris is the pivot of my foreign policy." Adolphe Thiers was at that time in office. Unfortunately these differences, growing out of the opposite policies of the two countries at the court of Madrid, increased in each succeeding year; and a constant but sterile rivalry was kept up, which ended in results more or less humiliating and injurious to both nations.
The affairs of the East interested Lord Palmerston in the highest degree. During the Greek War of Independence he had strenuously supported the claims of the Hellenes against the Turks and the execution of the Treaty of London. But 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 Sir Henry 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." The two great aims he had in view were to prevent the establishment of Russia on the Bosporus and of France on the Nile, and he regarded the maintenance of the authority of the Porte as the chief barrier against both these aggressions. Against Russia he had long maintained a suspicious and hostile attitude. He was a party to the publication of the "Portfolio" in 1834, and to the mission of the "Vixen" to force the blockade of Circassia about the same time. He regarded the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi which Russia extorted from the Porte in 1832, when she came to the relief of the sultan after the battle of Konieh, with great jealousy; and, when the power of Mehemet Au in Egypt appeared to threaten the existence of the Ottoman dynasty, he succeeded in effecting a combination of all the powers, who signed the celebrated collective note of the 27th of July 1839, pledging them to maintain the independence and integrity of the Turkish Empire as a security for the peace of Europe. On two former occasions, in 1833 and in 1835, the policy of Lord Palmerston, who proposed to afford material aid to the Porte against the pasha of Egypt, was overruled by the cabinet; and again, in 1839, when Baron Brunnow first proposed the active interference of Russia and England, the offer was rejected. But in 1840 Lord Palmerston returned to the charge and prevailed. The moment was critical, for Mehemet Ali had occupied Syria and won the battle of Nezib against the Turkish forces, and on the 1st of July 1839 the sultan Mohammed expired. The Egyptian forces occupied Syria, and threatened Turkey; and Lord Ponsonby, then British ambassador at Constantinople, vehemently urged the necessity of crushing so formidable a rebellion against the Ottoman power. But France, though her ambassador had signed the collective note in the previous year, declined to be a party to measures of coercion against the pasha of Egypt. Palmerston, irritated at her Egyptian policy, flung himself into the arms of the northern powers, and the treaty of the 15th of July 1840 was signed in London without the knowledge or concurrence of France. This measure was not taken without great hesitation, and strong opposition on the part of several members of the British cabinet. Lord Palmerston himself declared in a letter to Lord Melbourne that he should quit the ministry if his policy was not adopted; and he carried his point. The bombardment of Beirut, the fall of Acre, and the total collapse of the boasted power of Mehemet Ali followed in rapid succession, and before the close of the year Lord Palmerston's policy, which had convulsed and terrified Europe, was triumphant, and the author of it was regarded as one of the most powerful statesmen of the age. At the same time, though acting with Russia in the Levant, the British government engaged in the affairs of Afghanistan to defeat her intrigues in Central Asia, and a contest with China was terminated by the conquest of Chusan, afterwards exchanged for the island of Hong Kong.
Within a few months Lord 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 England, 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. Lord Aberdeen and M. 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 Ashburton treaty with the United States, which closed successfully some other queations he had long kept open. In all these transactions, whilst full justice must be done to the force and patriotic vigor which Lord Palmerston brought to bear on the questions he took in hand, it was but too apparent that he imported into them an amount of passion, of personal animosity, and imperious language which rendered him in the eyes of the queen and of his colleagues a dangerous minister. On this ground, 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 Palmerston to the foreign office (July 1846), with a strong assurance that Lord John Russell should exercise a strict control over his proceedings. A few days sufficed to show how vain was this expectation. The French government regarded the appointment of Palmerston as a certain sign of renewed hostilities, and they availed themselves of a despatch in which Palmerston 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 M. 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 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.
The revolution of 1848 spread like a conflagration through Europe, and shook every throne on the Continent except those of Russia, Spain, and Belgium. Palmerston sympathized, or was supposed to sympathize, openly with the revolutionary party abroad. No state was regarded by him with more aversion than Austria. Yet his opposition to Austria was chiefly based upon her occupation of great part of Italy and her Italian policy, for 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; and, 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 England, based on a large cession of Italian territory; Lord Palmerston rejected the terms he might have obtained for Piedmont. Ere long the reaction came; this straw-fire of revolution burnt itself out in a couple of years. 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; and, in spite of what 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 Palmerston as its representative, was regarded with suspicion and resentment by every power in Europe, except the French republic; and even that was shortly afterwards to be alienated by Palmerston's attack on Greece.
This state of things was regarded with the utmost annoyance by the British court and by most of the British ministers. Palmerston had on many occasions 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 position in which he had placed them with all the other courts of Europe. When Kossuth, the Hungarian leader, landed in England, Palmerston proposed to receive him at Broadlands, a design which was only prevented by a peremptory vote of the cabinet; and in 1850 he took advantage of Don Pacifico's very questionable claims on the Hellenic government to organize an attack on the little 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, and the French ambassador temporarily left London, which promptly led to the termination of the affair. But it was taken up in parliament with great warmth. After a memorable debate (June 17), 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 Palmerston the most eloquent and powerful speech ever delivered by him, in which 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, that Palmerston made the well-known declaration that a British subject -- "Civis Romanus sum" -- ought everywhere to be protected by the strong arm of the British government against injustice and wrong. 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; and 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 Palmerston, who did not resign upon it. These various circumstances, and many more, had given rise to distrust and uneasiness in the cabinet, and these feelings reached their climax when Palmerston, on the occurrence of the coup d'état by which Louis Napoleon 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 (December 1851). Palmerston speedily avenged himself by turning out the government on a militia bill; but although he survived for many years, and twice filled the highest office in the state, his career as foreign minister ended for ever, and he returned to the foreign office no more. Indeed, he assured Lord Aberdeen, in 1853, that he did not wish to resume the seals of that department. Notwithstanding the zeal and ability which he had invariably displayed as foreign minister, it had long been felt by his colleagues that his eager and frequent interference in the affairs of foreign countries, his imperious temper, the extreme acerbity of his language abroad, of which there are ample proofs in his published correspondence, and the evasions and artifices he employed to carry his points at home, rendered him a dangerous representative of the foreign interests of the country. But the lesson of his dismissal was not altogether lost on him. Although his great reputation was chiefly earned as a foreign minister, it may be said that the last ten years of his life, in which he filled other offices, were not the least useful or dignified portion of his career.
Upon the formation of the cabinet of 1853, which was composed by the junction of the surviving followers of Sir Robert Peel with the Whigs, under the Earl of Aberdeen, Lord Palmerston accepted with the best possible grace the office of secretary of state for the home office, nor was he ever chargeable with the slightest attempt to undermine that Government. At one moment he withdrew from it, because Lord John Russell persisted in presenting a project of reform which appeared to him entirely out of season; and he advocated, with reason, measures of greater energy on the approach of war, which might possibly, if they had been adopted, have averted the contest with Russia. As the difficulties of the Crimean campaign increased, it was not Lord Palmerston but Lord John Russell who broke up the government by refusing to meet Roebuck's motion of inquiry. Palmerston remained faithful and loyal to his colleagues in the hour of danger. Upon the resignation of Lord Aberdeen and the Duke of Newcastle, the general sentiment of the House of Commons and the country called Palmerston to the head of affairs, and he entered, on the 5th of February 1855, upon the high office, which he retained, with one short interval, to the day of his death. Palmerston was in the seventy-first year of his life when he became prime minister of England.
A series of fortunate events followed his accession to power. In March 1855 the death of the emperor Nicholas removed his chief antagonist. In September Sebastopol was taken. The administration of the British army was reformed by a consolidation of offices. In the following spring peace was signed in Paris. Never since Pitt had a minister enjoyed a greater share of popularity and power, and, unlike Pitt, Palmerston had the prestige of victory in war. He was assailed in parliament by the eloquence of Gladstone, the sarcasms of Disraeli, and the animosity of the Manchester Radicals, hut the country was with him. Defeated by a hostile combination of parties in the House of Commons on the question of the Chinese war in 1857 and the alleged insult to the British flag in the seizure of the lorcha "Arrow", he dissolved parliament and appealed to the nation. The result was the utter defeat of the extreme Radical party and the return of a more compact Liberal majority. The great events of the succeeding years, the Indian Mutiny, and the invasion of Italy by Napoleon III, belong rather to the general history of the times than to the life of Palmerston; but it was fortunate that a strong and able government was at the head of affairs. Lord Derby's second administration of 1858 lasted but a single year, Palmerston having casually been defeated on a measure for removing conspiracies to murder abroad from the class of misdemeanour to that of felony, which was introduced in consequence of Orsini's attempt on the life of the emperor of the French. But in June 1859 Palmerston returned to power, and it was on this occasion that he proposed to Cobden, one of his most constant opponents, to take office, and on the refusal of that gentleman Milner Gibson was appointed to the board of trade, although he had been the prime mover of the defeat of the government on the Conspiracy Bill. Palmerston had learned by experience that it was wiser to conciliate an opponent than to attempt to crush him, and that the imperious tone he had sometimes adopted in the House of Commons, and his supposed obsequiousness to the emperor of the French, were the causes of the temporary reverse he had sustained. Although Palmerston approved the objects of the French invasion of Italy in so far as they went to establish Italian independence, the annexation of Savoy and Nice to France was an incident which revived his old suspicions of the good faith of the French emperor. About this time he expressed to the Duke of Somerset his conviction that Napoleon III had at the bottom of his heart a deep and unextinguishable desire to humble and punish England, and that war with France was a contingency to be provided against. The unprotected condition of the principal British fortresses and arsenals had long attracted his attention, and he succeeded in inducing the House of Commons to vote nine millions for the fortification of those important points.
In 1856 the projects for cutting a navigable canal through the Isthmus of Suez was brought forward by Ferdinand de Lesseps, and resisted by Palmerston with all the weight he could bring to bear against it. He did not foresee the advantages to be derived by British commerce from this great work, and he was strongly opposed to the establishment of a powerful French company on the soil of Egypt. The concession of land to the company was reduced by his intervention, but in other respects the work proceeded and was accomplished. It may here be mentioned, as a remarkable instance of his foresight, that Palmerston told Lord Malmesbury on his accession to the foreign office in 1858, that the chief reason of his opposition to the canal was this: he believed that, if the canal was made and proved successful, Great Britain, as the first mercantile state, and that most closely connected with the East, would be the power most interested in it; that England would therefore be drawn irresistibly into a more direct interference in Egypt, which it was desirable to avoid because England had already enough upon her hands, and because intervention might lead to a rupture with France. He therefore preferred that no such line of communication should be opened.
Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Lord Palmerston acknowledged that it was the duty of the British government to stand aloof from the fray; but his own opinion led him rather to desire than to avert the rupture of the Union, which might have been the result of a refusal on the part of England and France to recognize a blockade of the Southern ports, which was notoriously imperfect, and extremely prejudicial to the interests of Europe. The cabinet was not of this opinion, and, although the belligerent rights of the South were promptly recognized, the neutrality of the Government was strictly observed. When, however, the Southern envoys were taken by force from the "Trent", a British packet, Palmerston did not hesitate a moment to insist upon a full and complete reparation for so gross an infraction of international law. But the difficulty with the American government over the "Alabama" and other vessels, fitted out in British ports to help the Southern cause, was only settled at last by an award extremely onerous to England.
The last transaction in which Palmerston engaged arose out of the attack by the Germanic Confederation, and its leading states Austria and Prussia, on the kingdom of Denmark and the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. There was but one feeling in the British public and the nation as to the dishonest character of that unprovoked aggression, and it was foreseen that Austria would before long have reason to repent her share in it. Palmerston endeavored to induce France and Russia to concur with England in maintaining the Treaty of London, which had guaranteed the integrity of the Danish dominions. But those powers, for reasons of their own, stood aloof, and the conference held in London in 1864 was without effect. A proposal to send the British fleet into the Baltic was overruled, and the result was that Denmark was left to her own resources against her formidable opponents. In the following year, on the 18th of October 1865, Lord Palmerston expired at Brocket Hall, after a short illness, in the eighty-first year of his age. His remains were laid in Westminster Abbey.
Although there was much in the official life of Lord Palmerston which inspired distrust and alarm to men of a less ardent and contentious temperament, he had a lofty conception of the strength and the duties of England, he was the irreconcilable enemy of slavery, injustice and oppression, and he labored with inexhaustible energy for the dignity and security of the Empire. In private life his buoyancy, his high breeding, made even his political opponents forget their differences; and even the warmest altercations on public affairs were merged in his large hospitality and cordial social relations. In this respect he was aided with consummate ability by the tact and grace of Lady Palmerston, the widow of the 5th Earl Cowper, whom he married at the close of 1839. and who died in 1869. She devoted herself with enthusiasm to all her husband's interests and pursuits, and she made his house the most attractive center of society in London, if not in Europe. They had no children, and the title became extinct, the property descending to Lady Palmerston's second son by Earl Cowper, W. F. Cowper-Temple, afterwards Baron Mount Temple, and then to her grandson Evelyn Ashley (1836-1907) son of her daughter, who married the 7th earl of Shaftesbury, who was Lord Palmerston's private secretary from 1858 to 1865.
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