Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, (20 October 1784 β 18 October 1865) was a British people statesman who served twice as Prime Minister in the mid-19th century. Palmerston dominated British foreign policy during the period 1830 to 1865, when Britain was at the height of her imperial power. He held office almost continuously from 1807 until his death in 1865. He began his parliamentary career as a Tory, defected to the Whigs in 1830, and became the first Prime Minister of the newly formed Liberal Party in 1859.
Palmerston succeeded to his father's Irish peerage in 1802. He became a Tory MP in 1807 (his Irish peerage did not bar him from a seat in the House of Commons, because it did not entitle him to a seat in the House of Lords). From 1809 to 1828 he served as Secretary at War, in which post he was responsible for the organisation of the finances of the army. He first attained Cabinet rank in 1827, when George Canning became Prime Minister, but, like other Canningites, he resigned from office one year subsequently.
He served as Foreign Secretary from 1830β4, from 1835β41, and from 1846β51. In this office, Palmerston responded efficaciously to a series of conflicts in Europe. His belligerent actions as Foreign Secretary, some of which were highly controversial, have been considered to be prototypes of the practice of liberal interventionism.
Palmerston became Home Secretary in Aberdeen's coalition government, in 1852, subsequent to the Peelite advocacy of the appointment of Lord John Russell to the office of Foreign Secretary. As Home Secretary, Palmerston enacted various social reforms, although he opposed electoral reform. When public antipathy over the Government's policy in the Crimean War lost the Government popular favour, in 1855, Palmerston was the only Prime Minister who was able to sustain a majority in Parliament. He had two periods in office, 1855β1858 and 1859β1865, before his death at the age of 80 years, a few months subsequent to victory in a general election in which he had achieved an increased majority. He remains, to date, the last Prime Minister to die in office.
Palmerston masterfully controlled public opinion by stimulating British nationalism, and, despite the fact that Queen Victoria and most of the political leadership distrusted him, he received and sustained the favour of the press and the populace, from whom he received the affectionate sobriquet 'Pam'. Palmerston's alleged weaknesses included mishandling of personal relations, and continual disagreements with the Queen over the royal role in determining foreign policy.Paul Hayes, Modern British Foreign Policy: The Nineteenth Century 1814β80 (1975) p 108
Historians consider Palmerston to be one of the greatest foreign secretaries, as a consequence of his handling of great crises, his commitment to the balance of power, which provided Britain with decisive agency in many conflicts, his analytic skills, and his commitment to British interests. His policies in relation to India, Italy, Belgium and Spain had extensive long-lasting beneficial consequences for Britain: although the consequences of his policies toward France, the Ottoman Empire, and the United States were more ephemeral.
He was educated at Harrow School (1795β1800). Admiral Sir Augustus Clifford, 1st Baronet, was a fagging to Palmerston, Viscount Althorp and Viscount Duncannon and later remembered Palmerston as by far the most merciful of the three.Ridley, p. 10. Palmerston was often engaged in school fights and fellow Old Harrovians remembered Palmerston as someone who stood up to bullies twice his size. Palmerston's father took him to the House of Commons in 1799, where young Palmerston shook hands with the Prime Minister, William Pitt.Ridley, p. 12.
Palmerston was then at the University of Edinburgh (1800β1803), where he learnt political economy from Dugald Stewart, a friend of the Scottish philosophers Adam Ferguson and Adam Smith.Ridley, p. 14. Palmerston later described his time at Edinburgh as producing "whatever useful knowledge and habits of mind I possess".David Steele, β Temple, Henry John, third Viscount Palmerston (1784β1865)β, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009, accessed 11 December 2010. Lord Minto wrote to Palmerston's parents that young Palmerston was well-mannered and charming. Stewart wrote to a friend, saying of Palmerston: "In point of temper and conduct he is everything his friends could wish. Indeed, I cannot say that I have ever seen a more faultless character at this time of life, or one possessed of more amiable dispositions".Ridley, p. 15.
Palmerston succeeded his father to the title of Viscount Palmerston on 17 April 1802, before he had turned 18. The young 3rd Lord Palmerston also inherited a vast country estate in the north of County Sligo in the west of Ireland. He later built Classiebawn Castle on this estate. Palmerston went to St John's College, Cambridge (1803β1806). As a nobleman, he was entitled to take his MA without examinations, but Palmerston wished to obtain his degree through examinations. This was declined, although he was allowed to take the separate College examinations, where he obtained first-class honours.Ridley, p. 18.
After war was declared on France in 1803, Palmerston joined the Volunteers mustered to oppose a French invasion, being one of the three officers in the unit for St John's College. He was also appointed Lieutenant-Colonel Commander of the Romsey Volunteers.Ridley, pp. 18β19.
Due 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.Ridley, p. 27. Palmerston stood again for the Cambridge seat in May but he lost by three votes after he advised his supporters to vote for the other Tory candidate in the two-member constituency so as to ensure a Tory was elected.Ridley, pp. 27β28.
Palmerston entered Parliament as Tory MP for the pocket borough of Newport on the Isle of Wight in June 1807.Although peers of England, Scotland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom sat in the House of Lords and were not able to sit as Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, the Viscountcy of Palmerston was in the Peerage of Ireland which did not automatically grant the right to sit in the Lords. Palmerston was thus able to serve as an MP.
On 3 February 1808 Palmerston spoke in support of confidentiality in the working of diplomacy and the bombardment of Copenhagen and the capture and destruction of the Danish navy by the Royal Navy in the Battle of Copenhagen.David Brown, Palmerston: a biography (2011) p 57. Denmark was neutral but Napoleon had recently agreed with the Russians in the Treaty of Tilsit to build a naval alliance against Britain, including using the Danish navy for invading Britain.Ridley, pp. 29β30. Pre-empting this, the British offered Denmark the choice of temporarily handing over her navy until the war's end or the destruction of their navy. The Danes refused to comply and so Copenhagen was bombarded. Palmerston justified the attack by peroration with reference to the ambitions of Napoleon to take control of the Danish fleet:
it is defensible on the ground that the enormous power of France enables her to coerce the weaker state to become an enemy of England...It is the law of self-preservation that England appeals for the justification of her proceedings. It is admitted by the honourable gentleman and his supporters, that if Denmark had evidenced any hostility towards this country, then we should have been justified in measures of retaliation...Denmark coerced into hostility stands in the same position as Denmark voluntarily hostile, when the law of self-preservation comes into play...Does anyone believe that Buonaparte will be restrained by any considerations of justice from acting towards Denmark as he has done towards other countries?...England, according to that law of self-preservation which is a fundamental principle of the law of nations, is justified in securing, and therefore enforcing, from Denmark a neutrality which France would by compulsion have converted into an active hostility.George Henry Francis, Opinions and Policy of the Right Honourable Viscount Palmerston, G.C.B., M.P., &c. as Minister, Diplomatist, and Statesman, During More Than Forty Years of Public Life (1852), pp. 1β3.
In a letter to a friend on 24 December 1807, Palmerston described the late Whig MP Edmund Burke as possessing "the palm of political prophecy".Kenneth Bourne (ed.), The Letters of the Third Viscount Palmerston to Laurence and Elizabeth Sulivan. 1804β1863 (London: The Royal Historical Society, 1979), p. 97. This would become a metaphor for his own career in divining the course of imperial foreign policy.
On 1 April 1818 a retired officer on half-pay, Lieutenant Davies, who had a grievance about his application from the War Office for a pension and was also mad, shot Palmerston as he walked up the stairs of the War Office. However, the bullet only grazed his back and the wound was slight. After Palmerston learned that Davies was mad, he paid for his legal defence at the trial (Davies was sent to Bedlam).Ridley, pp. 64β65.
After the suicide of Castlereagh in 1822, the Cabinet of Lord Liverpool's Tory administration 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 Palmerston was not in the Cabinet, he cordially supported the measures of Canning and his friends.
Upon the retirement of Lord Liverpool in April 1827, Canning was called to be Prime Minister. The more conservative Tories, including Robert 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 Palmerston, who accepted it, but this appointment was frustrated by some intrigue between the King and John Charles Herries. 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 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 Palmerston. In the spring of 1828, after more than twenty years continuously in office, Palmerston found himself in opposition.
On 26 February 1828 Palmerston delivered a speech in favour of Catholic Emancipation. He felt that it was unseemly to relieve the "imaginary grievances" of the Dissenters from the established church while at the same time "real afflictions pressed upon the Catholics" of Great Britain. REPEAL OF THE TEST AND CORPORATION ACTS. HC Deb 26 February 1828 vol 18 cc676-781 Palmerston also supported the campaign to pass the Reform Bill to extend the franchise to more men in Britain.Ridley, pp. 147β153. One of his biographers has stated that: "Like many Pittites, now labelled tories, he was a good whig at heart". The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 finally passed Parliament in 1829 when Palmerston was in the opposition.Ridley, p. 98. The Great Reform Act passed Parliament in 1832.
An attempt was made by the Duke of Wellington in September 1830 to induce 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 in 1830, when his party allegiance changed.Ridley, pp. 105β106.
Palmerston's overall policy was to safeguard British interests, maintain peace, keep the balance of power, and retain the status quo in Europe. He had no grievance against Russia and while he privately sympathized with the Polish cause, in his role as foreign minister he rejected Polish demands. With serious trouble simultaneously taking place in Belgium and Italy, and lesser issues in Greece and Portugal, he sought to de-escalate European tensions rather than aggravate them. He therefore focused chiefly on achieving a peaceful settlement of the crisis in Belgium.David Brown, Palmerston: A Biography (2010) pp. 148β54.
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 favouring the Carlism β the supporters of Don Carlos β 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 Palmerston showed towards the French King thereafter, though that sentiment may well have arisen earlier. Although 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 benefit to neither.
Despite his popular reputation he was hesitant in 1831 about aiding the Sultan of Turkey, who was under threat from Muhammad Ali, the pasha of Egypt.Ridley, pp. 208β209. Later, after Russian successes, in 1833 and 1835 he made proposals to afford material aid, which were overruled by the cabinet. Palmerston held that "if we can procure for it ten years of peace under the joint protection of the five Powers, and if those years are profitably employed in reorganizing the internal system of the empire, there is no reason whatever why it should not become again a respectable Power" and challenged the metaphor that an old country, such as Turkey should be in such disrepair as would be warranted by the comparison: "Half the wrong conclusions at which mankind arrive are reached by the abuse of metaphors, and by mistaking general resemblance or imaginary similarity for real identity." Metaphor, reported by Trollope However, when the power of Muhammad Ali appeared to threaten the existence of the Ottoman dynasty, particularly given the death of Sultan Mahmud II on 1 July 1839, he succeeded in bringing the great powers together to sign a collective note on 27 July 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 Muhammad Ali had occupied Ottoman Syria and won the Battle of Nezib against the Turkish forces. Lord Ponsonby, the British ambassador at Istanbul, vehemently urged the British government to intervene. Having closer ties to the pasha than most, France refused to be a party to coercive measures against him despite having signed the note in the previous year.
Palmerston, irritated at France's Egyptian policy, signed the London Convention of 15 July 1840 in London with Austrian Empire, Russian Empire and Prussia β without the knowledge of the French government. This measure was taken with great hesitation, and strong opposition on the part of several members of the cabinet. 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 Muhammad Ali's power followed in rapid succession. Palmerston's policy was triumphant, and the author of it had won a reputation as one of the most powerful statesmen of the age.Ridley, Lord Palmerston, pp. 248β60
In September 1838, Palmerston appointed a British consul in Jerusalem, without the conventional consultation of the Board of Trade, and gave instruction to assist with the construction of an Anglican church in the city, under the prompting influences of Lord Shaftesbury, a prominent Christian Zionist.
In all these actions Palmerston brought to bear a great deal of patriotic vigour 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 destabilising in the eyes of the Queen Victoria and his more conservative colleagues in government. Meanwhile he manipulated information and public opinion to enhance his control of his department, including controlling communications within the office and to other officials. He leaked secrets to the press, published selected documents, and released letters to give himself more control and more publicity, all the while stirring up British nationalism.John K. Derden, "The British Foreign Office and Policy Formation: The 1840's," Proceedings & Papers of the Georgia Association of Historians (1981) pp 64β79. He feuded with The Times, edited by Thomas Barnes, which did not play along with his propaganda ploys.Laurence Fenton, "Origins of Animosity: Lord Palmerston and The Times, 1830β41." Media History 16.4 (2010): 365β378; Fenton, Palmerston and The Times: foreign policy, the press and public opinion in mid-Victorian Britain (2013).David Brown, "Compelling but not Controlling?: Palmerston and the Press, 1846β1855." History 86.281 (2001): 41β61. in JSTOR
Palmerston's reputation as an interventionist and his unpopularity with the Queen and other grandees was such that Lord John Russell's attempt in December 1845 to form a ministry failed because Lord Grey refused to join a government in which Palmerston would direct foreign affairs. A few months later, however, the Whigs returned to power and Palmerston to the Foreign Office (July 1846). Russell replied to critics that Palmerston's policies had "a tendency to produce war" but that he had advanced British interests without a major conflict, if not entirely peaceably.
Historian David Brown rejects the traditional interpretation to the effect that Aberdeen had forged an entente cordiale with France in the early 1840s whereupon the belligerent Palmerston after 1846 destroyed that friendly relationship. Brown argues that as foreign secretary from 1846 to 1851 and subsequently as prime minister, Palmerston sought to maintain the balance of power in Europe, sometimes even aligning with France to do so.David Brown, "Palmerston and AngloβFrench Relations, 1846β1865," Diplomacy & Statecraft, (Dec 2006) 17#4 pp 675β692Brown, Palmerston ch 9
When Benjamin Disraeli and others took several nights in the House of Commons to impeach 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 defence of his foreign policy and of liberal interventionism more generally. Reviewing his whole parliamentary career β reminding him, he joked, of a drowning man's visions of his past life β he said:
It is generally supposed that Russell and the Queen both hoped that the other would take the initiative and dismiss Palmerston; the Queen was dissuaded by Prince Albert, who took the limits of constitutional power very seriously, and Russell by Palmerston's prestige with the people and his competence in an otherwise remarkably inept Cabinet.
After a memorable debate on 17 June, Palmerston's policy was condemned by a vote of the House of Lords. The House of Commons was moved by Roebuck to reverse the rebuke, which it did on 29 June by a majority of 46, after having heard from Palmerston on 25 June. 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 for five hours, that 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 ("I am a citizen of Rome") speech. After this speech, Palmerston's popularity had never been greater.Ridley, pp. 387β94.
On 2 December 1851, Napoleon III β who had been elected President of France in 1848 β carried out a coup d'Γ©tat by dissolving the National Assembly and arresting the leading Republicans. Palmerston privately congratulated Napoleon on his triumph, noting that Britain's constitution was rooted in history but that France had had five revolutions since 1789, with the French Constitution of 1848 being a "day-before-yesterday tomfoolery which the scatterbrain heads of Armand Marrast and Tocqueville invented for the torment and perplexity of the French nation".Ridley, p. 398. However, the Cabinet decided that Britain must be neutral, and so Palmerston requested his officials to be diplomatic. Palmerston's widespread support among the press, educated public opinion, and ordinary Britons caused apprehension and distrust among other politicians and angered the Court. Prince Albert complained Palmerston had sent a dispatch without showing the Sovereign. Protesting innocence, Palmerston resigned.Ridley, pp. 398β399.David Brown, "The power of public opinion: Palmerston and the crisis of December 1851." Parliamentary History 20.3 (2001): 333β358.
In May 1853 the Russians threatened to invade the principalities Wallachia and Moldavia unless the Ottoman Sultan surrendered to their demands. 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 the intention to go to war with her if it invaded the principalities. However, Aberdeen objected to all of Palmerston's proposals. After prolonged arguments, a reluctant 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. Palmerston thought that this was the result of British weakness and thought that if the Russians had been told that if they invaded the principalities the British and French fleets would enter the Bosphorus or the Black Sea, they would have been deterred.Ridley, pp. 415β416. In Cabinet, Palmerston argued for a vigorous prosecution of the war against Russia by Britain but 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 β Palmerston."Ridley, p. 419.
On 28 March 1854 Britain and France declared war on Russia for refusing to withdraw from the principalities. The war progressed slowly, with no gains in the Baltic and slow gains in Crimea at the long Siege of Sevastopol (1854β1855). Dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war was growing with the public in Britain and in other countries, aggravated by reports of fiascoes and failures, especially the mismanagement of the heroic Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. The health and living conditions of the British soldiers was notorious and the press, with correspondents in the field, made the most of it. Tories demanded an accounting of all soldiers, cavalry and sailors sent to the Crimea and accurate figures as to the number of casualties. When Parliament passed a bill to investigate by the vote of 305 to 148, Aberdeen said he had lost a vote of no confidence and resigned as prime minister on 30 January 1855. Queen Victoria deeply distrusted Palmerston and first asked Lord Derby to accept the premiership. Derby offered 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 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 Palmerston wanted to serve under him. Having exhausted the possible alternatives, the Queen invited Palmerston to Buckingham Palace on 4 February 1855 to form a government.
In China the Second Opium War (1856β1860) was another humiliating defeat for a Qing dynasty,J. Y. Wong, Deadly Dreams: Opium, Imperialism, and the Arrow War (1856β1860) in China (1998) already reeling as a result of the domestic Taiping Rebellion.
In June news came to Britain of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Palmerston sent Sir Colin Campbell and reinforcements to India. 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.
After the Italian republican Felice Orsini tried to assassinate the French emperor with a bomb made in Britain, the French were outraged (see Orsini affair). 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. Palmerston lost by nineteen votes. Therefore, in February 1858 he was forced to resign.
Foreign policy continued to be his main strength; he thought that he could shape if not control all of European diplomacy, especially by using France as a vital ally and trade partner. However, historians often characterize his method as bluffing more than decisive action.Chris Williams, ed., A Companion to 19th-Century Britain (2006). p 42
Some people called Palmerston a womaniser; The Times named him Lord Cupid (on account of his youthful looks), and he was cited, at the age of 79, as co-respondent in an 1863 divorce case, although it emerged that the case was nothing more than an attempted blackmail.
When in May 1864 the MP Edward Baines introduced a Reform Bill in the Commons, Palmerston ordered Gladstone to not commit himself and the government to any particular scheme.Philip Guedalla (ed.), Gladstone and Palmerston, being the Correspondence of Lord Palmerston with Mr. Gladstone 1851β1865 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1928), p. 279. Instead Gladstone said in his speech in the Commons that he did not see why any man should not have the vote unless he was mentally incapacitated, but added that this would not come about unless the working class showed an interest in reform. Palmerston believed that this was incitement to the working class to begin agitating for reform and told Gladstone: "What every Man and Woman too have a Right to, is to be well governed and under just Laws, and they who propose a change ought to shew that the present organization does not accomplish those objects".Guedalla, p. 282.
French intervention in Italy had created an invasion scare and Palmerston established a Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom which reported in 1860. It recommended a huge Palmerston Forts to protect the Royal Navy Dockyards and ports, which Palmerston vigorously supported. Objecting to the enormous expense, Gladstone repeatedly threatened to resign as Chancellor when the proposals were accepted. Palmerston said that he had received so many resignation letters from Gladstone that he feared that they would set fire to the chimney.Ridley, p. 564.
Britain issued a at the beginning of the Civil War on 13 May 1861. The Confederacy was recognised as a belligerent but it was too premature to recognise it as a sovereign state. The United States Secretary of State, William Seward, threatened to treat as hostile any country which recognised the Confederacy. Britain depended more on American corn than Confederate cotton, and a war with the U.S. would not be in Britain's economic interest. Palmerston ordered reinforcements sent to the Province of Canada because he was convinced the North would make peace with the South and then invade Canada. He was very pleased with the Confederate victory at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, but 15 months later he felt that, "the American 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 honourable to their stock".Ridley, p. 559.
The Trent Affair in November 1861 produced public outrage in Britain and a diplomatic crisis. A U.S. Navy warship stopped the British steamer Trent and seized two Confederate envoys en route to Europe. Palmerston called the action "a declared and gross insult", demanded the release of the two diplomats and ordered 3,000 troops to Canada. In a letter to Queen Victoria on 5 December 1861 he said that if his demands were not met, "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."Ridley, p. 554. In another letter to his foreign secretary, he predicted war between Britain and the Union:
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.In fact Irishmen did not control any major newspapers in the North, and the U.S. decided to release the prisoners rather than risk war. Palmerston was convinced the presence of troops in Canada persuaded the U.S. to acquiesce.Kenneth Bourne, "British Preparations for War with the North, 1861β1862," The English Historical Review Vol 76 No 301 (Oct 1961) pp 600β632 in JSTOR
After President Abraham Lincoln's announcement in September 1862 that he would issue an Emancipation Proclamation in ninety days, the cabinet debated intervention as a humanitarian move to stop a likely race war. At the same time however there was a cabinet crisis in France over the overthrow of the Greek king and the growing Eastern Question with regard to Russia. The British Government had to determine whether the situation in North America or the containment of Russia was more urgent. The decision was to give priority to threats closer to home and to decline France's suggestion of a joint intervention in America; the threatened race war over slavery never happened.Niels Eichhorn, "The Intervention Crisis of 1862: A British Diplomatic Dilemma?" American Nineteenth Century History 15.3 (2014): 287β310. Palmerston rejected all further efforts of the Confederacy to gain British recognition.
The raiding ship CSS Alabama, built in the British port of Birkenhead, was another difficulty for Palmerston. On 29 July 1862, a law officer's report he had commissioned advised him to detain Alabama, as its construction was a breach of Britain's neutrality. Palmerston ordered Alabama detained on 31 July, but it had already put to sea before the order reached Birkenhead. In her subsequent cruise, Alabama captured or destroyed many Union merchant ships, as did other raiders fitted out in Britain. The U.S. accused Britain of complicity in the construction of the raiders. This was the basis of the postwar Alabama claims for damages against Britain, which Palmerston refused to pay. After his death, Gladstone acknowledged the U.S. claim and agreed to arbitration, paying out $15,500,000 in damages.
In the autumn of 1862, Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, opened a cabinet debate on whether Britain should intervene. Gladstone had a favourable image of the Confederacy, and indeed of slavery (his family wealth depended on slavery in the West Indies). He emphasized the humanitarian intervention to stop the staggering death toll, risk of a race war, and failure of the Union to achieve decisive military results, but Prime Minister Palmerston had other concerns at the same time, including a crisis connected with the overthrow of the Greek king, which put the Eastern Question in play. The Cabinet decided that the American situation was less urgent than the need to contain Russian expansion, so it rejected Gladstone's suggestions.Niels Eichhorn, "The Intervention Crisis of 1862: A British Diplomatic Dilemma?" American Nineteenth Century History 15#3 (2014) pp 287β310.
For five months Bismarck did nothing. However, in November the Danish government instituted a new constitution whereby Holstein was bound closer to Denmark. Schleswig had already been a part of Denmark for centuries. By the year's end, the Prussian and Austrian armies were massing on the River Eider. On 1 February 1864 the Prussian-Austrian armies invaded Schleswig-Holstein, and ten days afterwards the Danish government requested British help to resist this. Russell urged Palmerston to send a fleet to Copenhagen and persuade Napoleon III that he should mobilise his soldiers that were placed on the borders of Prussia's Rhineland provinces. Palmerston replied that the fleet could not do much to assist the Danes in Copenhagen and that nothing should be done to persuade Napoleon to cross the Rhine.
In April Austria's navy was on its way to attack Copenhagen, and Palmerston saw the Austrian ambassador and informed him that Britain could not allow their navy to sail through the English Channel if their intent was to attack Denmark, and if it entered the Baltic the result would be war with Britain. The ambassador replied that the Austrian navy would not enter the Baltic and it did not do so.Ridley, p. 572.
Palmerston accepted Russell's suggestion that the war should be settled at a conference, but at the ensuing London Conference of 1864 in May and June the Danes refused to accept their loss of Schleswig-Holstein. The armistice ended on 26 June and Prussian-Austrian troops quickly invaded more of Denmark. On 25 June the Cabinet was against going to war to save Denmark, but Russell's suggestion to send the Royal Navy to defend Copenhagen was only carried by Palmerston's vote. Palmerston, however, said the fleet could not be sent in view of the deep division in the Cabinet.
On 27 June Palmerston gave his statement to the Commons and said Britain would not go to war with the German powers unless the existence of Denmark as an independent power was at stake or that her capital was threatened. The Conservatives replied that Palmerston had betrayed the Danes and a vote of censure in the House of Lords was carried by nine votes. In the debate in the Commons the Conservative MP Jonathan Peel said: "It is come to this, that the words of the Prime Minister of England, uttered in the Parliament of England, are to be regarded as mere idle menaces to be laughed at and despised by foreign powers?"Ridley, pp. 573β574. Palmerston replied in the last night of the debate: "I say that England stands as high as she ever did and those who say she had fallen in the estimation of the world are not the men to whom the honour and dignity of England should be confided".Ridley, p. 574.
The vote of censure was defeated by 313 votes to 295, with Palmerston's old enemies in the pacifist camp, Cobden and Bright, voting for him. The result of the vote was announced at 2:30 in the morning, and when Palmerston heard the news he ran up the stairs to the Ladies' Gallery and embraced his wife. Disraeli wrote: "What pluck to mount those dreadful stairs at three o'clock in the morning, and eighty years of age!"
In a speech at his constituency at Tiverton in August, Palmerston told his constituents:
I am sure every Englishman who has a heart in his breast and a feeling of justice in his mind, sympathizes with those unfortunate Danes (cheers), and wishes that this country could have been able to draw the sword successfully in their defence (continued cheers); but I am satisfied that those who reflect on the season of the year when that war broke out, on the means which this country could have applied for deciding in one sense that issue, I am satisfied that those who make these reflections will think that we acted wisely in not embarking in that dispute. (Cheers.) To have sent a fleet in midwinter to the Baltic every sailor would tell you was an impossibility, but if it could have gone it would have been attended by no effectual result. Ships sailing on the sea cannot stop armies on land, and to have attempted to stop the progress of an army by sending a fleet to the Baltic would have been attempting to do that which it was not possible to accomplish. (Hear, hear.) If England could have sent an army, and although we all know how admirable that army is on the peace establishment, we must acknowledge that we have no means of sending out a force at all equal to cope with the 300,000 or 400,000 men whom the 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 of Germany could have pitted against us, and that such an attempt would only have insured a disgraceful discomfitureβnot to the army, indeed, but to the Government which sent out an inferior force and expected it to cope successfully with a force so vastly superior. (Cheers.) ... we did not think that the Danish cause would be considered as sufficiently British, and as sufficiently bearing on the interests and the security and the honour of England, as to make it justifiable to ask the country to make those exertions which such a war would render necessary.βLord Palmerston At Tivertonβ, The Times (24 August 1864), p. 9.
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.Ridley, p. 581.
He advised that more armaments be sent to Canada and more troops be sent to Ireland. During these last few weeks of his life, 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 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."Ridley, p. 582.
Queen Victoria wrote after his death that though she regretted his passing, she had never liked or respected him: "Strange, and solemn to think of that strong, determined man, with so much worldly ambition β gone! He had often worried and distressed us, though as Pr. Minister he had behaved very well."Ridley, p. 584. Florence Nightingale reacted differently upon hearing of his death: "He will be a great loss to us. Tho' he made a joke when asked to do the right thing, he always did it. No one else will be able to carry things thro' the Cabinet as he did. I shall lose a powerful protector...He was so much more in earnest than he appeared. He did not do himself justice."
He was succeeded by his stepson William Cowper-Temple (later created The 1st Baron Mount Temple), whose inheritance included a 10,000-acre estate in the north of County Sligo in the west of Ireland, on which his stepfather had commissioned the building of the incomplete Classiebawn Castle.
Palmerston has traditionally been viewed as "a Conservative at home and a Liberal abroad".Ridley, p. 587. He believed that the British constitution as secured by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was the best which human hands had made, with a constitutional monarchy subject to the laws of the land but retaining some political power. He supported the rule of law and opposed further democratisation after the Reform Act 1832. He wished to see this liberal system of a mixed constitution in-between the two extremes of absolute monarchy and republican democracy replace the absolute monarchies on the Continent.Ridley, p. 588. More recently some historians have seen his domestic policies as Prime Minister as not merely liberal but genuinely progressive by the standards of his era.David Steele, Palmerston and Liberalism, 1855β1865 (Cambridge University Press, 1991).
However, it is in foreign affairs that Palmerston is chiefly remembered. Palmerston's principal aim in foreign policy was to advance the national interests of England. Palmerston is famous for his patriotism. Lord John Russell said that "his heart always beat for the honour of England". The Times (10 November 1865), p. 7. Palmerston believed it was in Britain's interests that liberal governments be established on the Continent. He also practised brinkmanship and bluff in that he was prepared to threaten war to achieve Britain's interests.Ridely, p. 589.
When in 1886 Lord Rosebery became Foreign Secretary in Gladstone's government, John Bright asked him if he had read about Palmerston's policies as Foreign Secretary. Rosebery replied that he had. "Then", said Bright, "you know what to avoid. Do the exact opposite of what he did. His administration at the Foreign Office was one long crime."Ridley, p. 591. The Marquess of Lorne said of Palmerston in 1866: "He loved his country and his country loved him. He lived for her honour, and she will cherish his memory."
In 1889 Gladstone recounted a story of when "a Frenchman, thinking to be highly complimentary, said to Palmerston: 'If I were not a Frenchman, I should wish to be an Englishman'; to which Pam coolly replied: 'If I were not an Englishman, I should wish to be an Englishman.Ridley, p. 589. When Winston Churchill campaigned for rearmament in the 1930s, he was compared to Palmerston in warning the nation to look to its defences.Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill. The Wilderness Years (London: Book Club Associates, 1981), pp. 106β107. The policy of appeasement led General Jan Smuts to write in 1936 that "we are afraid of our shadows. I sometimes long for a ruffian like Palmerston or any man who would be more than a string of platitudes and apologies."W. K. Hancock, Smuts. Volume II: The Fields of Force. 1919β1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), p. 281.
He was also an avowed abolitionist whose attempts to abolish the slave trade was one of the most consistent elements of his foreign policy. His opposition to the slave trade created tensions with Southern American countries and the United States over his insistence that the British navy had the right to search the vessels of any country if they suspected the vessels were being used in the slave trade.
Historian A.J.P. Taylor has summarised his career by emphasising the paradoxes:
Palmerston is also 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.
The Life of Lord Palmerston up to 1847 was written by Lord Dalling (Sir H. Lytton Bulwer), volumes I and II (1870), volume III edited and partly written by Evelyn Ashley (1874), after the author's death. Ashley completed the biography in two more volumes (1876). The whole work was reissued in a revised and slightly abridged form by Ashley in 2 volumes in 1879, with the title The Life and Correspondence of Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston; the letters are judiciously curtailed, but unfortunately without indicating where the excisions occur; the appendices of the original work are omitted, but much fresh matter is added, and this edition is undoubtedly the standard biography.Stanley Lane-Poole, , Dictionary of National Biography, 1885β1900, Volume 56''.