Henry John Temple 3d Viscount Palmerston
Palmerston, Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount
Palmerston became a follower of Canning, and resigned with his fellow-Canningites from Wellington's administration in 1828 over the question of parliamentary reform. He was not an enthusiastic reformer, however, and when he decided to join Grey's ministry rather than return to Wellington in 1830 it was another example of his ability to spot the winning side. He was a somewhat reluctant supporter of Grey's Reform Bill though he was a loyal colleague.
Palmerston modelled his foreign policy on Canning's. He was foreign secretary from 1830 to 1841, excepting only the interlude of Peel's ‘hundred days’, and again from 1846 to 1851. His principles were to defend British political, strategic, and economic interests in Europe and overseas, to remain aloof as much as possible from long-term commitments, to mediate in European disputes to preserve peace, and to assert British power when necessary. His first great success was his settlement of the Netherlands crisis of 1830–9, when as chairman of the London conference of great powers he secured the independence of Belgium under international guarantee and with a monarch, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who was friendly to Britain. This prevented the Low Countries from falling under French control, a long-established objective of British policy. He saw France as Britain's major potential enemy and was always concerned to preserve the Vienna settlement of 1815 which placed restrictions on future French expansion. Thus he also tried to prevent the Spanish and Portuguese thrones from falling under French influence, though without full success. He generally supported ‘liberal’ constitutional movements in Europe, as being more likely to be friendly to Britain than absolutist regimes, but his attitude was wholly pragmatic and non-ideological. He opposed Russia not because of the tsar's absolutism but because of the threat to British interests in southern Europe and Asia; yet he was willing to co-operate with Russia to thwart French ambitions in the Middle East for the sake of British commercial expansion there. British trade with Turkey increased eightfold between 1830 and 1850. He was less successful in Afghanistan but he followed a policy of extending British control in north-west India. All these policies were popular with the British public and Palmerston followed Canning in cultivating public opinion as a source of support. His prosecution of the ‘Opium War’ against China, designed to force the Chinese to open some of their markets to British trade, was received with moral disapproval in some quarters, but was beneficial in economic terms.
Palmerston as foreign secretary was outstandingly successful. Peace was maintained, the cost of military and naval establishments reduced, and yet British power, prestige, and trade were enhanced. Palmerston's popularity as ‘John Bull’ was sealed by his robust defence in 1850 of a Portuguese merchant named Don Pacifico who claimed British citizenship and who appeared to have been victimized by the Greek government. Palmerston's appeal to patriotic sentiment and his bullying attitude towards weaker nations came to be seen as the hallmarks of his ‘gunboat diplomacy’. His confidence led him too far in 1851, however, when he sent congratulations to Louis Napoleon on his coup d'état in Paris without first consulting the queen or his colleagues and he was dismissed. He remained in the government as home secretary but became prime minister by popular demand when Aberdeen's ministry collapsed during the Crimean War.
Palmerston's foreign policy gave the Liberal Party a somewhat incongruous electoral appeal but in domestic affairs his attitudes were never particularly ‘liberal’. He strenuously opposed further electoral reform. In Europe, his support for ‘liberal’ movements such as Italian independence, or in the European revolutions of 1848, was always secondary to his concern for national interests which required stability in Europe.
Palmerston was tall and handsome; he had many affairs and was nicknamed ‘Cupid’ but he did not marry until he was 55, chiefly because of his attachment to Emily Lamb, wife of Lord Cowper, which began in 1813 and lasted until his death. They had at least four children out of wedlock and he also had children by other women. In 1839, two years after Cowper's death, they married and enjoyed another 25 years of ‘unfamiliar married bliss’.
E. A. Smith
Bourne, K. , Palmerston: The Early Years 1784–1841 (1982);
Ridley, J. , Lord Palmerston (1970);
Southgate, D. G. , The Most English Minister (1966).
Palmerston, Henry John Temple, 3d Viscount
Henry John Temple Palmerston, 3d Viscount, 1784–1865, British statesman. His viscountcy, to which he succeeded in 1802, was in the Irish peerage and therefore did not prevent him from entering the House of Commons in 1807. Initially a Tory, he served (1809–28) as secretary of war, but he differed with his party over his advocacy of parliamentary reform and joined (1830) the Whig government of the 2d Earl Grey as foreign minister. A firm believer in liberal constitutionalism, Palmerston was instrumental in securing the independence of Belgium (1830–31), and in 1834 he formed a quadruple alliance with France, Spain, and Portugal to help the Iberian countries put down rebellions aimed at restoring absolutist rule. He also organized the joint intervention with Russia, Austria, Prussia, and a reluctant France to prevent the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire as a result of the revolt of Muhammad Ali of Egypt (1839–41). He was in opposition during Sir Robert Peel's administration (1841–46) but returned to the foreign office under Lord John Russell. Palmerston was an impulsive man who often acted without consultation; during his second period as foreign secretary he succeeded in offending not only foreign powers but also his colleagues and Queen Victoria. He quarreled with France in the affair of the Spanish Marriages (1846; see Isabella II), gave encouragement to the European revolutionaries of 1848, and in 1850 caused widespread outrage by blockading Greece in order to secure compensation for Don Pacifico, a Portuguese merchant claiming British citizenship, whose house in Athens had been destroyed in a riot. Finally his unofficial and unauthorized approval of the coup in France by Napoleon III led to his dismissal in 1851. Nevertheless he became home secretary in 1852 and in 1855 succeeded the 4th earl of Aberdeen as prime minister. His vigorous prosecution of the Crimean War increased his already great popularity, as did the effective suppression of the Indian Mutiny, and although he lost office in 1858, he returned to power in 1859 and remained prime minister until his death. His attitude greatly facilitated the progress of the Italian Risorgimento and the proclamation (1861) of the kingdom of Italy, but his attempt (1864) to help the Danes in the Schleswig-Holstein question was unsuccessful. He maintained British neutrality in the American Civil War, despite his sympathy for the South and despite the irritating Trent Affair. Palmerston was not much interested in internal affairs, but he did firmly oppose further parliamentary reform. His diplomacy, reckless and domineering though it frequently was, usually served to advance British prestige.
See biographies by H. Lytton Bulwer and E. Ashley (5 vol., 1870–76), D. Southgate (1966), J. G. Ridley (1970), K. Bourne (Vol. 1, 1982); study by C. K. Webster (2 vol., 1951; repr. 1969).