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  Henry John Temple (1784–1865), by Francis Cruikshank, c.1855 Henry John Temple (1784–1865), by Francis Cruikshank, c.1855
Temple, Henry John, third Viscount Palmerston (1784–1865), prime minister, was born on 20 October 1784 at 4 Park Street (later 20 Queen Anne's Gate), Westminster; he was the eldest of the five children of , and his second wife, Mary (1754–1805), daughter of Benjamin Mee, a London merchant later resident in Bath. He had one brother, William (1788–1856), British minister at Naples for twenty-three years, and two surviving sisters, Elizabeth (1790–1837), wife of Laurence Sulivan, and Frances (1786–1838), who married admiral of the fleet Sir William Bowles. His father, a follower of Charles James Fox, was an English MP for forty years. Although this amiable dilettante devoted himself chiefly to society and travel, his friendships, especially with the diplomat James Harris, first earl of Malmesbury, were important for his elder son. Mary, Viscountess Palmerston, is a rather colourless figure beside her much older husband—equally well meaning, but never quite at ease among the aristocracy.

Beginnings, 1784–1806

From childhood Henry John Temple displayed an enviable degree of emotional security; relations with both parents were warmly affectionate, self-sufficiency and good humour lifelong characteristics. Always close to his siblings, he furthered his brother's career and the careers of his sisters' husbands. The children accompanied their parents on an extended continental tour in 1792–4; an Italian tutor succeeded a French governess. The foundations were laid of excellent French and good Italian; later he added good Spanish and some knowledge of German. On the family's return, he was sent to Harrow School (1795–1800), where a school song commemorates ‘Temple's frame of iron’: he flourished in what was in many ways a schoolboy republic—no place for weaklings—became a monitor, and was chosen to ‘declaim’, that is, to deliver orations in Latin and English.

The next stage in Temple's education was not unusual for young men of good abilities from aristocratic families: three years at Edinburgh University (1800–03), lodging and studying with the political economist Dugald Stewart. The mental and moral philosophy, exalting common sense, and simplified Smithian economics that his host taught made an indelible impression. In the ‘Autobiographical sketch’ of his middle age, composed for his mistress and future wife, he ascribed ‘whatever useful knowledge and habits of mind I possess’ to his time in Scotland (Bulwer, 1.367). Temple's Edinburgh companions were mainly Englishmen of his own sort; they devoted some of their leisure to a largely English volunteer corps.

If the Scottish universities offered more relevant instruction than Oxford and Cambridge could provide, the English universities' social superiority was unshaken. Temple, from 1802 Lord Palmerston, went up to St John's, Cambridge, in October 1803, where he formed his closest friendships. He chose the college himself for its ‘remarkably good society … the best in the university’, listing the peers' sons (Letters, ed. Bourne, 5–6). His letters to one friend, Laurence Sulivan, who married his sister Elizabeth, are a valuable source. Although his Cambridge studies were less demanding, the tutors at St John's, like Dugald Stewart, rated him highly; he took his MA (27 January 1806) without examination, a nobleman's privilege. Palmerston's university life centred on clubs in which he was a leading light: the Speculative, a forerunner of the Cambridge Union, with a membership drawn exclusively from St John's and Trinity, and an even smaller Saturday Club of Johnians which met weekly to dine and talk. He also enrolled in his college's own volunteer corps; afterwards his participation in amateur soldiering continued with the command of the South-West Hampshire militia for some years. The main purpose of his eighteen months at Cambridge was to launch his career as a supporter of William Pitt the younger. The influence of Burke, sustained by the course of recent history, was paramount: the young Palmerston awarded him ‘the palm of political prophecy’ (ibid., 97). His Cambridge contemporaries were mostly Pittites; he did not consider joining his father's political friends. While still an undergraduate, he stood (February 1806) for the university seat vacated by Pitt's death, finishing close behind two other youthful aristocrats, Lord Henry Petty and Viscount Althorp, later the third Earl Spencer.

Parliament and office: the first phase, 1806–1830

Lord Malmesbury, Palmerston's guardian until his majority, was instrumental in finding him a constituency. Elected for Horsham in November 1806 and unseated on petition (20 January 1807), he narrowly failed (May 1807) to secure one of the Cambridge University seats at the general election and was returned the next day for Newport, a pocket borough on the Isle of Wight. Malmesbury's influence had already brought his protégé minor office as a lord of the Admiralty (3 April 1807) when in October 1809 it presented him with the opportunity of entering Spencer Perceval's cabinet. Perceval gave him three choices: chancellor of the exchequer or secretary at war in the cabinet, with the option of a junior lordship of the Treasury until he had proved himself in parliament and felt able to take the chancellorship. Palmerston had been identified as a coming man, although not on the strength of his first undistinguished contributions to debate (he made his maiden speech on 3 February 1808). A salutary caution, an enduring trait, held him back. Unready for such rapid promotion, he pleaded a fear of failing in the house. He accepted the secretaryship at war and retained it under five prime ministers, outside the cabinet until 1827. He entered upon his duties at the War Office on 27 October 1809 and was sworn of the privy council on 1 November 1809.

Predictions of a great future were quickly forgotten; Palmerston's reputation was that of a competent administrator and adequate performer on the treasury bench. He revealed an appetite for hard work, improving departmental organization and accounts, and made Sulivan permanent head of the office. He showed courage and humanity when an unbalanced half-pay officer, Lieutenant Davies, shot at and slightly wounded him (8 April 1818), paying for the man's legal defence. Like many Pittites, now labelled tories, he was a good whig at heart. In confrontations with successive commanders-in-chief, he insisted on the rights of a minister accountable to the Commons. Claims to be acting in the spirit of the constitution since the revolution of 1688 were really prompted by the growing pressure of public opinion on the unreformed parliament.

In the political vocabulary of the day, Palmerston was a ‘Catholic’, and supported Catholic emancipation from 1812 after finally winning one of his university's seats on 27 March 1811, which he held until 1831. On another front, he kept a low profile as Liverpool's ministry passed the repressive legislation of the troubled years 1816–20. He dated his emergence as a Liberal from the mid-1820s, talking by then of the ‘stupid old Tory party’ (Bourne, Palmerston, 248). He was not an adherent of Canning, who on becoming prime minister offered him the governorship of Jamaica, hardly complimentary to someone whom Liverpool had invited to govern India. Promotion to the cabinet as postmaster-general with an English peerage had also been turned down. There were personal reasons for declining India but, clearly, he thought better of his political prospects at home than others did. Canning put him into the cabinet (April 1827), where he remained, still secretary at war, until 1828. Promised the Home Office or the exchequer in Canning's ministry, he got neither; the need to accommodate others kept him in his old post. George IV, who disliked Palmerston's independence at the War Office, suggested Jamaica, and denied him the exchequer under Goderich (August 1827). Canning gave him another chance of ruling India, again declined.

Breaking with the ‘pig-tails’ or ‘illiberals’—names he applied to conservative tories—Palmerston resigned (May 1828) with the Canningites from Wellington's government over its refusal to sanction an instalment of parliamentary reform, the transfer of East Retford's representation to Manchester. He had yet to show the promise that carried him to the Foreign Office. Canning noticed his reluctance to speak in cabinet on business not directly related to his own department, but discerned his potential. The house was surprised on 1 June 1829 by Palmerston's eloquent and persuasive attack on the government for deferring to the Holy Alliance in Portugal and Greece. At the same time he acknowledged the necessity of more or less friendly relations with its component powers. His advocacy of constitutionalism and nationalism was always subject to the retention of ‘an influence both with the free and the despot’ (Letters, ed. Bourne, 232). Canning's policy before it was his, it took account of political and military facts. Virtually all British politicians were liberals by continental standards; parliamentary monarchy rested on an unshakeable consensus. On the other hand, Britain's military weakness, a consequence of the pervasive libertarianism that ruled out conscription, obliged her to work with continental powers.

This speech and others on foreign policy over the following years impressed the whig leader, Lord Grey: Palmerston is a classical instance of the late developer in politics. Wellington twice attempted to win him back. The duke's enemies on the far right also approached Palmerston; they sounded him about joining an eccentric coalition of ultras and the bolder whigs. His cautious, unspecific commitment to parliamentary reform and his dislike of the government's stance abroad stopped him from rejoining Wellington; he treated the ultras' overtures as ‘comical’. If the latter perceived that he was a man for coalitions, he saw himself as a decided Liberal.

Life outside politics

For many years Palmerston was best known as a man about town, living in London at 12 and then 9 Stanhope Street from 1811 until his marriage. Men and women found it difficult to resist the charm of this handsome man—a lively, amusing talker, much in demand. Well read, he was faithful to eighteenth-century tastes in the arts. A considerable womanizer, nicknamed Cupid, he took mistresses from society and women from the demi-monde; they co-existed with a liaison ending, after thirty years, in matrimony. Proud of his virility, he recorded sexual successes and failures in his pocket diaries, methodical in this as in other matters. To a woman calling herself Emma Murray, later Mrs Mills (d. 1860), he paid a regular allowance for two decades. One of her children by aristocratic lovers bore the names Henry John Temple Murray (1816–1894); Palmerston helped to educate him and several of her natural or foster children. Murray served uneventfully in the consular service, where his putative father had placed him.

A similar tolerance marked Palmerston's relationship, which began between 1807 and 1809, with Emily, née Lamb [see ], Lord Melbourne's sister, wife of the fifth Earl Cowper. He is credited with the paternity of three of her five surviving children supposedly by Cowper: , created Baron Mount-Temple, to whom Palmerston left his estates with the stated wish that he should assume the name and arms of Temple; Emily (1810–1872), Palmerston's favourite, wife of , whose second son, Evelyn Ashley (1836–1907), succeeded his childless uncle in the Temple property, again in accordance with Palmerston's wishes; and Frances (1820–1880), who married Viscount Jocelyn, the third earl of Roden's heir. In addition, Palmerston believed he had fathered Lady Cowper's stillborn boy in 1818. If she was, in Creevey's words, one of the ‘most … profligate women in London’, her first husband's complaisance protected her; Palmerston was sometimes jealous of other lovers. After a short widowhood she married him on 16 December 1839; if their vows were not strictly observed, at least on his side, they were nevertheless a devoted couple. Under Melbourne's genial influence even Queen Victoria thought the union good for both parties. Her physical beauty wore well. Irrepressible spirits and the sense of fun preserved in her letters made her popular. Not particularly clever, she helped Palmerston with her social gifts. For more than half a century she was a leading hostess; those who deplored her morals seldom declined her invitations.

Womanizing, until desire outran performance, was only one of Palmerston's recreations. As late as 1863 a shady Irish journalist, O'Kane, cited the then prime minister as co-respondent in his divorce. The case was dismissed, and with it a claim for £20,000 damages, for want of proof that the O'Kanes were married. The greatest prizes in racing eluded a patron of the turf whose enthusiasm was the subject of friendly caricature. He hunted into old age, turning out in the rain with Napoleon III's staghounds in his seventies. ‘Rien ne perce un habit rouge’, he joked (Earl of Malmesbury, Memoirs of an ex-Minister, new edn, 1885, 455). The pleasantly barbed jest to traditional foes evokes the man. He provided good sport, too. Declining, as premier, to gratify an aspirant to the peerage, he directed his secretary to ‘gild the pill’ with an invitation to a day's shooting. The Palmerstons' hospitality—in London, at 94 Piccadilly from 1855, at Broadlands in Hampshire, and Brocket in Hertfordshire (Emily's property)—was politically important.

This lifestyle was expensive. Palmerston inherited substantial debt; his net income from all sources except government stock was about £8000. Well over half his acreage then lay in Ireland: valuable properties in Dublin and more than 10,000 acres on the coast of Sligo, populated with small tenants largely reliant on harvest labour in England to pay their rents. Palmerston set himself to improve their condition and his rental amid difficulties that were often too much for west of Ireland landlords. Borrowing to build a harbour, roads, and schools, and to drain boglands, he nearly doubled his Irish income by 1840 to over £11,000. When the great famine of 1845–9 struck, the estate shipped destitute families to North America; he and his agent incurred severe criticism for taking this course, to which there was, in their view, no economic alternative. Holdings, enlarged by emigration, were still small as the receipts climbed back towards pre-famine levels. From prudence and humanity he respected the tenant right, which he famously denounced as ‘landlords' wrong’ (Hansard 3, 177, 27 Feb 1865, 823). Subject to the agent's approval, tenants were permitted to sell, or bequeath, the occupancy of holdings; an almost universal custom in Ireland that effectively limited rent.

On coming into his inheritance Palmerston prepared an ambitious development plan for each of his four estates in England and Ireland, and always practised the ‘progressive improvement’ at which, as a statesman, he exhorted people to aim. In Hampshire and Yorkshire he spent £100,000 in twenty years on buying land, besides the outlay on improvements. Debt swollen by this expenditure absorbed a large slice of his income in the 1820s. If not a necessity, an official salary eased his position until late in life. He lost heavily in the stock exchange crash of 1825, although one venture, in Welsh slate quarrying, eventually repaid him handsomely with an annual return of nearly £10,000 in the 1860s.

The Foreign Office, 1830–1834, 1835–1841

Evicted by the Cambridge tories in May 1831, Palmerston took refuge at Bletchingley, Surrey (18 July 1831), a seat which disappeared in the Reform Act. He was returned for South Hampshire on 15 December 1832, but lost the seat in 1834; elected for Tiverton on 1 June 1835, he held that seat until his death. As foreign secretary (22 November 1830) he was the most successful and popular of whig ministers under Grey and Melbourne. Yet his methods, and his manner, made colleagues and chiefs nervous: his reappointment on 18 April 1835 was probably due to Melbourne's concern for his small majority. In November 1830 he expected to be chancellor of the exchequer and leader in the Commons in the coalition out of which the nineteenth-century Liberal Party grew. But the whigs preferred Althorp, and Palmerston went to the Foreign Office which Lansdowne had refused. By liberalism he understood the development of liberties with deep roots in most of Europe: ‘equitable laws’, security of property and person, and ‘something to say in the management of their community’. Naturally, countries differed in the evolution of their ‘social habits’ and institutions, yet not so as to preclude the application of ‘similar formulae … with slight variations’ (7 May 1832, Beauvale MS 60463). He was as much a man of ideas as Gladstone or Salisbury. His political philosophy, in and after 1830, allowed for growth.

During the Reform Bill's passage, Palmerston agreed that ‘Divide et impera should be the maxim of government for these times’, with extremists isolated by ‘fair concessions’, and was inclined to think the £10 household franchise too high, if anything (30 June 1832, Beauvale MS 60463). The tories exasperated him by their stupidity: reactionaries at court and in the Lords risked alienating public opinion permanently from monarchy and aristocracy. This fear overcame his reluctance to support a large creation of peers if the Lords did not give way. Subsequently, he held up a triumph of evolutionary change to other states. He considered household suffrage and shorter parliaments possible in his lifetime, and found the Chartist demand for one man one vote harmless because it ignored realities. ‘The word constitution all over Europe means a parliament’, he reminded a foreign ambassador in the 1860s, looking as ever for the adoption of the British model. By his death parliamentary institutions had been established almost everywhere on the continent outside Russia and Turkey. Their existence was a tribute to Britain's envied stability and the flexible political settlement she enjoyed from 1832: ‘All countries’, wrote Palmerston next year, ‘… are, and always have been in a state of transition’ (Bourne, Palmerston, 372).

Between Britain and Russia Palmerston saw at work ‘the same principle of repulsion … that there was between us and Buonaparte’; the political systems were mutually antagonistic (28 Feb 1834, Bligh MSS). The Anglo-Russian co-operation, sought wherever British interests made it advisable, could never remove that underlying hostility. Ideological considerations, however, ranked below the prosperity on which everything depended. From that angle, it did not matter whether the powers were ‘despotical … or constitutional’, he said at the 1857 election. ‘That which concerns us … is that … whether they be free or enslaved, commercial intercourse shall not be interrupted but … as free … as the prejudices of … different nations permit’ (The Times, 28 March 1857). What was ‘miscalled protection’ had no place in his scheme of things. Example and persuasion were the best means of diffusing British liberalism, political and economic, in Europe: ‘generous sympathy’ did not justify interference in the internal affairs of another state, so long as its people acquiesced in the existing order.

Palmerston's foreign policy relied on playing off rival powers against one another to secure Britain's freedom of action, with the aim of deploying her ‘moral weight’ on the side of peoples struggling for liberty, meaning ‘rational government’ in his sense (21 March 1839, Beauvale MS 60466). No other course was open to a liberal Britain in Europe. As he had to tell his countrymen after the sharpest reverse that his diplomacy met (over the Schleswig-Holstein question): ‘Ships sailing on the sea cannot stop armies on land’ (The Times, 24 Aug 1864). In the wider world, the British mission was to ‘extend, as far and as fast as possible, civilization’, forcibly if treaties proved ineffectual.

Palmerston built his policy in Europe and further afield round an uneasy relationship with France: ‘the best ally for us’, he held. France alone constituted a potential danger to his country's insular security, but educated Frenchmen measured the regimes of Louis Philippe and Napoleon III against Britain's standards of freedom and self-discipline. Strategy and political kinship aligned Britain with France. It was often felt that he leant too far towards the old enemy. He had to begin by warning British envoys, whose mental habits reflected the long French wars, how important it was not only to be on good terms with her ‘but to appear to all Europe to be so’. British economic and maritime strength joined to France's military capability commanded the conservative powers' respect.

In practice, British diplomacy was much less straightforward than Palmerston contrived to make it seem. With the France of Louis Philippe, he exploited situations that favoured their intervention, from Greece to the Low Countries. In doing so, he endeavoured to avoid a breakdown in relations with the conservative powers. During the suppression of the 1830–31 rising in Poland he wanted the tsar to regard their differences as occurring between friends, and to know that Britain was not bound to revolutionary France. This attitude helped him to continue Canning's work and establish an independent Greece guaranteed by Russia as well as the Western allies. To that achievement he added a leading part in the arduous negotiations that erected the Belgian kingdom. French troops drove out the Dutch; British and French warships blockaded the coast of the Netherlands, and Palmerston displayed extraordinary patience and resource at the London conference (1830–31) in obtaining international recognition for the new state. Austria, Prussia, and Russia gave a reluctant consent to the outcome of a popular revolution. They could take comfort from the tone in which he informed the French that the Belgians' initial choice of a king, a son of Louis Philippe, meant war. French feelings were soothed by the arrangement that a substitute with British royal connections, Leopold of Coburg, should marry the excluded prince's sister.

With these successes behind him, Palmerston promoted the constitutional cause boldly in the Iberian peninsula; France was a collaborator, but also a rival. Instrumental in expelling the reactionary Don Miguel from Portugal, Britain assisted with the defeat of the first Carlist rebellion in Spain. Diplomacy was backed up by British sea power and volunteers, who were aided by their government. Palmerston was the moving spirit in the Quadruple Alliance (1834) between Britain, France, and the two peninsular monarchies, conceived as ‘a Western Confederacy of free states … a political and moral power’.

At the other end of the Mediterranean, Britain and France came close to war over the future of the Ottoman empire. Palmerston worsted the French in the Near East by enlisting the other powers against her Egyptian protégé, Mehmet Ali. Turkey's survival was a British and European interest. Egyptian forces retreated before the amphibious operations of British and Austrian squadrons and the revolt they raised in occupied territory. Rear-Admiral Charles Napier's threat to bombard Alexandria (November 1840) completed Mehmet Ali's rout; he renounced the conquests of years. Some in the cabinet objected to combining with the conservative powers: Palmerston countered by intimating his readiness to resign. His belief that Louis Philippe would not incur the risks of war was vindicated: ‘Governments’, he said, ‘seldom take the first step in war unless they have either right or might on their side’, and the French had neither. He dominated his colleagues, prepared ‘with all my heart and soul’ to accept responsibility for armed conflict, if it came to that. The Straits convention (1841) committed the great powers to preserving the Ottoman empire: ‘We have been waging war … without burning priming’, he commented (20 Sept 1840, 24 Nov 1840, Beauvale MS 60467). Closure of the straits to foreign warships in peacetime underpinned the commitment. The isolation of France had given Russia an inducement to relax pressure on a supposedly moribund empire. Yet Palmerston's fundamental distrust of Russia remained; nor did he think France had any alternative whenever Britain chose to invoke the liberal alliance.

The First Opium War (1839–42), always associated with him, further enhanced Palmerston's reputation, and brought Britain Hong Kong. He handled the Chinese question with notable success in domestic politics. The tories criticized him for being drawn into war by traders in opium, legal under the British flag but illegal in China. The vision of a huge oriental market vanquished their scruples when they took office in 1841. Palmerston was understandably gratified by this conversion, attributed to the prevailing depression at home, and sure that ‘These Asiatic triumphs … will relieve embarrassment of all kinds’ (Letters, ed. Bourne, 275). His second term at the Foreign Office left him widely admired in and out of parliament.

Opposition, 1841–1846, and the Foreign Office under Russell, 1846–1852

Palmerston was glad of an interval in his departmental labours; he drove himself hard. The small Foreign Office staff complained bitterly of his demands; before his marriage he often worked into the early hours. His behaviour in opposition did nothing to reassure colleagues, whose reservations he had increasingly disregarded in making policy, although at home he moved with his party towards free trade and voted for the Maynooth Bill in 1845. He attacked the tories for being too conciliatory towards France, and employed strong language about the surrender of territory to America in the Ashburton treaty (1842). This outspokenness revealed his impatience to take foreign affairs out of the hands of ‘a set of geese’; he assailed his successor, Lord Aberdeen, in leading articles written for the Morning Chronicle. ‘Palmerston and War’ were linked in men's minds as Peel's ministry neared its end. Loath to form a government in December 1845, Lord John Russell discovered an excuse in objections to Palmerston as foreign secretary, voiced by the third Earl Grey, and in his refusal to take another post. There was no keeping Palmerston from the Foreign Office when Russell succeeded Peel in July 1846. He replied to charges that his policy had ‘a tendency to produce war’ by pointing out that it had advanced British interests without a major conflict, if not quite peacefully (Letters of Queen Victoria, ed. A. C. Benson and Lord Esher, and G. E. Buckle, 1st ser., 1907, 2.69).

The contrast between Palmerston's vocal championship of European liberalism and a realistic appreciation of where Britain's advantage lay was sharper than ever. Anglo-French relations, improved under Aberdeen, deteriorated again with the affair of the Spanish marriages. Britain accused her ally of breaking a promise not to marry a French prince to the young Queen Isabella II, or to her sister and heir, until the queen had married and borne children. Isabella's union to a Spanish cousin assumed to be impotent was celebrated simultaneously with her sister's to the duc de Montpensier (October 1846). Nevertheless, Britain and France co-operated in the forcible restoration of constitutionalism in Portugal in 1847 under the provisions of the Quadruple Alliance, an episode that repaired some of the damage done by the Spanish marriages. Palmerston followed it up with an initiative to exploit the liberal tide flowing in Europe. A cabinet minister, Lord Minto, was sent to Switzerland and Italy with instructions to encourage the ‘progressive system of internal improvement’ exemplified by the reforming pope, Pius IX. The liberals' victory in the Swiss civil war that year was made possible by the absence of foreign intervention, averted largely by Palmerston's tactics in holding off collective action by the powers until the Catholic cantons had been defeated. To Austrian protests at what looked like gratuitous interference in Italy, he replied: ‘Prince Metternich thinks he is a conservative in clinging obstinately to the status quo … We think ourselves conservatives in preaching and advising everywhere concessions, reforms and improvements, where public opinion demands them’ (A. J. P. Taylor, The Italian Problem in European Diplomacy, 1934, 32).

The revolutions of 1848 demonstrated the intelligence of whig foreign and domestic policies. But the failure of continental liberalism to consolidate its gains ensured the success of reaction, which in France took the form of a Bonapartist revival. Palmerston's response to the democratic republic that displaced the monarchy in February 1848, and to Louis Napoleon Bonaparte's election as its president in December, was pragmatic. He stayed close to the power that was potentially more dangerous and more helpful to Britain than any other. ‘What business is it of ours’, he enquired, ‘whether the French nation thinks proper to be governed by a King, an emperor, a president or a consul?’ (Hansard 3, 102, 2 Feb 1849, 206–7). The prince president proved easier to work with than Louis Philippe. He was an Anglophile, which had an important bearing on Palmerston's future. Russell and other colleagues were slower to realize that this Bonaparte was very different from his uncle Napoleon I. Palmerston was dismissed on 19 December 1851 for having approved, in conversation with the French ambassador, of the coup that made Louis Napoleon dictator.

Palmerston's removal had been discussed at intervals for several years. Queen Victoria and her husband did not share his view that revolutions might be judged on their merits. They complained of the dispatches sent off before he had received royal comments that were often full and pointed. The cabinet admired and resented Palmerston's mastery of his portfolio and his independence. His growing populism disconcerted them. Though for him property and education qualified a man to vote, he considered ‘no set of men … too ignorant to understand their own interests and … manage their own affairs … the knowledge requisite … is speedily acquired by … taking part in them’ (Webster, 1.272). His language in reproving governments for their slowness to change imperilled the practical co-operation integral to his policy. Attacked in parliament in July 1849, he had argued that encouragement of liberals entitled Britain to the gratitude of a future Europe, while the preservation of normal relations with states opposed to liberalism safeguarded the peace so necessary to his country.

If sometimes provocative towards great powers, Palmerston was overbearing when small states offended. On 17 June 1850 the Lords condemned his employment of the Mediterranean Fleet to collect relatively modest compensation due to, among others, a Gibraltarian Jew of dubious repute, David Pacifico. The Commons upheld him after he had delivered the most famous of his speeches (25 June 1850), ‘extraordinary and masterly’, admitted W. E. Gladstone, one of his sternest critics in the debate. Speaking for four and a half hours, with scarcely a note, Palmerston rose to parliamentary heights no one had thought him capable of scaling, and with a conclusion which became one of the best-known flights of parliamentary oratory in that century:
I therefore fearlessly challenge the verdict which this House … is to give … as the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say Civis Romanus sum; so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong. (Hansard 3, 112, 25 June 1850, 444)
The claim had no basis in international law, and was patently unenforceable against powerful countries. It was a declaration of equality with nations strong enough to behave in the same way towards inferiors; as such it went down very well with the public. His colleagues' misgivings were an open secret. But Palmerston had been prudent where it mattered. Britain's moral support did not save Sardinia from being crushed by Austria in 1849, when she tried to set up the constitutional kingdom of Northern Italy that Palmerston wanted to see. He urgently advised the Sardinians against war. Nor was the British fleet ordered to prevent the Neapolitan Bourbons from reconquering Sicily, where the revolutions of 1848 began, although Britain and France insisted on a delay for negotiations. By the end of 1849 reaction had prevailed in Italy, the German lands, and Hungary; in the last Russian intervention was decisive. Sending British and French warships to stiffen Turkey in her refusal to surrender Hungarian refugees pleased domestic opinion, but did not disguise the abandonment of Hungary.

Russell could no longer tolerate the contradictions of Palmerstonian policy. After, as before, the Greek debate Palmerston would not be shifted from the Foreign Office to another post, with or without the lead in the house. A few weeks ahead of his dismissal, he flaunted his antagonism to authoritarian regimes. Stopped by the cabinet from meeting the exiled Hungarian patriot Kossuth, he received a London radical deputation and failed to rebuke them for violently hostile references to the Austrian and Russian emperors. This was the occasion on which he said that Britain's role called for ‘a good deal of judicious bottle-holding’; a sporting metaphor made famous in Punch (6 December 1851). Russell's hesitancy is explained by his awareness of the esteem in which Palmerston was held by tories and radicals on the back benches: ‘both would be ready to receive him as leader’, the premier had told the queen.

Coalition, war, and the first premiership, 1851–1858

The expulsion of Palmerston, who refused to exchange the Foreign Office for the Irish viceroyalty, had the predicted effect of upsetting the government (20 February 1852). He led the attack on its Militia Bill, voted down as an inadequate response to public anxiety about national defences against a Bonapartist France. This display of patriotic vigilance was not needed for his popularity, which had grown with his fall. The tories had always hoped he might be persuaded to return to them: Lord Derby made repeated offers, which did not include his old department, during the minority government formed on the resignation of the divided whigs. Prepared to enter a coalition, Palmerston would not join a tory administration as such; ties of two decades to the whigs were reinforced by the prospective partners' reluctance to give up agricultural protection and by his distaste for their bigots. He thought the leadership of his own party was within his grasp, surmising that on a secret vote they would prefer him to Russell. On reflection, he accepted the Home Office (28 December 1852) in the whig and Peelite ministry that replaced Derby's. Busying himself with prison reform, factory legislation, and public health in a spirit of humanitarianism and efficiency, he carried his objections to Russell's plans for a wider franchise to the length of resigning on 16 December 1853. It was too soon to strengthen the ‘democratic element’ in the state; the question had failed to arouse much interest. He did not persist with his resignation; nor did he again oppose parliamentary reform openly. Russell's bill was dropped after its introduction.

Kept out of the Foreign Office, Palmerston advocated resistance to fresh Russian pressure on Turkey, and continued to insist that war (March 1854) could have been averted by more resolute diplomacy and a better understanding with France. The Turkish fleet's destruction at Sinope the previous December excited such indignation that the cabinet feared his resignation on an unrelated question would bring them down. Helped by his hints to newspapers, the public identified him with their desire to stand up to Russia. His realism did not desert him: the imminent struggle ‘must as far as we are concerned have a very limited range’ (Letters, ed. Bourne, 308). That did not prevent him from conceiving a grand design for the ‘circumvallation’ of Russia, her borderlands distributed between neighbouring countries and independent Poland. The aim was to make the world a safer place for liberalism, and the sultan. Lord Aberdeen commented that the plan would mean a thirty years' war. Official British war aims were restricted to keeping Russia out of Turkey. When Palmerston took over, he did not ask the cabinet to reconsider his visionary project, although he adverted to it with selected individuals.

The revelation of military weakness in the Crimea made Palmerston prime minister. Losses inflicted by the enemy were much smaller than the mortality from exposure and disease, for which incompetence and neglect were blamed. The home secretary escaped the censure visited upon Aberdeen and others. At the end of 1854 Russell questioned Aberdeen's leadership, and proposed Palmerston for the War Office. Personal ambition rather than concern for the country were thought to have prompted him: Palmerston spoke contemptuously in cabinet of such opportunism. Appreciation of this solidarity made him their choice to lead the Commons when Russell resigned in January 1855, unable to withstand J. A. Roebuck's motion for an inquiry into the conduct of the war. After a majority of 157 had swept Aberdeen aside, the two party chiefs, Russell and Derby, could not induce Palmerston, for whom press and public were clamouring, to serve under either. Warned not to show herself unwilling to send for him, the queen lamented that he would redraw the map of Europe.

The circumstances of his accession to power (6 February 1855) at seventy set the tone of Palmerston's premiership. The outcry that greeted the plight of the Crimean army seemed, briefly, to have undermined the position of the aristocracy. Palmerston followed Aberdeen because his reputation qualified him to restore confidence in the ability of his class to rule an ever more urban, industrial, and imperially minded state. He had much radical goodwill: A. H. Layard of the Administrative Reform Association declared that if anyone could change the existing system of government for the better, it was Palmerston, who had been deterred from making Layard a junior minister only by strenuous representations from, among others, Gladstone. Radicals, argued Palmerston, often mistook the whole trend of contemporary Britain. The social process was one of levelling up: ‘it is an aristocratic movement. I am delighted to see the humbler classes raising themselves in the scale of society’ (Hansard 3, 136, 1 March 1855, 2165). It was sound policy to proclaim the openness of his class and its diminishing distance from those below. A start on civil service reform furnished proof of the ministry's intentions; at the same time he reassured parliament, more nervous than he was of the Administrative Reform Association, by opposing Layard's attempt to force the pace. The latter's motion of 15 June 1855 was lost by a huge margin.

The pressing requirement was for a leader who could hold his own in the Commons and bring to the higher direction of the war qualities which the peace-loving Aberdeen did not possess. The foreign secretary, Lord Clarendon, was as nearly a technocrat as was possible at that period; he owed a great deal to Palmerston, whose subordinate he had been as minister to Spain, and never lost the habit of looking for instructions. The new war minister, Lord Panmure, was uninspired and slow to act; successive British commanders in the Crimea disappointed. Palmerston's experience enabled him to infuse unwonted energy into the military machine: the logistics of the campaign were soon at least adequate. Strategy was determined by the need to capture Sevastopol before launching any further large-scale attacks, though he was ready with ideas for widening the invasion. He had public opinion with him, but, his cabinet colleague Sir George Cornewall Lewis noted, the Commons did not believe there was ‘a real national interest in supporting Turkey’ (G. C. Lewis, diary, 20 July 1855, NL Wales, Harpton Court collection, 3569). Gladstone and two other Peelites left the cabinet almost at once, ostensibly in protest at proceeding with the inquiry into the war, in reality because their enthusiasm for the war did not match Palmerston's. In May the tories decided to turn the ministry out. Aided by Peelites and radicals, they got its majority down to three on the loan urgently needed to keep Turkey fighting (20 July 1855). Tory cross-voting rescued Palmerston and the bill. The public registered its disapproval of his treatment so strongly that the second reading ten days later went unopposed. Even before Sevastopol fell, in September, he was likened to a dictator, controlling the house through his hold on opinion outside.

Doubts about the war in cabinet and parliament obliged Palmerston to persist with inherited peace negotiations at Vienna while operations continued. Russell, the British plenipotentiary, virtually gave away the allied case, and then criticized in the house terms to which he had agreed. He was forced to resign in July. A people who exaggerated the British part in its fall rejoiced at the taking of Sevastopol; the French assault carried the fortress. When Napoleon III tired of the war, Palmerston had no option: it was all he could do to hold the emperor to proposals drafted without consulting Britain. In the treaty of Paris (30 March 1856) the allies settled for the containment of Russia on terms little changed since the combatants had been close to agreement before the war. The cost of the war to Russia and the internal reconstruction on which she embarked left Napoleon free to pursue his aims in Italy, with Palmerston's discriminating assistance.

Initially, the cabinet comprised five Peelites and nine whigs, or Liberals, as they now tended to call themselves. After the rapid departure of some Peelites (21 February 1855) and the absorption of the rest, it was a Liberal government. M. T. Baines's elevation to the cabinet in December 1855, representing the provincial middle class, was one step to advertise the administration's broad outlook. Palmerston went too far for many when he unsuccessfully tried to modernize the Lords by introducing life peers. His colleagues were dubious; tories and Peelites denounced the innovation. There was also criticism of Palmerston's religious policy, designed to conciliate the rising power of nonconformity and improve relations between church and chapel. Advised by the leading evangelical layman, his stepdaughter's husband, Lord Shaftesbury, he favoured evangelicals for preferment—men congenial to nonconformists. Privately, he explained this bias as a ‘political duty’ (Steele, 167); his own inclinations ran to broad-churchmen like A. C. Tait, whom he appointed bishop of London in 1856. That year ministers endorsed a Church Rates Bill to exempt nonconformists, which passed its second reading. It did not go on to the Lords and certain defeat, but indicated a wish to please the moderate majority in the chapels. He rejected suggestions that he was not a reformer: ‘Failure, at first, is an unavoidable incident to free discussion’ (Hansard 3, 143, 25 July 1856, 1465). The unbroken prosperity of the war years underwrote his policies. The ‘war ninepence’ on income tax did not lift it above 1s. 4d. in the pound, and Lewis at the Treasury borrowed extensively at low rates. Only its economic well-being, Palmerston observed, had made the country ‘stick to the war’.

The opposition to Palmerston, like his support, cut across parties. Russell resented his exile from the cabinet, which the prime minister was in no hurry to end. These assorted enemies banded together to defeat the government on 3 March 1857 on Richard Cobden's motion censuring the resort to force against China. Palmerston defended the controversial decisions of Sir John Bowring, governor of Hong Kong, in accordance with his practice of standing by the man on the spot. Recent consultations between Britain, France, and the United States about their posture in the Far East had prepared the ground. The three envisaged armed negotiation with China and Japan. Seizure at Canton (Guangzhou) of the Arrow (October 1856), a vessel flying the British flag although its Hong Kong registration had expired, afforded a pretext, reinforced by other instances of Chinese disregard for the letter and spirit of the treaty signed in 1842. Palmerston depicted Bowring, ‘essentially a man of the people’, as an example of middle-class achievement and the victim of factional politics. He met the opposition victory with a dissolution. The polls bore out immediate reactions in the City and the main provincial towns. A number of tory candidates protested their regard for Palmerston, and tendered him ‘a general support’. At one stage The Times listed returns as for or against the prime minister rather than Liberal or Conservative. The election was a personal triumph.

Palmerston's national standing had already allowed him to carry off set-backs elsewhere. Ferdinand II of Naples, whose methods the British used the congress of Paris to deplore, defied an Anglo-French note and joint naval demonstration, making the allies look mildly ridiculous. Palmerston fared no better in disputes with the United States that arose from Crimean War recruiting inside her borders, and from conflicting interests in Central America. Britain submitted to the dismissal of her minister in Washington and three consuls; the navy in Central American waters was instructed to avoid an incident. The Commons approved this caution decisively (30 June 1856); no one wanted disruption of the vital transatlantic trade. There was much less concern about war with Persia in 1856–7, largely at the Indian taxpayers' expense. Russia was in no condition to help Persia, whose encroachment upon Afghanistan, the buffer against the arrival of Russian expansion at the Indian frontier, elicited the successful British action.

Except in India, where he favoured the annexation of princely states before the mutiny, Palmerston preferred influence to territory. He was not tempted by Napoleon III's idea that Britain should take Egypt and France Morocco. British interests and Western civilization were best served by maintaining local regimes and opening their lands to trade: ‘Let us try to improve all these countries by the general influence of our commerce’, he commented, ‘but let us all abstain from a crusade of conquest which would call down … the condemnation of … other civilized nations’ (H. E. Maxwell, The Life and Letters of … [the] Fourth Earl of Clarendon, 1913, 2.300–01). The Anglo-Moroccan treaty of 1856 exemplified the desired arrangement: abolition of most restrictions on imports; tariffs fixed at 10 per cent, for revenue, not protection; and the benefits of extraterritoriality for British residents. In the era of ‘informal empire’, this was the pattern of agreements with China, Japan, and other states where guarantees of most favoured nation status did not suffice.

If economic penetration sometimes called for the employment of force, the extirpation of the slave trade depended upon it. Few doubted Palmerston's sincerity in declaring that its suppression was one of the ‘great objects always before him in life’ (Gladstone, Diaries, 5.495). At the Foreign Office he constructed a network of treaties with European governments that permitted the Royal Navy to intercept suspected slavers wearing foreign colours, and deliver them for adjudication in their own courts or before mixed commissions representing both signatories. When Portugal held out against the imposition of this control, Palmerston secured an act of parliament (1839) providing for unilateral enforcement; Brazil was similarly coerced. Along the west and east African coasts treaties outlawing the traffic were pressed on local rulers; the effect was to establish British paramountcy in those regions. It was Palmerston who gave substance to the international declaration of intent to abolish the slave trade (1815). The United States' attitude left ample scope for its perpetuation, and in the 1850s France revived it under another name. Not until after the outbreak of the civil war did Washington bring America into line. Protracted negotiations were necessary before the French halted ‘free emigration’ in black Africa in exchange for access to indentured labour from India for their sugar colonies.

Britain's inability to coerce the United States and France was a reminder of her limitations. So was Palmerston's discomfiture when France and Russia overcame Anglo-Turkish resistance to uniting the Romanian principalities, Ottoman tributary states. At Osborne (August 1857) the emperor and Palmerston devised a formula to cover the latter's retreat. Napoleon did not want to lower the prime minister in the eyes of his countrymen at an awkward moment: British weakness had again been exposed, this time in India. Palmerston welcomed the news of the mutiny: ‘distressing by reason of … individual sufferings … but not really alarming … it may tend to our establishing our power upon … a firmer basis’. The recapture of Delhi within four months seemed to indicate that the British were not facing a ‘real war’ (Panmure Papers, 2.399, 466). He did not foresee the partisan war that prolonged the insurrection.

The rapid growth of newspaper circulations after 1855 added to the pressure of public opinion on MPs. While Palmerston made the most of this development, he considered that newspapers finished by reflecting opinion, however hard they tried to mould it. He could not ride the storm that blew up on the Conspiracy to Murder Bill and turned him out on 19 February 1858. The attempted assassination of Napoleon in January by conspirators based in Britain had produced strongly worded French demands, diplomatic and military, for changes in her law. Palmerston found French anger ‘perfectly natural’. If war resulted, France would have ‘a plausible … cause which all Europe will admit to be just’ (Broadlands MS, CAB/89). The cabinet baulked at his proposal to deport aliens suspected of plotting against foreign governments: the bill making conspiracy to commit murder outside the jurisdiction a felony instead of a misdemeanour was only a gesture, but on its second reading the same combination that had beaten Palmerston in 1857 carried the motion, which convicted him of going beyond conciliation to appeasement. Bystanders jeered as he went home. The political price of the French alliance had risen too high for a nation sensitive to any hint of dictation by another power. His resignation appeared to terminate Palmerston's political life.

The reconstruction of Liberalism, and the second administration, 1859–1865

The Times attributed Palmerston's overthrow to underlying discontent at his failure to broaden the ministry's composition in line with the shift towards a more popular Liberalism. There was evidence of a reforming administration: besides the Divorce Act (1857), a landmark in social legislation of which Palmerston was proud, a cabinet committee under his chairmanship outlined a reform bill lowering the £10 franchise to £6 or £8. Parliament endorsed, overwhelmingly, ministers' handling of the banking crisis in November 1857. On the debit side, filling a cabinet vacancy in December with a friend, Lord Clanricarde, discredited by allegations about his personal character, suggested indifference to the respectable voter. It offended Liberals who were neither old-style whigs nor radicals—often businessmen and lawyers from midland and northern seats, not hostile to aristocratic leadership, only disappointed in their expectations of Palmerston.

No one supposed Derby's incoming minority government would last long. Palmerston confounded those who had written him off by taking readily to opposition. Too sanguine of ousting Derby at first, he realized that the road back lay through the Liberal members who had seen in him something more than a ‘traditional politician’ (The Times, 1 March 1858). He promised them that his next ministry would be more representative of a changing party. Tory misjudgements assisted his recovery. The government's Reform Bill united Liberals of all shades by leaving the £10 franchise untouched and removing urban 40 shilling freeholders from the counties, where the party relied on them. The election which Derby called in the spring of 1859 after being beaten on these points was overshadowed by the war between France, allied to Sardinia, and Austria, impending for months, which raised the prospect of a European struggle. Tory policy appeared likely to align Britain with Austria when technological advances had jeopardized naval superiority over France. Fear of war worked to Palmerston's advantage. He had maintained contact with Napoleon, paying him a well-publicized visit in November 1858. Earlier, in Paris, the emperor assured him that in modernizing her fleet France did not mean to overtake her neighbour. As war approached, Palmerston strove to calm the distrust of Napoleon, although he shared it, and overrode the friends of Austria in his party. He countered the government's Austrian leanings, which caused panic on the stock exchange, with a pro-French neutrality. Freeing Italy from Austrian hegemony, attractive though that was, had a lower priority than peace.

With the navy in transition, Palmerston pointed out, the country was in no state to take on France. A Palmerston government offered an assurance of peace. Reconstruction of the Liberal Party after an election which it won, with a reduced majority, proceeded on the basis of continued neutrality, parliamentary reform, and a more broadly based ministry than his last. Liberal MPs meeting at Willis's Rooms on 6 June 1859 sealed the accord. Palmerston and Russell pledged themselves to serve under each other if sent for: like most of those present, Russell privately conceded that the international situation required Palmerston at the helm, but recognition of his standing placated the former leader. When a vote of confidence had disposed of the tories (10 June 1859), Austrian sympathies inspired a royal attempt to impose Lord Granville as premier, easily and politely frustrated by other leading Liberals. In forming a ministry (he took office on 12 June 1859), Palmerston cast his net widely: the old whig element in the cabinet fell from twelve out of fifteen in February 1858 to eight out of sixteen; there were half a dozen former Peelites and, a novelty, two radicals. As advised, he enlisted the ablest men he could—hence the Peelite representation. He justified his exclusion of old friends by the necessity of putting together a comprehensive Liberal administration. It was understood that the proximity of war had handed Palmerston ‘a power no one dreamed he would have again’ (Sir E. Bulwer-Lytton, quoted in Steele, 30).

Ironically, Cobden and John Bright now looked on Palmerston as their best hope for peace. Refusing his invitation to enter ‘the citadel of power’, Cobden undertook to support the government so long as his close associate, Milner Gibson, sat in cabinet. Gladstone, who voted with the tories in June, could not bear to be left out. Palmerston was persuaded to substitute the exchequer for the India Office, where he had meant to marginalize a formidable opponent. The relationship of Palmerston and Gladstone was central to this ministry; the elder proved the stronger of two strong men. Gibson and Gladstone backed Palmerston and his foreign secretary, Russell, when the cabinet opposed a defensive pact between Britain, France, and Sardinia to safeguard the last's territorial gains in 1859. The premier and his supporters fell back on the Anglo-French commercial treaty which Cobden helped to negotiate. Afraid of France, government and public were eager to share the credit for events in Italy.

France confined Austria to Venetia; Sardinia turned a blind eye to Garibaldi's expedition to Sicily in May 1860, and her troops completed the conquest of the Papal States and Naples. Britain's contribution to uniting Italy was almost entirely diplomatic. The exception was her refusal to join France in preventing Garibaldi from crossing the Straits of Messina, where Napoleon did not like to act alone. Fearful of a continental coalition, he was always anxious to have Britain with him; her friendship was, too, confirmation of his claim to be a liberal. ‘I cannot see’, remarked Palmerston, ‘the use of representing the … emperor as a deep deceiver … an inveterate enemy … he professes the fixed desire of being our faithful ally’ (Steele, 250). Taking Napoleon at his word, he urged France to refrain from intervening when nationalists ignored the terms of the Franco-Austrian armistice (July 1859) in handing over the central Italian duchies and the Romagna to Sardinia. This supporting role made Palmerston an apologist for the emperor. He sought to mitigate the offence in the French appropriation of Savoy and Nice: Napoleon's ‘noble enterprise’ beyond the Alps was substantially intact. The government kept up diplomatic pressure for the evacuation of Rome, where France had protected the papacy since 1849. Palmerston's Italian policy embraced ‘English and Protestant interests’ (Palmerston to Russell, 17 Sept 1861, ibid., 266), and envisaged shrinking the pope's residual territory to its modern dimensions. For that Napoleon was not prepared, although he withdrew his garrison.

Anglo-French co-operation extended round the world. The Second Opium War, begun in 1856, ended with the British and French occupation of Peking (Beijing) (1860); British marines landed with the French in Mexico in 1861; and French warships participated in the British-led bombardment of Japanese defences in 1864. Disliking these ‘combined operations’ with rivals, Palmerston saw them as unavoidable if international jealousy of Britain's global presence was to be contained. Distrust of France remained strong: the volunteer movement was a spontaneous reaction to deep-seated fears; if of small military value, in Palmerston's view, it provided a useful indication of the national mood. Public opinion upheld him in spending millions to confirm naval superiority; he maintained that the mutual respect essential to the successful working of the French, or any comparable, alliance, required Britain to be safe from attack. It took France's attitude to the Trent incident, all that an ally could wish, to relax British suspicions.

Washington's surrender of Confederate emissaries taken off a British ship encouraged Napoleon and a cross-section of British opinion to press for joint mediation in the American Civil War. Palmerston was torn between lifelong opposition to slavery and the attraction of a permanently divided United States, the probable outcome of a brokered settlement. He resisted Gladstone's bid to pre-empt a cabinet decision by his Newcastle speech of October 1862, hailing the Confederacy as an emergent nation: but spoke and voted with Russell and Gladstone when mediation was rejected in November. Gladstone had the impression that this result did not displease the premier, much less eager to intervene than the emperor. The tide had turned against the Confederacy, and the North was amassing a formidable power, military and naval.

Differences over Poland and Schleswig-Holstein strained the French alliance in 1863–4. Napoleon's suggested European congress to consider the Polish question in the context of a wholesale revision of the Viennese treaties alarmed other powers; it seemed to imply further French expansion. Short of war, it was the only way to help the rebels in Russian Poland, whose sufferings excited Western compassion. Russell's language in replying to the French proposal gave considerable offence. The emperor derived understandable satisfaction from the humiliation of British diplomacy in the next European crisis, over Schleswig-Holstein. Despite a verbal intimation (Hansard 3, 172, 24 July 1863, 1252) that the Danes might count on Britain, Palmerston was critical of them, saying afterwards: ‘They were wrong in the beginning, and have been wrong in the end’ (Guedalla, Gladstone and Palmerston, 290). If the Baltic kingdom, with its strategic location, was a significant British interest, the treatment of the German element in Schleswig and the duchy's incorporation in Denmark were undeniable breaches of treaty obligations. But both parties in Britain condemned Austrian and Prussian occupation of the duchies on Germany's behalf. The Danes' obduracy—‘they are not an intelligent race’ said Palmerston (Connell, 383)—and German awareness that there was nothing to fear from anyone entailed the failure of Britain's efforts at the London Conference of 1864. The cabinet's resolution, by a single vote, on physical intervention only if the Danish capital were threatened, underlined British helplessness.

Yet the public did not hold this signal reverse against Palmerston: the crowd cheered as he left the Commons after answering the tory censure of his policy. He had done what was expected of him. He had spoken, undiplomatically, of Russia's ‘inheritance of triumphant wrong’ in Poland (Hansard 3, 169, 27 Feb 1863, 935), and informed the Austrian and Prussian envoys that their governments were guilty of the bloodshed over the duchies. Britain's circumstances and her policy excluded ‘great sacrifices … of men and money’, he told his constituents (The Times, 24 Aug 1864). Even if the French had been ready to move, Palmerston was apprehensive of a demand for payment in German territory. As a substitute for force, he urged The Times to sustain a warlike tone in its editorials: Bismarck was unimpressed. There was no question, however, of withdrawing from Europe: the alliance with France survived. At times Palmerston had felt that war between these uneasy allies might be near: but, like Louis Philippe and Napoleon, he exerted himself to control national feeling. Gladstone's tribute should be remembered: ‘he [Palmerston] … was entirely above flattering … the most vulgar appetites and propensities of the people’ (Ramm, Political Correspondence, 1876–1886, 2.1). His reward, and Britain's, was a greater say in Europe than would otherwise have been theirs.

The British headed the contemporary expansion of Europe and America into other continents. Dealings with ‘weaker and less civilized’ countries went through stages outlined by Palmerston in 1864: initial willingness to sign a trade treaty, followed by breaches of faith, violence, Western protests and reprisals until the eventual ‘display of superior strength’ (5 Oct 1864, Broadlands MS, PM/J/1). Force, and its intimation, were not absent from the striking growth of British trade and investment in Latin America, which outstripped progress in the Pacific. Suppression of the mutiny secured the accelerating profitability of India. On a political plane, Palmerston won the domestic argument about his country's methods in the East: critics were ‘doing their best to take the bread out of the mouths of our working classes’ (Hansard 3, 175, 31 May 1864, 973). But empire brought an obligation to improve the lot of subject peoples. Palmerston contrasted his colleague Sir Charles Wood's oversight of Indian administration with the Russian record in Poland: ‘The result … makes England a bright example for other countries’ (19 April 1864, Hickleton MS A4/63/146). He seems to have accepted without question the establishment of responsible government in the settler colonies, but did not look for the severance of their remaining, and voluntary, ties with Britain; they were the fullest expression of a liberal empire.

Those colonies were not far ahead in their adoption of democracy. Cobden's reference to the prime ministerial Palmerston as ‘the Feargus O'Connor of the middle classes’ (J. Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden, 1881, 2.416) was near the mark. Palmerston pioneered the kind of politics often associated with Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain. At intervals he went on the stump, and in the 1860s made speeches aimed specifically at a working class whose self-respect and respect for other classes were qualifying more of them for membership of the political nation. He amused a Glaswegian audience by claiming to be a working man himself; at Lambeth he talked of social mobility and was criticized in the press for overstating it. He preached a popular capitalism: increasing wages and returns on capital went hand in hand; employers should not treat the workforce as ‘machines … to produce so much profit … but … rational beings’ (The Times, 7 Nov 1856). There is an obvious contrast here with his position on parliamentary reform after the 1860 bill, on which he and Russell agreed before coming into office. Lack of interest outside Westminster compelled them to abandon the measure in an unfriendly house. Although Palmerston saw no reason to repeat the attempt until opinion had ripened, he promoted ‘bit by bit reform’, which gave four new constituencies to the industrial north of England in 1861. The evolving political system to which he imparted its distinctive character was well described as ‘an aristocratico-democratic representative constitution’ (G. C. Lewis, A Dialogue on the Best Form of Government, 1863, 82).

The Palmerston of these years voted for the Liberation Society's church rate bills, and expressed sympathy with nonconformist complaints of the Anglican monopoly in university government. In deference to Peelite high-churchmen in the cabinet, he made fewer evangelical appointments while pointing to their reception by church people and nonconformists. Baronetcies for parliamentary representatives of nonconformity proclaimed their acceptability in the party he led. An essentially political investment in nonconformist goodwill paid: the most militant of nonconformists found it hard to depict Palmerston as an enemy; greater harmony between church and chapel helped the Liberals at the 1865 election. The familiar tory cry of ‘the Church in danger’ sounded unconvincing in that atmosphere; even E. B. Pusey urged his adherents to vote for a minister who had done much to strengthen the establishment.

Religion divided Palmerston and Gladstone more than anything else. ‘There was a greater storm in the cabinet … than I ever heard before’ (15 Nov 1862, Glynne–Gladstone MS 29/1), wrote Gladstone when the premier stood firm on denying Samuel Wilberforce the archbishopric of York. Their published correspondence suggests that their better-known disagreements were not caused by serious policy differences. Palmerston believed the chancellor was using his financial responsibility to become ‘master of the cabinet’ (Connell, 291), and asserted his own authority as first lord of the Treasury. Gladstone's acceptance from the outset that modernization of the fleet was imperative foreshadowed the outcome of their repeated arguments over the naval estimates, in particular. Palmerston joked about the many contemplated resignations of his colleague, who came closest to leaving on the fortifications loan (1860). Sure of the cabinet, he faced his challenger with lasting relegation to the back benches beside radicals whose opinions on most subjects, defence included, were not his. That summer he quietly welcomed the Lords' action in throwing out repeal of the paper duties: he disliked the sacrifice of revenue, and contrived to prevent the ensuing controversy about the Lords' power from developing into an unwanted crisis. Gladstone got his way the next year, by inserting the repeal in a unified finance bill which the peers could not reject. Cutting expenditure, once defence spending reached its peak, had Palmerston's blessing. In all his long experience, keeping taxes low was vital to political health. The two men compromised on direct versus indirect taxation: Palmerston was for halting the decline in income tax at 5d. in the pound, not the 4d. reached by 1865, since it was levied upon those who could comfortably afford to pay, and concentrating reductions upon the fiscal burdens of the vast majority.

‘Progressive improvement’ had many aspects. Palmerston befriended the extension of the Factory Acts, and obliged pressure groups with royal commissions on a variety of social problems. But his constructive influence did not owe a great deal to legislation. Gladstone linked Palmerston with the Liberals' goal in declaring that they had set themselves to remove ‘any occasion … of conflict between classes’ (The Times, 2 June 1865). In saying of Palmerston ‘he devoted more time and ability to … understanding the people than any democratic politician of his age’, the Daily News (25 Oct 1865) recognized that his ministries were a conscious introduction to a new era. If not a good party man, he fashioned the instrument which served Gladstone well: a Liberalism whose unifying idea and function—social harmony in the pursuit of ordered change—he had redefined and emphasized. Disraeli and, with more success, Lord Salisbury tried to acquire this Palmerstonian inheritance.

The last months of Palmerston's life saw an electoral victory in July 1865 which considerably increased his majority. In Ireland Fenianism confronted him: no surprise to someone who had insisted on stationing there, at a quiet time, ‘a sufficient Saxon force to make any movement on the part of the Celts perfectly hopeless, and sure to bring immediate destruction on those who take part’ (Panmure Papers, 2.446). If the harshness is unexpected, he may be said to have taken a more realistic view of Irish unrest than was usual then. He did not live to meet the new parliament. A robust constitution, which had withstood gout and lesser ailments, was perceptibly weakening during 1865; he died from pneumonia at Brocket on 18 October of that year. ‘Die, my dear Doctor, that's the last thing I shall do!’ were said to be his last words (E. Latham, Famous Sayings, 1904, 12). Given a state funeral, he was buried at Westminster Abbey, the last of many honours—dying a knight of the Garter (1856), lord warden of the Cinque Ports (1862), and rector of Glasgow University (1863). His Irish peerage became extinct.

Posthumous reputation

There is a wide measure of disagreement about Palmerston. The official life begun by his friend Sir Henry Bulwer was completed and revised by Evelyn Ashley, Shaftesbury's son. They presented him as an authentic Liberal, without doing justice to his perception of change and adaptation to it. Shorter nineteenth-century studies drew on Bulwer and Ashley. The publication of Morley's Gladstone in 1903 lent authority to the contention of diverse critics in his lifetime that the real Palmerston was distinctly conservative in domestic politics, if a liberal in Europe. Variations on that theme prevailed until lately. In the 1960s one scholar summed him up as an ‘ill-considered Tory hack, rising by unorthodox methods, in association with … but not by the will of Whiggery … [to] a sort of Caesarian supremacy’ (D. Southgate, The Passing of the Whigs, 1962, 295). Another, in an influential book, wrote that Palmerston's policies ‘involved crude belligerence abroad, and class fear at home’ (J. Vincent, The Formation of the Liberal Party, 1857–1868, 1966, 146). A different Palmerston appeared in Webster's classic account of his diplomacy and Bourne's exhaustively researched biography, neither of which got beyond 1841. A recent study of the two administrations (E. D. Steele, Palmerston and Liberalism, 1855–1865, 1991) has argued that they reflected the thinking of a statesman who was not merely liberal but genuinely progressive by contemporary standards.

David Steele


P. Guedalla, Palmerston (1926) · H. C. F. Bell, Lord Palmerston, 2 vols. (1936) · C. Webster, The foreign policy of Palmerston, 1830–1841: Britain, the liberal movement and the Eastern question, 2 vols. (1951) · D. G. Southgate, ‘The most English minister …’: the policies and politics of Palmerston (1966) · J. Ridley, Lord Palmerston (1970) · K. Bourne, Palmerston: the early years, 1784–1841 (1982) · E. D. Steele, Palmerston and liberalism, 1855–1865 (1991) · The letters of the third Viscount Palmerston to Laurence and Elizabeth Sulivan, 1804–1863, ed. K. Bourne, CS, 4th ser., 23 (1979) · Gladstone and Palmerston: being the correspondence of Lord Palmerston with Mr Gladstone, 1851–1865, ed. P. Guedalla (1928) · B. Connell, ed., Regina v. Palmerston: the correspondence between Queen Victoria and her foreign and prime minister, 1837–1865 (1962) · The Greville memoirs, 1814–1860, ed. L. Strachey and R. Fulford, 8 vols. (1938) · Gladstone, Diaries · W. H. L. E. Bulwer, The life of John Henry Temple, Viscount Palmerston, ed. E. M. Ashley, 3 vols. (1870–74) · A. E. M. Ashley, The life of Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston, 1846–1865, 2 vols., 2nd edn (1876) · The political correspondence of Mr Gladstone and Lord Granville, 1868–1876, ed. A. Ramm, 2 vols., CS, 3rd ser., 81–2 (1952) · The political correspondence of Mr Gladstone and Lord Granville, 1876–1886, ed. A. Ramm, 2 vols. (1962) · The Panmure papers, being a selection from the correspondence of Fox Maule, ed. G. Douglas and G. D. Ramsay, 2 vols. (1908) · BL, Beauvale MSS · U. Southampton L., Broadlands archives · Clywd RO, Glynne-Gladstone MSS · BL, Bligh MSS, Add. MS 41285 · University of York, Hickleton MSS


BL, letter-books, letters received, accounts, Add. MSS 48417–48586, 49963–49969 · BL, letters from his wife, notebook, and mathematical notes, Add. MSS 45553–45554, 59853 · CUL, corresp. relating to election as MP for University of Cambridge · Duke U., Perkins L., letters and memoranda · NA Canada, corresp. relating to Canada · NL Scot., corresp. · Royal Archives, Brussels, letters and notes · St John Cam., papers · U. Mich., Clements L., letters · U. Southampton L., political corresp. and papers |  All Souls Oxf., corresp. with Sir Charles Richard Vaughan · Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, letters to Henry Drummond · BL, corresp. with fourth earl of Aberdeen, Add. MS 43069 · BL, Beauvale MSS · BL, corresp. with J. D. Bligh, Add. MSS 41268–41285 · BL, letters to Lord Broughton, Add. MS 46915 · BL, corresp. with W. E. Gladstone, Add. MSS 44271–44273 · BL, corresp. with Sir Robert Gordon, Add. MS 43218 · BL, letters to third earl of Hardwicke, Add. MSS 35424, 35648–35678, passim · BL, corresp. with first Baron Heytesbury, Add. MSS 41560–41563 · BL, letters to third Lord Holland and Lady Holland, Add. MSS 51599–51603 · BL, corresp. with fourth Lord Holland and Lady Holland, Add. MSS 52001–52002, 52125 · BL, letters to R. B. Hoppner, Egerton MS 2343 · BL, letters to sixth Baron Howard de Walden, Add. MS 45176 · BL, Lamb papers · BL, corresp. with Prince Lieven and Princess Lieven, Add. MSS 47263, 47366 · BL, letters to second earl of Liverpool, Add. MS 38194 · BL, corresp. with third Viscount Melbourne, Add. MSS 60460–60473 · BL, letters to C. P. Moraes Sarmento, Add. MS 63174 · BL, corresp. with Sir Charles Napier, Add. MSS 40019–40041 · BL, corresp. with Sir Robert Peel, Add. MSS 40222–40588 · BL, corresp. with comte de Puisaye, Add. MS 7985 · BL, corresp. with first marquess of Ripon, Add. MS 43512 · BL, corresp. with first earl of Ripon, Add. MS 40862 · BL, corresp. with Sir George Shee, Add. MSS 60337–60342 · BL, letters to second Earl Spencer · BL, corresp. with Lord Strathnairn, Add. MS 42797 · BL, corresp. with Laurence Sulivan, Add. MSS 58782–58783 · BL, corresp. with eleventh earl of Westmorland, Microfilm/509/2 · BL, corresp. with Charles Wood, Add. MS 49531, passim · BL OIOC, corresp. with J. C. Hobhouse, MS Eur. F 213 · BL OIOC, corresp. with Sir John McNeill, MS Eur. D 1165 · BL OIOC, corresp. with Sir G. B. Robinson, MS Eur. F 142 · Bodl. Oxf., letters to Michael Bruce; letters to fourth earl of Clarendon; letters to Benjamin Disraeli; letters to Henry Fox; letters to sixth Baron Howard de Walden; corresp. with Lord Kimberley · Bodl. Oxf., Clarendon MSS · Borth. Inst., letters to Sir Charles Wood · CBS, letters to twelfth duke of Somerset · Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, letters to W. E. Nightingale · Cumbria AS, Carlisle, corresp. with Sir James Graham · Derbys. RO, letters to Sir R. J. Wilmot-Horton · Devon RO, letters to Sir Thomas Dyke Acland; letters to Earl Fortescue; letters to twelfth duke of Somerset · East Riding of Yorkshire Archives Service, Beverley, letters to Thomas Grimston and Charles Grimston · Flintstone RO, Hawarden, Glynne-Gladstone MSS · Hants. RO, letters to James Harris, first earl of Malmesbury · Harrowby Manuscript Trust, Sandon Hall, Staffordshire, corresp. with earls of Harrowby · Harvard U., Houghton L., letters to Sir John Bowring · Lambton Park, Chester-le-Street, co. Durham, corresp. with first earl of Durham · LPL, corresp. with Charles Blomfield; corresp. with A. C. Tait · Lpool RO, letters to fourteenth earl of Derby · NA Scot., letters to eleventh earl of Dalhousie; corresp. with Sir Andrew Leith Hay · NL Scot., letters to Sir G. Baillie Hamilton; corresp. with second earl of Minto · NL Wales, letters to Sir George Cornewall Lewis · NMM, letters to second earl of Minto; letters to Sir Charles Napier · Norfolk RO, corresp. with Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer · NRA Scotland, priv. coll., corresp. with tenth earl of Wemyss · Parl. Arch., corresp. with Speaker Brand · priv. coll., letters to Spencer Perceval · RIBA BAL, letters to T. L. Donaldson · Royal Arch., Melbourne MSS · Sheff. Arch., letters to James Stuart-Wortley · St Deiniol's Library, Hawarden, letters to fifth duke of Newcastle · Staffs. RO, letters to first Baron Hatherton; corresp. with second duke of Sutherland and duchess of Sutherland · TNA: PRO, corresp. with Stratford Canning, FO 352 · TNA: PRO, dispatches to and from first Baron Cowley and second Baron Cowley, FO 519 · TNA: PRO, corresp. with first Earl Granville and second Earl Granville, PRO 30/29 · TNA: PRO, letters to Lord Hammond, FO 391 · TNA: PRO, corresp. with Sir Henry Pottinger, FO 705 · TNA: PRO, corresp. with Lord John Russell, PRO 30/22 · Trinity Cam., letters to Lord Houghton · U. Durham L., corresp. with second Earl Grey, letters to third Earl Grey · U. Durham L., corresp. with Viscount Ponsonby · U. Nott. L., corresp. with fourth duke of Newcastle and fifth duke of Newcastle · U. Southampton L., corresp. with John Wilson Croker relating to military and political matters; letters to Lord Shaftesbury; letters to duke of Wellington · UCL, letters to Lord Brougham; corresp. with Sir Edwin Chadwick · W. Sussex RO, corresp. with Richard Cobden; letters to duke of Richmond · W. Yorks. AS, Leeds, corresp. with first marquess of Clanricarde · Wilts. & Swindon HC, corresp. with Sidney Herbert and Elizabeth Herbert · Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, corresp. with Lord George William Russell · Yale U., Beinecke L., letters to Colonel Wylde


T. Heaphy, watercolour drawing, 1802, NPG · T. Heaphy, drawing, 1804, Buscot Park, Oxfordshire · T. Lawrence, portrait, c.1810–1820, Broadlands · J. Partridge, oils, 1850; on loan to the Palace of Westminster, London, 1979 · F. Cruikshank, oils, c.1855, NPG [see illus.] · R. C. Lucas, wax relief, 1856, NPG · G. Vivian, photograph, 1858, NPG · F. Grant, oils, 1862, Gov. Art Coll. · E. B. Morris, oils, 1863, Dover town hall · J. Lucas, oils, 1866, Trinity House, London · J. Partridge, oils, c.1884–1845, NPG · J. Gilbert, group portrait, pencil and wash (Coalition Ministry, 1854), NPG · R. Jackson, marble statue, Westminster Abbey · M. Noble, marble bust, Reform Club, London · M. Noble, statue, market place, Romsey, Hampshire · J. Partridge, group portrait, oils (Fine art commissioners), NPG · J. Phillip, group portrait, oils (House of Commons, 1860), Palace of Westminster, London · D. Wilkie, group portrait, oils (Queen Victoria's first council, 1837), Royal Collection · T. Woolner, bronze statue, Parliament Square, London

Wealth at death  

under £120,000: probate, 22 Dec 1865, CGPLA Eng. & Wales