Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stanley, Edward Henry
STANLEY, EDWARD HENRY, fifteenth Earl of Derby (1826–1893), eldest son of Edward George Geoffrey Smith, fourteenth earl of Derby [q. v.], by his wife, Emma Caroline, second daughter of Edward, first lord Skelmersdale, was born on 21 July 1826. He was at school at Rugby, under Arnold, though not much influenced by him, and then went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where, besides taking college prizes, he was tenth in the first class of the classical tripos, and fourteenth junior optime in the mathematical tripos of 1848. Down to the time of his leaving Cambridge, he was a member of the undergraduate society known as ‘The Apostles,’ most of whose members became eminent in after life (Leslie Stephen, Life of Sir James Stephen, p. 102). He graduated M.A. in 1848, and was made LL.D. on 9 June 1862, and D.C.L. of Oxford on 7 June 1853. In March 1848 he contested the borough of Lancaster as a protectionist, but was beaten by six votes, and then made a prolonged tour in the West Indies, Canada, and the United States. During his absence he was elected, on 22 Dec. 1848, to fill the vacancy at King's Lynn caused by the death of Lord George Bentinck. Often afterwards he was asked to contest other seats—for example, Edinburgh in 1868—but only once, in 1859, when he stood for Marylebone, without success, against Edwin James and Sir Benjamin Brodie, was he tempted to leave King's Lynn. He represented the constituency continuously till he succeeded his father in the earldom in October 1869.
As the result of his tour he published a pamphlet on the West Indian colonies in 1849, followed by a second in 1851, which stated the planters' case very clearly and to their entire satisfaction. His maiden speech, too, in the House of Commons, which Peel praised highly and Greville (Memoirs, 2nd ser. iii. 337) mentions as giving promise of great debating power, was made, on 31 May 1850, on Buxton's motion on the sugar duties. He took his place in the ranks of the conservatives, now led by his father; but he was not naturally a party man, and in opinion approximated to the moderate whigs. He travelled widely, and was when young an ardent mountaineer. He again visited Jamaica and Ecuador in the winter of 1849 and 1850, publishing privately on his return a book called ‘Six Weeks in America,’ and it was while absent on a tour in Bengal in March 1852 that he received the post of under-secretary for foreign affairs in his father's first administration. He held office till its fall in December, when he went with his party into opposition. In 1855, on the death of Sir William Molesworth [q. v.], Lord Palmerston, knowing him to be at heart more of a liberal than anything else, and struck by the ability displayed in his speech on the Government of India Bill in 1853, made him the offer of the colonial secretaryship. But this proposal Stanley, at his father's instance, declined. He spoke during these years principally on Indian and colonial questions, and on such social matters as education, factory legislation, and competitive examinations. In 1853 he was ‘suspected of coquetting with the Manchester party;’ and, with an antagonism to war which clung to him through life, he joined Bright and Cobden in 1854 in resisting the policy of drifting into war, and supported ‘The Press,’ a weekly journal which was energetically anti-ministerial. He served on the commission on purchase in the army, which he strongly condemned, and supported such movements as those in favour of mechanics' institutes and free libraries, the amendment of the law as to the property of married women, the removal of Jewish disabilities, the abolition of church rates, and the creation of the divorce court.
When the second Derby administration was formed in February 1858, Stanley joined it as colonial secretary, and subsequently, on the resignation of Lord Ellenborough, took his place as president of the board of control. The conduct of the India Bill was accordingly in his hands, and when it passed he became the first secretary of state for India. In this office he came on several occasions into collision with the policy of the governor-general, Lord Canning; in parliament, though not a prominent debater, he showed talents for business, and the general success of his Indian administration added to the reputation of the government. In the discussions in the cabinet on the Reform Bill of 1859 Stanley supported the disfranchising clauses, even threatening resignation unless the measures were made more liberal (Malmesbury, Memoirs of an ex-Minister, ii. 157). Going out of office again in June, he continued active in support of reforms of a moderate liberal character. He served on the Cambridge University commission, and supported the admission of nonconformists to fellowships. He presided over commissions on the sanitary state of the Indian army and on patent law.
A curious episode followed in 1862–3. On the revolution which expelled King Otho, the throne of Greece was offered to and refused by Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Alfred (afterwards Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha). Thereupon the idea was seriously entertained by the authorities in Greece of making the offer to Stanley. ‘The Greeks really want to make our friend Lord Stanley their king,’ wrote Disraeli on 7 Feb. 1863. Stanley declined the suggestion (FROUDE, Earl of Beaconsfield, p. 184). He increased his reputation in the House of Commons when he seconded Lord Grosvenor's amendment to the Reform Bill of 1866, which proposed the postponement of the discussion of any reduction of the franchise until the whole of the government scheme had been placed before the House of Commons; this speech was considered ‘the finest and most statesmanlike he had ever made.’ Just before and at the time of the fall of Lord John Russell's ministry (June 1866), serious suggestions were made that he should form the succeeding administration; it was anticipated that he would command the support of the Adullamites [see Lowe, Robert, and Horsman, Edward]. Such a plan, though supported by so shrewd an observer as Delane, proved impracticable, and Stanley's father was again sent for on Lord John's resignation. In Lord Derby's third administration Stanley took the foreign office. Here his policy was as far as possible to maintain neutrality with regard to continental disputes, and by all means to avoid war. In spite of the Abyssinian expedition in 1868 he was fairly successful; he avoided war without too great concessions, and although, especially at that juncture, he, as an untried man, found it a difficult task to follow a statesman of Lord Clarendon's experience, he filled the office of foreign minister in the main with credit. He held aloof from the war of Prussia, Italy, and Austria, mediated between France and Prussia on the Luxemburg question, and postponed a Franco-German war for a time by devising the ‘collective guarantee’ of Luxemburg's neutrality at the conference of London in May 1867. Somewhat, as was thought, at the cost of his reputation for humanity, he avoided interfering in the Cretan rebellion, and refused to take sides in the disputes between Turkey and Greece. He declined the Emperor Napoleon's proposal for a conference on the Roman question, and of his attitude when the French troops occupied Rome Lord Augustus Loftus says (Diplomatic Reminiscences, 2nd ser. i. 203): ‘I cannot sufficiently extol the wise statesmanship and prudent course taken by Lord Stanley during this critical time. He was calm in judgment and free from any enthusiastic impulse, and when his opinion was formed he never deviated from it.’ With regard to the disputes with the United States arising out of the depredations of the Alabama, he admitted the principle of refering the question to arbitration which Russell had declined to recognise (Russell, Speeches and Despatches, ii. 259), and he negotiated a convention which the United States refused to ratify. In domestic affairs he was not prominent. What share he had in the Reform Bill of 1867 is uncertain. Lord Malmesbury attributes to him the form into which the bill was hastily recast on 25 Feb., just before the introduction in the House of Commons, when the tender of Lord Cranborne's resignation involved alterations in it. At any rate he cannot be altogether acquitted of inconsistency in supporting the bill after the declarations unfavourable to democracy which he had made in previous years. Stanley continued at the foreign office when Disraeli succeeded, on Lord Derby's retirement, to the post of prime minister in February 1868. He resigned with the rest of the ministry after the general election (November 1868).
Stanley was selected to lead the opposition to Mr. Gladstone's Irish church resolutions in 1869. Throughout his life, however, his leanings towards liberalism had been more marked on ecclesiastical matters than elsewhere. He had published a pamphlet as early as 1853 in favour of exempting nonconformists from the payment of church rates, and accordingly the defence he made on this occasion was somewhat ambiguous. A little later he incurred the suspicion of his party by declining to vote against the Irish Land Bill of 1870. In fact his general tendency at this time was towards projects of administrative reform. He thought that, until it had a substantial majority, the conservative party should avoid office, and seek to check the extremer measures of its opponents and support their moderate bills. He had long been conspicuous for his knowledge of and interest in such non-party matters as sanitary reform, technical education, the regulation of mines, the acquisition of people's parks, and the growth of co-operative societies, and he was surpassed only by Lord Shaftesbury in the time, thought, and trouble that he gave to them. His influence in the country generally was in consequence perhaps higher than in his own party, though even there he was much esteemed, and, had he chosen, might have led his party in the House of Lords from 1869, when his father's death conferred on him the earldom of Derby.
Disraeli took office in February 1874, and Derby again became foreign secretary. The eastern question was once more the disturbing factor in European politics. Between his conviction that the integrity of Turkey was a most important British interest and his passion for peace Lord Derby soon found himself in a position of perplexity from which it was difficult for him in office to emerge satisfactorily. At first he was sanguine of success in his efforts to preserve England from the risk of war, and, ignoring the possibilities of failure, was perhaps more tolerant of diplomatic rebuffs than the situation warranted. He was a party, but not very willingly, to the purchase of the Suez Canal shares; he accepted the Andrassy note urging reforms on the sultan of Turkey, but only after considerable delay. Count Beust, the Austrian ambassador to the court of St. James, pursued him to Knowsley, and there and in London spent three weeks in a siege of persuasion before obtaining the despatch of 25 Jan. 1876 to Sir Henry Elliot, the British ambassador to Vienna, which secured the adhesion of Great Britain to the Austrian proposals for the reorganisation of the Turkish government. Suspecting secret arrangements between Russia and Austria, he declined to join in May 1876 in the Berlin memorandum, which urged upon Turkey the necessity of fulfilling her promises of reform. In September he wrote to Elliot, then ambassador at Constantinople, ordering him to demand of the Porte the punishment of those responsible for the Bulgarian atrocities. The Constantinople conference of December 1876, which was intended to compel reforms in the government of the Porte, was due to his initiative, and he sought in general to assist and encourage the Porte to carry out reforms, while giving it warning that military protection from England was not to be looked for should Turkey be attacked by other powers. In April 1877 Russia invaded Turkey. Public opinion was divided as to the part that England should play in the struggle. The Bulgarian outrages, on the one hand, excited in one half of the population an hostility to Turkey which diplomacy could not control, while, on the other hand, an equally large party in England, suspicious of Russia, urged an armed defence of Turkey, and was the more powerful in the ministry and among the influential classes of society. Derby's efforts to bring the Russo-Turkish war to a close failed, and in a despatch of 6 May 1877 he defined the conditions in which England must intervene and take the offensive against the enemies of Turkey. Russia's continued successes seemed to make war for England inevitable, and Derby, unready to face that possibility, found himself increasingly in disagreement with the prime minister. The result was the appearance of vacillation in the government policy. When the order was given, at the prime minister's instance, for the fleet to pass the Dardanelles on 23 Jan. 1878, Derby felt that the die had been cast for war, and tendered his resignation; but when this advance was countermanded, he returned to office. He concurred in the policy of refusing to recognise the treaty of San Stefano, by which Russia imposed her own terms on Turkey (March 1878), but disapproved of the vigorous menaces of war with Russia which Beaconsfield made thereon. Accordingly, having reluctantly supported the credit of 6,000,000l., he suddenly resigned again on 28 March 1878, ostensibly, but far from solely, upon the policy of calling out the reserves (Hansard, ccxli. 1793). It was asked why, if he was only to resign at last, he had consented to resume office after his recent resignation. His attitude failed to become clearer when on 11 July his statements, in announcing his resignation in the House of Lords, and those of Lord Salisbury, who succeeded him at the foreign office, were in flat contradiction of each other. His actions certainly bore an appearance of indecision, owing doubtless to his natural disposition, in matters of emergency, to temporise rather than to strike. But his main object was at all hazards to keep England out of a European war, and it was at any rate in part owing to his efforts that that result was achieved. After quitting office, he drifted further and further from his old party ties; he opposed the acquisition of Cyprus and the first Afghan war (1879), and eventually, in a letter to Lord Sefton, 12 March 1880, he announced his severance from the conservative party, avowedly in consequence of its foreign policy.
Derby was soon accepted as a leader of the liberal party. From December 1882 to 1885 he was colonial secretary in Mr. Gladstone's second administration, and in 1884 he was made a knight of the Garter. His policy as colonial secretary was sensible, but not impressive. ‘We don't want any more black men,’ was one of his favourite expressions, and he therefore resisted further annexation of tropical colonies. He favoured withdrawal from the Soudan; he declined to seize New Guinea, and he supported the policy of contraction in South Africa by concluding the convention with the Boers of 1884. Though he accepted Australian aid for the Soudan, he discouraged any plan of Australian federation. He left the colonial office in the summer of 1885, when Mr. Gladstone and his colleagues resigned.
In 1886 the home-rule question led to a further change in Derby's political allegiance. From the first he disapproved of Mr. Gladstone's policy of giving home rule to Ireland, and he joined the new party of liberal unionists on its formation early in 1886. Until the Marquis of Hartington succeeded to his father's peerage in 1891 he led the liberal unionist peers in the House of Lords. Thenceforward he retired practically from active public life, and occupied himself with social questions. His last public speech was on the occasion of the unveiling of the statue of John Bright at Manchester in October 1891. In 1892 he presided over the labour commission. In the previous year, when he was severely attacked by influenza, his usually robust health had broken down, and he died at Knowsley of an affection of the heart on 21 April 1893. He was buried at Knowsley church on 27 April.
Derby held many dignified offices outside politics. He was chancellor of the university of London from 1891 till his death, was lord rector of the university of Glasgow from 1868 to 1871, and of Edinburgh from 1875 to 1880, and was a trustee of the British Museum. He was for eighteen years—from 1875 to 1893—an active president of the Royal Literary Fund, and was one of the founders of University College, Liverpool.
In his habits Derby was simple and unassuming, in manner somewhat awkward and shy. In character he was singularly cool, fair, and critical, but he was too diffident of his own powers, and perhaps too undecided, to become a great man of action. He was unambitious and disinterested, as indeed he conclusively showed when, by leaving Lord Beaconsfield in 1878, he sacrificed the almost certain reversion of the leadership of the conservative party. His memory and his reading were alike great. He was unrhetorical in mind or speech. Though his enunciation was imperfect, he spoke impressively, and had a great gift ‘of making speeches with which every one must agree, and which at the same time were never commonplace.’ He was an industrious and excellent man of business, and managed his great estates very successfully. For years he showed himself in Lancashire a model chairman of quarter sessions, an active and a hopeful agriculturist, and a benevolent promoter of institutions for the benefit of the working classes. On such matters his opinions were almost those of an old-fashioned radical, for he strongly believed in self-help, and was continuously active in attacking fads and urging the views of J. S. Mill, whom he greatly admired. He lived much in his own county, spoke, like his father, with a Lancashire accent, and was on the whole popular among Lancashire men.
He married, on 5 July 1870, Mary Catherine, second daughter of George, fifth earl De La Warr, and widow of James, second marquis of Salisbury (she died on 6 Dec. 1900), but had no issue, and was succeeded in the title by his brother Frederick, baron Stanley of Preston (1841–1908). There are at Knowsley portraits by W. Derby as a boy, by George Richmond in 1864, and by Sir Francis Grant. A good photograph prefixed to the edition of his speeches was taken in 1894.
[Mr. W. E. H. Lecky's Prefatory Memoir to Speeches of Lord Derby, ed. Sanderson and Roscoe, 1894; Times, 22 April 1893; Macmillan's Mag. xl. 180; Westminster Review, lxxvii. 498; Martin's Life of Lord Sherbrooke, ii. 61, 281; Malmesbury's Memoirs; Life of Sir S. Northcote; Memoirs of Count Beust; Pollard's Stanleys of Knowsley; Scharf's Cat. of Pictures at Knowsley. See, too, Lord Derby's Address to the Co-operative Congress at Leeds, 1881; Speech on the Irish Question, 29 June 1886; Speech on Indian Finance, 13 Feb. 1859.]