Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Temple, Henry John
TEMPLE, HENRY JOHN, third Viscount in the peerage of Ireland (1784–1865), statesman, was the elder son of Henry Temple, second viscount [q. v.], by his second wife, Mary, daughter of Benjamin Thomas Mee of Bath. He was born at his father's English estate, Broadlands, Hampshire, on 20 Oct. 1784. Much of his childhood was spent abroad, chiefly in Italy, and at home his education was begun by an Italian refugee named Ravizzotti; but in 1795 he entered Harrow, where he rose to be a monitor, and thrice ‘declaimed’ in Latin and English at speeches in 1800. Althorp and Aberdeen were among his schoolfellows. In 1800 he was sent to Edinburgh to board with Dugald Stewart [q. v.] and attend his lectures. Here, says Lord Palmerston (in a fragment of autobiography written in 1830), ‘I laid the foundation for whatever useful knowledge and habits of mind I possess.’ Stewart gave him a very high character in every respect; and to moral qualities the boy added the advantage of a strikingly handsome face and figure, which afterwards procured him the nickname of ‘Cupid’ among his intimates. From Edinburgh he proceeded to Cambridge, where he was admitted to St. John's College on 4 April 1803 (Register of the College). Dr. Outram, afterwards a canon of Lichfield, was his private tutor, and commended his pupil's ‘regularity of conduct.’ At the college examinations Henry Temple was always in the first class, and he seems to have regarded the Cambridge studies as somewhat elementary after his Edinburgh training. He joined the Johnian corps of volunteers, and thus early showed his interest, never abated, in the national defences. He did not matriculate in the university till 27 Jan. 1806, and on the same day he proceeded master of arts without examination, jure natalium, as was then the privilege of noblemen (Reg. Univ. Cambr.) By this time he had succeeded to the Irish peerage on his father's death on 16 April 1802.
In 1806, while still only an ‘inceptor,’ he stood in the tory interest for the seat of burgess for the university, vacant by the death of Pitt, and, though Lord Henry Petty won the contest, Palmerston was only seventeen votes below Althorp, the second candidate. In the same year, at the general election, he was returned for Horsham at a cost of 1,500l.; but there was a double return, and he was unseated on petition 20 Jan. 1807. After again contesting Cambridge University in May 1807, and failing by only four votes, he soon afterwards found a seat at Newtown, Isle of Wight, a pocket borough of Sir Leonard Holmes, who exacted the curious stipulation that the candidate, even at elections, should ‘never set foot in the place.’ By the influence of his guardian, Lord Malmesbury, he had already (3 April 1807) been appointed a lord of the admiralty in the Portland administration, and his first speech (3 Feb. 1808) related to a naval measure. He rose to defend the government against an attack directed upon them for not laying before the house full papers on the recent expedition to Denmark. The speech was a vindication of the necessity of secrecy in diplomatic correspondence. Although a rare and only on great occasions an eloquent speaker, he was a close observer of current political movements, and a journal which he kept from 1806 to 1808 shows that he early devoted particular attention to foreign affairs. In October 1809 the new prime minister, Spencer Perceval, offered Palmerston conditionally the choice of the post of chancellor of the exchequer, of a junior lordship of the treasury with an understood succession to the exchequer, or of secretary at war with a seat in the cabinet. The young man consulted Lord Malmesbury and other friends, but he had already made up his mind. He clearly realised the dangers of premature promotion, and accordingly declined the higher office, accepting the post of secretary at war, but without a seat in the cabinet. He was sworn of the privy council on 1 Nov. 1809.
Palmerston entered upon his duties at the war office on 27 Oct. 1809, and held his post for nearly twenty years (till 1828) under the five administrations respectively of Perceval, Lord Liverpool, Canning, Lord Goderich, and (for a few months) the Duke of Wellington. Apparently he was content with his work, for he successively declined Lord Liverpool's offers of the post of chief secretary for Ireland, governor-general of India, and the post office with an English peerage. Like not a few English statesmen of high family and social tastes, he had at that time little ambition, and performed his official labours more as a duty to his country than as a step to power. He was, in fact, a man of fashion, a sportsman, a bit of a dandy, a light of Almack's, and all that this implied; also something of a wit, writing parodies for the ‘New Whig Guide.’ His steady attachment to his post is the more remarkable, since the duties of the secretary at war were mainly concerned with dreary financial calculations, while the secretary for war controlled the military policy. Palmerston held that it was his business to stand between the spending authorities—i.e. the secretary for war and the commander-in-chief—and the public, and to control and economise military expenditure in the best interests of the country without jeopardising the utmost efficiency of its troops and defences. In the same way he maintained the ‘right of entrée to the closet,’ or personal access to the sovereign, which his predecessor had surrendered in favour of the commander-in-chief. Besides asserting the rights of his office, Palmerston had a laborious task in removing the many abuses which had crept into the administration of his department. In the House of Commons he spoke only on matters concerning his office, and maintained absolute silence upon Liverpool's repressive measures. Some of his official reforms excited the animosity of interested persons, and a mad lieutenant, Davis, attempted to assassinate him on the steps of the war office on 8 April 1818. Fortunately the ball inflicted only a slight wound in the hip, and Palmerston, with characteristic magnanimity, paid counsel to conduct the prisoner's defence.
During nearly the whole of his tenure of the war office he sat as a burgess for Cambridge University, for which he was first returned in March 1811, and was re-elected in 1812, 1818, 1820, and 1826, the last time after a keen contest with Goulburn. He was once more returned for Cambridge in December 1830, but was rejected in the following year on account of his resolute support of parliamentary reform. He complained that members of his own government used their influence against him, and recorded that this was the beginning of his breach with the tories. His next seat was Bletchingley, Surrey (18 July 1831), and when this disappeared in the Reform Act he was returned for South Hampshire (15 Dec. 1832). Rejected by the South Hampshire electors in 1834, he remained without a seat till 1 June 1835, when he found a quiet and steadfast constituency in Tiverton, of which he continued to be member up to his death, thirty years later.
With the accession of Canning to power in 1827, Palmerston received promises of promotion. Although as foreign secretary Canning had found his colleague remarkably silent, and complained that he could not drag ‘that three-decker Palmerston into action’ except when his own war department was the subject of discussion, the new prime minister did not hesitate to place him in the cabinet, and even to offer him the office of chancellor of the exchequer, as Perceval had done nearly twenty years before. The king, however, disliked Palmerston, and Canning had to revoke his promise. Palmerston took the change of plan with his usual good temper; but when, some time afterwards, Canning offered him (at the king's suggestion, he explained) the governorship of Jamaica, Palmerston ‘laughed so heartily’ in his face that Canning ‘looked quite put out, and I was obliged to grow serious again’ (autobiographical fragment in Ashley's Life of Palmerston, ed. 1879, i. 105–8). Palmerston's jolly ‘Ha, ha!’ was a thing to be remembered. Presently Canning offered him the governor-generalship of India, as Lord Liverpool had done before, but it was declined on the score of climate and health. After the prime minister's sudden death (8 Aug. 1827) and the brief administration of ‘Goody Goderich,’ which expired six months later [see Robinson, Frederick John], Canning's supporters, including Palmerston, resolved ‘as a party’ to continue in the Duke of Wellington's government. The differences, however, between the ‘friends of Mr. Canning’ and the older school of tories—the ‘pig-tails,’ as Palmerston called them—were too deep-rooted to permit an enduring alliance, and in four months (May 1828), on the pretext of the East Retford bill, the Canningites left the government, as they had entered it, ‘as a party.’
Canning's influence moulded Palmerston's political convictions, especially on foreign policy. Canning's principles governed Palmerston's conduct of continental relations throughout his life. The inheritance of a portion of Canning's mantle explains the isolation and independence of Palmerston's position during nearly the whole of his career. He never belonged strictly to any party or faction. Tories thought him too whiggish, and whigs suspected him of toryism, and he certainly combined some of the principles of both parties. The rupture between the Canningites and the tories threw the former into the arms of the whigs, and after 1828 Palmerston always acted with them, sometimes in combination with the Peelites or liberal-conservatives. But though he acted with whigs, and liked them and agreed with them much more than with the tories (as he wrote to his brother, Sir William Temple, 18 Jan. 1828), he never was a true whig, much less a true liberal. He pledged himself to no party, but judged every question on its merits.
During the two years of opposition in the House of Commons, Palmerston's attention was closely fixed upon the continental complications, especially in Portugal and Greece. On 1 June 1829 he made his first great speech on foreign affairs, his first public declaration of foreign policy, and his first decided oratorical success. He denounced the government's countenance of Dom Miguel, lamented that England had not shared with France the honour of expelling the Egyptians from the Morea, and ridiculed the absurdity of creating ‘a Greece which should contain neither Athens, nor Thebes, nor Marathon, nor Salamis, nor Platæa, nor Thermopylæ, nor Missolonghi.’ In home affairs he interfered but little. Since 1812 he had consistently advocated and voted for catholic emancipation; he had voted against the dissenters' disabilities bill in 1828 because no provision had been made on behalf of the Roman catholics; and in the great debate of 1829 he spoke (18 March) with much spirit on behalf of emancipation, which he predicted, in his sanguine way, would ‘give peace to Ireland.’ His influence and reputation had by this time grown so considerable that the Duke of Wellington twice sought his co-operation in 1830 as a member of his cabinet; but, apart from other differences, Palmerston's advocacy of parliamentary reform made any such alliance impossible.
When Lord Grey formed his administration in 1830 Palmerston became (22 Nov.) secretary of state for foreign affairs, and he held the office for the next eleven years contiuously, except for the four months (December 1834 to April 1835) during which Sir Robert Peel was premier. His first negotiation was one of the most difficult and perhaps the most successful of all. The Belgians, smarting under the tyranny of the Dutch and inspirited by the Paris revolution of July, had risen on 28 Aug. 1830, and severed the factitious union of the Netherlands which the Vienna congress had set up as a barrier against French expansion. The immediate danger was that Belgium, if defeated by Holland, would appeal to the known sympathy of France, and French assistance might develop into French annexation, or at least involve the destruction of the barrier fortresses. The Belgians were fully aware of England's anxiety on this point, and played their cards with skill. Lord Aberdeen, who was at the foreign office when the revolution took place, wisely summoned a conference of the representatives of the five powers, when it became evident that the autocratic states, Russia, Austria, and Prussia, were all for maintaining the provisions of the treaty of 1815, and Russia even advocated a forcible restoration of the union. They agreed, however, in arranging an armistice between the belligerents pending negotiations. Palmerston, coming into office in November, saw that the Belgians could not go longer in double harness, and, supported by France, he succeeded within a month in inducing the conference to consent (20 Dec.) to the independence of Belgium as a neutral state guaranteed by the powers, who all pledged themselves to seek no increase of territory in connection with the new arrangement. If it was difficult to get the autocratic powers to agree to the separation, it was even harder to persuade France to sign the self-denying clause, and the attainment of both objects is a striking testimony to Palmerston's diplomatic skill. The articles of peace were signed by the five powers on 27 Jan. 1831. The Dutch accepted but the Belgians refused them, and, in accordance with their policy of playing off France against England, they proceeded to elect as their king Louis-Philippe's son, the Duc de Nemours. Palmerston immediately informed the French government that the acceptance of the Belgian crown by a French prince meant war with England, and he prevailed upon the conference still sitting in London to agree to reject any candidate who belonged to the reigning families of the five powers. France alone stood out, and some irritation was displayed at Paris, in so much that Palmerston had to instruct our ambassador (15 Feb. 1831) to inform Sebastiani that ‘our desire for peace will never lead us to submit to affront either in language or in act.’ So early had the ‘Palmerstonian style’ been adopted. Louis-Philippe had the sense to decline the offer for his son, and, after further opposition, the Belgians elected Prince Leopold as their king, and accepted the London articles (slightly modified in their favour) on Palmerston's ultimatum of 29 May. It was now the turn of the Dutch to refuse; they renewed the war and defeated the Belgian army. France went to the rescue, and the dangers of French occupation again confronted the cabinet. It demanded the finest combination of tact and firmness on the part of Palmerston to secure on 15 Sept. 1832 the definite promise of the unconditional withdrawal of the French army. On 15 Nov. a final act of separation was signed by the conference, and, after some demur, accepted by Belgium. Holland still held out, and Antwerp was bombarded by the French, while an English squadron blocked the Scheldt. The city surrendered on 23 Dec. 1832; the French army withdrew according to engagement; five of the frontier fortresses were dismantled without consultation with France; and Belgium was thenceforward free. The independence of Belgium has been cited as the most enduring monument of Palmerston's diplomacy. It was the first stone dislodged from the portentous fabric erected by the congress of Vienna, and the change has stood the test of time. Belgium was the only continental state, save Russia, that passed through the storm of 1848 unmoved.
Palmerston had always taken a sympathetic interest in the struggle of the Greeks for independence, and had opposed in the Wellington cabinet of 1828, and afterwards in parliament, the limitation of the new state of Greece to the Morea. He alone in the cabinet had advocated as early as 1827, in Goderich's time, the despatch of a British force to drive out Ibrahim Pasha, and had consistently maintained that the only frontier for Greece against Turkey was the line from Volo to Arta which had been recommended by Sir Stratford Canning and the other commissioners at Poros, but overruled by Lord Aberdeen. When Palmerston came into office he sent Sir Stratford on a special embassy to Constantinople, and this frontier was at last conceded by Turkey on 22 July 1832 (Lane-Poole, Life of Stratford Canning, i. 498).
The troubles in Portugal and Spain engaged the foreign secretary's vigilant attention. He had condemned the perjury of the usurper Miguel while in opposition, and when in office he sent him ‘a peremptory demand for immediate and full redress’ in respect to the British officers imprisoned at Lisbon, which was at once complied with. On the arrival of Dom Pedro, however, in July 1832, to assert his own and his daughter's interests, Miguel began a series of cruel persecutions and arbitrary terrorism, which filled the gaols and produced general anarchy. English and French officers were actually maltreated in the streets. Both countries sent ships of war to protect their subjects, and Dom Pedro was supported by a large number of English volunteers. Palmerston hoped to work upon the moderate ministry in Spain, which had just replaced the ‘apostolicals,’ and induce them to co-operate in getting rid of Dom Miguel, whose court was a rallying point for their opponents, and in sending Dom Pedro back to Brazil. He founded this hope partly on the analogy between Spain and Portugal in the disputed succession, a daughter and a rival uncle being the problem in each case. Accordingly he sent Sir Stratford Canning on a special mission to Madrid, near the close of 1832, to propose ‘the establishment of Donna Maria on the throne as queen [of Portugal], and the relinquishment by Dom Pedro of his claim to the regency during the minority of his daughter’ (Life of Stratford Canning, ii. 25). Though Queen Christina of Spain was favourable, Canning found the king, Ferdinand VII, and his minister, Zea Bermudez, obdurate, and returned to England without accomplishing his purpose. Before this Palmerston's Portuguese policy had been censured in the House of Lords, but the commons had approved the support of Donna Maria and constitutionalism, and recognised that our friendly and almost protective relations with Portugal justified our interference. The death of Ferdinand, on 29 Sept. 1833, created in Spain, as was foreseen, a situation closely parallel to that in Portugal. Ferdinand, with the consent of the cortes, had repealed the pragmatic sanction of 1713 in favour of his daughter Isabella, who thus became queen; while her uncle, Don Carlos, like Miguel in Portugal, denied the validity of her succession, and claimed the throne for himself. In this double crisis Palmerston played what he rightly called ‘a great stroke.’ By his sole exertions a quadruple alliance was constituted by a treaty signed on 22 April 1834 by England, France, Spain, and Portugal, in which all four powers pledged themselves to expel both Miguel and Carlos from the peninsula. He wrote in high glee (to his brother, 21 April 1834): ‘I carried it through the cabinet by a coup de main.’ Beyond its immediate purpose, he hoped it would ‘serve as a powerful counterpoise to the holy alliance.’ The mere rumour was enough for the usurpers: Miguel and Carlos fled from the peninsula. But France soon showed signs of defection. Palmerston seems to have wounded the sensibility of ‘old Talley,’ as he called him; and Talleyrand, on his return to Paris in 1835, is said to have avenged this by setting Louis-Philippe against him. The late cordiality vanished, and Spain was again plunged in anarchy. The presence of a British squadron on the coast and the landing of an auxiliary legion under De Lacy Evans did little good, and aroused very hostile criticism in England. Sir H. Hardinge moved an address to the king censuring the employment of British troops in Spain without a declaration of war; but after three nights' debate Palmerston got up, and in a fine speech lasting three hours turned the tables on his opponents, and carried the house completely with him. The government had a majority of thirty-six, and the minister was cheered ‘riotously.’ His Spanish policy had achieved something. ‘The Carlist cause failed,’ as he said; ‘the cause of the constitution prevailed,’ and he had also defeated the schemes of Dom Miguel in Portugal.
If France showed little cordiality towards the end of the Spanish negotiations, she was much more seriously hostile to Palmerston's eastern policy, and that policy has been more severely criticised than perhaps any other part of his management of foreign affairs. His constant support of Turkey has been censured as an upholding of barbarism against civilisation. It must, however, be remembered that Palmerston's tenure of the foreign office from 1830 to 1841 coincided with the extraordinary revival and reforming efforts of that energetic and courageous sultan Mahmûd II, when many statesmen entertained sanguine hopes of the regeneration of Turkey. Palmerston himself did not believe that the Ottoman empire was decaying; on the contrary, he held that ten years of peace might convert it into ‘a respectable power’ (letters to H. Bulwer, 22 Sept. 1838, 1 Sept. 1839). Besides this hope, he was firmly convinced of the paramount importance of maintaining a barrier between Russia and the Mediterranean. Russia, however, was not the only danger. The ‘eastern question’ of that time presented a new feature in the formidable antagonism of a great vassal, Mohammed Ali, the pasha of Egypt. The first phase of his attack upon the sultan, culminating in the victory of Koniya (December 1832), was carried out without any interference by Palmerston. He foresaw indeed that unless the powers intervened, Russia would undertake the defence of Turkey by herself; but he failed to convince Lord Grey's cabinet of the importance of succouring the Porte. Turkey, deserted by England and by France (who, imbued with the old Napoleonic idea, encouraged the pasha), was forced to appeal to Russia, who willingly sent fifteen thousand troops to Asiatic Turkey, compelled Ibrahim to retire, and saved Constantinople. In return the tsar exacted from the sultan the treaty of Unkiar Skelesi on 8 July 1833, by which Russia acquired the right to interfere in defence of Turkey, and the Black Sea was converted into a Russian lake. Palmerston in vain protested both at Constantinople and at St. Petersburg, and even sent the Mediterranean squadron to cruise off the Dardanelles. Henceforward his eyes were open to the aggrandising policy of Russia and her hostile influence not only in Europe but in Persia and Afghanistan, which brought about Burnes's mission and the beginning of the Afghan troubles. In spite of his suspicion of Russia, however, on his return to office in 1835 under Melbourne, after Peel's brief administration, Palmerston found it necessary in 1840 to enter into an alliance with the very power he suspected, in the very quarter to which his suspicions chiefly pointed.
The cause lay in the increasing alienation of France. The policy of Louis-Philippe and Thiers was to give Mohammed Ali a free hand, in the hope (as Rémusat admitted) that Egypt might become a respectable second-class power in the Mediterranean, bound in gratitude to support France in the contest with England that was anticipated by many observers. Palmerston had tried to induce France to join him in an engagement to defend Turkey by sea if attacked; but he had failed to bring the king or Thiers to his view, and their and Soult's response to his overtures bred in him a profound distrust of Louis-Philippe and his advisers. When, therefore, the Egyptians again overran Syria, delivered a crushing blow to the Turks at the battle of Nezib on 25 June 1839, and by the treachery of the Turkish admiral obtained possession of the Ottoman fleet, Palmerston abandoned all thoughts of joint action with France, and opened negotiations with Russia. Inaction meant dividing the Ottoman empire into two parts, of which one would be the satellite of France, and the other the dependent of Russia, while in both the interests and influence of England would be sacrificed and her prestige humiliated (to Lord Melbourne, 5 July 1840). Russia received his proposals with eagerness. Nothing was more to the mind of Nicholas than to detach Great Britain from her former cordial understanding with Louis-Philippe, and friendly negotiations rapidly arranged the quadrilateral treaty of 15 July 1840, by which England, Russia, Austria, and Prussia agreed with the Porte to drive back the Egyptians and to pacify the Levant.
Palmerston did not carry his quadrilateral alliance without considerable opposition. In the cabinet Lords Holland and Clarendon, and later Lord John Russell, were strongly against him: so, as afterwards appeared, was Melbourne; so was the court; and so was Lord Granville, the ambassador at Paris. Palmerston, however, was resolute, and placed his resignation in Melbourne's hands as the alternative to accepting his policy (Greville, Journal, pt. ii. vol. i. p. 308). Ultimately the measure was adopted by the majority of the cabinet. The fears which had been expressed that Mohammed Ali, with French encouragement, was too strong for us, and that France would declare war, proved groundless. Palmerston had throughout maintained that Mohammed Ali was not nearly so strong as he seemed, and that Louis-Philippe was ‘not the man to run amuck, especially without any adequate motive’ (to H. Bulwer, 21 July 1840). Everything he prophesied came true. Beyrout, Sidon, and St. Jean d'Acre were successively taken by the British fleet under Charles Napier between September and November 1840; Ibrahim was forced to retreat to Egypt, and Mohammed Ali was obliged to accept (11 Jan. 1841) the hereditary pashaship of Egypt, without an inch of Syria, and to restore the Turkish fleet to its rightful owner. ‘Palmerston is triumphant,’ wrote Greville reluctantly; ‘everything has turned out well for him. He is justified by the success of his operations, and by the revelations of Thiers and Rémusat’ (l.c. i. 354). French diplomacy failed to upset these arrangements; and, when the Toulon fleet was strengthened in an ominous manner, Palmerston retorted by equipping more ships, and instructed (22 Sept. 1840) Bulwer, the chargé d'affaires at Paris, to tell Thiers, ‘in the most friendly and inoffensive manner possible, that if France throws down the gauntlet we shall not refuse to pick it up.’ Mohammed Ali, he added, would ‘just be chucked into the Nile.’ The instruction was only too ‘Palmerstonian’—neglect of the forms of courtesy, of the suaviter in modo, was his great diplomatic fault—but it had its effect. The risk of a diplomatic rupture with France vanished, and the success of the naval campaign in the Levant convinced Louis-Philippe, and led to the fall of Thiers and the succession of ‘Guizot the cautious.’ In the settlement of the Egyptian question Palmerston refused to allow France to have any voice; she would not join when she was wanted, and she should not meddle when she was not wanted (to Granville, 30 Nov. 1840). There was an injudicious flavour of revenge about this exclusion, and Palmerston's energetic language undoubtedly irritated Louis-Philippe, and stung him to the point of paying England off by the treachery of the Spanish marriages; but it is admitted even by Greville that Palmerston bore himself with great modesty after his triumph over France, and let no sign of exultation escape him (loc. cit. i. 370). The parties to the quadruple alliance concluded a convention on 13 July 1841 by which Mohammed Ali was recognised as hereditary pasha of Egypt under the definite suzerainty of the sultan, the Bosporus and Dardanelles were closed to ships of war of every nation, and Turkey was placed formally under the protection of the guaranteeing powers. The treaty of Unkiar Skelesi was wiped out.
With the first so-called ‘opium war’ with China the home government had scarcely anything to do. Their distance and ignorance of Chinese policy threw the matter into the hands of the local authority. Palmerston, like the chief superintendent, of course disavowed any protection to opium smuggling, but when Commissioner Lin declared war by banishing every foreigner from Chinese soil, there was nothing for it but to carry the contest to a satisfactory conclusion. Graham's motion of censure in April 1840 was easily defeated, and the annexation of Hong-Kong and the opening of five ports to foreign trade were important commercial acquisitions. Meanwhile to Palmerston's efforts was due the slave trade convention of the European powers of 1841. There was no object for which Palmerston worked harder throughout his career than the suppression of the slave trade. He frequently spoke on the subject in the House of Commons, where the abolition of slavery was voted in 1833 at a cost of twenty millions; ‘a splendid instance,’ he said, ‘of generosity and justice, unexampled in the history of the world.’
By his conduct of foreign affairs from 1830 to 1841 (continuously, except for the brief interval in 1834–5 during which Peel held office) Palmerston, ‘without any following in parliament, and without much influence in the country, raised the prestige of England throughout Europe to a height which it had not occupied since Waterloo. He had created Belgium, saved Portugal and Spain from absolutism, rescued Turkey from Russia, and the highway to India from France’ (Sanders, Life, p. 79). When he came into office he found eighteen treaties in force; when he left he had added fourteen more, some of the first magnitude. A strong foreign policy had proved, moreover, to be a policy of peace. Apart from the concerns of his department, Palmerston, as was his custom, took little part in the work or talk of the House of Commons. His reputation was far greater abroad than at home. The most important personal event of these years was his marriage, on 11 Dec. 1839, to Lord Melbourne's sister, the widow of Earl Cowper. This lady, by her charm, intellect, tact, and experience, lent a powerful support to her husband, and the informal diplomatic work accomplished at her salon prepared or supplemented the interviews and transactions of the foreign office.
In opposition from 1841 to 1846, during Peel's administration, Palmerston took a larger share in the debates in the House of Commons. His periodical reviews of foreign policy were looked forward to with apprehension by the tory government; for while he said that ministers were simply ‘living upon our leavings,’ and ‘carousing upon the provisions they found in the larder,’ he saw nothing but danger in Lord Aberdeen's ‘antiquated imbecility’ and timid use of these ‘leavings;’ he said the government ‘purchased temporary security by lasting sacrifices,’ and he denounced the habit of making concessions (as in the Ashburton treaty with America) as fatal to a nation's interests, tranquillity, and honour. It was rumoured that he supported these opinions by articles in the ‘Morning Chronicle;’ and, though he denied this when in office, Aberdeen and Greville certainly attributed many of the most vehement ‘leaders’ to him when he was ‘out’ (Greville, Journal, pt. ii. vol. i. p. 327, vol. ii. pp. 105, 109, &c.). In home affairs he was a free-trader, as he understood it, though he advocated a fixed duty on corn; he supported his intimate friend Lord Ashley (afterwards Shaftesbury) in his measures for the regulation of women's and children's labour and the limiting of hours of work in factories, and voted in 1845 for the Maynooth bill.
On 25 June 1846 Peel was defeated on the Irish coercion bill and placed his resignation in the hands of the queen. The new prime minister, Lord John Russell, naturally invited Palmerston to resume the seals of the foreign office, though the appointment was not made without apprehensions of his stalwart policy. For the third time he took up the threads of diplomacy in Downing Street on 3 July 1846. The affairs of Switzerland were then in a serious crisis: the federal diet on 20 July declared the dissentient Sonderbund of the seven Roman catholic cantons to be illegal, and in September decreed the expulsion of the jesuits from the country; civil war ensued. France suggested armed intervention and a revision of the federal constitution by the powers. Palmerston refused to agree to any use of force or to any tinkering of the constitution by outside powers; he was willing to join in mediation on certain conditions, but he wished the Swiss themselves, after the dissolution of the Sonderbund, to modify their constitution in the mode prescribed in their federal pact, as guaranteed by the powers. His chief object in debating each point in detail was to gain time for the diet, and prevent France or Austria finding a pretext for the invasion of Switzerland. In this he succeeded, and, in spite of the sympathy of France and Austria with the seven defeated cantons, the policy advocated by England was carried out, the Sonderbund was abolished, the jesuits expelled, and the federal pact re-established. Palmerston's obstinate delay and prudent advice materially contributed to the preservation of Swiss independence.
Meanwhile Louis-Philippe, who was ambitious of a dynastic union between France and Spain, avenged himself for Palmerston's eastern policy of 1840. He had promised Queen Victoria, on her visit to him at the Château d'Eu in September 1843, to delay the marriage of his son, the Duc de Montpensier, with the younger infanta of Spain until her elder sister, the queen of Spain, was married and had issue. At the same time the pretensions to the young queen's hand of Prince Albert's first cousin, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, and of the French king's eldest son were withdrawn, and it was agreed that a Spanish suitor of the Bourbon line should be chosen—either Francisco de Paula, duke of Cadiz, or his brother Enrique, duke of Seville. On 18 July 1846 Palmerston, having just returned to the foreign office, sent to the Spanish ministers an outspoken despatch condemning their misgovernment, and there fell into the error of mentioning the Duke of Coburg with the two Spanish princes as the suitors from whom the Spanish queen's husband was to be selected. The French ambassador in London protested, and Coburg's name was withdrawn. But Louis-Philippe and his minister Guizot, in defiance of the agreement of the Château d'Eu, made Palmerston's despatch the pretext for independent action. They arranged that the Duke of Cadiz, although Louis-Philippe knew him to be unfit for matrimony, should be at once united in marriage to the Spanish queen, and that that marriage and the marriage of the Duc de Montpensier with the younger infanta should be celebrated on the same day. Both marriages took place on 10 Oct. (Annual Reg. 1847, p. 396; D'Haussonville, Politique Extérieure de la France, i. 156; Alison, vii. 600 et seq.; Spencer Walpole, v. 534; Granier de Cassagnac, Chute de Louis-Philippe). The result was that the Orleanist dynasty lost the support of England, its only friend in Europe, and thereby prepared its own fall.
From the autumn of 1846 to the spring of 1847 Palmerston was anxiously engaged in dealing with the Portuguese imbroglio. His sending the fleet in November to coerce the rebellious junta and to re-establish the queen on conditions involving her return from absolutism to her former constitutional system of government, though successfully effected with the concurrence of France and Spain and the final acceptance of Donna Maria, was much criticised; but the motions of censure in both houses of parliament collapsed ludicrously. Palmerston's defence was set forth in the well-considered memorandum of 25 March 1847.
The troubles in Spain and Portugal, Switzerland and Cracow (against whose annexation by Austria he earnestly protested) were trifles compared with the general upheaval of the ‘year of revolutions.’ Palmerston was not taken by surprise; he had foreseen sweeping changes and reforms, though hardly so general a movement as actually took place. In an admirable circular addressed in January 1848 to the British representatives in Italy, he urged them to impress upon the Italian rulers the dangerous temper of the times, and the risk of persistent obstruction of reasonable reforms. In this spirit he had sent Lord Minto in 1847 on a special mission to the sovereigns of Italy to warn and prepare them for the popular judgment to come; but the mission came too late; the ‘Young Italian’ party was past control, and the princes were supine or incapable. Palmerston's personal desire was for a kingdom of Northern Italy, from the Alps to the Adriatic, under Charles Albert of Sardinia, combined with a confederation of Italian states; and he was convinced that to Austria her Italian provinces were really a source of weakness—‘the heel of Achilles, and not the shield of Ajax.’ He was out in his reckoning for Italian independence by some ten years, but even he could not foresee the remarkable recuperative power of Austria, whose system of government (an ‘old woman,’ a ‘European China’) he abhorred, though he fully recognised the importance of her empire as an element in the European equilibrium. Throughout the revolutionary turmoil his sympathies were frankly on the side of ‘oppressed nationalities,’ and his advice was always exerted on behalf of constitutional as against absolutist principles; but, to the surprise of his detractors, he maintained a policy of neutrality in diplomatic action, and left each state to mend its affairs in its own way. ‘Every post,’ he wrote, ‘sends me a lamenting minister throwing himself and his country upon England for help, which I am obliged to tell him we cannot afford him.’ The chief exception to this rule was his dictatorial lecture to the queen of Spain on 16 March 1848, which was indignantly returned, and led to Sir H. L. Bulwer's dismissal from Madrid; but even here the fault lay less with the principal than with the agent (who was not instructed to show the despatch, much less to publish it in the Spanish opposition papers), though Palmerston's loyalty to his officer forbade the admission. Another instance of indiscreet interference was the permission given to the ordnance of Woolwich to supply arms indirectly to the Sicilian insurgents. Only the unmitigated brutalities of ‘Bomba’ could palliate such a breach of neutrality; but Palmerston's disgust and indignation were so widely shared by Englishmen that when he was brought to book in the commons, his defence, in ‘a slashing impudent speech’ (Greville, Journal, pt. ii. vol. iii. p. 277), completely carried the house with him. His efforts in conjunction with France to mediate between Austria and Sardinia had little effect beyond procuring slightly better terms of peace for the latter; but the Marquis Massimo d'Azeglio's grateful letter of thanks (August 1849) showed how they were appreciated in Italy, and a result of this sympathy appeared later in the Sardinian contingent in the Crimean war.
The French revolution of February 1848 found no cold reception from Palmerston. ‘Our principles of action,’ he instructed Lord Normanby on 26 Feb., ‘are to acknowledge whatever rule may be established with apparent prospect of permanency, but none other. We desire friendship and extended commercial intercourse with France, and peace between France and the rest of Europe.’ He fully trusted Lamartine's sincerity and pacific intentions, and used his influence at foreign courts on his behalf. One result was seen in Lamartine's chilly reception of Smith O'Brien's Irish deputation; and the value of Palmerston's exertions in preventing friction between the powers and the French provisional government was warmly attested by the sagacious king of the Belgians, who stated (3 Jan. 1849) that this policy had assisted the French government in ‘a system of moderation which it could but with great difficulty have maintained if it had not been acting in concert with England.’
The rigours adopted by Austria in suppressing the rebellions in Italy and Hungary excited England's indignant ‘disgust,’ as Palmerston bade Lord Ponsonby tell Prince Schwarzenberg ‘openly and decidedly.’ When Kossuth and other defeated leaders of the Hungarian revolution, with over three thousand Hungarian and Polish followers, took refuge in Turkey in August 1849, the ambassadors of Austria and Russia demanded their extradition. On the advice of Sir Stratford Canning, supported by the French ambassador, the sultan declined to give up the refugees. The Austrian and Russian representatives at the Porte continued to insist in violent and imperious terms, and on 4 Sept. Prince Michael Radzivil arrived at Constantinople charged with an ultimatum from the tsar, announcing that the escape of a single refugee would be taken as a declaration of war. The Turkish government, in great alarm, sought counsel with the ‘Great Elchi,’ and Sir Stratford Canning [q. v.] took upon himself the responsibility of advising resolute resistance, and, in conjunction with his French colleague, allowed the Porte to understand that in the event of war Turkey would have the support of England and France (Lane-Poole, Life of Stratford Canning, ii. 191). Upon this the imperial ambassadors broke off diplomatic relations with the Porte. Palmerston at once obtained the consent of the cabinet to support Turkey in her generous action, and to make friendly representations at Vienna and Petersburg to induce the emperors ‘not to press the Sultan to do that which a regard for his honour and the common dictates of humanity forbid him to do.’ At the same time the English and French squadrons were instructed to move up to the Dardanelles with orders to go to the aid of the sultan if he should invite them (to S. Canning, 2 Oct. 1849). Palmerston was careful to explain to Baron Brunnow that this step was in no sense a threat, but merely a measure ‘to prevent accidents,’ and to ‘comfort and support the sultan’—‘like holding a bottle of salts to the nose of a lady who had been frightened.’ He was fully conscious, however, of the gravity of the situation, and prepared to go all lengths in support of Turkey, ‘let who will be against her’ (to Ponsonby, 6 Oct. 1849). Firm language and the presence of the fleets brought the two emperors to reason, and in a fortnight Austria privately intimated that the extradition would not be insisted on.
Palmerston's chivalrous defence of the refugees brought him great renown in England, which his imprudent reception of a deputation of London radicals, overflowing with virulent abuse of the two emperors, did nothing to diminish. The ‘judicious bottle-holder,’ as he then styled himself, was the most popular man in the country (cf. cartoon in Punch, 6 Dec. 1851). The ‘Pacifico affair,’ which occurred shortly afterwards, tested his popularity. Two British subjects, Dr. George Finlay [q. v.] and David Pacifico [q. v.], had laid claims against the Greek government for injuries suffered by them at the hands of Greek subjects. The Greek government repudiated their right to compensation. Consequently Admiral Sir William Parker [q. v.] blockaded the Piræus in January 1850. The claims were clear, and force was used only after every diplomatic expedient had been exhausted. ‘It is our long forbearance, and not our precipitation, that deserves remark,’ said Palmerston. The French government offered to mediate, but on 21 April the French mediator at Athens, Baron Gros, threw up his mission as hopeless. The coercion of Greece by the English fleet was renewed (25 April), and the Greek government compelled to accept England's terms (26 April). The renewed blockade of the Piræus was held by France to be a breach of an arrangement made in London on 18 April between Palmerston and the French ambassador, Drouyn de Lhuys. It seems that the promptness of action taken at Athens by Admiral Parker and by Thomas (afterwards Sir Thomas) Wyse [q. v.], the British minister at Athens, who was not informed of the negotiations in London, was not foreseen by the foreign secretary. It had, however, been understood all along that, if French mediation failed, coercion might be renewed without further reference to the home government (Greville, Journal, pt. ii. vol. iii. p. 334). The French government seized the opportunity to fix a quarrel upon England in order to make a decent figure before the warlike party in the assembly at Paris. With a great show of offended integrity, and expressly on the queen's birthday, they recalled Drouyn de Lhuys from London, and in the chambers openly taxed the English government with duplicity. Those who understood French politics were not deceived. ‘Oh, it's all nonsense,’ said the old Duke of Wellington; and Palmerston did not think it even worth while to retaliate by recalling Lord Normanby from Paris. He hastened, on the contrary, to conciliate French susceptibilities by consulting Guizot in the final settlement of some outstanding claims upon Greece, and the storm blew over. The House of Lords indeed censured him by a majority of thirty-seven, on Lord Stanley's motion on 17 June, supported by Aberdeen and Brougham; but in the commons Roebuck's vote of confidence was carried in favour of the government by forty-six. The debate, which lasted four nights, was made memorable by the brilliant speeches of Gladstone, Cockburn, and Peel, who spoke for the last time, for his fatal accident happened next day; but the chief honours fell to Palmerston. In his famous ‘civis Romanus’ oration he for more than four hours vindicated his whole foreign policy with a breadth of view, a tenacity of logical argument, a moderation of tone, and a height of eloquence which the house listened to with rapture and interrupted with volleys of cheers. It was the greatest speech he ever made; ‘a most able and temperate speech, a speech which made us all proud of the man who delivered it,’ said Sir Robert Peel, generous to the last. It ‘was an extraordinary effort,’ wrote Sir George C. Lewis (to Sir E. Head, Letters, p. 227). ‘He defeated the whole conservative party, protectionists, and Peelites, supported by the extreme radicals, and backed by the “Times” and all the organised forces of foreign diplomacy.’ Palmerston came through the lobby with a triumphant majority, and the conspiracy of foreign powers and English factions to overthrow him had only made him, as he said himself, ‘for the present the most popular minister that for a very long course of time has held my office.’ For the first time he became ‘the man of the people,’ ‘the most popular man in the country,’ said Lord Grey (Greville, l.c. p. 347), and was clearly marked out as the future head of the government.
Palmerston's constant activity and disposition to tender advice or mediation in European disputes procured him the reputation of a universal intermeddler, and the blunt vigour of some of his despatches and diplomatic instructions conveyed a pugnacious impression which led to the nickname of ‘firebrand;’ while his jaunty, confident, off-hand air in the house gave a totally false impression of levity and indifference to serious issues. That he made numerous enemies abroad by his truculent style and stubborn tenacity of purpose is not to be denied; but the enmity of foreign statesmen is no proof of a mistaken English policy, and the result of his strong policy was peace. Just when he was at the height of his power and popularity as foreign minister an event happened which had not been unforeseen by those acquainted with the court. During the years he had held the seals of the foreign office under Lord Melbourne he had been allowed to do as he pleased in his own department. He exerted ‘an absolute despotism at the F. O. … without the slightest control, and scarcely any interference on the part of his colleagues’ (Greville, Journal, pt. ii. vol. i. p. 298). He created, in fact, an imperium in imperio, which, however well it worked under his able rule, was hardly likely to commend itself to a more vigilant prime minister, or to a court which conceived the regulation of foreign affairs to be its peculiar province. On several occasions Palmerston had taken upon himself to despatch instructions involving serious questions of policy without consulting the crown or his colleagues, whom he too often left in ignorance of important transactions. These acts of independence brought upon him the queen's memorandum of 12 Aug. 1850, in which he was required to ‘distinctly state what he proposes in a given case, in order that the queen may know as distinctly to what she is giving her royal sanction;’ and it was further commanded that a measure once sanctioned ‘be not arbitrarily altered or modified by the minister’ on pain of dismissal (Ashley, Life, ii. 219). Palmerston did not resign at once, because he understood that the memorandum was confidential between Lord John Russell and himself, and he did not wish to publish to the house and country what had the air of a personal dispute between a minister and his sovereign (ib. ii. 226–7). He protested to Prince Albert that it was not in him to intend the slightest disrespect to the queen, pleaded extreme pressure of urgent business, and promised to comply with her majesty's instructions. But sixteen years' management of the foreign relations of England may well have bred a self-confidence and decision which brooked with difficulty the control of less experienced persons, and it would not be easy (if it were necessary) to absolve Palmerston from the charge of independence in more than the minor affairs of his office. Many instances occurred both before and after the queen's ‘memorandum,’ and it is clear that from 1849 onwards the court was anxious to rid itself of the foreign minister, and that eventually Lord John Russell resolved to exert his authority on the first pretext. The one he chose was flimsy enough (Greville, Journal, pt. ii. vol. iii. p. 430; Malmesbury, Memoirs, i. 301). In unofficial conversation with Count Walewski, the French ambassador, Palmerston expressed his approval of Louis Napoleon's coup d'état of 2 Dec. 1851, and for this he was curtly dismissed from office by Lord John Russell on the 19th, and even insulted by the offer of the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland. The pretext was considerably weakened by the fact that Lord John himself and several members of his cabinet had expressed similar opinions of the coup d'état to the same person at nearly the same time; but the theory seems to have been that an expression of approval from the foreign secretary to the French representative, whether official or merely ‘officious,’ meant a great deal more than the opinions of other members of the government. ‘There was a Palmerston,’ said Disraeli, and the clubs believed that the ‘Firebrand’ was quenched for ever. Schwarzenberg rejoiced and gave a ball, and Prussian opinion was summed up in the doggerel lines:
Hat der Teufel einen Sohn,
So ist er sicher Palmerston.
In England, however, people and press lamented, and Lord John was considered to have behaved badly. Within three weeks the government were defeated on an amendment moved by Lord Palmerston to Russell's militia bill, and resigned. They had long been tottering, and were glad once more to avail themselves of a pretext. The result of the division was a surprise to Palmerston, who had not intended to turn them out (to his brother, 24 Feb.; Lewis, Letters, p. 251).
During the 305 days of the first Derby administration Palmerston thrice refused invitations to join the conservative government. He rendered cordial aid, however, to Lord Malmesbury, the new foreign secretary (Malmesbury, Mem. i. 317), and on 23 Nov. 1852 he saved the government from defeat by an adroit amendment to Villiers's free-trade resolution; but the respite was short. On 3 Dec. they were beaten on Disraeli's budget, and resigned. In the coalition government under Aberdeen, Palmerston, pressed by Lords Lansdowne and Clarendon, took the home office, the post he had settled upon beforehand as his choice in any government (to his brother, 17 Nov. 1852). He did not feel equal to ‘the immense labour of the foreign office;’ and probably he did not care to run the chance of further repression, though he now stood ‘in better odour at Windsor’ (Greville, l.c. pt. iii. vol. i. p. 14). But before he joined the cabinet of the statesman whose foreign policy he had persistently attacked, he took care to ascertain that his own principles would be maintained. He proved an admirable home secretary, vigilant, assiduous, observant of details, original in remedies. Stimulated by Lord Shaftesbury, he introduced or supported various improvements in factory acts, carried out prison reforms, established the ticket-of-leave system and reformatory schools, and put a stop to intramural burials. He shone as a receiver of deputations, and got rid of many a troublesome interrogator with a good-humoured jest. On the question of parliamentary reform he was not in accord with Russell, and resigned on 16 Dec. 1853 on the proposals for a reform bill; but returned to office after ten days on the understanding that the details of the bill were still open to discussion. Another subject on which the cabinet disagreed was the negotiation which preceded the Crimean war. Palmerston was all for vigorous action, which, he believed, would avert war. Aberdeen, however, was tied by his secret agreement with the Emperor Nicholas, signed in 1844 (Malmesbury, Memoirs, i. 402), granting the very points at issue, and was constitutionally unequal to strong measures. Of Lord Clarendon, who early in the administration succeeded Russell at the foreign office, Palmerston had a high opinion, and supported him in the cabinet. Concession, he held, only led to more extortionate demands. ‘The Russian government has been led on step by step by the apparent timidity of the government of England,’ he told the cabinet, when pressing for the despatch of the fleets to the Bosporus in July 1853, as a reply to Russia's occupation of the principalities. He believed the tsar had resolved upon ‘the complete submission of Turkey,’ and was ‘bent upon a stand-up fight.’ ‘If he is determined to break a lance with us,’ he wrote to Sidney Herbert, 21 Sept., ‘why, then, have at him, say I, and perhaps he may have enough of it before we have done with him.’ It is curious, however, that the special act which provoked the declaration of war—the sending of the allied fleets to take possession of the Black Sea—was ordered by the cabinet during the interval of Palmerston's resignation. When war had been declared, and the troops were at Varna, Palmerston laid a memorandum before the cabinet (14 June 1854) in which he argued that the mere driving of the Russians out of the principalities was not a sufficient reprisal, and that ‘it seems absolutely necessary that some heavy blow should be struck at the naval power and territorial dimensions of Russia.’ His proposals were the capture of Sevastopol, the occupation of the Crimea, and the expulsion of the Russians from Georgia and Circassia. His plan was adopted by the cabinet, and afterwards warmly supported by Gladstone (Ashley, Life, ii. 300). No one then foresaw the long delays, the blunders, the mismanagement, and the terrible hardships of the ensuing winter. When things looked blackest there was a feeling that Palmerston was the only man, and Lord John Russell proposed that the two offices of secretary for war and secretary at war should be united in Palmerston. On Aberdeen's rejection of this sensible proposal, Lord John resigned, 23 Jan. 1855, sooner than resist Roebuck's motion (28 Jan.) for a select committee of inquiry into the state of our army in the Crimea. After two nights' debate the government were defeated by a majority of 157, and resigned on 1 Feb. 1855.
On the fall of the Aberdeen ministry Lord Derby attempted to form a government, and invited Palmerston to take the leadership of the House of Commons, which Disraeli was willing to surrender to him. Finding, however, that none of the late cabinet would go with him, Palmerston declined, engaging at the same time to support any government that carried on the war with energy, and sustained the dignity and interests of the country abroad. When both Lord Derby and Lord John Russell had failed to construct an administration, although Palmerston magnanimously consented to serve again under ‘Johnny,’ he was himself sent for by the queen, and, after some delay, succeeded (6 Feb. 1855) in forming a government of whigs and Peelites; the latter, however (Gladstone, Graham, and Sidney Herbert), retired within three weeks, on Palmerston's reluctant consent to the appointment of Roebuck's committee of inquiry into the management of the war. Their places were filled by Sir G. C. Lewis, Sir C. Wood, and Lord John Russell, and the cabinet thus gained in strength and unity—especially as Russell was fortunately absent at the Vienna conference.
The situation when Palmerston at last became prime minister of England, at the age of seventy, was full of danger and perplexity. The siege of Sevastopol seemed no nearer a conclusion; the alliance of the four powers was shaken; the emperor of the French had lost heart, and was falling more and more under the influence of financiers; the sultan of Turkey was squandering borrowed money on luxuries and showing himself unworthy of support; parties in England were broken up and disorganised, and the House of Commons was in a captious mood. At first Palmerston's old energy and address seem to have deserted him, but it was not long before his tact and temper began to reassert their power. He infused a new energy into the military departments, where his long experience as secretary at war served him in good stead. He united the secretaryships for and at war in one post, which he gave to Lord Panmure; he formed a special transport branch at the admiralty; sent out Sir John McNeill [q. v.] to reconstitute the commissariat at Balaclava, and despatched a strong sanitary commission with peremptory powers to overhaul the hospitals and camp. He remonstrated personally with Louis Napoleon upon his desire for peace at any price; and urged him (28 May 1855) ‘not to allow diplomacy to rob us of the great and important advantages which we are on the point of gaining.’ In a querulous House of Commons his splendid generalship carried him triumphantly through the session. The Manchester party he treated with contemptuous banter, and refused to ‘count for anything’—the country was plainly against them; but he vigorously repulsed the attacks of the conservatives, and administered a severe rebuke (30 July) to Mr. Gladstone and the other Peelites who had in office gone willingly into the war, and then turned round and denounced it. The new energy communicated to the army was rewarded by the fall of the south side of Sevastopol in September, and then once more Austria tried her hand at negotiations for peace. Palmerston firmly refused to consent to Buol's proposal to let the Black Sea question be the subject of a separate arrangement between Russia and Turkey—‘I had better beforehand take the Chiltern Hundreds,’ he said—but greatly as he and Clarendon would have preferred a third year's campaign, to complete the punishment of Russia, he found himself forced, by the action of the emperor of the French and the pressure of Austria, to agree to the treaty of Paris, 30 March 1856. The guarantee by the powers of the integrity and independence of the Turkish empire, the abnegation by them of any right to interfere between the sultan and his subjects, and the neutralisation of the Black Sea, with the cession of Bessarabia to Roumania and the destruction of the forts of Sevastopol, appeared to him a fairly satisfactory ending to the struggle. The Declaration of Paris, abolishing privateering and recognising neutral goods and bottoms, followed. The Garter was the expression of his sovereign's well-deserved approbation (12 July 1856).
Shortly after France had joined in guaranteeing the integrity of the Ottoman empire, she proposed to England, with splendid inconsistency, to partition the Turkish possessions in North Africa—England to have Egypt. While pointing out the moral impossibility of the scheme, Palmerston stated to Lord Clarendon his conviction that the only importance of Egypt to England consisted in keeping open the road to India. He opposed the project of the Suez Canal tooth and nail; the reasons he gave have for the most part been proved fallacious, but the real ground of his opposition was the fear that France might seize it in time of war and reduce Egypt to vassalage. He had little faith in the constancy of French friendship; ‘in our alliance with France,’ he wrote (to Clarendon, 29 Sept. 1857), ‘we are riding a runaway horse, and must always be on our guard.’ He predicted the risk of a Franco-Russian alliance; the necessity of a strong Germany headed by Prussia; and the advance of Russia to Bokhara, which led to the Persian seizure of Herat and the brief Persian war of the winter of 1856–7.
On 3 March 1857 the government was defeated by a majority of fourteen by a combination of conservatives, Peelites, liberals, and Irish, on Cobden's motion for a select committee to investigate the affair of the lorcha Arrow and the justification alleged for the second China war. It had already been censured in the lords by a majority of thirty-six. A technical flaw in the registration of the Arrow gave a handle for argument to those who, ignorant of our position in China and regardless of a long series of breaches of treaty and of humiliations, insults, and outrages upon British subjects, saw merely an opportunity for making party capital or airing a vapid philanthropy which was seldom less appropriate. Palmerston might have sheltered himself behind the fact that the war had been begun by Sir John Bowring in the urgency of the moment, without consulting the home government; but he never deserted his officers in a just cause, and the case in dispute fitted closely with his own policy. His instructions to Sir John Davis, on 9 Jan. 1847, which were familiar to Bowring and Parkes, fully covered the emergency: ‘We shall lose,’ he wrote, ‘all the vantage-ground we have gained by our victories in China if we take a low tone. … Depend upon it, that the best way of keeping any men quiet is to let them see that you are able and determined to repel force by force; and the Chinese are not in the least different, in this respect, from the rest of mankind’ (Parl. Papers, 1847, 184, p. 2; Lane-Poole, Life of Sir Harry Parkes, i. 216–37). No foreign secretary was so keenly alive to the importance of British interests in China, so thoroughly conversant with conditions of diplomacy in the Far East, or so firm in carrying out a wise and consistent policy. He accepted his parliamentary defeat very calmly, and, after finishing necessary business, appealed to the country. No man could feel the popular pulse more accurately, and the result of the general election was never doubtful. It was essentially a personal election, and the country voted for ‘old Pam’ with overwhelming enthusiusm. That ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms,’ the opposition, was scattered to the winds; Cobden, Bright, and Milner Gibson lost their seats, and the peace party was temporarily annihilated. In April the government returned to power with a largely increased majority (366 liberals, 287 conservatives).
Meanwhile the Indian mutiny had broken out. At first Palmerston, like most of the authorities, was disposed to underrate its seriousness, but his measures for the relief of the overmatched British garrison of India and the suppression of the rebellion were prompt and energetic. He sent out Sir Colin Campbell at once, and by the end of September eighty ships had sailed for India, carrying thirty thousand troops. Foreign powers proffered assistance, but Palmerston replied that England must show that she was able to put down her own rebellions ‘off her own bat’ (Ashley, l.c. ii. 351). When this was accomplished, he brought in (12 Feb. 1858) the bill to transfer the dominions of the East India Company to the crown, and carried the first reading by a majority of 145. A week after this triumphant majority the government was beaten by nineteen on the second reading of the conspiracy to murder bill (by which, in view of Orsini's attempt on the life of Napoleon III, conspiracy to murder was to be made a felony). The division was a complete surprise, chiefly due to bad management of the whips. Palmerston at once resigned, and was succeeded by Lord Derby. The new ministry was in a minority, and, being beaten on a reform bill early in 1859, dissolved parliament. The election, however, left them still to the bad, and after Lord Derby had for the fourth time tried to induce the popular ex-premier to join him, he was defeated on 10 June, and resigned.
Embarrassed by the difficulty of choosing between the two veterans, Palmerston and Russell, the queen sent for Lord Granville, who found it impossible to form a cabinet, though Palmerston generously consented to join his junior. The country looked to ‘Pam,’ and him only, as its leader, and at the age of seventy-five he formed his second administration (30 June 1859), with a very strong cabinet, including Russell, Gladstone, Cornewall Lewis, Granville, Cardwell, Wood, Sidney Herbert, and Milner Gibson. His interval of leisure while out of office had enabled him to resume his old alliance with those who had opposed him on the Crimean and China wars. It was one of Palmerston's finest traits of character that he never bore malice. When Guizot was banished from France in 1848 Palmerston had him to dinner at once, old foe as he was, and they nearly ‘shook their arms off’ in their hearty reconciliation (Greville, Journal, pt. ii. vol. iii. p. 157). ‘He was always a very generous enemy,’ said dying Cobden. When Granville supplanted Palmerston at the foreign office in 1851, he met with a cheery greeting and offers of help. When Russell threw him over, he called him laughingly ‘a foolish fellow,’ and bore him no personal grudge. So in 1859 he brought them all together again. His six remaining years were marked by peaceful tranquillity both in home and foreign affairs. Italy and France indeed presented problems of some complexity, but these were met with prudence and skill. Palmerston and his foreign minister, Lord John Russell, now completely under his leader's influence, declined to mediate in the Franco-Austrian quarrel, as the conditions were unacceptable to Austria; but they did not conceal their disapproval of the preliminary treaty of Villafranca, which Palmerston declared drove Italy to despair and delivered her, tied hand and foot, into the power of Austria. ‘L'Italie rendue à elle-même,’ he said, had become ‘l'Italie vendue à l'Autriche.’ That he maintained strict neutrality in the later negotiations connected with the proposed congress of Zürich, and his suggested triple alliance of England, France, and Sardinia to prevent any forcible interference of foreign powers in the internal affairs of Italy (memorandum to cabinet, 5 Jan. 1860), is scarcely to be argued. The result of the mere rumour of such an alliance (which never came to pass) was the voluntary union of the Italian duchies to Sardinia and a long stride towards Italian unity. Palmerston resolutely refused to accede to the French desire that he should oppose Garibaldi, and hastened to recognise with entire satisfaction the new kingdom of Italy. An eloquent panegyric on the death of Cavour, delivered in the House of Commons on 6 June 1861, formed a worthy conclusion to the sympathy of many years.
Palmerston's vigilant care of the national defences was never relaxed, and the increase of the French navy and the hostile language towards England which was becoming more general in France strengthened him in his policy of fortifying the arsenals and dockyards at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, and Cork, for which he obtained a vote of nine millions in 1860. In his memorable speech on this occasion (23 July) he said: ‘If your dockyards are destroyed, your navy is cut up by the roots. If any naval action were to take place … you would have no means of refitting your navy and sending it out to battle. If ever we lose the command of the sea, what becomes of this country?’ In spite of a personal liking, from 1859, when he visited him at Compiègne, onwards he had grown more and more distrustful of Louis Napoleon, whose mind, he said, was ‘as full of schemes as a warren is full of rabbits,’ and whose aggrandising theory of a ‘natural frontier,’ involving the annexation of Nice and Savoy, and even of Chablais and Faucigny, neutral districts of Switzerland, had produced a very unfavourable impression. A threat of sending the English fleet was necessary to prevent Genoa being added to the spoils of the disinterested champion of Italy. The interference of France in the Druse difficulty of 1860 also caused some anxiety. Palmerston was convinced that Louis Napoleon would yield to a national passion for paying off old scores against England, and he preached the strengthening of the army and navy and encouraged the new rifle volunteer movement. In this policy he was opposed by Gladstone, the chancellor of the exchequer, whose brilliant budgets contributed notably to the reputation of the government. There was little cordiality between the two men. ‘He has never behaved to me as a colleague,’ said Palmerston, and went on to prophesy that when Gladstone became prime minister ‘we shall have strange doings.’ On the chancellor of the exchequer's pronounced hostility to the scheme of fortifications, Palmerston wrote to the queen that it was ‘better to lose Mr. Gladstone than to run the risk of losing Portsmouth.’ With Lord John Russell's projects of electoral reform the prime minister was not in sympathy; but he quietly let his colleague introduce his bill, knowing very well that, in the total apathy of the country, it would die a natural death. It is significant of these differences and of the general confidence in Palmerston that for a temporary purpose, and in view of possible secessions from the cabinet, Disraeli promised the government the support of the conservative party. The ‘consummate tact,’ to use Greville's phrase, displayed by the premier in accommodating the dispute between the lords and commons over the paper bill, and the adoption of Cobden's commercial treaty with France, were among the events of the session of 1860, at the close of which Lord Westbury wrote to Palmerston to express his admiration of his ‘masterly leading during this most difficult session.’
During the civil war in America Palmerston preserved strict neutrality of action, in spite of the pronounced sympathy of the English upper classes, and even it was believed of some of the cabinet, for the South, and the pressure in the same direction exerted by the emperor of the French. What friction there was with the North arose out of isolated cases for which the government had no responsibility. The forcible seizure of two confederate passengers on board the British mail-steamer Trent in November 1861 was an affront and a breach of the law of nations, especially inexcusable in a state which repudiated the ‘right of search.’ Palmerston's prompt despatch of the guards to Canada, even before receiving a reply to his protest, proved, as he prophesied, the shortest way to peace. Seward, the American secretary of state, at once submitted, and restored the prisoners. The Alabama dispute went far nearer to a serious rupture, though the hesitation to detain the vessel at Birkenhead in August 1862 was due not to Palmerston or Russell, but to the law officers of the crown. Whatever the sympathies of England for the South, Palmerston actively stimulated the admiralty in its work of suppressing the slave trade.
In 1862 the Ionian Islands were presented to Greece, on Mr. Gladstone's recommendation, although Palmerston had formerly held the opinion that Corfu ought to be retained as an English military station. Apart from a fruitless attempt in 1863 to intercede again for the Poles, and a refusal to enter a European congress suggested by Louis Napoleon for the purpose of revising the treaties of 1815, and thereby opening, as Palmerston feared, a number of dangerous pretensions, the chief foreign question that occupied him during his concluding years was the Danish war. While condemning the king of Denmark's policy towards the Schleswig-Holstein duchies, he thought the action of Prussia and Austria ungenerous and dishonest; but the conference he managed to assemble for the settlement of the dispute broke up when it appeared that neither party could be induced to yield a point; and, in presence of a lukewarm cabinet and the indifference of France and Russia, Palmerston could do little for the weaker side. Challenged by Disraeli on his Danish policy, the premier, then eighty years of age, defended himself with his old vigour, and then turning to the general, and especially the financial, work of the government, ‘played to the score’ by citing the growing prosperity of the country under his administration, with the result that he secured a majority of eighteen. His last important speech in the house was on Irish affairs, on which, as a liberal and active Irish landholder, he had a right to his opinions. He did not believe that legislative remedies or tenant-right could keep the people from emigrating: ‘nothing can do it except the influence of capital.’
For several years before his death Lord Palmerston had been a martyr to gout, which he did not improve by his assiduous attendance at the House of Commons. There, if he seldom made set speeches (his sight had become too weak to read his notes), his ready interposition, unfailing tact and good humour, practical management, and wide popularity on both sides, smoothed away difficulties, kept up a dignified tone, and expedited the business of the house. He refused to give in to old age, kept up his shooting, rode to Harrow and back in the rain when nearly seventy-seven to lay the foundation-stone of the school library, and on his eightieth birthday was on horseback nearly all day inspecting forts at Anglesey, Gosport, and elsewhere. When parliament, having sat for over six years, was dissolved, 6 July 1865, he went down to his constituency and won a contested election. But he never met the new parliament, for a chill caught when driving brought on complications, and he died at his wife's estate, Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire, 18 Oct., within two days of his eighty-first birthday. His official despatch-box and a half-finished letter showed that he died in harness. He had sat in sixteen parliaments, had been a member of every administration, except Peel's and Derby's, from 1807 to 1865, and had held office for all but half a century. He was buried on 27 Oct. with public honours in Westminster Abbey, where he lies near Pitt. Lady Palmerston was laid beside him on her death on 11 Sept. 1869, at the age of eighty-two.
Among the honours conferred upon him, besides the Garter, may be mentioned the grand cross of the Bath (1832), the lord-wardenship of the Cinque ports (1861), lord-rectorship of Glasgow University (1863), and honorary degrees of D.C.L., Oxford (1862), and of LL.D., Cambridge (1864). His title died with him, and his property descended to Lady Palmerston's second son by her first marriage, William Francis Cowper, who added the name of Temple, and was created Baron Mount Temple of Sligo in 1880; and thence devolved to her grandson, the Right Hon. Evelyn Ashley (1836–1908).
Lord Palmerston, as Mr. Ashley points out (ii. 458–9), was a great man rather by a combination of good qualities, paradoxically contrary, than by any special attribute of genius. ‘He had great pluck, combined with remarkable tact; unfailing good temper, associated with firmness almost amounting to obstinacy. He was a strict disciplinarian, and yet ready above most men to make allowance for the weakness and shortcomings of others. He loved hard work in all its details, and yet took a keen delight in many kinds of sport and amusement. He believed in England as the best and greatest country in the world … but knew and cared more about foreign nations than any other public man. He had little or no vanity, and claimed but a modest value for his own abilities; yet no man had a better opinion of his own judgment or was more full of self-confidence.’ He never doubted for an instant, when he had once made up his mind on a subject, that he was right and those who differed from him were hopelessly wrong. The result was a firmness and tenacity of purpose which brought him through many difficulties. He said himself, ‘A man of energy may make a wrong decision, but, like a strong horse that carries you rashly into a quagmire, he brings you by his sturdiness out on the other side.’ M. Drouyn de Lhuys used the same simile when speaking of Palmerston's ‘sagacity, courage, trustworthiness’ as a ‘daring pilot in extremity.’ Lord Shaftesbury, the man whom Palmerston loved and esteemed above all others, wrote of him, ‘I admired, every day more, his patriotism, his simplicity of purpose, his indefatigable spirit, his unfailing good humour, his kindness of heart, his prompt, tender, and active consideration for others in the midst of his heaviest toils and anxieties.’ His buoyant, vivacious, optimistic nature produced an erroneous impression of levity, but this very lightness of heart carried him unscathed through many a dark crisis, and kept up the spirit of the nation, whose faults and whose virtues he so completely represented. A thorough English gentleman, simple, manly, and detesting display and insincerity, he brought into private life the same generous, kindly, happy spirit which he showed in his public career. An excellent landlord, he spent infinite pains and money over his Irish and English estates, and did his best to extirpate the middleman. He took a keen interest in all local amusements, sports, and meetings, and showed a real and genial sympathy with the welfare of farmers, labourers, and working men. A keen sportsman, he preserved game, hunted when he could, rode daily on his old grey, familiar to all Londoners, and made exercise, as he said, ‘a religion.’ He bred and trained horses since 1815, but seldom betted. His green and orange colours were especially well known at the smaller provincial race meetings. But he won the Cesarewitch with Ilione in 1841, and the Ascot Stakes with Buckthorn in 1852, and his Mainstone ran third favourite for the Derby in 1860, but was believed to have been ‘got at.’ In 1845 he was elected an honorary member of the Jockey Club. Indoors he had a genius for ‘fluking’ at his favourite game at billiards; his opponents said it was typical of his statesmanship. He was no student, and, though he could quote Horace and Virgil and the English classics, he only once refers to a book in his published correspondence—and that was ‘Coningsby.’ His conversation was agreeable but not striking; but, as Greville acutely observed, ‘when he takes his pen in his hand, his intellect seems to have full play.’ His despatches are clear, bold, trenchant, logical; there he spoke his mind with unsparing lucidity and frank bluntness. His letters, always written in a hurry, are simple, clear, honest, and humorous, and show a skilful delicacy both in reproof and praise. As a speaker, he had the great art of gauging the temper of his hearers and suiting his speech to their mood. He was ready in debate, and his set speeches, which were carefully prepared, carried his audience with him, although they were neither brilliant nor philosophical, and he often resorted to somewhat flippant jokes and fustian rhetoric to help out an embarrassing brief. But what gave him his supreme influence with his countrymen in his later life, as orator, statesman, and leader, was his courage and confidence.
The chief portraits of Palmerston are: (1) æt. 15 or 16, by Heaphy at Broadlands, formerly the seat of the Right Hon. E. Ashley; (2) æt. circa 45, by Partridge, in the National Portrait Gallery; (3) æt. 51, a sketch by Hayter, for his picture of the reformed House of Commons, at Broadlands; (4) æt. 66, a full-length by Partridge, presented to Lady Palmerston by members of the House of Commons in 1850, at Broadlands; (5) æt. 71, a large equestrian portrait, on the favourite grey, by Barraud, at Broadlands; (6) æt. 80, a remarkable sketch by Cruikshank, at Broadlands. Statues of him stand in Westminster Abbey (by Robert Jackson), Palace Yard (by Thomas Woolner, R.A.), and at Romsey market-place (by Matthew Noble). A bust by Noble and a portrait in oils by G. Lowes Dickenson are in the hall of the Reform Club. From 6 Dec. 1851, when (Sir) John Tenniel's cartoon of Palmerston in the character of the ‘Judicious Bottle-Holder, or the Downing Street Pet’ appeared in ‘Punch,’ Palmerston was constantly represented in that periodical; a straw was invariably placed between the statesman's lips in allusion to his love of horses (Spielmann, History of Punch, pp. 203–4).[The Life of Lord Palmerston up to 1847 was written by his faithful adherent, Lord Dalling (Sir H. Lytton Bulwer), vols. i. and ii. 1870, vol. iii. edited and partly written by the Hon. Evelyn Ashley, 1874, after the author's death. Mr. Ashley completed the biography in two more vols. 1876. The whole work was reissued in a revised and slightly abridged form by Mr. Ashley in 2 vols. 1879, with the title ‘The Life and Correspondence of Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston;’ the letters are judiciously curtailed, but unfortunately without indicating where the excisions occur; the appendices of the original work are omitted, but much fresh matter is added, and this edition is undoubtedly the standard biography, and has been freely used and quoted above. Palmerston wrote a brief and not quite accurate autobiography up to 1830 for the information of Lady Cowper, afterwards his wife, which is printed in full at the end of Lord Dalling's first volume, and is freely used in Mr. Ashley's revised edition. He also kept a journal from June 1806 to February 1808, extracts from which are printed in Mr. Ashley's first volume (1879), pp. 17 to 41. The best short biography is Mr. Lloyd C. Sanders's ‘Life of Viscount Palmerston,’ 1888, which has furnished useful data for the present article. The Marquis of Lorne has also published a short biography, containing much previously unpublished material. Anthony Trollope's ‘Lord Palmerston,’ 1882, is an enthusiastic eulogy, chiefly remarkable for a vigorous defence of Palmerston against the criticisms of the Prince Consort, but containing nothing new. A. Laugel in ‘Lord Palmerston et Lord Russell,’ 1877, gives a French depreciation of ‘un grand ennemi de la France.’ Selections from his speeches were published, with a brief memoir by G. H. Francis, in 1852, with the title ‘Opinions and Policy of Viscount Palmerston.’ Almost all the contemporary political and diplomatic memoirs and histories supply information or criticism on Palmerston's policy and acts. Of these the most important is Greville's Journal, though its tone of personal malevolence detracts from the value of its evidence. ‘Palmerston's Borough,’ by F. J. Snell (1894), contains notes on the Tiverton elections. Other sources are Queen Victoria's Letters, 1837–61; Martin's Life of Prince Consort; Fagan's History of the Reform Club; Complete Peerage by G. E. C[okayne]. Some information was supplied by Evelyn Ashley; B. P. Lascelles of Harrow; J. Bass Mullinger, librarian, and R. F. Scott, master, of St. John's College, Cambridge, and J. W. Clark, registrary of Cambridge.]
Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.263
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line
|23||ii||9-10||Temple, Henry J., 3rd Viscount Palmerston: for Albert's brother Ernest, duke of Saxe-Coburg, read Albert's first cousin, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg|