Russell, John (1792-1878) (DNB00)
RUSSELL, Lord JOHN, first Earl Russell (1792–1878), statesman, born at Hertford Street, Westminster, on 18 Aug. 1792, was third son of John Russell, sixth Duke of Bedford (1766–1839).
The father, second son of Francis Russell, marquis of Tavistock (1739–1767), and grandson of John Russell, fourth duke [q. v.], was an officer of the Bedfordshire militia from 1778 to 1781, and ensign in the 3rd regiment of footguards from 18 March 1783 to 9 April 1785. But in early life he turned his attention to politics. He was a parliamentary reformer and a member of the Society of Friends of the People, to which Sheridan and Erskine, Rogers and Whitbread, Mackintosh and Grey belonged. Under the name of Lord John Russell he in 1788 entered the House of Commons as one of the members for Tavistock, in succession to Richard Rigby [q. v.] He sat for this constituency till 2 March 1802, when, on the death of his elder brother, Francis Russell, fifth duke [q. v.], he succeeded to the dukedom. On 12 Feb. 1806 he was created a privy councillor, and took office as lord-lieutenant of Ireland in the administration of ‘all the talents.’ He resigned with his colleagues on 19 April 1807. Thenceforth he took little part in political life, chiefly residing at Woburn, and devoting himself to the improvement of his property in Bedfordshire, Devonshire, and London. In 1830 he rebuilt Covent Garden market at a cost of 40,000l. Like his brother, he interested himself in agriculture, and continued for some years the famous sheep-shearings at Woburn. In 1811 G. Garrard, A.R.A., painted a well-known picture of the ceremony, with portraits of the duke and the chief agriculturists of the day; an engraving of the picture was very popular. He was long president of the Smithfield Club, and became in 1838 a governor of the newly founded Agricultural Society, and one of the first vice-presidents. From 1813 to 1815 he was in Italy, and formed a notable collection of statuary, paintings, and other works of art, which found a home at Woburn, and are described in the ‘Woburn Abbey Marbles’ (1822, fol.). He helped to effect the drainage operations of the ‘Bedford Level’—works which were directed by Telford and the Rennies. The duke was also an enthusiastic naturalist. He made valuable experiments upon the nutritive qualities of grasses, and under his direction George Sinclair (1786–1834) [q. v.] published in 1816 his ‘Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis.’ Subsequently the duke turned his attention to the cultivation at Woburn of heaths, willows, pines, and shrubs, and catalogues of specimens planted at Woburn were published under his direction as ‘Hortus Ericæus Woburnensis’ (1825), ‘Salictum Woburnense’ (1829), ‘Pinetum Woburnense’ (1839), and ‘Hortus Woburnensis,’ describing six thousand ornamental plants and shrubs (see Ernest Clarke's Agriculture and the House of Russell). He was created K.G. on 25 Nov. 1830. He died at the Doune of Rothie-Murchus, Perthshire, on 20 Oct. 1839, and was buried at Chenies on 14 Nov. His portrait was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence and by Sir George Hayter. He was twice married: first, on 25 March 1786, to Georgiana Elizabeth, second daughter of George Byng, fourth viscount Torrington; she died on 11 Oct. 1801, leaving three sons—Francis, seventh duke; George William [q. v.]; and Lord John, the statesman. He married, secondly, on 23 June 1803, Georgiana (d. 1853), fifth daughter of Alexander Gordon, fourth duke of Gordon; by her he had seven sons and three daughters.
Lord John—a seven months' child—inherited his mother's delicacy of constitution. He was her favourite child, and always cherished the love for her which absorbed him in youth (SPENCER WALPOLE, i. 4). He was first sent to what he termed ‘a very bad private school,’ kept at Sunbury by Dr. Moore. On his birthday in 1803 he began to write a diary. In September 1803 he was sent to Westminster School, and was fag to Lord Tavistock, his eldest brother, who reproached himself in after life for having been a hard taskmaster, and thought this ‘the greatest sin he had to answer for.’ Being a delicate boy and unable to endure the rough fare and treatment, Lord John was taken from school in 1804. His education was continued under a tutor, Dr. Cartwright, at Woburn Abbey. He was diligent at his lessons, and he amused himself by writing verses and a farce called ‘Perseverance, or All in All.’ He performed in amateur theatricals; he wrote prologues to plays and spoke them, and often visited the theatres. Between 1805 and 1808 he was the pupil of Mr. Smith, vicar of Woodnesborough, near Sandwich. His health was not robust. Among the many visits which he never forgot was one to Fox and his wife in June 1806, when Fox was secretary for foreign affairs. He was barely fourteen when he wrote in his ‘Diary’: ‘What a pity that he who steals a penny loaf should be hung, whilst he who steals thousands of the public money should be acquitted!’ (Life, i. 22). In the same year Lord John went to Ireland to stay at Dublin Castle with his father, who was lord-lieutenant. The following year his father took him on a trip through Scotland, and there he made the acquaintance of Walter Scott, whom he terms in his ‘Diary’ ‘the minstrel of the nineteenth century,’ and who acted as his guide to the ruined abbey at Melrose. A quarter of a century afterwards Scott halted in London on his return from Italy to Abbotsford; his hours were numbered; it was erroneously supposed that pecuniary distress had aggravated his illness, and Lord John Russell, who was then in the government, sent a message delicately offering an advance from the treasury of any sum that might be required for Scott's relief.
Lord and Lady Holland took Lord John with them when they journeyed to Portugal in 1808. In their company he visited Lisbon, Seville, and Cadiz, and returned home in the summer of 1809. Thereupon Russell was sent by his father to the university of Edinburgh. He would have preferred Cambridge. He studied at Edinburgh from the autumn of 1809 till the summer of 1812, being lodged in the house of Professor John Playfair [q. v.], to whose counsel he expressed deep indebtedness. In addition to attending lectures in the university, he was an active member of the Speculative Society, reading essays before it and taking part in discussions, thereby training himself for a political career. He revisited the Peninsula in 1810, when he was the guest of his brother, Lord George William, at Isla de Leon. He also acquired experience as captain in the Bedfordshire militia, to which he was appointed in 1813, and his military training proved as serviceable to him as it was to Gibbon. At the same time he developed a marked taste for literature. George Ticknor, who met him in 1819, wrote: ‘Lord John is a young man of a good deal of literary knowledge and taste, from whose acquaintance I have had much pleasure’ (Life, Letters, and Journals, i. 270).
In 1812 Russell again visited the continent; he saw Wellington at Burgos and Cadiz, and in 1813 at his headquarters in the Pyrenees. Being at Florence in 1814, he found an opportunity of crossing to Elba, where he had an interview with Bonaparte, and inferred that he did not despair of returning to power (see Introduction to Speeches, i. 7–12).
While abroad in July 1813, being still a month under age, he was elected by his father's directions member of parliament for the family borough of Tavistock. In accordance with the traditions of his family, he was returned in the whig interest. His maiden speech was delivered on 12 May 1814 in support of an address to the prince regent against forcing Norway to unite with Sweden, and he voted in the small minority which favoured the Norwegians. His remarks were not reported. He spoke for the second time on 14 July, when he opposed the Alien Act Repeal Bill. On 26 Feb. 1817 Lord John made his first notable speech in parliament in opposing the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. Shortly afterwards, owing to weak health, he applied for the Chiltern Hundreds, his place being filled by Lord Robert Spencer, who was elected on 12 March. He was re-elected for Tavistock on 18 June 1818, and on 14 Dec. 1819 he delivered the first of his many speeches on parliamentary reform. Yet, in his earliest as in his latest years, literature had as many attractions for him as politics. He prepared at this period, among other works, biographies of members of his family; a tale, entitled ‘The Nun of Arrouca’ (1822); ‘Don Carlos’ (1822), a tragedy; ‘Memoirs of the Affairs of Europe’ (1824); and a translation of the Fifth Book of the Odyssey (1827). His writings first made his name familiar to the public, and the readers of his books became curious to read his speeches.
At the general election of 1820 Russell was returned for Huntingdonshire. Thenceforth for twelve years he mainly devoted himself to pressing parliamentary reform on the attention of the house. He made the subject his own, and treated it in a spirit that he thought would have won the approval of Fox. As far as electoral reform was concerned, he soon became the recognised leader of the whigs, excluding Lord Grenville's adherents. The disfranchisement of Grampound in 1821 was as much due to his efforts as to its own corruption. He moved in the House of Commons, on 25 April 1822, ‘that the present state of representation of the people in parliament requires the most serious consideration of the House,’ and, though the majority against his motion was 105, his speech was admitted to be an admirable presentation of facts and arguments. Moore was present, and noted in his ‘Diary’ (iii. 346) that Lord John's speech was excellent, ‘full of good sense and talent, and, though occupying nearly three hours in the delivery, listened to throughout with the profoundest attention.’ His next legislative effort was a bill for the discovery and suppression of bribery at elections, which was read a first and second time without a division in 1826, but was abandoned owing to the government declaring that they would oppose it. At the general election of that year he was defeated in Huntingdonshire, but in December he was returned for the Irish borough of Bandon on the nomination of the Duke of Devonshire. On 26 Feb. 1828 he moved for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, a motion which, as he said, had not been made since Fox made it in 1790. Brougham powerfully supported and Sir Robert Peel, Huskisson, and Palmerston opposed him, yet he carried his motion by the unexpected and decisive majority of forty-four. After a bill giving effect to it had passed the commons, Lord Holland took charge of it in the House of Lords, from which it emerged with little mutilation, and became law on 28 April. This measure was succeeded by the Catholic Relief Bill, which Lord John cordially supported, and which was added to the statute-book on 13 April 1829.
The death of George IV, on 26 June 1830, was followed by a general election, at which Lord John was a candidate for Bedford; yet, despite his father's influence, he lost the election by one vote. His defeat was due to the Wesleyans, who had taken offence at some remarks of his on prayer. The administration presided over by the Duke of Wellington resigned on 16 Nov., and the whigs succeeded to power for the first time since 1806, with Earl Grey as premier. Though not in parliament, the office of paymaster-general of the forces was offered to Lord John (without a seat in the cabinet) and accepted; a vacancy being made at Tavistock, the electors returned him as one of their representatives on 27 Nov. Shortly afterwards Lord Durham and he, in concert with Sir James Graham and Lord Duncannon, were constituted a committee on behalf of the government to draft a measure of parliamentary reform. He was entrusted, although not a member of the cabinet, with the task of explaining the Government Reform Bill to the House of Commons, and of moving its first reading, which he did on 31 March 1831. His speech on this occasion formed an epoch in his career. His popularity throughout the country dates from its delivery.
After seven days' debate the bill was read a first time; on 22 March the second reading was carried by a majority of one; on 18 April the ministry were in a minority of eight on the debate in committee; after a second adverse vote they resigned; but, as their resignation was not accepted by the king, they appealed to the country. Lord John was the hero of the hour. When he went to Devonshire for re-election crowds flocked to see him, and Sydney Smith, in his humorous way, informed Lady Holland that ‘the people along the road were very much disappointed by his smallness. I told them he was much larger before the bill was thrown out, but was reduced by excessive anxiety about the people. This brought tears into their eyes’ (Memoir of Sydney Smith, ii. 321). The general election gave the reformers an increased majority. Lord John was re-elected for Tavistock (30 April), and he was also elected for the southern division of Devon (10 May), for which he decided to sit. Early in June he was admitted to the cabinet, still retaining the office of paymaster of the forces. On the 24th he introduced the Reform Bill for the second time; it passed through the commons on 22 Sept. On 7 Oct. it was rejected by the lords. On 12 Dec. he introduced it into the lower house for the third time. An adverse vote on 7 May 1832 in the House of Lords caused the resignation of himself and his colleagues; but as Sir Robert Peel could not form a ministry they were reinstated, and the Reform Bill was read a third time in the House of Lords on the 4th and received the royal assent on 7 June. Lord John's popularity was at its zenith. Even the radicals, who hated the whigs, were disposed to make an exception in his favour. Replying to Thomas Attwood, who had sent him an address from Birmingham, in which he was thanked and the opposition of the peers was denounced, he said: ‘It is impossible that the whisper of a faction should prevail against the voice of a nation.’ These words were repeated again and again, and they materially helped to weaken the resistance to the Reform Bill.
The first reformed parliament met on 29 Jan. 1833, when the government majority was 315. The ministry set to work to pass many important measures. On 25 Feb. 1834 Russell introduced into the House of Commons the Dissenters' Marriage Bill to enable dissenting ministers to celebrate marriages in places of worship licensed for that purpose, while retaining the publication of banns in church. But it failed to satisfy the dissenters, and was for the time laid aside (Erskine May, Const. Hist. iii. 190). But Ireland was, as usual, the chief difficulty, and on this subject there were serious dissensions in the cabinet. Russell had visited that country in the autumn of 1833, and came back opposed to the coercive measures of Stanley, then chief secretary. These differences became acute on the introduction of the Irish Tithe Bill in 1834, which failed to satisfy either O'Connell or the radicals. On the second reading of the bill Russell declared that the revenues of the Irish church were larger than was necessary for the religious and moral instruction of its members or for the stability of the church itself (Hansard, xxi. 620). This declaration made a great impression; it was quite at variance with the views of Stanley and the less advanced section of the cabinet. In Stanley's words, ‘Johnny had upset the coach!’ and Stanley, together with the Duke of Richmond, Lord Ripon, and Sir James Graham, resigned office. A few days later Russell stated that Irish church reform was the principle on which the existence of the government depended; and the vigour with which he defended this principle greatly strengthened his influence with the radicals. In July Lord Grey resigned, and was succeeded by Lord Melbourne; and in November Lord Althorp, the leader of the House of Commons, succeeded to the peerage on the death of his father. The vacant leadership was offered to Lord John Russell; the king, however, strongly objected, and took the occasion summarily to dismiss his ministry (15 Nov.)
Peel succeeded in forming an administration, parliament was dissolved, and the conservatives returned with largely increased numbers (273 to 380 liberals). Russell was now the recognised leader of the whigs in the House of Commons, but it was no easy task to bring into line the majority behind him, consisting as it did of ‘old’ whigs, radicals, and Irish members. At a meeting held at Lord Lichfield's house in February 1835 an agreement, called the ‘Lichfield House compact,’ was arrived at between O'Connell and the whigs without Russell's knowledge (Walpole, i. 219–23); and in the same month Russell gained the first victory over the government by carrying the election of James Abercromby [q. v.] to the speakership over Manners-Sutton, the ministerial candidate. Peel's government thenceforward suffered frequent defeats, and, in the contest with Peel, Russell developed qualities of which he had before given no evidence. ‘He possesses,’ wrote Charles Gore, ‘all the temper and tact of Lord Althorp, with ten thousand times his eloquence and power.’ On 30 March he proposed a motion that the house should resolve itself into a committee to consider the revenues of the Irish church; on 3 April it was carried by a majority of thirty-three, and on the 8th Peel resigned.
Melbourne now took office, with Russell as home secretary and leader of the House of Commons. On offering himself for re-election for South Devon he was defeated by 627 votes, but a seat was at once found for him at Stroud. The position of the government was difficult; the king abhorred all his ministers, but hated Lord John worst of all, and was delighted at his defeat in South Devon (Greville, iii. 265). A majority in the House of Lords led by Lord Lyndhurst was no less hostile; in the commons Sir Robert Peel headed a powerful opposition; and the support of the radicals and O'Connell, whom Russell desired to see in office, was not to be depended on. The first measure of the government was the Municipal Corporations Bill, the conduct of which devolved almost entirely on Russell. It was carried without material alteration by large majorities in the commons, but underwent radical changes in the House of Lords. In the conflict which ensued between the two houses, the lords, on the advice of Peel and Wellington, yielded the more important matters in dispute, and the bill became law on 7 Sept. Its effect was to place municipal government once more on a popular basis in all the large towns, London excepted (Erskine May, iii. 278–86). Other reforms of which Russell was the principal author in the session of 1836 were the commutation of tithes into a rent charge upon land, the establishment of a civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths, and the legalisation of the marriage of dissenters in their own chapels. In the same session Russell introduced three measures dealing with the church: one equalising the bishops' incomes, combining some old sees and constituting some new ones; another applying the surplus income of capitular establishments to the general purposes of the church; and a third discouraging pluralities. The first of these measures passed in 1836; the two others became law in 1838 and 1839. In 1837 Lord John diminished the number of offences to which capital punishment was applicable, and he introduced a bill for the reform of the poor law, and an Irish municipal bill; but the progress of this legislation was stopped by the death of William IV and the consequent dissolution of parliament.
The general election resulted in further conservative gains. Russell's supporters numbered 340, the opposition numbered 313, and five were doubtful. Russell tried to persuade Melbourne to admit some of the more advanced members of the party into the cabinet, and to make the ballot an open question, instead of requiring all ministers to vote against it. Melbourne refused and Russell acquiesced in his decision. In his speech on the address (November 1837) he declared that it was impossible for him to take part in further measures of electoral reform. This declaration earned for him the hostility of the radicals and the nickname of ‘Finality Jack.’ Later on he denied having used the word ‘finality’ in the sense attributed to him. The outbreak of the Canadian rebellion compelled Russell to propose the suspension of the constitution of Lower Canada in 1838; and he subsequently carried a bill of indemnity to cover the acts of Lord Durham's government [see Lambton, John George]. In spite of this interruption to domestic legislation, Russell introduced a bill establishing reformatories for juvenile offenders, an Irish poor-law bill, and tithes bill without the appropriation clause, on which he had previously insisted; these bills became law during 1838.
Meanwhile Glenelg's administration of the colonial office [see Grant, Charles] was giving serious dissatisfaction, and on 2 Feb. 1839 Russell threatened to resign unless some change were made. Normanby became colonial secretary, but in April the government had a majority of only five on the question of suspending the constitution of Jamaica, and the cabinet resigned. Peel was summoned, but declined to form an administration on hearing that the queen wished to retain the services of her whig ladies-in-waiting. The Melbourne ministry was recalled, but Russell now became colonial secretary while Normanby took the home office. In his new capacity Russell introduced the Jamaica bill, which became law after it had been seriously modified by the lords. The bills for which Russell was more particularly responsible in the following session were the creation of a committee of the privy council to deal with education, the grant of 30,000l. for educational purposes, and the inauguration of the government inspection of schools. These measures as carried fell far short of Russell's original proposals, which were mutilated in the House of Lords, but they initiated government supervision and aid in education, and thus proved of supreme importance. His tenure of the colonial office was distinguished by the conversion of New Zealand into a British colony, and the formal claim to the whole of Australia.
In 1840 the danger of war between England and France with regard to Mehemet Ali and Turkey, and the difference of opinion between Russell, who wished to come to terms with France, and Palmerston, who took an opposite line, nearly led to Russell's resignation. Finally war was averted, and both Russell and Palmerston remained in office. Meanwhile the China war, coupled with stagnation in trade, caused recurring deficits in the budget. Early in 1841 the cabinet determined to reduce the duties on foreign timber, sugar, and other articles, and to substitute a fixed duty of 8s. on corn for the sliding scale established in 1828. Russell himself had declared, two years before, in favour of a moderate fixed duty. The proposed change was welcomed by the free-traders, but it won no adherents from the conservative side, and alienated many whigs. The government was defeated by thirty-six votes on 18 May. Nevertheless they determined to persevere; but on 4 June Peel's motion of no confidence in the government was carried by one vote. On the 23rd parliament was dissolved. The general election resulted in a great conservative victory. Russell accepted an invitation to contest the city of London, but was only returned as last of the four successful candidates. On the address in August the government were defeated by ninety-one votes, and gave way to Sir Robert Peel.
During Peel's administration Russell led the opposition, but he supported the government on the question of the Maynooth grant, and in his famous ‘Edinburgh Letter,’ dated 22 Nov. 1845, declared for the total repeal of the corn laws, ignorant of the fact that Peel had already proposed this measure to his cabinet. Unable to carry his cabinet with him, Peel resigned, and on 8 Dec. Russell was summoned to form a ministry. But Lord Howick (Earl Grey since his father's death in July 1845) refused to serve if Palmerston were reappointed secretary for foreign affairs, and Russell's attempt failed. Peel returned to office, repealed the corn laws with Russell's support, and then introduced a new coercion bill for Ireland. This Russell opposed, and on 26 June 1846, the night on which the corn bill passed the lords, the coercion bill was defeated in the commons.
In July Russell succeeded in forming an administration for the first time, taking office as first lord of the treasury and premier; Palmerston went to the foreign office, Sir George Grey to the home office, Charles Wood to the exchequer, and Earl Grey became secretary for war and the colonies. The first difficulty that faced the new administration was the potato famine in Ireland, for the relief of which the government granted ten millions to be spent on public works. Parliament, which was prorogued on 28 Aug., met again in January 1847. After passing other remedial measures for Ireland, it enacted the Ten Hours Bill, introduced by John Fielden [q. v.], and vigorously supported by Russell, and also a bill establishing the poor-law board, subsequently merged in the local government board. Parliament was dissolved on 24 July. The new House of Commons comprised 325 liberals, 105 conservative free-traders, and 226 protectionists. Russell was returned at the head of the poll for the city of London. Parliament met in November; Ireland still blocked the way, and Russell, who remained prime minister, was compelled to introduce a coercion bill similar to that on which Peel had been defeated. It passed by large majorities, in spite of much opposition from the radicals. It was accompanied by two remedial measures, the Encumbered Estates Act and another measure giving the tenant compensation for improvements. The latter was, however, stubbornly resisted, and then referred to a select committee; its principle was not adopted by the legislature till twenty years later. In the autumn of 1847 Russell evoked a violent outcry among the high-church party by the appointment of Dr. Hampden to the bishopric of Hereford [see Hampden, Renn Dickson]. Abroad, his anxieties were greatly increased by the danger of rupture with France, and by the revolutionary movements in France, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Hungary; while further difficulty was created by Palmerston's disposition to act in foreign affairs independently of, and often in opposition to, his colleagues and the prime minister [for the foreign policy of Russell's government, see art. Temple, Henry John, third Viscount Palmerston].
Meanwhile the revolutionary agitation in Europe found faint echoes in England and Ireland. The chartist movement died away after the fiasco of the meeting in London on 10 April 1848. In Ireland the Treason Felony Act of the same month and suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act (July) were followed by the easy suppression of Smith O'Brien's rebellion. Russell attempted to alleviate the situation in that country by a further amendment of the poor law, by endowing the Roman catholic priesthood, and creating a fourth secretary of state for Ireland in place of the lord-lieutenant; but the two latter measures proved abortive. Other measures which Russell endeavoured to pass in 1848 were bills for promoting the health of towns, for removing Jewish disabilities, and repealing the navigation acts. The first was successful, and the second was rejected by the House of Lords [see Rothschild, Lionel Nathan de]. The third measure, after being abandoned by the government in 1848, passed both houses next year (1849). In October Russell brought before the cabinet a new reform bill, but he was outvoted, and the measure went no further. His great measure of 1850 was the Australian Colonies Act (13 and 14 Vict. cap. 59), whereby Port Phillip district was erected into a separate colony under the name Victoria, and New South Wales was given responsible representative government. In November Russell's letter to the bishop of Durham, which was called forth by the ‘papal aggression’ (i.e. the bull creating Roman catholic bishops in England), and contained references to high churchmen as ‘unworthy sons of the church’ and to Roman practices as ‘the mummeries of superstition,’ was received with unbounded enthusiasm by protestants, and with equal disgust by high churchmen and Roman catholics. In February 1851 a bill was passed rendering illegal the assumption in England of ecclesiastical titles by Roman catholic priests, but was suffered to fall into desuetude. In the same month the government was defeated by one hundred to fifty-two votes on Locke King's motion for assimilating the county to the borough franchise. Russell at once resigned, but Stanley (afterwards Earl of Derby) was unable to form a ministry, and in March Russell returned to office.
In December Russell's disagreement with Palmerston came to a head. The latter, without consulting his colleagues, recognised the government formed by Napoleon after his coup d'état of 2 Dec., and, on the ground that Palmerston had exceeded his authority, Russell demanded his resignation. On 26 Dec. Granville succeeded him as foreign minister. Palmerston soon had his revenge. In February he moved an amendment extending the Militia Bill which the government had introduced in apprehension of invasion from France, and carried it by eleven votes. Russell resigned, after having acted as premier for four and three-quarter years. The Earl of Derby became head of a conservative administration, with Disraeli as chancellor of the exchequer. But Lord Derby's government had a brief existence. Parliament was dissolved in July 1852, and the conservatives were in a minority in the new House of Commons. Disraeli's budget was defeated in November, and Derby gave way next month to a coalition ministry of whigs and Peelites under Lord Aberdeen as prime minister. Palmerston became home secretary, Mr. Gladstone chancellor of the exchequer, and Russell foreign secretary. It was a coalition, but not a union, and neither party was satisfied with the amount of influence it possessed. Russell led the House of Commons, but on 21 Feb. 1853 he resigned the foreign secretaryship, being succeeded by Lord Clarendon; he remained in the cabinet without office, and continued to lead the house. During the session he introduced a bill enabling municipalities to rate themselves for the support of voluntary schools, but it did not pass. In October Aberdeen proposed to retire from the premiership in Russell's favour, but the cabinet would not sanction the change. In December Russell brought before the cabinet a new reform bill. Palmerston objected to it, and resigned; he was induced to withdraw his resignation, but it became evident in April 1854 that if Russell persisted with his bill the government would break up; he therefore postponed the measure. In May he suggested and carried into effect the separation of the war and colonial departments. In June he accepted the presidency of the council.
Meanwhile England had drifted into war with Russia [see Canning, Stratford]. During the negotiations that preceded it Russell threatened to resign, because he was not fully consulted before decisions were taken, and because he was not prepared to support the porte against its Christian subjects; at the same time he was more hostile to Russia than Lord Aberdeen. The differences in the cabinet had an evil effect on the conduct of the war. Russell grew dissatisfied, and, being ill prepared to resist Roebuck's motion for inquiry into the management of the war in January 1855, he retired from the administration. He then supported Roebuck's motion, which was carried by a large majority, and Aberdeen resigned. The queen sent first for Derby and then for Russell, but neither was able to form a government, and the task was entrusted to Palmerston. He became premier, retaining for the most part Lord Aberdeen's cabinet. Russell declined Palmerston's invitation to join the ministry, but accepted the post of plenipotentiary to the congress which was now assembling at Vienna in the hope of peace. While on the way at Paris he learnt that the Peelites (including Mr. Gladstone, Sir James Graham, and Sidney Herbert) had withdrawn from Palmerston's newly formed administration (23 Feb.). Russell now reluctantly accepted the colonial office, without, however, giving up his mission to Vienna. He arrived there in March, after visiting Berlin. Russia held out against the terms proposed, and Russell's view that a defensive alliance between England, France, and Austria afforded sufficient guarantee for the security of Turkey was not accepted by the ministry. The congress effected nothing, and Russell once more threatened to resign. Nevertheless he was persuaded to remain in office, and to defend the government's policy in parliament, a course which involved him in a charge of inconsistency, and raised a great outcry when his own proceedings at Vienna were revealed by Count Buol. Unable by reasons of state to account in full detail for his course of action, Russell resigned on 13 July.
For nearly four years he remained out of office devoting his leisure to literary work. He supported Palmerston's government during the Indian mutiny, but protested against the arbitrary seizure of the Arrow in Chinese waters, and against the Conspiracy Bill, introduced, at Napoleon's instigation, after the Orsini plot of 1858. This bill was defeated by nineteen votes, and the conservatives, under Derby, came into office in place of Palmerston and his friends. Russell supported the new India Bill, which transferred the government of that country to the crown, but led the attack on Disraeli's Reform Bill in 1859. In the general election which followed its defeat the liberals had a majority of forty-eight, Russell being again returned for the city of London. He now took office as foreign secretary under Palmerston. On 1 March 1860 he introduced a reform bill into the House of Commons, reducing the qualification for the franchise to 10l. in the counties and 6l. in towns, and effecting a redistribution of seats; but the measure fell a victim to Palmerston's antipathy and the popular apathy. The question that mostly occupied him was the war of Italian liberation. He was an ardent advocate of ‘Italy for the Italians,’ and his efforts had a considerable share in bringing about Italian unity. Less successful was his opposition to the annexation of Savoy by France. During the autumn of 1860 Russell accompanied the queen on her visit to Germany. In July 1861 he was raised to the peerage as Earl Russell of Kingston Russell and Viscount Amberley of Amberley and Ardsalla.
During the American civil war Russell maintained a strict neutrality between the belligerents. In September 1862 he wished to offer mediation between the north and south; but he failed to stop the sailing of the Alabama, whose depredations subsequently cost the government over 3,000,000l. Other important episodes during his tenure of the foreign office were the Polish insurrection and the seizure of Schleswig-Holstein. Russell sympathised warmly with the Poles, but was emphatic on the impossibility of England rendering any material assistance, and in the same way he saw the futility of England alone attempting to resist the Prussian and Austrian occupation of Schleswig-Holstein. On 22 Jan. 1862 he was created a knight of the Garter. There was little domestic legislation during this period, and in a speech delivered at the end of September 1864 Russell described the attitude of the country as one of ‘rest and be thankful.’
The general election of July 1865 confirmed the ministry in power, but on 18 Oct. Palmerston died. Russell became prime minister for the second time, with Mr. Gladstone as leader of the House of Commons. In March the government introduced a reform bill containing some of the provisions of Russell's abortive measure of 1860, with the addition of lodger enfranchisement. It met with lukewarm support in parliament, and the formation of the ‘Cave of Adullam’ led to the defeat of the government on 18 June 1866 [see Horsman, Edward; Lowe, Robert]. The consequent resignation of the cabinet and the formation of Derby's government brought Russell's official career to a close. He refused Mr. Gladstone's offer on 3 Dec. 1868 of a seat in the cabinet ‘without other responsibility.’
During the later years of his life he was occupied with political speculations and literary work. In the House of Lords he frequently took part in debate, and he was foremost in supporting the policy of conciliation in Ireland, which he had adopted and pressed upon parliament in earlier years. In 1869 he introduced a bill in the House of Lords empowering the crown to create a limited number of life-peerages; it was rejected on the third reading. He was naturally a warm supporter of the Irish Land and Education bills of 1870, but voted against the Ballot Bill in 1871. A letter from him approving in the name of civil and religious liberty the anti-clerical policy of the German emperor was read at a public meeting held in St. James's Hall, London, on 27 Jan. 1874, to express approval of the German government's action in expelling various religious orders. His sympathy evoked the thanks of the German emperor and of Prince Bismarck, who styled him ‘the Nestor of European statesmen.’
Domestic sorrow darkened his closing days. In the spring of 1874 his daughter-in-law, Lady Amberley, and her child died. Early in 1876 he lost his eldest son (Lord Amberley), and he was himself seized with an illness shortly afterwards from which he never entirely rallied. He died on 28 May 1878 at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park, where he spent the last thirty years of his life. The residence belonged to the queen, and she had granted Russell the use of it since 1847. Lord Beaconsfield proposed, with the approval of the queen, that he should have a public funeral and a tomb in Westminster Abbey; but his remains were laid, in accordance with his own wish, in the family vault at Chenies.
Russell married, first, on 11 April 1835, Adelaide (d. 1838), daughter of Thomas Lister of Armitage Park, and widow of Thomas, second lord Ribblesdale, and by her had two daughters, Georgiana Adelaide, who married Archibald, third son of Jonathan Peel [q. v.], and Victoria, who married Henry Montagu Villiers [q. v.], bishop of Durham. He married, secondly, on 20 July 1841, Lady Frances Anna Maria Elliot, daughter of Gilbert, second earl of Minto, who died on 18 Jan. 1898. By her he had three sons and one daughter. The eldest son, John, viscount Amberley [q. v.], is separately noticed.
The excellence of Russell's literary achievement was not proportioned to its quantity. His historical work, entitled ‘Memoirs of the Affairs of Europe’ (1824), is but a fragment, and no more than a creditable compilation. Mr. Gladstone has, however, affirmed that ‘Burke never wrote anything better’ than some passages, especially that running, ‘When I am asked if such or such a nation is fit to be free, I ask in return, is any man fit to be a despot?’ Russell's ‘Essay on the English Constitution’ (1821) is the best work from his pen, while that containing the ‘Letters of the Fourth Duke of Bedford’ (3 vols., 1842–3–6), with an historical introduction, is the most useful and interesting. He also edited the ‘Memorials and Letters of Fox’ (4 vols., 1853–4–7) and the ‘Diary of Moore,’ but he barely realised the duties of an editor; his ‘Life and Times of Fox’ (3 vols., 1859–67) contains more politics than biography. His other works include the ‘Life of Lord William Russell’ (1819), ‘Essays and Sketches’ (1820), and ‘Causes of the French Revolution’ (1832).
His literary skill is most marked in his epistolary writing [cf. art. Merewether, John], and his speeches and writings abound in happy and telling phrases. No cleverer retort was ever made, according to Mr. Gladstone, than Lord John's to Sir Francis Burdett: ‘The honourable member talks of the cant of patriotism; but there is something worse than the cant of patriotism, and that is the re-cant of patriotism.’ It would not be easy to match the readiness of his reply to the queen and the prince consort, for which his nephew, Mr. George W. E. Russell, is the authority (Contemporary Review, lvi. 814). The queen said, ‘Is it true, Lord John, that you hold that a subject is justified, in certain circumstances, in disobeying his sovereign?’ ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘speaking to a sovereign of the House of Hanover, I can only say that I suppose it is.’ Sir James Mackintosh was struck with his definition of a proverb, ‘One man's wit and all men's wisdom.’ Lord John added a proverb to the nation's stock: ‘A spur in the head is worth two in the heel.’
His training led him to excel as a politician, and he was at home in Downing Street and in parliament. The store of constitutional knowledge which he had laboriously acquired was always at his command, and this gave him weight in the House of Commons. He was not an orator of the first rank; still, he had the gift of impressing an assembly. He had not the faculty of moving an audience by perfervid rhetoric; but, despite certain mannerisms of speech which grated on the ear, he possessed the art of convincing intelligent hearers. It was only on rare occasions, as Bulwer Lytton wrote in the ‘New Timon,’ ‘languid Johnny glowed to glorious John,’ and he roused his audience to genuine enthusiasm. The impression which he made on Charles Sumner, an exacting critic, is noteworthy. ‘Lord John Russell’ (Sumner wrote in 1838 of a night spent in the House of Commons) ‘rose in my mind the more I listened to him. In person diminutive and rickety, he reminded me of a pettifogging attorney who lives near Lechmere Point. He wriggled round, played with his hat, and seemed unable to dispose of his hands or his feet; his voice was small and thin, but notwithstanding all this, a house of five hundred members was hushed to catch his smallest accents. You listened, and you felt that you heard a man of mind, of thought, and of moral elevation’ (Life and Letters of Sumner, i. 316).
In one of his earlier speeches in the house he affirmed that too much was talked about the wisdom of our ancestors, and that he wished their courage to be imitated. He possessed their courage in overflowing measure, a courage which was akin to rashness, and a self-confidence which resembled obstinacy. He was, indeed, what the Duke of Wellington said of him to Rogers, ‘a host in himself.’ His invincible self-reliance was regarded by Sydney Smith as his worst fault: ‘I believe Lord John Russell would perform the operation for the stone, build St. Peter's, or assume—with or without ten minutes' notice—the command of the Channel fleet; and no one would discover by his manner that the patient had died, the church tumbled down, and the Channel fleet been knocked to atoms’ (Sydney Smith, Works, iii. 233).
Like Fox, he was short in stature, but he was devoid of Fox's geniality. The freezing manner on which Bulwer Lytton insisted in his description of Lord John was very manifest in his early years. His father wrote to him at the end of the session of 1837–8: ‘There are circumstances in which you give great offence to your followers (or tail) in the House of Commons by not being courteous to them, by treating them superciliously, and de haut en bas, by not listening with sufficient patience to their solicitations or remonstrances’ (Spencer Walpole, Life, i. 304). In private life he was a genial companion, and what Greville said of him when at Woburn Abbey in 1841 (Memoirs, ii. 140) applies to his whole life: ‘John Russell is always agreeable, both from what he contributes himself, and his hearty enjoyment of the contributions of others.’ Motley, the American historian, wrote of him that, ‘in his own home, I never saw a more agreeable manner.’ He was never happier than when surrounded by his children and his books. Field sports did not attract him, though he practised shooting at birds when a boy, and killed a boar when attending Queen Victoria in Germany in 1860.
As a statesman he was a sincere but not a demonstrative patriot; he wrote of England as ‘the country whose freedom I have worshipped.’ Proud of his country and jealous of its honour, he nobly upheld the whig motto of civil and religious liberty throughout the world. Every movement for freedom had his hearty support. He championed every measure that he believed would increase the happiness of the people. National education was as dear to him as parliamentary reform. He was reproached with showing undue favour to members of his own party and family, yet he was never convicted of exercising his patronage to the detriment of the public welfare, and, while remembering his relatives, he did not neglect his friends. His own literary tastes made him a discriminating patron of letters and learning. He was responsible for the appointment of Tennyson as poet-laureate, and of Sir John Herschel as master of the mint. In 1846, when Wordsworth was candidate for the lord-rectorship of Glasgow University, Russell declined to stand against him. He gave the Royal Society 1,000l. of public money to be spent on scientific research. In 1872 he served as president of the Royal Historical Society. While an earnest and enlightened churchman, he was the friend of many nonconformists.
His personal characteristics were set forth by himself with modesty and truth in 1869, in the introduction to his speeches: ‘My capacity, I always felt, was very inferior to that of the men who have attained in past times the foremost place in our parliament and in the councils of our sovereign. I have committed many errors, some of them very gross blunders. But the generous people of England are always forbearing and forgiving to those statesmen who have the good of their country at heart.’ Nine years later, when his life was ebbing away, he said to his wife, ‘I have made mistakes, but in all I did my object was the public good.’
Russell was an original member of the Reform Club, where his portrait is conspicuous in the hall. In the National Portrait Gallery is a painting of Russell, presented by the painter, G. F. Watts, R.A., and he was also painted by Sir Francis Grant, P.R.A. There is also a marble bust, sculptured in 1832 by John Francis.[Walpole's Life of Lord John Russell; Reid's Lord John Russell; Speeches and Despatches, and Recollections and Suggestions by Earl Russell; Hansard's Parliamentary Debates; Greville's Diaries; Torrens's Memoirs of Lord Melbourne; Moore's Diary; Sir Theodore Martin's Life of the Prince Consort; Ashley's Life of Palmerston; Life and Times of Sir Robert Peel, by W. Cooke Taylor and Charles Mackay; Fitzpatrick's Life of O'Connell; Morley's Cobden; Croker Papers; Sydney Smith's Works; Scharf's Cat. of Pictures, &c., at Woburn, and Cat. of Monuments at Chenies.]