The Age of Reform, 1815-1870

By E. L. Woodward | Go to book overview

II
THE FOREIGN POLICY OF PALMERSTON, 1830-41; THE ENTENTE WITH FRANCE, 1841-6; PALMERSTON AND THE CROWN, 1848-52

PALMERSTON became foreign secretary in November 1830.1 He was only forty-six, but he had served as a lord of the admiralty from 1807 to 1809 and as secretary at war from 1809 to 1828. Palmerston held his post from 1830 until 1841, except for the four months of Peel's administration of 1834-5. He was foreign secretary from 1846 to 1851, home secretary from 1852 to 1855, prime minister from 1855 to 1858 and from 1859 until his death in 1865. During this time he sat for five different constituencies and was a member of sixteen parliaments; there were only two administrations between 1807 and 1852 in which he took no part. This record gives some measure of his energy and power of work. In an age when there were few figures to dispute with leading politicians the foremost place in public attention, Palmerston was marked out by temperament, by place, almost by continuity of tenure, for popularity among the English people. His gaiety, his love of horses,2 his easy-going courage, good temper, and fine bearing stood in his favour with a high-spirited and over-confident nation. This popularity came to him later in life than to many of his contemporaries. During his earlier years at the war office he was more of a social figure; his work was concerned mainly with finance, and did not bring him into prominence, though, in spite of Canning's remark that he reached almost the summit of mediocrity, he did this work extremely well, and was never an idler.3 In his later years he was the personification of England. His patriotism, his prejudices, his language summarized the opinions of the ordinary man. Palmerston distrusted France and Russia; he called Austria 'an old woman', 'a European China'; he had a low

____________________
1
Henry John Temple ( 1784- 1865), 3rd Viscount Palmerston in the peerage of Ireland; spent most of his childhood abroad; educ. Harrow, Edinburgh, and St. John's College, Cambridge; M.P., 1807.
2
Sir John Tenniel cartoons always show Palmerston with a straw in his mouth.
3
When Sir W. Hamilton was publishing Dugald Stewart's lectures from the notes taken by pupils at Edinburgh, he found Palmerston's notes more full and more reliable than any others.

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