Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount of Palmerston (1784-1865)
Liberal Prime Minister 1855-1858, 1859-1865

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Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount of Palmerston (1784-1865) Liberal Prime Minister 1855-1858, 1859-1865

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A man of the world is not an imaginative animal, and Lord Palmerston was by incurable nature a man of the world: keenly detective in what he could realise by experience - utterly blind, dark and impervious to what he could not so realise.
Walter Bagehot, Biographical Studies, 'Lord Palmerston'.

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Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount of Palmerston (1784-1865)
Liberal Prime Minister 1855-1858, 1859-1865

Henry John Temple was the eldest son of an Irish member of the British peerage, 2nd Viscount Palmerston. He succeeded his father in 1802 and entered Parliament in 1807 as a member of the Tory party in the Commons (not the Lords because Irish peers were not allowed seats in there). In 1809 Spencer Perceval offered him the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer, however he declined it in favour of 'Secretary for War' as he felt he was more suited to this appointment which left him spare time for his sporting and social interests. In fact he sat for thirteen years before he made his maiden speech!

Palmerston was very popular among the British public, and especially with society ladies who nicknamed him 'Cupid', but Queen Victoria hated him. Although he was not particularly ambitious, he did fulfill his political obligations, if only as a duty to his nation. However, it seems he was well suited to his position in the War Office as he stayed there for nineteen years, under five different Prime Ministers.

After resigning from Wellington's Cabinet in 1828, Palmerston's political views shifted to the Whig cause - mainly due to their support for Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform. He was appointed Foreign Secretary by Earl Grey in 1830, an ideal post for someone who spoke European languages (French, Italian, German). Palmerston believed in securing British power, and to this end threatened any nations who displeased him with the British Fleet - at this point the most powerful navy in the world. Palmerston's aggressive approach towards foreign states brought disapproval from his contemporaries, Peel and Gladstone.

Palmerston's main objective was to keep France and Russia in check, in fact one of his most successful diplomatic achievements was to affect the independence of Belgium in order to prevent its annexation with France. From 1834-1841 he collaborated with France, ending the civil wars in Spain and Portugal, and supporting their Queens against rival claimants to the throne.

He saved Turkey from Russia in the Greek War of Independence and during the Opium wars with China (1839-1842, 1856-1860) procured Hong Kong for the Empire. Although his policies seemed aggressive, Palmerston managed to defend them by claiming that wherever a British citizen might be, 'the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong'.

In 1851 Palmerston overstepped the mark by acknowledging Napoleon III as Emperor of France. Queen Victoria demanded that he be dismissed, and so he was removed from the Foreign Office. In Aberdeen's coalition government Palmerston became Home Secretary, and after Aberdeen's demise he took over as Prime Minister in February 1855, aged 71. He entered his premiership in the midst of the Crimean Crisis and managed to bring the war to a successful conclusion in 1856, signing the Treaty of Paris in the same year. His government was defeated in 1858, but he returned the following year as Britain's first Liberal Prime Minister (as the Whigs were now known). Palmerston remained in office until his death in October 1865 when he died two days before his 81st birthday.


He is tolerated because he is cheerful and wounds no pride, and because he is old, and excites no envy.
- Lord Acton, Letter to Richard Simpson, 1862.

An accidental and fortuitous concurrence of atoms.
- Palmerston referring to rumours of an impending coalition with Disraeli.

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