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Who was Viscount Palmerston?

Updated on December 3, 2016

Viscount of Palmerston (Henry Temple, 1784-1865), is chiefly remembered as an aggressive Foreign Secretary, whose attitude to foreigners was typical of Victorian 'cocksureness'. In his long career he spent sixty years in Parliament, was in office for fifty years (mostly as Secretary at War and Foreign Secretary) and was Prime Minister for nearly ten (1855-58, 1859-65).

The following are some typical examples of his foreign policy: he played a leading part in securing the independence of Belgium (1830-31) and the election of Leopold of Coburg (Queen Victoria's uncle) as king; he bullied China in 1840 when its government wanted to prevent the import of opium from India, and he forced it to cede Hong Kong and to open five other ports to British shipping; in 1856, when China seized a British ship, the Arrow, on a charge of piracy, he extracted £4 million in compensation; earlier, in 1850, he threatened Greece with war when Don Pacifico, a Maltese Jew and therefore a British subject, claimed damages for the loss of property in a riot in Athens.

'Firebrand' Palmerston, as he was called, got into disfavor with Queen Victoria and the Prime Minister (Lord Russell) for not consulting them over foreign policy, and he was forced to resign when he ignored the views of the British government and warmly congratulated Napoleon III on his seizure of power in 1851. However, 'Pam' was soon back in office. Strongly anti-Russia, he brought the Crimean War to a successful conclusion after he had become Prime Minister in 1855.


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