Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Asses Palmerston’s contribution to British foreign policy 1846-65

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Between 1846 and 1865, Palmerston held office either as Prime Minister of Foreign secretary. Even as Prime Minister, Palmerston was interventionist in foreign affairs. Palmerston popularised foreign affairs in that he became the embodiment of British Foreign policy. Palmerston officiated foreign affairs when Britain was the dominant world force.


The principles of British foreign policy were established in 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, these were four-fold. They were firstly to maintain a balance of power in Europe of whom France was the dominant power. General stability was important, the British felt that the greatest threat to stability came from arbitrary monarchies who wanted to expand at any cost. Secondly to ensure international conditions supported Britain’s economic interests; a peaceful world meant that Britain could trade freely. The third area of foreign policy was the defence of Britain’s territory both at home and abroad, ‘threats to British territory were many and real’ in the 1th Century. The Indian sub-continent was of particular interest and importance. Finally, the fourth major area of British foreign policy was to establish friendly and stable governments throughout the world. During this period, the interest over foreign affairs, which the monarch had so far retained, diminished, Palmerstone took very little heed of the Queen’s role in foreign policy’ . The reason for this interest was two-fold, firstly, the monarch in the head of the armed forces, and secondly, many of the royal families in Europe were related to the British royal family, the monarchy had unique relationships with Europe.


Palmerston had in fact held office before 1846. His so called ‘first phase’ lasted from 180-1841. During this period Palmerston faced 4 key issues; the Belgian Revolt, the Spanish-Portuguese problem, Turkey and the Near Eastern problem and finally China and the Opium wars. All were huge successes, Palmerston demonstrated his capability in the field of foreign affairs. In the case of the Spanish-Portuguese problem he had managed to out-manoeuvre the French and keep them out of the Iberian Peninsula. The Opium wars had established British interest in China and firmly asserted British dominance and superiority, although the terms of the Treaty of Nan King were morally suspect. Furthermore, the Near Eastern Problem was probably one of Palmerston’s greatest successes in his 4 years in office.


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His second phase began after a break from office of 5 years. This second phase lasted from 1846-1851, during which Palmerstone was at his most aggressive, domineering and independent. He faced 5 key issues/events. The first was that of the Spanish Marriages, this affair was not a success for Palmerston. When Queen Isabella was 10 Louis Philippe put forward a proposal that Isabella should marry one of his sons. Palmerston immediately ‘took up the Coburg candidature…in no uncertain terms’ . Philippe was not prepared to negotiate any longer and in 1846 announced that Isabella was to marry his son, the Duke de Montpensier. It was a disaster for Palmerston, ‘the fury and indignation to which this announcement gave rise in Great Britain marked the end of any further attempt to keep up even the pretence of an Anglo-French entente’ . The year of 1848 was called the ‘year of revolutions’, with revolutions in Lombardi, Venetzia and France, Hungary and Bohemia. However, Palmerston did not involve himself with any of these countries. Although he supported the idea of self-rule, he feared that if the Austrian Empire collapsed it would allow Russia to become the dominant power. Russia was an autocracy, an arbitrary monarchy, something the British government feared, ‘in the British view, the most likely threat to general stability…would be an arbitrary monarchy…in effect this meant an erratic Tsar like Alexander 1’ .


The Haynau Incident soured relations between Palmerston and the monarchy. General Haynau had visited Britain in an offì¥Á M ð ¿ Ÿ1


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bjbjâ=â= . W W �, ê ÿÿ ÿÿ ÿÿ l Î Î Î F 4 à à à � ø ø ø ø n sent a gun-boat to blockade Athens to protect the rights of a British citizen, Don Pacifico, to compensation. His cabinet, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were appalled by his lack of consultation although he was cited as a hero in the country. The affair had also soured the already poor relations with France and Russia, allies of Greece who were infuriated at Greece’s humiliation. However, Palmerton, after a vote of no confidence had been put forward against him, saved his position and his reputation, and to some extent his party’s position in power with his ‘Civis Romanus Sum’ speech. Despite this, the Don Pacifico affair had a number of important consequences; firstly, he had developed a reputation for bullying smaller states, secondly relations with France, Italy and Austria were strained and finally, relations with the monarchy had broken down.


The affair over Louis Napoleon was a disaster for Palmerston who had made two fatal political errors. Firstly he had failed to consult with his cabinet and secondly he had chosen to support a Bonaparte, contrary to the Queen’s wishes. Russell was forced to sack Palmerston, who would react by bringing down Russell’s administration in 185.


However, this was by no means the end of Palmerston’s career. The period 185-55 was dominated by the war in the Crimea. By 1855, and the start of Palmerston’s ‘third phase’, public opinion was demanding an end to the war. Events proved fortuitous for Palmerston, the conditions of British troops began to improve and the Russian Tsar had died, to be replaced by his son who was eager to bring about peace. The war was ended at the Treaty of Paris in 1856, this settlement was attributed to Palmerston who had removed Britain from the war with national dignity. It was the beginning of what was to become the most successful period of Palmerston’s career. His success in withdrawing Britain from the Crimea was to be followed up be a second war with China. Britain achieved three things from the Second war with China, firstly there was an extension of ports open to the British, secondly the opium trade had been legalised to the whole of China and finally, Britain was permitted to send diplomats to Peking. Although this was a success for Britain’s trade and economy, Britain’s merchants now had extended influence in China, and for Palmerston personally, his actions were morally dubious � ‘Palmerston’s actions can be questioned from a moral point of view’ , he had breached international laws by bombarding Canton and his policies were once again bullying. However, this did not seem to matter in the political climate of the time. These successes were followed up by a further success in the field of Italian Unification. This had extended Britain’s trading interests to Italy; it also meant that Britain had achieved Italy as a firm ally. Britain had established itself as a country in support of self-rule and liberal democracies and opposed to autocracies. Italy saw Britain’s constitutional monarchy as an excellent model for their own governmental system. What is more, Britain had out-manoeuvred France in her attempt to dominate the Western Mediterranean.


Despite these early successes, the American civil war and the Alabama incident damaged Palmerston’s reputation as a foreign secretary and his rash and dramatic reactions were to damage relations with the monarchy once again. When the Civil war broke out over the right to cessation the British government took a neutral stance, in favour of the North. However, when Union agents boarded a British ship, ‘The Trent’, to arrest confederate agents Palmerston demanded wrote a strongly worded apology to President Lincoln and demanded the release of the confederate agents. He then despatched troops to the Canadian British border. Price Albert was forced to step in and diffuse the situation, he ‘persuaded Palmerston to tone down some of his more insulting phrases…Prince Albert probably deserves much more of the crdit for keeping Britain out of the war’ . P’s actions were once again bullying and irrational. His indecisiveness in the Alabama Incident of 186 severed relations with the North further, it was an incident which ‘could have been avoided if Palmerston or Russell had acted promptly’ It was also around this time that Otto Von Bismarck arose. Bismarck out-manoeuvred Palmerston in Denmark in 1864 and Poland in 186. The situation in Poland was Palmerston’s first obvious failure in foreign affairs. Britain had been outmanoeuvred by the Tsar and ‘had seriously underestimated the astuteness of Bismarck’ . He had also mortally offended Napoleon III who should have been treated as an ally. ‘All in all British prestige took a severe knock’ . Both in this case and in Denmark in 1864, Palmerston made threats that he could not support militarily which amounted to national humiliation for Britain.


One of the principals of British foreign policy was to maintain the balance of power in Europe. This was successfully achieved until the latter part of P’s rule when Prussia emerged as the dominant power. The protection and expansion of British trade interests was an area in which Palmerston was successful, he established and extended trade interests in China and in Italy after Italian unification. He also successfully protected British territory at home and abroad. The area he was least successful in was ‘establishing friendly governments throughout the world’, his bullying of smaller powers and his arrogant and proud attitude did not win him friends. His actions were often dramatic and ill thought out, Palmerston cared little for the opinions of the monarchy, his lack of consultation in the Don Pacifico affair shocked Q. Victoria and his cabinet. His erratic personality and drive resulted in a number of consequences. He established Britain as the dominant international force, as ‘policemen of the world’. He also establishes the basis for British imperialism and popularises political ideology, his defence of nationalism and his support of self-determination as well as his ‘Civis Romanus Sum’ speech won him great support in Parliament and with the electorate. However, he also became known for political pragmatism, for example during the American Civil war, he adopted a ‘neutral stance’ which was really a neutral stance in favour of the North. Furthermore, some of his actions were morally dubious, his actions in the Opium wars in particular have been cited as morally debatable, he certainly adopted a ‘bullying policy’ in relation to smaller powers. Sums up Palmerston’s career, saying that ‘on the whole he had been remarkably successful; only in the last couple of years did he seem to be getting out of touch with important developments’


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