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Lord Palmerston[11]

Karl Marx

[Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 79, February 16, 1855]

London, February 12. Lord Palmerston is incontestably the most interesting phenomenon of official England. Although an old man, and almost uninterruptedly upon the public stage since 1807, he has contrived to remain news and to keep alive all the hopes commonly associated with promising and untried youth. With one foot in the grave, he is supposed to be still on the threshold of his true career. Were he to die tomorrow, all England would be surprised to learn that he had been a Minister for half a century. Though he is not a universal statesman, he is certainly a universal actor—equally successful in the heroic and the comic, the sublime and the vulgar style, in tragedy and in farce, although the last is, perhaps, better attuned to his nature. He is not a first-class orator, but is accomplished in debate. With a wonderful memory, great experience, consummate tact, never-failing presence of mind, refined flexibility and the most intimate knowledge of parliamentary artifices, intrigues, parties and personalities, he handles difficult cases with winsome ease, adapting himself to the prejudices of each audience in turn, shielded against all surprise by his nonchalance, against all self-betrayal by his egoistical facility, against impassioned ebullitions by his profound frivolity and aristocratic indifference. His happy wit enables him to insinuate himself with all and sundry. Because he always remains cool-headed, he impresses hot-headed opponents. If a general stand-point be wanting, he is ever prepared to spin a web of elegant generalities. If incapable of mastering a subject, he contrives to toy with it. If afraid to join issue with a powerful foe, he contrives to improvise a weak one.

Submitting to foreign influence in practice, he combats it in words. Since he has inherited from Canning who, however, warned against him on his death-bed—England's mission of disseminating constitutional propaganda on the Continent, he never, of course, lacks a theme with which .to flatter national prejudice while simultaneously keeping alive the jealous suspicions of foreign powers. Having thus conveniently become the bête noire of continental courts, he could hardly fail to figure at home as a "truly English Minister". Although originally a Tory, he has succeeded in introducing into his conduct of foreign affairs all those "shams"[a] and contradictions that constitute the essence of Whiggism. He contrives to reconcile democratic phraseology with oligarchic views; to offset the bourgeoisie and their advocacy of peace with the overbearing language of England's aristocratic past; to seem an aggressor when he assents and a defender when he betrays; to spare an ostensible enemy and embitter an alleged ally; to be at the decisive moment of the dispute on the side of the stronger against the weak, and to utter courageous words in the very act of turning tail.

Accused by one side of being in Russia's pay, he is suspected by the other of Carbonarism[12]. If, in 1848, he had to defend himself in Parliament against a motion calling for his impeachment for acting in collusion with Russia, he had the satisfaction in 1850 of being the object of a conspiracy between foreign embassies which succeeded in the House of Lords but came to grief in the House of Commons[13]. When he betrayed foreign nations, it was always done with extreme courtesy. While the oppressors could always count on his active support, the oppressed never wanted for the pageantry of his noble rhetoric. Poles, Italians, Hungarians, etc., invariably found him at the helm when they were vanquished, but their conquerors always suspected him of having conspired with the victims he had allowed them to make. Having him for a foe has, in every instance up till now, spelled a likelihood of success, having him for a friend, the certainty of ruin. But though the art of his diplomacy is not manifest in the actual results of his negotiations abroad, it shines forth all the more brightly in the manner in which he has succeeded in [inducing] the English people to accept phrase for fact, fantasy for reality and high-sounding pretexts for shabby motivation.

Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston, was appointed Junior Lord[b] of the Admiralty in 1807, when the Duke of Portland formed his administration. In 1809 he became Secretary at War and retained this post until May 1828 in the Ministries of Perceval, Liverpool, Canning, Gorderich and Wellington. It is certainly strange to find the Don Quixote of "free institutions", the Pindar of the "glories of the constitutional system", as an eminent and permanent member of the Tory administration which promulgated the Corn Laws[14], stationed foreign mercenaries on English soil, every now and then—to use an expression of Lord Sidmouth's—"let the people's blood", gagged the Press, suppressed meetings, disarmed the nation at large, suspended regular courts of justice along with individual freedom—in a word declared a state of siege in Great Britain and Ireland! In 1829 Palmerston went over to the Whigs who, in November 1830, appointed him Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Save for the intervals between November 1834 and April 1835 and between 1841 and 1846, when the Tories were at the helm, he was in sole charge of England's foreign policy from the time of the revolution of 1830 to the coup d'état of 1851. We shall survey his achievements during that period in another letter.

[Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 83, February 19, 1855][c]

London, February 14. In recent weeks Punch has been wont to present Lord Palmerston in the guise of the clown of the puppet show. As everyone knows, that clown is a mischief-monger by profession, who loves noisy ructions, a concocter of pernicious misunderstandings, a virtuoso of rowdyism, at home only in the general hurly-burly he has created, in the course of which he throws wife, child and, at last, even the police out of the window, ending up, after much ado about nothing, by extricating himself from the scrape more or less intact and full of malicious glee at the turn the rumpus has taken. And, from a picturesque point of view, Lord Palmerston does indeed appear thus—a restless and untiring spirit who seeks out difficulties, imbroglios and confusion as the natural element of his activity and hence creates conflict where he does not find it ready-made. Never has an English Foreign Secretary shown himself so busy in every corner of the earth—blockades of the Scheldt, the Tagus, the Douro[15], blockades of Mexico and Buenos Aires[16], Naples expeditions, Pacifico expeditions, expeditions to the Persian Gulf[17], wars in Spain for "liberty" and in China for the importation of opium[18], North American border disputes[19], Afghanistan campaigns, bombardment of Saint-Jean-d'Acre[20], squabbles over the right to search shipping off West Africa[21], discord even in the "Pacific", and all this to the accompaniment of and supplemented by innumerable minatory notes, stacks of minutes and diplomatic protests. On average, all this noise would seem to dissipate itself in heated parliamentary debates which provide as many ephemeral triumphs for the noble lord. He appears to handle foreign conflicts like an artist who is prepared to go so far and no further, withdrawing as soon as they threaten to become too serious, and have provided him with the dramatic stimulus he requires. In this way, world history itself takes on the air of a pastime expressly invented for the private satisfaction of the noble Viscount Palmerston of Palmerston. This is the first impression Palmerston's chequered diplomacy makes on the impartial observer. A closer examination reveals, however, that, strange to say, one country has invariably profited from his diplomatic zigzag course, and that country was not England but Russia. In 1841 [Joseph] Hume, a friend of Palmerston's, declared:

"Were the Tsar of Russia[d] to have an agent in the British Cabinet, his interests could not be better represented than they are by the noble Lord."

In 1837 Lord Dudley Stuart, one of Palmerston's greatest admirers, apostrophised him as follows:

"How much longer [...] did the noble lord propose to allow Russia thus to insult Great Britain, and thus to injure British commerce? [...] The noble lord was degrading England in the eyes of the world by holding her out in the character of a bully—haughty and tyrannical to the weak, humble and abject to the strong."[e]

At any rate it cannot be denied that all treaties favourable to Russia, from the Treaty of Adrianople to the Treaty of Balta-Liman[22] and the Treaty of the Danish Succession[23], were concluded under Palmerston's auspices. True, the Treaty of Adrianople found Palmerston in opposition, not in office; but for one thing he was the first to give the treaty his blessing, though in an underhand way and, for another, being then the 'leader of the Whig Opposition, he attacked Aberdeen for his Austro-Turkish bias and declared Russia to be the champion of civilization. (Cf., for instance, the sittings of the House of Commons of June 1, 1829, June 11, 1829[f], February 16, 1830, etc) On this occasion, Sir Robert Peel told him in the House of Commons that "he did not know whom Palmerston really represented"[g]. In November 1830 Palmerston took over the Foreign Office. Not only did he reject France's offer of joint intervention on Poland's behalf because of "the relations between the Cabinet of St. James and the Cabinet of St. Petersburg"; he also forbade Sweden to arm and threatened Persia with war should she fail to withdraw the army she had already dispatched to the Russian frontier. He himself helped to defray the cost of Russia's campaign in as much as, without parliamentary authorisation, he continued to pay out principal and interest on the so-called Russian-Dutch loan after the Belgian revolution had invalidated the stipulations governing that loan[24]. In 1832 he allowed the mortgage on state demesnes which the National Assembly of Greece had guaranteed the English contracting party to the Anglo-Greek Loan of 1824, to be repudiated and transferred as security for a new loan effected under Russian auspices. His despatches to Mr. Dawkins, English representative in Greece, invariably read: "You are to act in concert with the agents of Russia."[h] On July 8, 1833, Russia extorted from the Porte the Treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi whereby the Dardanelles were closed to European warships, and Russia (cf. second article of the treaty) was assured of an eight years' dictatorship in Turkey[25]. The Sultan[i] was forced to sign the treaty by the presence of a Russian fleet in the Bosphorus and of a Russian army outside the gates of Constantinople —allegedly as a protection against Ibrahim Pasha. Palmerston had repeatedly refused Turkey's urgent plea that he intervene on her behalf, and had thus forced her into accepting the help of Russia. (He himself said as much in the House of Commons on July 11, August 24, etc., 1833 and March 17, 1834.) When Lord Palmerston entered the Foreign Office he found English influence clearly preponderant in Persia. His standing order to English agents was that they should "in all cases act in concert with the Russian Ambassador". With his support, Russia placed a Russian pretender on the Persian throne[j]. Lord Palmerston sanctioned the Russo-Persian expedition against Herat[26]. Only when this had failed did he order an Anglo-Indian expedition into the Persian Gulf, a stratagem that strengthened Russia's influence in Persia. In 1836, under the noble lord, Russia's usurpations in the Danubian Delta, her quarantines, her customs regulations[27], etc., were recognized by England for the first time. In the same year the confiscation of a British merchant vessel, the Vixen—and the Vixen had been sent out at the instigation of the British government— by a Russian warship in the Circassian Bay of Soujouk-Kale was used by him as a pretext to accord official recognition to Russian claims to the Circassian littoral. It transpired on this occasion that, as much as six years previously, he had secretly recognized Russia's claims to the Caucasus. On this occasion the noble Viscount escaped a vote of censure in the House of Commons by a slender majority of sixteen. One of his most vehement accusers at the time was Sir Stratford Canning, now Lord Redcliffe, English Ambassador at Constantinople. In 1836 one of the English agents[k] in Constantinople concluded a trade agreement with Turkey which was advantageous to England. Palmerston delayed ratification and, in 1838, substituted another treaty so greatly to Russia's advantage and England's detriment that a number of English merchants in the Levant decided they would in future trade under the aegis of Russian firms. The death of King William IV gave rise to the notorious Portfolio scandal. At the time of the Warsaw revolution[28] a collection of secret letters, despatches, etc. by Russian diplomats and ministers had fallen into the hands of the Poles when they captured the palace of the Grand Duke Constantine. Count Zamoyski, Prince Czartoryski's nephew, took them to England. There, on the orders of the King and under Urquhart's editorship and Palmerston's supervision, they were published in The Portfolio. No sooner was the King dead than Palmerston denied all connection with The Portfolio, refused to pay the printer's[l] bills, etc. Urquhart published his correspondence with Backhouse, Palmerston's Under-Secretary of State[m]. Upon this The Times (26 January, 1839) comments:

"It is not for us to understand how Lord Palmerston may feel, but we are sure there is no misapprehending how any other person in the station of a gentleman, and in the position of a Minister, would feel, after the notoriety given to the correspondence...."

Written on February 12 and 14, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, Nos. 79 and 8 February 16 and 19, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in MECW


[a] Marx uses the English word.—Ed.

[b] Marx uses the English term.—Ed.

[c] The second instalment was published under the heading "Palmerston".—Ed.

[d] Nicholas I.—Ed.

[e] From Stuart's speech in the House of Commons on March 17, 1837. Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, third series, Vol. XXXVII, London, 1837.—Ed.

[f] Presumably an error in the Neue Oder-Zeitung. On June 11, 1829, Parliament did not sit. The reference is to Palmerston's speech on February 5, 1830 (see present edition, Vol. 12, p. 355).—Ed.

[g] From Peel's speech in the House of Commons on February 16, 1830.—Ed.

[h] P. I. Rickmann.—Ed.

[i] Mahmud II.—Ed.

[j] Mohammed-Shah.—Ed.

[k] David Urquhart.—Ed.

[l] F. J. Shoberl.—Ed.

[m] The Times, No. 16948, January 25, 1839.—Ed.

[11] The articles "Lord Palmerston" were written by Marx for the Neue Oder-Zeitung in connection with the formation of the Palmerston government on February 6, 1855, and are essentially a résumé of Marx's well-known pamphlet Lord Palmerston written for the New-York Daily Tribune in the autumn of 1853 and also published, in fuller form, in the Chartist People's Paper (see present edition, Vol. 12, pp. 341-406).

[12] Carbonari—members of secret political societies in Italy and France in the first half of the nineteenth century. In Italy they fought for national independence, the unification of the country and liberal constitutional reforms. In France the movement was above all directed against the restored monarchy of the Bourbons (1815-30). In the first half of the nineteenth century the word "carbonari" was synonymous with "revolutionary".

[13] In 1847 in Athens the house of the merchant Pacifico, a Portuguese Jew and British citizen, was burnt down. Palmerston used this as a pretext for sending units of the British Navy to Greece and presenting the Greek government with an ultimatum. The actual purpose of this move was to force Greece to cede several strategic islands in the Aegean. During the discussion of the Anglo-Greek conflict in the British Parliament in June 1850 the government's foreign policy was approved by the House of Commons. The House of Lords, on the contrary, rejected Palmerston's policy by a majority of 37. France and Russia indicated their displeasure through their ambassadors in London: the French Ambassador left the British capital, the Russian Ambassador failed to attend a dinner given by Palmerston.

[14] The Corn Laws, the first of which were passed as early as the fifteenth century, imposed high import duties on agricultural products in order to maintain high prices for these products on the domestic market. The Corn Laws served the interests of the big landowners. The struggle between the industrial bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy over the Corn Laws ended in their repeal in June 1846.

[15] The blockade of the River Scheldt and the Dutch coast by the British and French navies was undertaken in 1832 with a view to forcing Holland to cease hostilities it had resumed in 1831 against Belgium, which had overthrown Dutch rule. As a result, both Holland and Belgium were compelled to agree to a compromise peace treaty (1833) drawn up by Britain, France, Russia, Prussia and Austria.

The blockade of the mouths of the rivers Tagus and Douro was undertaken by Britain during the civil war in Portugal (1828-34). In this war the feudal-clerical party led by the pretender to the Portuguese throne, Dom Miguel, fought against the liberal bourgeois party of Constitutionalists. In an attempt to strengthen its influence in the Iberian Peninsula, the British government sent its navy to the Portuguese coast and thereby tipped the scales in favour of the Constitutionalists.

[16] The blockade of Mexico—under the pretext of protecting ' French citizens in Mexico a French squadron blockaded several Mexican ports on April 16, 1838. The blockade affected British commercial interests. Despite numerous petitions from the commercial bourgeoisie urging the British government to intervene and ensure the free passage of British ships, in the Parliamentary debate of March 19, 1839, Palmerston defended the position of the government, which did not want a conflict with France.

The blockade of Buenos Aires and the Argentine coast by the British and French navies (1845-50) aimed at forcing the Argentine government to open the rivers Paraná and Uruguay to foreign ships (they had been closed to foreign shipping in 1841 in connection with the war between Argentina and Uruguay) and recognise Uruguay's independence. These demands were granted in 1850 and 1851.

[17] In 1838 the King of Naples granted a French company a monopoly to mine sulphur in Sicily. This move evoked a sharp protest from the British government, which regarded it as an infringement of Britain's commercial interests, guaranteed by the Anglo-Neapolitan treaty of 1816. In 1840 the British Navy in the Mediterranean was ordered to open hostilities. Naples was forced to comply with Britain's demands. For details of the Pacifico affair see Note 13↑.

In 1837 Mohammed Shah of Persia laid siege to the Afghan fortress of Herat, a junction of important trade routes. In 1838 the British government declared his actions to be hostile to Britain and demanded an end to the siege. Later it dispatched a naval squadron to the Persian Gulf, threatening war. The Shah was compelled to lift the siege and conclude an unequal trade agreement with Britain (1841).

[18] A reference to Britain's intervention in the Carlist War in Spain (1833-40) in which the feudal Catholic forces, led by pretender to the throne Don Carlos, fought against the bourgeois liberals who supported the government of Regent Maria Cristina. Britain sent its navy and a legion of volunteers to Spain. The latter took part in the fighting on María Cristina's side in 1835-37. These moves were designed to consolidate Britain's influence in the Iberian Peninsula.

The war with China for the importation of opium—a reference to the so-called First Opium War (1839-42), Britain's war against China which marked the beginning of the latter's transformation into a semi-colony. Britain used as a pretext for this war the confiscation by the Chinese authorities in Canton of opium stocks owned by foreign merchants. As a result of this war the Treaty of Nanking was imposed on China (August 29, 1842) which obliged it to open five ports (Canton, Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo and Shanghai) to British trade, cede the island of Hongkong to Britain "in perpetuity" and pay Britain a huge indemnity. Ünder a supplementary treaty signed in 1843 China was forced to grant extraterritoriality to foreigners. In 1844 unequal treaties were imposed on China by the USA and France.

[19] This refers to Anglo-American clashes on the US-Canadian border over disputed territories, one to the north of the American State of Maine, the other—Oregon—on the Pacific coast. These clashes became especially sharp in the late 1830s and early 1840s.

[20] The Afghanistan campaigns—during the first Anglo-Afghan war (1838-42) in which Britain strove to establish colonial rule in Afghanistan, British troops invaded Afghan territory twice (in 1838 and 1842). Both invasions failed to achieve their purpose.

At the insistence of the British government, Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia signed a convention in London on July 15, 1840, on military assistance to Turkey in its war against Egypt (1839-41). In the autumn of 1840 British and Austrian warships bombarded Beirut, Saint-Jean-d'Acre and other for-tresses on the Syrian coast, which had been captured by Mehemet Ali, the ruler of Egypt, between 1831 and 1833. Eventually Mehemet Ali was forced to relinquish his possessions outside Egypt and submit to the supreme authority of the Sultan.

[21] Evidently a reference to the inspection of ships by the British in connection with the slave trade. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Britain, in its drive against the slave trade, claimed the right to inspect all suspect ships even in peacetime. This was strongly opposed by the U.S. government because many ships carrying slaves from West Africa sailed under the U.S. flag.

Britain's right to inspect Portuguese ships was recognised by the Anglo-Portuguese treaties of 1810, 1815 and 1817. In return for Britain's waiving of Portugal's debts the latter undertook to allow her own ships to carry only a limited number of African slaves and only to Brazil, then a Portuguese colony, and to ban the use of her flag by slavers of other countries. This agreement was often violated, especially after Brazil won independence in 1822. In 1839 the British Parliament passed a law allowing British ships to detain ships engaged in the slave traffic.

[22] The Treaty of Adrianople was concluded by Turkey and Russia in September 1829 following the war of 1828-29. Under the treaty Russia obtained the Danube delta including the islands, and a considerable part of the eastern Black Sea coast south of the Kuban estuary. Turkey was to recognise the autonomy of Moldavia and Wallachia, granting them the right to elect their own hospodars (rulers). Their autonomy was to be guaranteed by Russia. The Turkish government also undertook to recognise the independence of Greece, whose only obligation to Turkey was to pay an annual tribute to the Sultan, and abide by all the previous treaties relating to the autonomy of Serbia, which was to be formalised by a special firman.

The Balta-Liman Treaty, concluded by Russia and Turkey on May 1, 1849, laid down conditions for the continued presence of their troops in Moldavia and Wallachia, which had been occupied to suppress the revolutionary movement. Under the treaty, the occupation was to continue until the threat of revolution had been fully eliminated (the foreign troops were not withdrawn until 1851), for a certain period the hospodars were to be appointed by the Sultan in agreement with the Tsar. A series of measures by Russia and Turkey, including another occupation, were envisaged to provide for the eventuality of another revolution.

[23] On May 8, 1852, Russia, Austria, Britain, France, Prussia, Sweden and Denmark signed the London Protocol on the integrity of the Kingdom of Denmark. It was based on the protocol adopted by the same states (except Prussia) at a conference in London on July 4, 1850 and signed on August 2, 1850, which established the principle of the indivisibility of the Danish Crown possessions, including the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. The London Protocol mentioned the Russian Emperor among the lawful claimants to the Danish Crown who had renounced their rights in favour of Duke Christian of Glücksburg, proclaimed successor to King Frederick VII (the Russian Emperor descended from Duke Charles Peter Ulrich of Holstein-Gottorp, who was Russian Tsar as Peter III). This created a precedent for Russian claims to the Danish Crown in the event of the Glücksburg dynasty dying out.

[24] Under an agreement signed by Russia, Britain and the Netherlands in London on May 19, 1815, Britain and the Netherlands had undertaken to compensate Russia's military expenses connected with the expulsion of Napoleonic troops from the Dutch and Belgian provinces by gradually repaying part of Russia's debt to the Dutch bankers Hope & Co. and the interest on that debt. A special clause stipulated that the payments would be discontinued in the event of a secession of the Belgian provinces from the Netherlands. After the 1830 revolution and the establishment of an independent Belgian state, the Netherlands stopped its payments. However, Palmerston signed a new agreement with Russia on November 16, 1831, confirming Britain's financial commitments.

[25] The Treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi was signed by Russia and Turkey on July 8, 1833. Prior to that, in the spring of the same year, Russian troops had landed in Unkiar-Skelessi, on the Bosphorus, to help protect the Turkish capital from the army of Ibrahim Pasha, son of Mehemet Ali, the ruler of Egypt who had rebelled against the Turkish Sultan. In May 1833, the Porte concluded peace with Mehemet Ali through the mediation of Britain and France, ceding Syria and Palestine to Egypt. However, the Tsarist government, taking advantage of the tense situation and the presence of Russian troops in Turkey, induced the Porte to conclude a defence treaty with Russia which contained a secret clause obliging Turkey to close the Straits to all foreign warships except Russian vessels. This clause remained in force until the Turko-Egyptian war of 1839-41, when Nicholas I reached agreement with Britain and other Powers on joint action against Mehemet Ali, but was compelled to agree to the closure of the Straits to the warships of all states in peacetime.

[26] A reference to the attempt by Mohammed Shah of Persia to gain possession of Herat in 1837-38 (see Note 17↑). Russia gave him diplomatic support in that campaign.

[27] The Treaty of Adrianople (1829) (see Note 22↑) gave Russia control of the islands in the Danube delta but guaranteed freedom of navigation on the Danube to the merchant ships of all countries. However, in the spring of 1836 a Russian quarantine post was set up in the Sulina arm of the Danube which in effect acted as a customs office controlling passing vessels. When the question was discussed in the British Parliament in April 1836, Palmerston declared that Russia's actions were not prejudicial to Anglo-Turkish trade and therefore he saw no grounds for diplomatic intervention by Britain.

[28] A reference to the national liberation insurrection in Poland in 1830-31. It started on November 29, 1830, when Polish patriots occupied the Belvedere Palace in Warsaw, the residence of Grand Duke Constantine, the Tsarist Commander-in- Chief (virtually vice-regent) in the Kingdom of Poland. By November 30 the whole of Warsaw was in the hands of the insurgents.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.14-20), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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