Farsi    Arabic    English   

Palmerston's Resignation[366]

Karl Marx

The most interesting and important piece of intelligence brought by the steamer Africa is the resignation of Lord Palmerston as a member of the Coalition Ministry under Lord Aberdeen[367]. This is a master-stroke of that unscrupulous and consummate tactician. Those journals at London which speak for the Ministry, carefully inform the public that the event does not grow out of the Eastern difficulty, but that his conscientious Lordship, like a true guardian of the British Constitution, quits office because he cannot give his consent to a measure of Parliamentary Reform, even of the pigmy dimensions natural to such a Whig as Lord John Russell. Such is, indeed, the official motive of resignation he has condescended to communicate to his colleagues of the Coalition. But he has taken good care that the public shall have a different impression, and in spite of all the declarations of the official organs, it is generally believed that while the Reform Bill is the pretext, the Russian policy of the Cabinet is the real cause. Such has been for some time, and especially since the close of the last session of Parliament, the tenor of all the journals in his interest. On various keys, and in multiform styles, they have played a single tune, representing Lord Palmerston as vainly struggling against the influence of the Premier, and revolting at the ignominious part forced upon him in the Eastern drama. Rumors have been incessantly circulated concerning the division of the Ministry into two great parties, and nothing has been omitted to prepare the British public for an exhibition of characteristic energy from the chivalrous Viscount. The comedy having been thus introduced, the mise en scene arranged, the noble Lord, placed behind the .curtain, has chosen, with astonishing sagacity, the exact moment when his appearance on the stage would be most startling and effective.

Lord Palmerston secedes from his friends of the Coalition just as Austria has eagerly seized the proposition for new conferences: just as the Czar[a] is spreading wider his nets of intrigue and war, effecting an armed collision between the Servians and Bosnians, and threatening the reigning prince of Servia[b]) with deposition should he persist in remaining neutral in the conflict; just as the Turks, relying on the presence of the British and French fleets, have suffered the destruction of a flotilla and the slaughter of 5,000 men by a Russian fleet three times as powerful; when Russian captains are allowed to defy the British law in British ports, and on board of British vessels; when the dynastic intrigues of the "spotless Queen" and her "German Consort"[c] have become matters of public notoriety; and, lastly, when the dull British people, injured in their national pride abroad, and tortured by strikes, famine, and commercial stagnation at home, begin to assume a threatening attitude, and have nobody upon whom to avenge themselves but their own pitiful Government. By retiring at such a moment, Lord Palmerston throws off all responsibility from his own shoulders upon those of his late partners. His act becomes a great national event. He is transformed at once into the representative of the people against the Government from which he secedes. He not only saves his own popularity, but he gives the last finish to the unpopularity of his colleagues. The inevitable downfall of the present Ministry appearing to be his work, he becomes a necessary element of any that may succeed it. He not only deserts a doomed Cabinet, but he imposes himself on its successor.

Besides saving his popularity and securing a prominent place in the new administration, Lord Palmerston directly benefits the cause of Russia by withdrawing at the present momentous crisis. The Coalition Cabinet, at whose procrastinating ingenuity Russian diplomacy has mocked, whose Orleanist and Coburg predilections have ever been suspected by Bonaparte, whose treacherous and pusillanimous weakness begins even to be understood at Constantinople—this Ministry will now lose what little influence it may have retained in the councils of the world. An administration disunited, unpopular, not relied upon by its friends, nor respected by its foes; considered as merely provisional, and on the eve of dissolution; whose very existence has become a matter of doubt—such an administration is the least adapted to make the weight of Great Britain felt in the balance of the European powers. Lord Palmerston's withdrawal reduces the Coalition, and with it England herself, to a nullity as far as foreign policy is concerned; and never has there existed an , epoch when the disappearance of England from the public stage, even for a week or a fortnight, could do so much for the Autocrat. The pacific element has triumphed over the warlike one in the councils of Great Britain. Such is the interpretation that must be given at the courts of Berlin, Paris and Vienna to Lord Palmerston's resignation; and this interpretation they will press upon the Divan, already shaken in its self-confidence by the last success of Russia, and consulting under the guns of the united fleets.

It should not be forgotten that since Lord Palmerston became a member of the Coalition Ministry, his public acts, as far as foreign policy is concerned, have been limited to the famous gunpowder plot[d], and the avowed employment of the British police as spies against the political refugees; to a speech wherein he jocosely treated the obstruction by Russia of the navigation of the Danube as of no account[e]; and, lastly, to the oration with which he dismissed Parliament[f], assuring the Commons that all the Government had done in the Eastern complication had been right—that they might quietly disband since the Ministers remained at their posts, and pledging himself "for the honor and good faith of the Emperor of Russia."

Besides the general causes we have enumerated, Lord Palmerston has had a special reason for surprising the world with this last act of self-sacrificing patriotism. He has been found out. His prestige has begun to wane, his past career to be known to the public. The people of England, who had not been undeceived by his avowed participation in the conspiracy of the 2d of December, which overthrew the French Republic[368], and by his gunpowder comedy, have been aroused by the revelations of Mr. David Urquhart, who has vigorously taken his Lordship in hand. This gentleman, by a recently published work called the Progress of Russia, by articles in the English journals, and especially by speeches at the anti-Russian meetings held throughout the Kingdom, has struck a blow at the political reputation of Lord Palmerston which future history will but confirm. Our own labors in the cause of historical justice have also had a share, which we were far from counting upon, in the formation of a new opinion in England with regard to this busy and wily statesman. We learn from London, quite unexpectedly, that Mr. Tucker has reprinted there and gratuitously circulated fifty thousand copies of an elaborate article in which, some two months since, we exposed his Lordship's true character and dragged the mask from his public career[g]. The change in a public feeling is not a pleasing one for its subject, and he thinks perhaps, to escape from the rising tide of reprehension, or to suppress it by his present coup. We predict that it will not succeed, and that his lengthened career of official life will ere long come to a barren and unhappy end.

First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 3965, December 31, 1853, as a leader;
reprinted in the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 643, January 7, 1854


[a] Nicholas I.—Ed.

[b] Alexander Karageorgević.—Ed.

[c] Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.—Ed.

[d] See this volume, pp. 82-84.—Ed.

[e] July 7, 1853 - (see this volume, p. 187).—Ed.

[f] On August 20, 1853.—Ed.

[g] [K. Marx,] Palmerston and Russia, reprinted from the New-York Daily Tribune, where it was published as the third article in the series "Lord Palmerston" (see this volume, pp. 358-69).—Ed.

[366] This article was published in The Eastern Question.

[367] Palmerston announced his resignation from the Aberdeen Coalition Ministry on December 16, 1853. It was not accepted, however, and he soon returned to the post of Home Secretary.

[368] An allusion to the hasty recognition by Palmerston of the Bonapartist coup of December 2, 1851 (see Note 56 ↓).

[56] In a conversation with the French Ambassador, shortly after the Bonapartist coup d'état on December 2, 1851, the British Foreign Secretary Palmerston approved of Louis Bonaparte's usurpation. (Marx calls the latter "the hero of the plain of Satory", referring to a review that he held near Versailles in the autumn of 1850 which was actually a Bonapartist demonstration.) Palmerston did this without consulting the other members of the Ministry, however, which led to his dismissal in December 1851. The British Government was nevertheless the first to recognise Bonaparte.

As Home Secretary in Aberdeen's Coalition Government formed in December 1852, Palmerston instigated police persecutions, harassment in the press and lawsuits against political refugees in Britain. His department communicated information about their activities to the police of Austria and other continental powers. While carrying on this policy, Palmerston professed loyalty to constitutional and democratic principles.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.543-546), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME0785en.html