The Story of the Life of Lord Palmerston by Karl Marx


When the Reform Movement had grown irresistible, Lord Palmerston deserted the Tories, and slipped into the Whiggery camp. Although he had apprehended the danger of military despotism springing up, not from the presence of the King's German Legion on English soil, nor from keeping large standing armies, but only from the “self-called reformers”, he patronised, nevertheless, already in 1828, the extension of the franchise to such large industrial places as Birmingham, Leeds, and Manchester. But why? “Not because I am a friend to Reform, but because I am its decided enemy.”

He had persuaded himself that some timely concessions made to the overgrown manufacturing interest might be the surest means of escaping “the introduction of general Reform.”—(House of Commons, June 17, 1828.) Once allied with the Whigs, he did not even pretend that their Reform Bill[7] aimed at breaking through the narrow trammels of the Venetian Constitution, but, on the contrary, at the increase of its strength and solidity, by severing the middle classes from the people's Opposition. “The feelings of the middle classes will be changed, and their dissatisfaction will be converted into that attachment to the Constitution which will give to it a vast increase of strength and solidity.” He consoled the peers by telling them that the Reform Bill would neither weaken the “influence of the House of Lords“, nor put a stop to its “interfering in elections.” He told the aristocracy that the Constitution was not to lose its feudal character, “the landed interest being the great foundation upon which rests the fabric of society and the institutions of the country.” He allayed their fears by throwing out ironical hints that “we have been charged with not being in earnest or sincere in our desire to give the people a real representation,” that “it was said we only proposed to give a different kind of influence to the aristocracy and the landed interest.” He went even so far as to own that, besides the inevitable concessions to be made to the middle classes, “disfranchisement,” viz., the disfranchisement of the old Tory rotten boroughs for the benefit of new Whig boroughs, “was the chief and leading principle of the Reform Bill.“—(House of Commons, March 24, 1831, and March 14, 1832.)

It is now time to return to the performances of the noble lord in the foreign branch of policy.

In 1823, when, in consequence of the resolutions of the Congress of Vienna, a French army was marched into Spain, in order to overturn the Constitution of that country, and to deliver it up to the merciless revenge of the Bourbon idiot and his suite of bigot monks, Lord Palmerston disclaimed any “Quixotic crusades for abstract principles,” any intervention in favour of the people, whose heroic resistance had saved England from the sway of Napoleon. The words he addressed on that occasion to his Whig adversaries are a true and lively picture of his own foreign policy, after he had become their permanent Minister for Foreign Affairs. He said:

"Some would have had us use threats in negotiation, without being prepared to go to war, if negotiation failed. To have talked of war, and to have meant neutrality; to have threatened an army, and to have retreated behind a state paper; to have brandished the sword of defiance in the hour of deliberation, and to have ended in a penful of protests on the day of battle, would have been the conduct of a cowardly bully, and would have made us the object of contempt, and the laughing stock of Europe."—(House of Commons, April 30, 1823)

At last we arrive at the Greco-Turkish debates, which afforded Lord Palmerston the first opportunity of displaying publicly his unrivalled talents, as the unflinching and persevering advocate of Russian interests, in the Cabinet and in the House of Commons. One by one, he re-echoed all the watch-words given by Russia of Turkish monstrosities, Greek civilisation, religious liberty, Christianity, and so forth. At first we meet him repudiating, as the Minister for War, any intention of passing “a censure upon the meritorious conduct of Admiral Codrington,” which has caused the destruction of the Turkish fleet at Navarino, although he admits that “this battle took place against a power with which we are not at war,” and that it was “an untoward event.”—(House of Commons, January 31, 1828.)

Then, having retired from office, he opened the long series of his attacks upon Lord Aberdeen,[8] by reproaching him with having been too slow in executing the orders of Russia.

“Has there been much more energy and promptitude in fulfilling our engagements to Greece? July, 1829, is coming fast upon us, and the treaty of July, 1827, is still unexecuted. ... The Morea, indeed, has been cleared of the Turks. ... But why were the arms of France checked at the Isthmus of Corinth? ... The narrow policy of England stepped in, and arrested her progress.... But why do not the allies deal with the country north of the Isthmus, as they have done with that to the south, and occupy at once all that which must he assigned to Greece? I should have thought that the allies had had enough of negotiating with Turkey about Greece.”—(House of Commons, June 1, 1829.)

Prince Metternich[9] was, as is generally known, at that time opposing the encroachments of Russia, and accordingly her diplomatic agents—I remind you of the despatches of Pozzo di Borgo and Prince Lieven—had been advised to represent Austria as the great enemy of Grecian emancipation and of European civilisation, the furtherance of which was the exclusive object of Russian diplomacy. The noble lord follows, of course, in the beaten track.

“By the narrowness of her views, the unfortunate prejudices of her policy, Austria has almost reduced herself to the level of a second-rate power”; and in consequence of the temporising policy of Aberdeen, England is represented as “the keystone of that arch of which Miguel and Spain, Austria and Mahmoud are the component parts. ... People see in the delay in executing the treaty of July not so much fear of Turkish resistance, as invincible repugnance to Grecian freedom.”—(House of Commons, June 11, 1829.)

For half a century one phrase has stood between Russia and Constantinople—the phrase of the integrity of the Turkish Empire being necessary to the balance of power. “I object,” exclaims Palmerston on February 5, 1830, “to the policy of making the integrity of the Turkish dominion in Europe an object essentially necessary to the interests of Christian and civilised Europe.”

Again he assails Aberdeen because of his anti-Russian diplomacy :

“I, for one, shall not be satisfied with a number of despatches from the Government of England, which will no doubt read well and smooth enough; urging, in general terms, the propriety of conciliating Russia, but accompanied, perhaps, by strong expressions of the regard which England bears to Turkey, which, when read by an interested party, might easily appear to mean more than was really intended. ... I should like to see, that whilst England adopted a firm resolution—almost the only course she could adopt—upon no consideration and in no event to take part with Turkey in that war—that that decision was fairly and frankly communicated to Turkey.... There are three most merciless things,—time, fire, and the Sultan.”—(House of Commons, February 16, 1830)

Arrived at this point, I must recall to memory some few historical facts, in order to leave no doubt about the meaning of the noble lord's philo-Hellenic feelings.

Russia having seized upon Gokcha, a strip of land bordering on the Lake of Sevan (the undisputed possession of Persia), demanded as the price of its evacuation the abandonment of Persia's claims to another portion of her own territory, the lands of Kapan. Persia not yielding, was overrun, vanquished, and forced to subscribe to the treaty of Turcomanchai, in February, 1828. According to this treaty, Persia had to pay an indemnity of two millions sterling to Russia, to cede the provinces of Erivan and Nakhitchevan, including the fortresses of Erivan and Abbassabad, the exclusive purpose of this arrangement being, as Nicholas stated, to define the common frontier by the Araxes, the only means, he pretended, of preventing any future disputes between the two empires. But at the same time he refused to give back Talish and Mogan, which are situated on the Persian bank of the Araxes. Finally, Persia pledged herself to maintain no navy on the Caspian Sea. Such were the origin and the results of the Russo-Persian war.

As to the religion and the liberty of Greece, Russia cared at that epoch as much about them as the God of the Russians cares now about the keys of the Holy Sepulchre, and the famous Cupola. It was the traditional policy of Russia to excite the Greeks to revolt, and, then, to abandon them to the revenge of the Sultan. So deep was her sympathy for the regeneration of Hellas, that she treated them as rebels at the Congress of Verona, acknowledging the right of the Sultan to exclude all foreign intervention between himself and his Christian subjects. In fact, the Czar offered “to aid the Porte[10] in suppressing the rebellion”; a proposition which was, of course, rejected. Having failed in that attempt, he turned round upon the Great Powers with the opposite proposition, “To march an army into Turkey, for the purpose of dictating peace under the walls of the Seraglio.” In order to hold his hands bound by a sort of common action, the other Great Powers concluded a treaty with him at London, July 6, 1827, by which they mutually engaged to enforce, if need be by arms, the adjustment of the differences between the Sultan and the Greeks. A few months after she had signed that treaty, Russia concluded another treaty with Turkey, the treaty of Akerman, by which she bound herself to renounce all interference with Grecian affairs. This treaty was brought about after Russia had induced the Crown Prince of Persia to invade the Ottoman dominions, and after she had inflicted the injuries on the Porte in order to drive it to a rupture. After all this had taken place, the resolutions of the London treaty of July 6, 1827, were presented to the Porte by the English Ambassador, or in the name of Russia and the other powers. By virtue of the complications resulting from these frauds and lies Russia found at last the pretext for beginning the war of 1828 and 1829. That war terminated with the treaty of Adrianople, whose contents are summed up in the following quotations from O’Neill’s [Sir John O’Neill, British diplomat] celebrated pamphlet on the “Progress of Russia in the East”:

“By the treaty of Adrianople the Czar acquired Anapa and Poti, with a considerable extent of coast on the Black Sea, a portion of the Pashalic of Akhilska, with the fortresses of Akhilska, and Akhalkaliki, the islands formed by the mouths of the Danube. The destruction of the Turkish fortress of Georgilvsk, and the abandonment by Turkey of the right bank of the Danube to the distance of several miles from the river, were stipulated.... Partly by force, and partly by the influence of the priesthood, many thousand families of the Armenians were removed from the Turkish provinces in Asia to the Czar's territories. He established for his own subjects in Turkey an exemption from all responsibility to the national authorities, and burdened the Porte with an immense debt, under the name of expenses for the war and for commercial losses—and, finally, retained Moldavia, Wallachia, and Silistria, in pledge for the payment.... Having by this treaty imposed upon Turkey the acceptance of the protocol of March 22, which secured to her the suzerainty of Greece, and a yearly tribute from the country, Russia used all her influence to procure the independence of Greece, which was erected into an independent state, of which Count Capo d'Istria, who had been a Russian Minister, was named President.”

These are the facts. Now look at the picture drawn of them by the master hand of Lord Palmerston:

"It is perfectly true that the war between Russia and Turkey arose out of aggressions made by Turkey on the commerce and rights of Russia, and violations of treaties.”—(House of Commons, February 16, 1830)

When he became the Whig-incarnation of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, he improved upon this statement:

“The honourable and gallant member (Colonel Evans) has represented the conduct of Russia as one of unvarying aggression upon other States, from 1815 to the present time. He adverted more particularly to the wars of Russia with Persia and Turkey. Russia was the aggressor in neither of them, and although the result of the Persian war was an aggrandisement of her power, it was not the result of her own seeking. ... Again, in the Turkish war, Russia was not the aggressor. It would be fatiguing to the House to detail all the provocations Turkey offered to Russia; but I believe there cannot be a doubt that she expelled Russian subjects from her territory, detained Russian ships, and violated all the provisions of the treaty of Akerman, and then, upon complaint being made, denied redress; so that, if there ever was a just ground for going to war, Russia had it for going to war with Turkey. She did not, however, on any occasion, acquire any increase of territory, at least in Europe. I know there was a continued occupation of certain points [Moldavia and Wallachia are only points, and the mouths of the Danube are mere zeros], and some additional acquisitions on the Euxine in Asia; but she had an agreement with the other European powers that success in that war should not lead to any aggrandisement in Europe.”—(House of Commons, August 7, 1832.)

My readers will now understand Sir Robert Peel's telling the noble lord, in a public session of the House, that “he did not know whose representative he was.”