The Story of the Life of Lord Palmerston by Karl Marx


At a recent meeting in London to protest against the action of the British Embassy in the present controversy between Russia and Turkey, a gentleman who presumed to find special fault with Lord Palmerston was saluted and silenced by a storm of indignant hisses. The meeting evidently thought that if Russia had a friend in the ministry, it was not the noble viscount, and would no doubt have rent the air with cheers had some one been able to announce that his lordship had become prime minister. This astonishing confidence in a man so false and hollow is another proof of the ease with which people are imposed on by brilliant abilities, and a new evidence of the necessity of taking off the mask from this wily enemy to the progress of human freedom.

Accordingly, with the history of the last 25 years and the debates of Parliament for guides, we proceed with the task of exposing the real part which this accomplished actor has performed in the drama of modern Europe.

The noble viscount is generally known as the chivalrous protector of the Poles, and never fails to give vent to his painful feelings with regard to Poland, before the deputations which are once every year presented to him by “dear, dull, deadly” Dudley Stuart,[11] “a worthy who makes speeches, passes resolutions, votes addresses, goes up with deputations, has at all times the necessary quantity of confidence in the necessary individual, and can also, if necessary, give three cheers for the Queen.”

The Poles had been in arms for about a month, when Lord Palmerston came into office in November, 1830. As early as August 8, 1831, Mr. Hunt presented to the House a petition from the Westminster Union in favour of the Poles, and “for the dismissal of Lord Palmerston from his Majesty's Councils.” Mr. Hume[12] stated on the same day he concluded from the silence of the noble lord that the Government “intended to do nothing for the Poles, but allow them to remain at the mercy of Russia.” To this Lord Palmerston replied, “that whatever obligations existing treaties imposed, would at all times receive the attention of the Government.” Now, what sort of obligations were, in his opinion, imposed on England by existing treaties? “The claims of Russia,” he tells us himself, “to the possession of Poland bear the date of the treaty of Vienna”—(House of Commons, July 9 1833), and that treaty makes this possession dependent upon the observance of the Polish Constitution by the Czar. But from a subsequent speech we learn that “the mere fact of this country being a party to the treaty of Vienna, was not synonymous with England’s guaranteeing that there would be no infraction of that treaty by Russia.”—(House of Commons, March 26, 1834)

That is to say, you may guarantee a treaty without guaranteeing that it should be observed. This is the principle on which the Milanese said to the Emperor Barbarossa: "You have had our oath, but remember we did not swear to keep it."

In one respect the treaty of Vienna was good enough. It gave to the British Government, as one of the contracting parties,

“a right to entertain and express an opinion on any act which tends to a violation of that treaty. ... The contracting parties to the treaty of Vienna had a right to require that the Constitution of Poland should not be touched, and this was an opinion which I have not concealed from the Russian Government. I communicated it by anticipation to that Government previous to the taking of Warsaw, and before the result of hostilities was known. I communicated it again when Warsaw fell. The Russian Government, however, took a different view of the question.”—(House of Commons, July 9, 1833)

He had quietly anticipated the downfall of Poland, and had availed himself of this opportunity to entertain and express an opinion on certain articles of the treaty of Vienna, persuaded as he was that the magnanimous Czar was merely waiting till he had crushed the Polish people by armed force to do homage to a Constitution he had trampled upon when they were yet possessed of unbounded means of resistance. At the same time the noble lord charged the Poles with having “taken the uncalled for, and in his opinion, unjustifiable, step of the dethronement of the Emperor.”—(House of Commons, July 9, 1832)

"He could also say that the Poles were the aggressors, for they commenced the contest."—(House of Commons, August 7, 1832.)

When the apprehensions that Poland would be extinguished became universal and troublesome, he declared that “to exterminate Poland, either morally or politically, is so perfectly impracticable that I think there need be no apprehension of its being attempted.”—(House of Commons, June 28, 1832.)

When reminded afterwards of the vague expectations thus held out, he averred that he had been misunderstood, that he had said so not in the political but the Pickwickian [i.e., naively idealistic, after the Dickens character] sense of the word, meaning that the Emperor of Russia was unable “to exterminate nominally or physically so many millions of men as the Polish kingdom in its divided state contained,”—(House of Commons, April 20, 1836.)

When the House threatened to interfere during the struggle of the Poles, he appealed to his ministerial responsibility. When the thing was done, he coolly told them that “no vote of this House would have the slightest effect in reversing the decision of Russia.”—(House of Commons, July 9, 1833)

When the atrocities committed by the Russians, after the fall of Warsaw, were denounced, he recommended to the House great tenderness towards the Emperor of Russia, declaring that “no person could regret more than he did the expressions which had been uttered”—(House of Commons, June 28, 1832—that “the present Emperor of Russia was a man of high and generous feelings”—that “where cases of undue severity on the part of the Russian Government to the Poles have occurred, we may set this down as a proof that the power of the Emperor of Russia is practically limited, and we may take it for granted that the Emperor has, in those instances, yielded to the influence of others, rather than followed the dictates of his spontaneous feelings.”—(House of Commons, July 9, 1833)

When the doom of Poland was sealed on the one hand, and on the other the dissolution of the Turkish Empire became imminent, from the rebellion of Mehemet Ali,[13] he assured the House that “affairs in general were proceeding in a satisfactory train.”—(House of Commons, January 26, 1832.)

A motion for granting subsidies to the Polish refugees having been made, it was “exceedingly painful to him to oppose the grant of any money to those individuals, which the natural and spontaneous feelings of every generous man would lead him to acquiesce in; but it was not consistent with his duty to propose any grant of money to those unfortunate persons.”—(House of Commons, March 25, 1834) This same tender-hearted man had secretly defrayed, as we shall see by and by, the cost of Poland's fall, to a great extent, out of the pockets of the British people.

The noble lord took good care to withhold all State papers about the Polish catastrophe from Parliament. But statements made in the House of Commons which he never so much as attempted to controvert, leave no doubt as to the game he played at that fatal epoch.

After the Polish revolution had broken out, the Consul of Austria did not quit Warsaw, and the Austrian Government went so far as to send a Polish agent, M. Walewski, to Paris, with the mission of negotiating with the Governments of France and England about the re-establishment of a Polish kingdom. The Court of the Tuileries declared “it was ready to join England in case of her consenting to the project.” Lord Palmerston rejected the offer. In 1831, M. de Talleyrand,[14] the Ambassador of France at the Court of St. James, proposed a plan of combined action on the part of France and England, but met with a distinct refusal and with a note from the noble lord, stating that “an amicable intermediation on the Polish question would be declined by Russia; that the Powers had just declined a similar offer on the part of France; that the intervention of the two Courts of France and England could only be by force in case of a refusal on the part of Russia; and the amicable and satisfactory relations between the Cabinet of St. James and the Cabinet of St. Petersburg, would not allow his British Majesty to undertake such an interference. The time was NOT YET come to undertake such a plan with success against the will of a sovereign whose rights were indisputable.”

This was not all. On February 23, 1848, Mr. Anstey[15] made the following declaration in the House of Commons:

“Sweden was arming her fleet for the purpose of making a diversion in favour of Poland, and of regaining to herself the provinces in the Baltic, which have been so unjustly wrested from her in the last war. The noble lord instructed our ambassador at the Court of Stockholm in a contrary sense, and Sweden discontinued her armaments. The Persian Court had, with a similar purpose, despatched an army three days on its march towards the Russian frontier, under the command of the Persian Crown Prince. The Secretary of Legation at the court of Teheran, Sir John M’Neill, followed the prince, at a distance of three days' march from his headquarters, overtook him, and there, under instructions from the noble lord, and in the name of England, threatened Persia with war if the prince advanced another step towards the Russian frontier. Similar inducements were used by the noble lord to prevent Turkey from renewing war on her side.”

To Colonel Evans, asking for the production of papers with regard to Prussia's violation of her pretended neutrality in the Russo-Polish war, Lord Palmerston replied, “that the ministers of this country could not have witnessed that contest without the deepest regret, and it would be most satisfactory for them to see it terminated.”—(House of Commons, August 16, 1831.)

Certainly he wished to see it terminated as soon as possible, and Prussia shared in his feelings.

On a subsequent occasion, Mr. H. Gally Knight thus summed up the whole proceedings of the noble lord with regard to the Polish revolution:

"There is something curiously inconsistent in the proceedings of the noble lord when Russia is concerned. ... On the subject of Poland, the noble lord has disappointed us again and again; remember when the noble lord was pressed to exert himself in favour of Poland, then he admitted the justice of the cause—the justice of our complaints; but he said, ‘Only restrain yourselves at present, there is an ambassador fast setting out, of known liberal sentiments; you will only embarrass his negotiation, if you incense the Power with whom he has to deal. So, take my advice, be quiet at present, and be assured that a great deal will be effected.’ We trusted to those assurances; the liberal ambassador went; whether he ever approached the subject or not was never known, but all we got were the fine words of the noble lord, and no results.”—(House of Commons, July 13, 1840)

The so-called kingdom of Poland having disappeared from the map of Europe, there remained still, in the free town of Cracow, a fantastic remnant of Polish nationality. The Czar Alexander, during the general anarchy resulting from the fall of the French Empire, had not conquered the Duchy of Warsaw but simply seized it, and wished, of course, to keep it, together with Cracow, which had been incorporated with the Duchy by Bonaparte. Austria, once possessed of Cracow, wished to have it back. The Czar being unable to obtain it himself, and unwilling to cede it to Austria, proposed to constitute it a free town. Accordingly the Treaty of Vienna stipulated in Article VI, “the town of Cracow with its territory is to be for ever a free, independent and strictly neutral city, under the protection of Austria, Russia, and Prussia”; and in Article IX, “the courts of Russia, Austria, and Prussia, engage to respect, and to cause to be always respected, the neutrality of the free town of Cracow and its territory. No armed force shall be introduced on any pretence whatever.”

Immediately after the close of the Polish insurrection of 1830-31, the Russian troops suddenly entered Cracow, the occupation of which lasted two months. This, however, was considered as a transitory necessity of war, and in the turmoil of that time was soon forgotten.

In 1836, Cracow was again occupied by the troops of Austria, Russia, and Prussia, on the pretext of forcing the authorities of Cracow to deliver up the individuals concerned in the Polish revolution five years before.

On this occasion the noble lord refrained from all remonstrance, on the ground, as he stated in 1836 and 1840, “that it was difficult to give effect to our remonstrances.” As soon, however, as Cracow was definitely confiscated by Austria, a simple remonstrance appeared to him to be “the only effectual means.” When the three northern Powers occupied Cracow in 1836, its Constitution was abrogated, the three consular residences assumed the highest authority—the police was entrusted to Austrian spies—the senate overthrown—the tribunals suspended—the university put down by prohibiting the students of the neighbouring provinces from frequenting it—and the commerce of the free city, with the surrounding countries, destroyed.

In March, 1836, when interpellated on the occupation of Cracow, Lord Palmerston declared that occupation to be of a merely transitory character. Of so palliative and apologetic a kind was the construction he put on the doings of his three northern allies, that he felt himself obliged suddenly to stop and interrupt the even tenor of his speech by the solemn declaration, “I stand not up here to defend the measure, which on the contrary, I MUST censure and condemn. I have merely stated those circumstances which, though they do not excuse the forcible occupation of Cracow, might yet afford a justification, etc....” He admitted that the Treaty of Vienna bound the three Powers to abstain from any step without the previous consent of England, but “they may be justly said to have paid an involuntary homage to the justice and plain dealing of this country, by supposing that we would never give our assent to such a proceeding”.

Mr. Patrick Stewart having, however, found out that there existed better means for the preservation of Cracow than the “abstention from remonstrance,” moved on April 20, 1836, “that the Government should be ordered to send a representative to the free town of Cracow as consul, there being three consuls there from the three other powers, Austria, Russia, and Prussia”. The joint arrival of an English and French consul at Cracow would prove an event and must, in any case, have prevented the noble lord from afterwards declaring himself unaware of the intrigues pursued at Cracow by the Austrians, Russians, and Prussians. The noble viscount seeing that the majority of the House was favourable to the motion, induced Mr. Stewart to withdraw it, by solemnly promising that the Government “intended to send a consular agent to Cracow”. On March 22, 1837, being interpellated by Lord Dudley Stuart with regard to his promise, the noble lord answered that “he had altered his intention, and had not sent a consular agent to Cracow, and it was not at present his intention to do so.” Lord D. Stuart having given notice that he should move for papers to elucidate this singular transaction, the noble viscount succeeded in defeating the motion by the simple process of being absent, and causing the House to be counted out. He never stated why or wherefore he had not fulfilled his pledge, and withstood all attempts to squeeze out of him any papers on the subject.

In 1840, the “temporary” occupation still continued, and the people of Cracow addressed a memorandum to the Governments of France and England, which says, amongst other things:

“The misfortunes which overwhelm the free city of Cracow and its inhabitants are such that the undersigned see no further hope for themselves and their fellow-citizens but in the powerful and enlightened protection of the Governments of France and England. The situation in which they find themselves placed gives them a right to invoke the intervention of every Power subscribed to the Treaty of Vienna.”

Being interrogated on July 13, 1840, about this petition from Cracow, Palmerston declared “that between Austria and the British Government the question of the evacuation of Cracow remained only a question of time”. As to the violation of the Treaty of Vienna “there were no means of enforcing the opinions of England, supposing that this country was disposed to do so by arms, because Cracow was evidently a place where no English action could possibly take place.”

Be it remarked, that two days after this declaration, July 15, 1840, the noble lord concluded a treaty with Russia, Austria, and Prussia, for closing the Black Sea to the English navy, probably in order that no English action could take place in those quarters. It was at the very same time that the noble lord renewed the Holy Alliance with those Powers against France. As to the commercial loss sustained by England, consequent upon the occupation of Cracow, the noble lord demonstrated that “the amount of general exports to Germany had not fallen off”, which, as Sir Robert Peel [16] justly remarked, had nothing to do with Cracow, considerable quantities of English merchandise being sent thither by the Black Sea, Moldavia, and Galicia—and closely pressed to state his real intentions on the subject and as to the consular agent to be sent to Cracow, “he thought that his experience of the manner in which his unfortunate assertion [made by the noble lord in 1836, in order to escape from the censure of a hostile House] of an intention to appoint a British consul at Cracow, had been taken up by honourable gentlemen opposite, justified him in positively refusing to give any answer to such a question, which might expose him to similar unjustifiable attacks.”

On August 16, 1846, he stated that “whether the treaty of Vienna is or is not executed and fulfilled by the great Powers of Europe, depends not upon the presence of a consular agent at Cracow.” On January, 28, 1847, Cracow was doomed, and when the noble lord was again asked for the production of papers relative to the non-appointment of a British consul at Cracow, he declared that “the subject had no necessary connection with the discussion on the incorporation of Cracow, and he saw no advantage in reviving an angry discussion on a subject which had only a passing interest.” He proved true to his opinion on the production of State papers, as expressed on March 7, 1837: “If the papers are upon the questions now under consideration, their production would be dangerous; if they refer to questions that are gone by, they can obviously be of no use.”

The British Government was, however, very exactly informed of the importance of Cracow, not only from a political but also from a commercial point of view, their consul at Warsaw, Colonel Du Flat, having reported to them that

“Cracow, since its elevation into an independent State, has always been the depot of very considerable quantities of English merchandise sent thither by the Black Sea, Moldavia, and Galicia, and even via Trieste; and which afterwards find their way to the surrounding countries. In the course of years it came into railway communication with the great lines of Bohemia, Prussia, and Austria ... It is also the central point of the important line of railway communication between the Adriatic and the Baltic. It will come into direct communication of the same description with Warsaw. ... Looking, therefore, to the almost certainty of every great point of the Levant[i.e., the lands around the eastern end of the Mediterranean sea], and even of India and China, finding its way up the Adriatic, it cannot be denied that it must be of the greatest commercial importance, even to England, to have such a station as Cracow, in the centre of the great net of railways connecting the Western and Eastern Continents.”

Lord Palmerston himself was obliged to confess to the House that the Cracow insurrection of 1846 had been intentionally provoked by the three Powers. “I believe the original entrance of the Austrian troops into the territory of Cracow was in consequence of an application from the Government.” But, then, those Austrian troops retired. Why they retired has never yet been explained. With them retired the Government and the authorities of Cracow; the immediate, at least the early, consequence of that retirement, was the establishment of a Provisional Government at Cracow.—(House of Commons, August 17, 1846.)

On the 22nd of February, 1846, the forces of Austria, and afterwards those of Russia and Prussia, took possession of Cracow. On the 26th of the same month, the Prefect of Tarnow issued his proclamation calling upon the peasants to murder their landlords, promising them “a sufficient recompense in money,” which proclamation was followed by the Galician atrocities, and the massacre of about 2,000 landed proprietors. On the 12th appeared the Austrian proclamation to the “faithful Galicians who have aroused themselves for the maintenance of order and law, and destroyed the enemies of order.” In the official Gazette of April 28th, Prince Frederick of Schwarzenberg stated officially that “the acts that had taken place had been authorised by the Austrian Government,” which, of course, acted on a common plan with Russia and with Prussia, the lackey of the Czar. Now, after all these abominations had passed, Lord Palmerston thought fit to declare in the House:

“I have too high an opinion of the sense of justice and of right that must animate the Governments of Austria, Russia, and Prussia, to believe that they can feel any disposition or intention to deal with Cracow otherwise than Cracow is entitled by treaty-engagements to be dealt with.”—(House of Commons, August 17, 1846.)

For the noble lord the only business then in hand was to get rid of Parliament, whose session was drawing to a close. He assured the Commons that “on the part of the British Government everything shall be done to ensure a due respect being paid to the provisions of the treaty of Vienna.“ Mr. Hume giving vent to his doubts about Lord Palmerston’s “intention to cause the Austro-Russian troops to retire from Cracow,” the noble lord begged of the House not to give credence to the statements made by Mr. Hume, as he was in possession of better information, and was convinced that the occupation of Cracow was only a “TEMPORARY” one. The Parliament of 1846 having been got rid of, in the same manner as that of 1843, out came the Austrian proclamation of November 11, 1846, incorporating Cracow with the Austrian dominions. When Parliament re-assembled on January 19, 1847, it was informed by the Queen's speech that Cracow was gone, but that there remained in its place a protest on the part of the brave Lord Palmerston. In order to deprive this protest of even the appearance of a meaning the noble lord contrived, at that very epoch, to engage England in a quarrel with France on the occasion of the Spanish marriages,[17] very nearly setting the two countries by the ears; a performance which was sharply overhauled by Mr. Smith O’Brien in the House of Commons, on April 18, 1847.

The French Government having applied to Palmerston for his co-operation in a joint protest against the incorporation of Cracow, Lord Normanby,[18] under instructions from the noble viscount, answered that the outrage of which Austria had been guilty in annexing Cracow was not greater than that of France in effecting a marriage between the Duke of Montpensier and the Spanish Infanta—the one being a violation of the Treaty of Vienna, and the other of the Treaty of Utrecht. Now, the Treaty of Utrecht, renewed in 1782, was definitely abrogated by the Anti-Jacobin war; and had, therefore, ever since 1792, ceased to be operative. There was no man in the House better informed of this circumstance than the noble lord, as he had himself stated to the House on the occasion of the debates on the blockades of Mexico and Buenos Ayres, that

“the provisions of the Treaty of Utrecht had long since lapsed in the variations of war, with the exception of the single clause relating to the boundaries of Brazil and French Guiana, because that clause had been expressly incorporated in the Treaty of Vienna.”

We have not yet done with the exertions of the noble lord in resisting the encroachments of Russia upon Poland.

There once existed a curious convention between England, Holland, and Russia—the so-called Russian Dutch loan. During the Anti-Jacobin war the Czar, Alexander, contracted a loan with Messrs. Hope & Co., at Amsterdam; and after the fall of Bonaparte, the King of the Netherlands, “desirous to make a suitable return to the Allied Powers for having delivered his territory,” and for having annexed to it Belgium, to which he had no claim whatever, engaged himself—the other Powers waiving their common claims in favour of Russia, then in great need of money—to execute a convention with Russia agreeing to pay her by successive instalments the twenty-five million florins she owed to Messrs. Hope & Co. England, in order to cover the robbery she had committed on Holland, of her colonies at the Cape of Good Hope, Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice, became a party to this convention, and bound herself to pay a certain proportion of the subsidies granted to Russia. This stipulation became part of the Treaty of Vienna, but upon the express condition “that the payment should cease if the union between Holland and Belgium were broken prior to the liquidation of the debt.” When Belgium separated herself from Holland by a revolution, the latter, of course, refused to pay her portion to Russia on the ground that the loan had been contracted to continue her in the undivided possession of the Belgian provinces, and that she no longer had the sovereignty of that country. On the other hand, there remained, as Mr. Herries stated in Parliament, “not the smallest iota of a claim on the part of Russia for the continuance of debt by England.”—(House of Commons, January 26, 1832.)

Lord Palmerston, however, found it quite natural that “at one time Russia is paid for supporting the union of Belgium with Holland, and that at another time she is paid for supporting the separation of these countries.”—(House of Commons, July 16, 1832.)

He appealed in a very tragic manner for the faithful observance of treaties—and above all, of the Treaty of Vienna; and he contrived to carry a new convention with Russia, dated November 16, 1831, the preamble of which expressly stated that it was contracted “in consideration of the general arrangements of the Congress of Vienna which remain in full force.” When the convention relating to the Russian Dutch loan had been inserted in the Treaty of Vienna, the Duke of Wellington exclaimed: “This is a master-stroke of diplomacy on the part of Lord Castlereagh;[19] for Russia has been tied down to the observance of the Vienna treaty by a pecuniary obligation.”

When Russia, therefore, withdrew her observance of the Vienna treaty by the Cracow confiscation, Mr. Hume moved to stop any further annual payment to Russia from the British treasury. The noble viscount, however, thought that although Russia had a right to violate the treaty of Vienna, with regard to Poland, England must remain bound by that very treaty with regard to Russia.

But this is not the most extraordinary incident in the noble lord's proceedings. After the Belgian revolution had broken out, and before Parliament had sanctioned the new loan to Russia, the noble lord defrayed the costs of the Russian war against Poland, under the false pretext of paying off the old debt contracted by England in 1815, although we can state, on the authority of the greatest English lawyer, Sir E. Sugden,[20] now Lord St. Leonards, that “there was not a single debatable point in that question and the Government had no power whatever to pay a shilling of the money”—(House of Commons, June 26, 1832); and, on the authority of Sir Robert Peel, “that Lord Palmerston was not warranted by law in advancing the money.” —(House of Commons, July 12, 1832.)

Now we understand why the noble lord reiterates on every occasion that “nothing can be more painful to a man of proper feeling, than discussions upon the subject of Poland.” We can also appreciate the degree of earnestness he is now likely to exhibit in resisting the encroachments of the Power he has so uniformly served.