The Story of the Life of Lord Palmerston by Karl Marx


The great and eternal themes of the noble viscount’s self-glorification are the services he has rendered to the cause of constitutional liberty all over the Continent. The world owes him, indeed, the inventions of the “constitutional” kingdoms of Portugal, Spain, and Greece,—three political phantoms, only to be compared with the homunculus of Wagner in "Faust". Portugal, under the yoke of that huge hill of flesh, Donna Maria da Gloria,[21] backed by a Coburg, “must be looked upon as one of the substantive Powers of Europe.”—(House of Commons, March 10, 1835)

At the very time the noble viscount uttered these words, six British ships of the line anchored at Lisbon, in order to defend the “substantive” daughter of Don Pedro from the Portuguese people, and to help her to destroy the constitution she had sworn to defend. Spain, at the disposition of another Maria,[22] who, although a notorious sinner, has never become a Magdalen, “holds out to us a fair, a flourishing, and even a formidable power among the European kingdoms.”—(Lord Palmerston, House of Commons, March 10, 1837)

Formidable, indeed, to the holders of Spanish Bonds. The noble lord has even his reasons ready for having delivered the native country of Pericles and Sophocles to the nominal sway of an idiot Bavarian boy. [23] King Otho belongs to a country where there exists a free constitution."—(House of Commons, August 8, 1832.)

A free constitution in Bavaria, the German Bastia! This passes the licentia poetica of rhetorical flourish, the “legitimate hopes” held out by Spain, and the “substantive” power of Portugal. As to Belgium, all Lord Palmerston did for her was burdening her with a part of the Dutch debt, reducing it by the Province of Luxemburg, and saddling her with a Coburg dynasty.[24] As to the entente cordiale with France, waning from the moment he pretended to give it the finishing touch by the Quadruple alliance of 1834, we have already seen how well the noble lord understood how to manage it in the instance of Poland, and we shall hear, by and by, what became of it in his hands.

One of those facts, hardly adverted to by contemporaries, but broadly marking the boundaries of historical epochs, was the military occupation of Constantinopie by the Russians, in 1833.

The eternal dream of Russia was at last realized. The barbarian from the icy banks of the Neva held in his grasp luxurious Byzantium, and the sunlit shores of the Bosphorus. The self-styled heir to the Greek Emperors occupied however temporarily the Rome of the East.

“The occupation of Constantinople by Russian troops sealed the fate of Turkey as an independent power. The fact of Russia having occupied Constantinople even for the purpose (!) of saving it, was as decisive a blow to Turkish independence as if the flag of Russia now waved on the Seraglio.”—(Sir Robert Peel, House of Commons, March 17, 1834)

In consequence of the unfortunate war of 1828-29 and the Treaty of Adrianople,[25] the Porte had lost its prestige in the eyes of its own subjects. As usual with Oriental empires, when the paramount power is weakened, successful revolts of Pashas broke out. As early as October, 1831, commenced the conflict between the Sultan and Mehemet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, who had supported the Porte during the Greek insurrection. In the spring of 1832, Ibrahim Pasha, his son, marched his army into Syria, conquered that province by the battle of Homs, crossed the Taurus, annihilated the Turkish army at the battle of Konieh, and moved on the way to Stamboul. The Sultan was forced to apply to St. Petersburg on February 2, 1833. On February 17, the French Admiral Roussin arrived at Constantinople, remonstrated with the Porte two days afterwards, and engaged for the retreat of the Pasha on certain terms, including the refusal of Russian assistance; but, unassisted, he was, of course, unable to cope with Russia. “You have asked for me, and you shall have me.”

On February 20, a Russian squadron suddenly sailed from Sebastopol, disembarked a large force of Russian troops on the shores of the Bosphorus, and laid siege to the capital. So eager was Russia for the protection of Turkey, that a Russian officer was simultaneously despatched to the Pashas of Erzerum and Trebizond, to inform them that, in the event of Ibrahim's army marching towards Erzerum, both that place and Trebizond should be immediately protected by a Russian army. At the end of May, 1833, Count Orloff[26] arrived from St. Petersburg, and intimated to the Sultan that he had brought with him a little bit of paper, which the Sultan was to subscribe to, without the concurrence of any minister, and without the knowledge of any diplomatic agent at the Porte. In this manner the famous treaty of Unkiar Skelessi[27] was brought about; it was concluded for eight years to come. By virtue of it the Porte entered into an alliance, offensive and defensive, with Russia; resigned the right of entering into any new treaties with other powers, except with the concurrence of Russia, and confirmed the former Russo-Turkish treaties, especially that of Adrianople. By a secret article, appended to the treaty, the Porte obliged itself “in favour of the Imperial Court of Russia to close the Straits of the Dardanelles—viz., not to allow any foreign man-of-war to enter it under any pretext whatever.”

To whom was the Czar indebted for occupying Constantinople by his troops and for transferring, by virtue of the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, the supreme seat of the Ottoman empire from Constantinople to St. Petersburg? To nobody else but to the Right Honourable Henry John Viscount Palmerston, Baron Temple, a Peer of Ireland, a Member of His Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, Knight of the Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, a Member of Parliament, and His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

The treaty of Unkiar Skelessi was concluded on July 8, 1833 On July 11, 1833, Mr H. L. Bulwer[28] moved for the production of papers with respect to the Turco-Syrian affairs. The noble lord opposed the motion

“because the transactions to which the papers called for referred were incomplete, and the character of the whole transaction would depend upon its termination. As the results were not yet known, the motion was premature.”—(House of Commons, July 11, 1833)

Accused by Mr. Bulwer of not having interfered for the defence of the Sultan against Mehemet Ali, and thus prevented the advance of the Russian army, he began that curious system of defence and of confession, developed on later occasions, the membra disjecta of which I shall now gather together.

”He was not prepared to deny that in the later part of last year an application was made on the part of the Sultan to this country for assistance.”—(House of Commons, July 11, 1833)
“The Porte made formal application for assistance in the in the course of August.”—(House of Commons, August 24, 1833)

No, not in August. “The request of the Porte for naval assistance had been in the month of October, 1832.”—(House of Commons, August 28, 1833)

No, it was not in October. “Its assistance was asked by the Porte in November, 1832.”—(House of Commons, March 17, 1834)

The noble lord is as uncertain of the day when the Porte implored his aid, as Falstaff was of the number of rogues in buckram suits, who came at his back in Kendal green. He is not prepared, however, to deny that the armed assistance offered by Russia was rejected by the Porte, and that he, Lord Palmerston, was applied to. He refused to comply with its demands. The Porte again applied to the noble lord. First it sent M. Maurageni to London; then sent Namic Pasha, who entreated the assistance of a naval squadron on condition of the Sultan undertaking to defray all the expenses of that squadron, and promising in requital for such succour the grant of new commercial privileges and advantages to British subjects in Turkey. So sure was Russia of the noble lord's refusal, that she joined the Turkish envoy in praying his lordship to afford the succour demanded. He tells us himself:

“It was but justice that he should state, that so far from Russia having expressed any jealousy as to this Government granting this assistance, the Russian ambassador officially communicated to him, while the request was still under consideration, that he had learned that such an application had been made, and that, from the interest taken by Russia in the maintenance and preservation of the Turkish empire, it would afford satisfaction if ministers could find themselves able to comply with that request.”—(House of Commons, August 28, 1833)

The noble lord remained, however, inexorable to the demand of the Porte, although backed by disinterested Russia herself. Then, of course, the Porte knew what it was expected to do. It understood that it was doomed to make the wolf shepherd. Still it hesitated, and did not accept Russian assistance till three months later.

“Great Britain,” says the noble lord, “never complained of Russia granting that assistance, but, on the contrary, was glad that Turkey had been able to obtain effectual relief from any quarter.”—(House of Commons, March 17, 1834)

At whatever epoch the Porte may have implored the aid of Lord Palmerston, he cannot but own that

“no doubt if England had thought fit to interfere, the progress of the invading army would have been stopped, and the Russian troops would not have been called in.”—(House of Commons, July 11, 1833)

Why then did he not “think fit” to interfere and to keep the Russians out?

First he pleads want of time. According to his own statement the conflict between the Porte and Mehemet Ali arose as early as October, 1831, while the decisive battle of Konieh was not fought till December 21, 1832. Could be find no time during all this period? A great battle was won by Ibrahim Pasha,[29] in July, 1832, and again he could find no time from July to December. But he was all that time waiting for a formal application on the part of the Porte which, according to his last version, was not made till the 3rd of November. “Was he then,” asks Sir Robert Peel, “so ignorant of what was passing in the Levant, that he must wait for a formal application?”—(House of Commons, March 17, 1834.) And from November, when the formal application was made, to the latter part of February, there elapsed again four long months, and Russia did not arrive until February 20, 1833. Why did not he?

But he has better reasons in reserve.

The Pasha of Egypt was but a rebellious subject, and the Sultan was the Suzerain.

“As it was a war against the sovereign by a subject, and that sovereign was in alliance with the King of England, it would have been inconsistent with good faith to have had any communication with the Pasha.”—(House of Commons, August 28, 1833)

Etiquette prevented the noble lord from stopping Ibrahim’s armies. Etiquette forbade his giving instructions to his consul at Alexandria to use his influence with Mehemet Ali. Like the Spanish grandee, the noble lord would rather let the Queen burn to ashes than infringe on etiquette, and interfere with her petticoats. As it happens the noble lord had already, in 1832, accredited consuls and diplomatic agents to the “subject” of the Sultan without the consent of the Sultan; he had entered into treaties with Mehemet, altering existing regulations and arrangements touching matters of trade and revenue, and establishing other ones in their stead; and he did so without having the consent of the Porte beforehand, or caring for its approbation afterwards—(House of Commons, February 23, 1848.)

Accordingly, we are told by Earl Grey, the then chief of the noble viscount, that “they had at the moment extensive commercial relations with Mehemet Ali which it would not have been their interest to disturb.”—(House of Commons, February 4, 1834) What, commercial relations with the “rebellious subject”?

But the noble viscount's fleets were occupied in the Douro, and the Tagus, and blockading the Scheldt, and doing the services of midwife at the birth of the constitutional empires of Portugal, Spain, and Belgium, and he was, therefore, not in a position to spare one single ship—(House of Commons, July 11, 1833, and March 17, 1834)

But what the Sultan insisted on was precisely naval assistance. For argument's sake, we will grant the noble lord to have been unable to dispose of one single vessel. But there are great authorities assuring us that what was wanted was not a single vessel, but only a single word on the part of the noble lord. There is Lord Mahon, who had just been employed at the Foreign Office under Sir Robert Peel, when he made this statement. There is Admiral Codrington,[30] the destroyer of the Turkish fleet at Navarino.

“Mehemet Ali,” he states, “had of old felt the strength of our representations on the subject of the evacuation of the Morea. He had then received orders from the Porte to resist all applications to induce him to evacuate it, at the risk of his head, and he did resist accordingly, but at last prudently yielded, and evacuated the Morea.”—(House of Commons, April 20, 1836.)

There is the Duke of Wellington.

“If, in the session of 1832 or 1833, they had plainly told Mehemet Ali that he should not carry on his contest in Syria and Asia Minor, they would have put an end to the war without the risk of allowing the Emperor of Russia to send a fleet and an army to Constantinople.“—(House of Lords, February 4, 1834)

But there are still better authorities. There is the noble lord himself.

“Although,” he says, “his Majesty's Government did not comply with the demand of the Sultan for naval assistance, yet the moral assistance of England was afforded; and the communications made by the British Government to the Pasha of Egypt, and to Ibrahim Pasha commanding in Asia Minor, did materially contribute to bring about that arrangement (of Kiutayah) between the Sultan and the Pasha, by which that war was terminated.”—(House of Commons, March 17, 1834)

There is Lord Derby, then Mr. Stanley and a member of the Palmerston Cabinet, who

“boldly asserts that what stopped the progress of Mehemet Ali was the distinct declaration of France and England that they would not permit the occupation of Constantinople by his troops.”—(House of Commons, March 17, 1834)

Thus then, according to Lord Derby and to Lord Palmerston himself, it was not the Russian squadron and army at Constantinople, but it was a distinct declaration on the part of the British consular agent at Alexandria, that stopped Ibrahim's victorious march upon Constantinople, and brought about the arrangement of Kiutayah, by virtue of which Mehemet Ali obtained, besides Egypt, the Pashalic of Syria, of Adana and other places, added as an appendage. But the noble lord thought fit not to allow his consul at Alexandria to make this distinct declaration till after the Turkish army was annihilated, Constantinople overrun by the Cossack, the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi signed by the Sultan, and pocketed by the Czar.

If want of time and want of fleets forbade the noble lord to assist the Sultan, and a superfluity of etiquette to check the Pasha, did he at least employ his ambassador at Constantinople to guard against excessive influence on the part of Russia, and to keep her insuence confined within narrow bounds? Quite the contrary. In order not to clog the movements of Russia, the lord took good care to have no ambassador at all at Constantinople during the most fatal period of the crisis.

“If ever there was a country in which the weight and station of an ambassador were useful—or a period in which that weight and station might be advantageously exerted—that country was Turkey, during the six months before the 8th of July.“—(Lord Mahon, House of Commons, April 26, 1836.)

Lord Palmerston tells us, that the British ambassador, Sir Stratford,[31] left Constantinople in September, 1832—that Lord Ponsonby, then at Naples, was appointed in his place in November, and that “difficulties experienced in making the necessary arrangements for his conveyance,” although a man-of-war was in waiting for him, “and the unfavourable state of the weather prevented his getting to Constantinople until the end of May, 1833.”—(House of Commons, March 17, 1834.)

The Russian was not yet in, and Lord Ponsonby was accordingly ordered to require seven months for sailing from Naples to Constantinople.

But why should the noble lord prevent the Russians from occupying Constantinople? “He, for his part, had great doubts that any intention to partition the Ottoman empire at all entered into the policy of the Russian Government.”—(House of Commons, February 14 1839.)

Certainly not. Russia wants not to partition the empire, but to keep the whole of it. Besides the security Lord Palmerston possessed in this doubt, he had another security

“in the doubt whether it enters into the policy of Russia at present to accomplish the object, and a third ‘security’ in his third ‘doubt’ whether the Russian nation (just think of a Russian nation!) would be prepared for that transference of power, of residence, and authority to the southern provinces which would be the necessary consequence of the conquest by Russia of Constantinople.”—(House of Commons, July 11, 1833)

Besides these negative arguments, the noble lord had an affirmative one:

“If they had quietly beheld the temporary occupation of the Turkish capital by the forces of Russia, it was because they had full confidence in the honour and good faith of Russia. The Russian Government, in granting its aid to the Sultan, has pledged its honour, and in that pledge he reposed the most implicit confidence.”—(House of Commons, July 11, 1853)

So inaccessible, indestructible, integral, imperishable, inexpugnable, incalculable, incommensurable, and irremediable, so boundless, dauntless, and matchless was the noble lord's confidence, that still on March 17, 1834, when the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi had become a fait accompli, he went on declaring that, “in their confidence ministers were not deceived.” Not his is the fault if nature has developed his bump of confidence to altogether anomalous dimensions.