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On this day in history in 1865, died Henry Palmerston.
Palmerston was a politician, who wanted no other position than Foreign Secretary. On two occasions he reluctantly took over as Prime Minister, but preferred the Foreign Office, where he conducted a policy of Imperial expansion and 'Gunboat Diplomacy'.
Henry John Temple was born on 20th October 1784, on his family's Hampshire estate, Broadlands, the son of the 2nd Viscount Palmerston. He was educated at Harrow School, Edinburgh University, and St John's College, Cambridge. When his father died in 1802, he succeeded to the title of Viscount Palmerston. This peerage was an honour of Ireland, not the United Kingdom, and therefore did not prevent him from standing for the House of Commons.
Palmerston stood for Parliament twice for the University of Cambridge constituency but was defeated. In 1807, he entered Parliament as Tory MP for the pocket borough of Newport, Isle of Wight. He received a minor government position in the Admiralty and was charged with defending British naval policy in their prosecution of the current war against Napoleon. He delivered his maiden speech in defence of the Royal Navyís taking of the neutral port of Copenhagen, which he justified by implying that the French were about to seize the city, and that British interests must come first, despite the entitlements of any neutral party that became entangled in the conflict. His speech was so well received that he was asked to become Chancellor of the Exchequer, but asked instead to be appointed Secretary of War.
In 1822, the Tory Party began to fall apart. Some of the more liberal members of the party moved ground towards the Whigs, while others joined a group known as the Peelites, later known as the Conservatives. Palmerston was happy with either group. He din not mind which party or faction was in power, as long as he could serve in the government. During a career in Parliament spanning over 50 years, he served as Secretary of War, Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and, one two occasions, as stopgap Prime Minister. But Palmerston felt most at home as Foreign Secretary, a position in which he could defend British interests abroad and create what later became the British Empire.
In 1831, Palmerston intervened in Europe to stop the French from gaining control of the Netherlands. He created a new country, known as Belgium, and ensured that it remained neutral. Palmerston said that the Low Countries represented Ďa dagger poised to strike at the heart of Britainí. He meant that Holland and Belgium were perfect bases to launch an invasion of Britain, using a naval force to strike directly at London. In 1939, he involved Britain in the Opium War with China. The Chinese policy was to restrict trade with the West, not allowing imports, particularly opium, into the country. In those days opium was considered a luxury good, not a narcotic. Palmerston sent gunboats up the Yankse River blasting the towns along the banks. The Chinese were obliged to sign the Treaty on Nanking, ceding several trading posts and opening up China to British trade. In 1850, he used a naval blockade against Greece to force the Greek government to compensate a British subject whose property in Athens had been looted. In 1858, he transferred responsibility for India from the British East India Company to the Crown, beginning the process of building the British Empire.
In 1859, Palmerston reluctantly accepted the office of Prime Minister when no other statesman would accept the position. He remained in office during the critical period of the American Civil War, maintaining a policy of strict neutrality. Although he detested slavery, he tended to support the South, as Britain was dependant on imports of raw cotton for the Lancashire mills, but he refrained from offering armed assistance. He was urged by many to send an armed force from Canada to knock out the Union army and allow the South to achieve victory, but he maintained his neutral stance, in order to avoid involvement in a costly war. He maintained that he would resign as Prime Minister at the end of the American Civil War, but hesitated for a few months after hostilities ceased. He died in office on 18th October 1865 at Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
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