British Prime Ministers: Lord Palmerston

A.J.P. Taylor on one of those surprising outsiders with a touch of mischief – in this case a man whose political career spanned nearly sixty years.

Among the surprising careers of British Prime Ministers, none has contained more surprises than that of Lord Palmerston. For twenty years junior minister in a Tory government, he became the most successful of Whig Foreign Secretaries; though always a Conservative, he ended his life by presiding over the transition from Whiggism to Liberalism. He was the exponent of British strength, yet was driven from office for truckling to a foreign despot; he preached the Balance of Power, yet helped to inaugurate the policy of isolation and of British withdrawal from Europe. Irresponsible and flippant, he became the first hero of the serious middle-class electorate. He reached high office solely through an irregular family connection; he retained it through skilful use of the press – the only Prime Minister to become an accomplished leader-writer.

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