The Political Evolution of Lord Palmerston, 1784-1830

R. E. Foster explains the young Palmerston’s progress from Tory to Liberal.

Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865), was one of the great political survivors. He was a member of the House of Commons (something which his Irish peerage entitled him to) for nearly 60 years. More remarkably still, he was a member of government for approaching half a century. In the past two centuries only Gladstone and Churchill can rival him in these respects. Unlike them, it took death to prise Palmerston from power. As he supposedly put it in typically laconic fashion, 'Die my dear doctor? That's the last thing I shall do!'

Historians have inevitably focused on Palmerston’s career after 1830, during which time he was successively Whig Foreign Secretary (1830-34, 1835-1841, 1846-1851), Home Secretary (1852-54), and Prime Minister (1854-58, 1859-1865). Yet such a record all too easily obscures the fact that Palmerston had already enjoyed a long political career before 1830. It was, moreover, a career that had been spent in the Tory party. Small wonder, then, that obituarists were unsure how to label him in party terms.

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