The Conservatives and Europe 1846–59

This book examines the mid-Victorian Conservative Party's significant but overlooked role in British foreign policy and in contemporary debate about Britain's relations with Europe. It considers the Conservatives' response—in opposition and government—to the tumultuous era of Napoleon III, the Crimean War and Italian Unification. Within a clear chronological framework, the book focuses on ‘high’ politics, and offers a detailed account of the party's foreign policy in government under its longest-serving but forgotten leader, the fourteenth Earl of Derby. It attaches equal significance to domestic politics, and incorporates an analysis of Disraeli's role in internal tussles over policy, illuminating the roots of the power struggle he would later win against Derby's son in the 1870s. Overall, the book helps provide us with a fuller picture of mid-Victorian Britain's engagement with the world.

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This chapter is predominantly an analysis of high politics and the role of key individual politicians, who directed and influenced British foreign policy decisions from the period of 1846 to 1859. The chapter mainly focuses on these key politicians, their ideas and policies, and the relationships between them and deals with the mid-Victorian political world as revealed by the available evidence. The ‘politics of foreign policy’ constitutes a helpful shorthand description for three different but fundamentally interlinked aspects of diplomatic and political history: the ministerial direction of foreign policy; intra-party debate about foreign policy; and the place of foreign policy in wider political debates. Thus, this chapter examines Britain as a European power and its primary role until the late 1860s.

in Peace, war and party politics

Throughout the mid-Victorian era, foreign policy had an important part to play in Conservative strategy as it was directly or indirectly the responsibility of Palmerston, who was thrice the Foreign Secretary, then Home Secretary and later on became the Prime Minister in the period of 1846 to 1859. This chapter explains that Palmerston's foreign policy was significant due to its apparently liberal characteristics and it also provided opportunities for potential Conservative reunion. Foreign policy offered a promising road back to Conservative harmony. It is suggested that, as a result of Benjamin Disraeli's ambivalence, Palmerton's foreign policy ‘tended to find a favourable reception across the floor of the House of Commons’. The chapter also discusses how Palmerston's intervention in Greece presented the Conservatives with one of their best opportunities to attack the government.

in Peace, war and party politics

Foreign policy offered a promising road back to Conservative harmony. This chapter explains the clear strand of broadly ‘liberal’ opinion that was distinctly uneasy about Conservative principles being employed in foreign policy. It discusses the fact that economic policy was always going to be the chief policy preoccupation of any incoming Conservative ministry. A description of four significant criticisms of ‘interference’, of the problems produced by a foreign policy supposedly based on ‘liberal’ or ‘constitutional’ principles, of disruption to the European status quo, and of disregard for international law and treaties is also provided. The chapter concludes by describing that the Conservative's non-interference and a desire for good relations with other powers was easily interpreted as de facto support for the domestic status quo in foreign countries, and thus of ‘despotism’.

in Peace, war and party politics
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Foreign affairs, domestic problems

This chapter reviews the Foreign policy that gave clear precedence to certain countries in terms of foreign affairs and had domestic considerations that determined the course of diplomacy. It discusses how the Whigs would ‘encourage’ progress in foreign nations; the Conservatives would let the British example ‘diffuse’. This chapter also elaborates the difference between interference and non-interference and how in February 1852, the new Prime Minister's statement did not address the details of European affairs but focused on three purposes: to reject what the Conservatives regarded as the irresponsible elements of Whig foreign policy; to assuage fears about Protectionist extremism; and to give some sense of Conservative principles. The new Prime Minister stressed the importance of a calm, temperate, deliberate and conciliatory course of conduct while observing to all Foreign Powers whether powerful or weak.

in Peace, war and party politics
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This chapter deals with the Anglo-French relationship and the British recognition of the French Empire and with it Louis Napoleon's new title of Napoleon III. It discusses the most important foreign policy question, which was how Britain should respond to the anticipated declaration of a new French Empire. Further, it explores the memorandum, which was sent to Austria, Russia and Prussia in November 1852. It had three key points; all of them leading to rejection of the President Louis Napoleon's claim that he had a hereditary right to the imperial throne. This memorandum was laid on the principle of co-operation between the great powers. It raises a discussion on how Aberdeen's ministry was responsible for the greatest failure of nineteenth-century foreign policy.

in Peace, war and party politics
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Opposing Aberdeen, 1852–55

This chapter focuses on the years after 1852, from the formation of the Aberdeen coalition until its downfall in January 1855. It emphasizes the Conservatives' views that their successors were responsible for endangering the relationship they had nurtured with France as well as fatally mishandling relations with Russia. The onset of war, less than eighteen months after the advent of Aberdeen's coalition, illustrated practical difficulties for the Conservatives to form an administration after the fall of government in January 1855. Furthermore, it highlights that the Cabinet became the most important forum for debate on foreign affairs, because from February 1853 to 1855, four former Foreign Secretaries came and left the coalition Cabinet. This chapter not only emphasizes the concerns about the Anglo-French relationship but explores its impact on the British position in the deteriorating Near East.

in Peace, war and party politics
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Opposing Palmerston, 1855–58

This chapter discusses the sustained opposition of Palmerston's coalition and how the Conservatives preferred to support the war but criticised its conduct. It reveals two points of significance: about the perceptions of France and about the centrality of Derby. Derby had two clear targets: Palmerston's interventionism and the increased expenditure it entailed. This chapter illustrates the particular difficulties involved in opposing Palmerston's handling of international relations. Palmerstonian policy was also deplored for its potential economic consequences that gave the Conservatives' their best chance to criticise Palmerston for appeasing France, rather than the radicals providing grounds for the Conservatives and Conservative supporters of Palmerston to unite. Thus, the chapter concludes by saying that the Conservative role in Palmerston's defeat was entirely opportunistic.

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This chapter examines the politics of Conservative foreign policy after the Conservative government had survived for nine months in November 1858. It also discusses the fact that Britain was apparently vulnerable to attack, even invasion, and created widespread concern throughout 1858 and 1859. Further, it highlights Disraeli's desire to maintain Anglo-French relations as the cornerstone of British foreign policy and to use it as an electoral and political weapon. The study explains how Derby and Malmesbury in London and Cowley in Paris restored the relations with France after patient negotiations. But the major concern for the Conservative government was not France but the Neapolitan government. It concludes that the various minor differences of 1852–58 were a prelude to the more significant differences that emerged in 1859.

in Peace, war and party politics

This chapter focuses on the European crisis and the events that preceded the Austro-French war of 1859. It clearly points out that international efforts were made to resolve matters without a war. This chapter assesses the framework of ideas and preconceptions within which Conservative foreign policy was determined during the crisis i.e. the Derbyite ‘mental map’. The new policy pursued in 1859 was consistent with the policy of late 1840s. This chapter emphasizes on how Conservatives used the opportunity to preserve British interests while avoiding the kind of interference for which they had so often condemned Palmerston. It provides some evidence of the fact that at the time of Italian crisis, Cabinet members were also engaged in discussions as to how to strengthen British defensive weaknesses. It elaborates that the only new thing that happened in 1859 was French determination to encourage Italian nationalism.

in Peace, war and party politics