Palmerston (February 27, 1855)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 27 February 1855


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First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 105, March 3, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.49-52), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung

This article was first published in English in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Britain, Moscow, 1953 under the title "Palmerston and the English Oligarchy". The title was provided by the editors.

London, February 27. The outcry against the aristocracy has been answered ironically by Palmerston with a ministry of ten lords and four baronets ten—lords, moreover, of whom eight sit in the House of Lords. He has met the dissatisfaction occasioned by the compromise between the various factions of the oligarchy with a compromise between various families within the Whig group. For the Grey clan, the ducal Sutherland family and, finally, the Clarendon family have received indemnification in his ministry. Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary, is a cousin of Earl Grey, whose brother-in-law is Sir Charles Wood, First Lord of the Admiralty. Earl Granville and the Duke of Argyll represent the Sutherland family. Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Chancellor of the Exchequer, is a brother-in-law of the Earl of Clarendon, the Foreign Secretary. India alone has been allotted to a man without a title, Vernon Smith; but at any rate he married into one of the Whig families. "A kingdom for a horse!" shouted Richard III[1]. "A horse for a kingdom!" shouts Palmerston, aping Caligula, and makes Vernon Smith Grand Mogul of India.[2]

"Lord Palmerston has given us not only the most aristocratic Administration of which we have any example in the history of the country", complains The Morning Advertiser, "but he has constructed his Government of the very worst aristocratic materials he could have selected."

The worthy Advertiser, however, finds comfort in the fact that

"Palmerston is not a free agent. [...] He is still in fetters and bonds".[3]

As we predicted[4], Lord Palmerston has formed a cabinet of ciphers, he himself being the only figure in it. Lord John Russell, who in 1851 had tumbled him undiplomatically out of the Whig cabinet, has been sent by him diplomatically on a journey[5]. Palmerston has made use of the Peelites to enter upon Aberdeen's heritage. As soon as he was sure of the premiership he dropped the Aberdeenites[6] and filched from Russell, as Disraeli says, not only the clothes of the Whigs but the Whigs themselves[7]. Despite the great similarity, almost identity, of the present government and Russell's Whig administration of 1846-1852, nothing could be more erroneous than to confuse them. This time we have not a cabinet at all but Lord Palmerston in lieu of a cabinet. Although its members are largely the same as before, the posts have been distributed among them in such a way, its following in the House of Commons is so different and it is making its appearance under such completely changed circumstances that whereas before it was a weak Whig ministry it is now the strong dictatorship of a single man, provided Palmerston is not a spurious Pitt, Bonaparte not a spurious Napoleon, and Lord John Russell continues to travel. Though the English bourgeois has been annoyed by the unexpected turn of events he is at present amused by the unconscionable adroitness with which Palmerston has duped and cheated both friend and foe. Palmerston, says the merchant of the City, has once more proved himself "clever"[8]. But "clever" is an untranslatable qualification, full of ambiguity and rich in connotations. It comprises all the attributes of a man who knows how to blow his own trumpet, and understands what profits him and what brings harm to others. Virtuous and respectable as the English bourgeois is, he nevertheless admires most the man who is "clever", who does not bother about morals, who is not disconcerted by respect, who regards principles as snares in which to catch his fellows. If Palmerston is so "clever" will he not outwit the Russians just as he outwitted Russell? Thus speaks the politician of the English upper middle-class.

As for the Tories, they believe the good old times are back again, the evil coalition spell has been broken and the traditional Whig and Tory governmental seesaw has been restored. A real change, not confined to mere passive dissolution, could in fact only come about under a Tory government. Only when the Tories are at the helm is tremendous pressure from without[9] exerted and the inevitable transformations are put into effect. For example, the emancipation of the Catholics during Wellington's ministry; the repeal of the Corn Laws[10] during Peel's ministry; and the same was true if not of the Reform Bill then at least of the reform agitation, which was more important than its result.[11]

When the English asked a Dutchman to come specially across the sea to become their King[12] it was for the purpose of ushering in with the new dynasty a new epoch—the epoch of the association of the landed aristocracy with the financial aristocracy. Ever since then we find privilege bestowed by blood and privilege bestowed by gold in constitutional equilibrium. Blood, for instance, decides in the case of certain army posts, whose incumbents hold them by virtue of family connections, nepotism or favouritism; but gold gets its due since all army commissions can be bought and sold for cash. It has been calculated that the officers now serving in the various regiments have invested an amount of £6 million in their posts. In order not to forfeit the rights they have acquired during their service and not to be ousted from their jobs by some young money-bags, the poorer officers borrow money to secure their advancement and thus become encumbered with mortgages.

In the church as in the army, family connections and ready cash are the two factors that count. While part of the ecclesiastical offices is allotted to the younger sons of the aristocracy, the other part belongs to the highest bidder. Trade in the "souls" of the English people—in so far as they belong to the Established Church—is no less usual than the slave trade in Virginia. In this trade there exist not only buyers and sellers but also brokers. One such "clerical" broker, named Simpson, appeared yesterday before the Court of Queen's Bench[13][14] to demand the fee due to him from a certain Lamb, who, he claimed, had contracted to procure him the right to have the rector Josiah Rodwell presented for the West-Hackney parish benefice. Simpson had stipulated 5 per cent from both buyer and seller, besides some minor charges. Lamb, he said, had not fulfilled his obligations. The circumstances were as follows: Lamb is the son of a seventy-year-old rector holding two benefices in Sussex whose market price is estimated at £16,000. The price is naturally in direct proportion to the income from the parish and in inverse proportion to the age of the incumbent. Lamb junior is the patron of the livings held by Lamb senior and is also the brother of a still younger Lamb, the owner of the living and rector of West-Hackney. Since West-Hackney's rector is still very young, the market price of the next presentation to his sinecure is relatively low. Though it provides an annual income of £550 as well as a rectory, its owner has agreed to sell the right to the next appointment for only £1,000. His brother has promised him the Sussex parishes upon the death of their father, but wants to sell his thus vacated living in West-Hackney through Simpson to Josiah Rodwell for £3,000, thus pocketing a net profit of £2,000, and his brother obtaining a better benefice. The broker would have received a commission of 5 per cent., i.e., £300. It did not transpire why the deal did not go through. The court awarded the broker Simpson £50 in compensation "for work done".

  1. Shakespeare, Richard III, Act V, Scene 4.—Ed.
  2. The Roman Emperor Caligula (A.D. 12-41) bestowed the consulship on his favourite horse.

    The Grand Moguls was the name given by Europeans to the rulers of an empire founded in Northern India in 1526 by Turkic conquerors then considered to be descendants of Genghis Khan's Mongolian warriors (hence the name "Moguls"). Although the empire fell into decline in the eighteenth century and came under British domination, its rulers retained nominal sovereignty until 1858.
  3. "The Ministry of Titles", The Morning Advertiser, No. 19872, February 28, 1855.—Ed.
  4. See On the New Ministerial Crisis (1855) —Ed.
  5. This refers to Russell's appointment as Britain's representative at the Vienna Conference, which was to open in March 1855.
    The Vienna Conference was to work out the terms for peace between the participants in the Crimean War. It was attended by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Turkey and lasted, with intervals, from March 15 to June 4, 1855. The negotiations centred on the Four Points (*). While agreeing, with certain reservations, to Points 1, 2 and 4, Russia emphatically rejected Point 3 which, as interpreted by the Western Powers, called for a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Britain and France insisted on its acceptance and turned down Austria's compromise proposal that Russia and Turkey should be allowed to agree between themselves on the size of their naval forces in the Black Sea. The Conference ended without adopting any decisions. (*) The Four Points—demands made by the Western Powers on Russia as preliminary conditions for peace talks in their Note of August 8, 1854. Russia was required to renounce her protectorate over Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia, which was to be replaced by an all-European guarantee; to grant freedom of navigation on the Danube; to agree to a revision of the London Convention of 1841 on the closure of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles to the warships of all nations in peacetime, and to renounce its protection of Christians in Turkey. The Tsarist government at first rejected the Four Points but in November 1854 was forced to accept them as the basis for future peace talks. The Four Points were discussed at the Vienna conferences of Ambassadors (see Note 34) but the attempts of the Western Powers to link the question of the Straits with demands for 'a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea caused the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, A. M. Gorchakov, to walk out of the talks.
  6. Graham, Gladstone and Herbert.—Ed.
  7. Disraeli's speech in the House of Commons on February 28, 1845. Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, third series, Vol. LXXVIII, London, 1845.—Ed.
  8. Marx uses the English word.—Ed.
  9. Marx uses the English words "pressure from without" and gives the German translation.—Ed.
  10. The Corn Laws, the first of which were passed as early as the fifteenth century, imposed high import duties on agricultural products in order to maintain high prices for these products on the domestic market. The Corn Laws served the interests of the big landowners. The struggle between the industrial bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy over the Corn Laws ended in their repeal in June 1846.
  11. Emancipation of the Catholics—in 1829 the British Parliament, under pressure of a mass movement in Ireland, lifted some of the restrictions curtailing the political rights of the Catholic population. Catholics were granted the right to be elected to Parliament and hold certain government posts. Simultaneously the property qualification for electors was increased fivefold. With the aid of this manoeuvre the British ruling classes hoped to win over to their side the upper crust of the Irish bourgeoisie and Catholic landowners and thus split the Irish national movement.

    The mass movement for Parliamentary reform in Britain (see Note. 45↓) developed in the late 1820s and early 1830s during Wellington's Tory Ministry. The reform was carried out by Grey's Whig Government (November 1830 to July 1834). The Reform Bill, passed by the British House of Commons in 1831 and finally approved by the House of Lords in June 1832. It gave the vote to owners and tenants of houses rated at £ 10 or over. The working class and the petty bourgeoisie—the main force in the struggle for reform—were denied suffrage.
  12. William of Orange.—Ed.
  13. "Court of Queen's Bench. Guildhall, Feb. 26", The Times, No. 21988, February 27, 1855. Marx gives the name of the court in English.—Ed.
  14. Court of Queen's (King's) Bench—Britain's oldest judicial institution. In the nineteenth century (up to 1873) it was an independent high court for criminal and civil cases and also supervised the lower courts. Subsequently its competence was limited to civil disputes.