The Revolutionary Challenge
As the Whigs fell from power, Palmerston’s standing in the public eye began to rise. His espousal of Belgium independence and his willingness to speak out against arbitrary rule in Spain and Portugal won him liberal allies. Of course, his support for constitutional causes had to be reconciled with British interests and the maintenance of the balance of power. Palmerston’s liberal credentials were based on his foreign policy initiatives, and he only favoured domestic reforms as long as they did not threaten his personal aristocratic order. His support for the cautions terms of the 1832 Reform Act, for example, guaranteed that the electoral system was still dominated by the social elite. Nevertheless, his guarded advocacy of political and economic reforms helped him to steal the Chartists’ thunder at the hustings. However, as the 1840s proceeded, the question arose as whether such liberal gestures would be enough to satisfy the demands made by the 1848 revolutionaries. Liberal and nationalist stirrings in Italy, Prussia, Hungary and Poland, and their challenge to the 1815 settlement, tested the limits of Palmerston’s outreach to liberalism. Given his disinclination to consider abstract questions, it is unlikely that he would rush to support liberal causes without considering their impact on Europe’s stability.
KeywordsForeign Policy Austrian Emperor British Government Constitutional Reform Chinese Foreign Policy
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