TEMPLE, Henry, 2nd Visct. Palmerston [I] (1739-1802), of Broadlands, nr. Romsey, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. 4 Dec. 1739, o.s. of Hon. Henry Temple by his 2nd w. Jane, da. of Sir John Barnard. educ. Clare, Camb. 1757. m. (1) 6 Oct. 1767 Frances (d. 1 June 1769), da. of Sir Francis Poole, 2nd Bt., s.p.s. (2) 5 Jan. 1783, Mary, da. of Benjamin Mee of Bath, 2s. 3da. suc. gd.-fa. as 2nd Visct. Palmerston [I] 10 June 1757.
Ld. of Trade Dec. 1765-July 1766; ld. of Admiralty Sept. 1766-Dec. 1777; ld. of Treasury. Dec. 1777-Mar. 1782.
Palmerston had no borough interest of his own: hence the variety of constituencies he represented. In the Hampshire election of 1761 he exerted himself on behalf of H. B. Legge, Bute’s bête noire. A week before Bute assumed the Treasury, a vacancy occurred at East Looe, which was under the management of John Buller, a friend of Legge. ‘We must not be affronted at first setting out’, wrote Bute to Grenville, 21 May 1762. And Legge to Newcastle: Buller ‘has been examined about the borough and has declared himself engaged to Lord Palmerston, a gentleman of my recommending approved by you, and is gone down to Looe ... to make good his engagement’. On 1 Dec. 1762 Palmerston voted with the Opposition, but during the following week was listed by Fox among the Members favourable to the peace preliminaries, for which in fact he voted. He was absent abroad from July 1763 till the end of 1764. Gibbon, who met him at Lausanne, wrote about him to his step-mother, 7 Dec. 1763: ‘He seems to have a very right notion of travelling and I fancy will make very great improvements.’ Hans Stanley, a friend and near neighbour of Palmerston, wrote to Grenville, 9 Dec. 1764: ‘Lord Palmerston will soon be in England. He was brought into Parliament by Mr. Legge but is your relation [their nearest common ancestor was of the time of Elizabeth I] and was always very moderate; he is highly worth your seeking.’ And on 15 Dec.:
Lord Palmerston has as you observe taken very little part in public business. He voted with us in the great measure of the peace when Mr. Legge, who brought him into Parliament, went away; I ... have found him of a more serious turn than is usual in young gentlemen of his age ... I have omitted nothing that I could urge with propriety and decency for his and your advantage ... I do not know so valuable an acquisition among those who have not yet distinguished themselves. I will only add that his modesty and disinterestedness are equal to his talents.1
But Palmerston did not adhere to the Grenvilles. On 29 Jan. 1765, when general warrants were debated once more, ‘Lord Palmerston’, wrote Walpole, ‘a young man of sense, and who spoke for the first time’, declared himself convinced by the arguments against them. On 4 Mar., on ex officio informations, ‘Palmerston ... spoke well’, remarked James Harris, not too favourable to Opposition speakers. On 9 May, on a motion to include the Princess Dowager among those capable of being appointed Regent, Palmerston ‘gave a strong dissent ... though he owned the situation was disagreeable. The Princess ... was excluded by a great and general line.’ In July 1765 Rockingham listed him as friendly to his Administration; and on 22 Nov. offered him a seat at the Board of Trade. Palmerston, not prepared for ‘the particular proposal’, wrote next day in a long explanatory letter:
My views since I have been in Parliament have never been directed towards the attainment of any public employment; and I have sometimes thought that a man who did not want the emoluments of a place was happier without one. This opinion however I found contrary to the love of action and that disdain of idleness and total insignificancy which is so usefully planted in us.
He had hoped for the vacant seat at the Admiralty Board whose business he ‘had always an inclination for’, but accepted Rockingham’s offer.2
On 17 Dec. he seconded the Address, in a speech described by Harris as ‘set, and delivered with tremor and incoherence’. His only other speech recorded during this session was on 5 Feb. 1766 opposing as unnecessary Dyson’s amendment to Conway’s motion on the American riots. His views on America appear, however, in notes for another speech never, it seems, delivered: he did not doubt ‘the legislative right of Great Britain over her colonies’; but ‘it does not follow that every right is to be exercised’; nor would this be just; ‘we are not either actually or virtually the representatives of the North American’; taxes in Great Britain fall on all alike; America would be taxed ‘in alleviation of the burdens of our own constituents’. He would therefore oppose ‘the exertion of this power, except in cases of necessity’; but ‘the present proposed resolution goes only to an assertion that we have the right in which I agree’.3
In the Chatham Administration, Palmerston, after an initial appointment to the Board of Trade, was promoted to the Admiralty in August 1766. Henceforth till March 1782 he ranked as a regular Government supporter, though occasionally he voted against them (e.g. on the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768, and the subscription to the 39 Articles, 7 Feb. 1772). In 1768, Buller having ‘other views in the disposal of the seat’ at East Looe, Palmerston joined Stanley at Southampton: in July 1767 he was already paying his ‘devoirs’ to his future constituents, and by 19 Sept. had ‘every security’ he could desire. But in August 1774, though assured by Stanley of a ‘quiet and easy’ re-election, he arranged with North ‘about being elected for Hastings’, a Treasury borough. Neither indolent nor indifferent, he seemed to grow increasingly averse to the rough and tumble of politics: unambitious, he followed the scene as an interested spectator rather than as an actor. In the Parliament of 1768, 17 interventions by him in debate are recorded, none of much importance; in that of 1774, a single intervention, on 8 Nov. 1776, in defence of the Admiralty Board, at which he had served ten years; 1780-4, none; and 1784-90, one only, on a technical point. His views had altered since 1764-6. On a minor point, ex officio informations, he explained the change on 27 Nov. 1770: ‘I then thought it was an innovation—I am now convinced it is the law of the land and linked and coeval with the Constitution.’4 On his attitude to America his published papers throw no light—possibly access to his own copious notes might have provided an explanation of the steady, disinterested support he gave to Government policy.
Palmerston stood by North to the very end, and left with him; voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; adhered to the Coalition, and supported Fox’s East India bill; and went into opposition to Pitt. But he wrote in his diary on the dissolution, 24 Mar. 1784: ‘From the epidemical kind of spirit that has gone about the country in favour of the King’s prerogative against the House of Commons, it is supposed it will answer so far as to produce a large majority in favour of the present ministry.’ And on 24 May he remarked on the ‘extraordinary number of new and unknown men chose on no recommendation but that of declaring themselves friends to Mr. Pitt’.5 He himself was returned for Newcastle’s pocket borough of Boroughbridge, paying £2,685 for the seat. He continued in opposition, voting against Pitt on the Irish propositions and during the Regency crisis of 1788-9.
He died 16 Apr. 1802. In 1786 Mrs. Sheridan described Palmerston as ‘a good natured poetical, stuttering viscount’.6 Sensible, temperate in his judgments, and faithful to his friends, he never rose, in spite of early promise, above the third rank of politicians; obviously no orator, and increasingly conscious of the fact. His interests were much rather literary and artistic: a member of the Dilettanti and the Literary Club, a friend of Reynolds and Garrick, an art collector and a minor poet, he rebuilt Broadlands and laid out its grounds at considerable cost and with good taste. A great traveller, he kept journals which show him as a careful and interested observer.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. B. Connell, Portrait of a Whig Peer, 29; Grenville mss (JM); Add. 32938, f. 386; 32936, f. 412; 32937, ff. 38, 225; Namier, Structure, 329-31.
- 2. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, ii. 45, 104; Grenville Pprs. ii. 32; Rockingham mss.
- 3. Ryder’s ‘Debates’, Harrowby mss; Connell, 59-61.
- 4. Connell, 114-15.
- 5. Ibid. 152, 155.
- 6. Ibid. 166.