About 175 years ago, a political figure emerged in Great Britain who, in
many ways, could be uncannily compared to Donald Trump.
When it comes to earlier British political leaders, most Americans only
know a few names such as Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone and
Winston Churchill. A few more know the names of William Pitt and
Lloyd George. But there were many more distinguished leaders largely
unknown on this side of the Pond, including reformer and friend of
Abraham Lincoln, John Bright. (Bright did not become prime minister,
but had a huge impact on the mid-19th century United Kingdom.)
There was also an enormously significant leader who served for many
years as foreign minister and prime minister , and who had much to do
with Great Britain becoming the world power after the defeat of
His name was Henry John Temple, the 3rd Viscount of Palmerston,
but he is remembered in history simply as Lord Palmerston. He lived
from 1784 to 1865. His public life lasted from 1807 until he died, and
from the 1830s on he was the principal foreign policy influence on his
His policy might be summed up as "make Britain great again!”
Partly as a result of his leadership, his small island nation became the
most significant sea power in the world, and its colonial empire the
largest in the world.
He was not universally popular, and had many political critics and
enemies. Although born into the British aristocracy, he disrupted the
British establishment of his time, and was not even a favorite of
Queen Victoria, the British monarch virtually all of the time he was
Although much of his foreign policy seemed belligerent and
controversial, he masterfully controlled British public opinion by
stimulating British nationalism.
He attended the University of Edinburgh (the Wharton School of
that time) where he studied under influential Scottish economist
Dugald Stewart, who wrote and lectured about Adam Smith (the
Milton Friedman of that time).
His characteristic strategies were brinkmanship and bluff, and he
frequently threatened war to achieve his ends. He was often
Unlike John Bright, he did not support the North in the U.S. Civil
War, but Britain did not recognize the Confederacy in spite of
there being so many British sympathizers with the South.
The era which followed his death produced two great prime
ministers, Gladstone (who Palmerston brought into politics) and
Disraeli, the leader of the opposition party. A peak in the power
and dimensions of the British empire was realized after
Palmerston left the political stage, but he had been significantly
responsible for its rise.
Perhaps what Lord Palmerston is most remembered for today is
not his foreign policy (nor for his octogenarian philandering,) but
for his masterful management of the British media --- which in
those days meant the newspapers. Although most Victorian
prime ministers seemed to ignore the press, Palmerston was the
first to recognize the value of the press in influencing public
Possibly it is the latter trait which most closely compares Lord
Palmerston to Donald Trump, the modern U.S. political master
manipulator of the media --- although, in Trump’s case (and in
contrast to Palmerston), most of the media are against him.
At about the same time, but slightly later, the first U.S.. president
to effectively use the media, Abraham Lincoln, appeared, but he
also took advantage of the then new invention of the telegraph, as
later, Franklin Roosevelt used the then new invention of radio, and
John Kennedy used television. Donald Trump, of course, uses the
internet and Twitter.
But it was an anti-establishment British aristocrat, Lord
Palmerston, who almost 200 years ago first disrupted public
opinion with controversy and bold headlines.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.