John Russell

29/10/186526/06/1866View on timeline

John Russell

John Russell, 1st Earl Russell (18 August 1792 – 28 May 1878), known by his courtesy title Lord John Russell before 1861, was a leading Whig and Liberal politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1846–1852, and 1865–1866 during the early Victorian era.

The third son of the Duke of Bedford, Russell was educated at Westminster School and Edinburgh University, and represented various constituencies in the House of Commons including the City of London. In 1828 he took a leading role in the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts which discriminated against Protestant dissenters. In 1829 he was a leader in support of Catholic emancipation. He was a prominent leader in passing the Reform Act 1832. It was the first major reform of the representative system in two centuries, and the first step on the road to democracy and away from rule by the aristocracy and landed gentry. He favoured reduction of the property qualifications to vote but never advocated universal suffrage. He served in many high offices over the decades, including home secretary and colonial Secretary under Lord Melbourne; he was leader of the house under Lord Aberdeen; he was foreign secretary under Aberdeen and Lord Palmerston. He was outspoken on many issues, calling for the repeal of the corn laws in 1845, denouncing the revival of Catholic bishoprics in 1850, supporting Italian nationalism, and keeping the nation neutral during the American Civil War. In the 1860s he sympathized with the cause of Poland and Denmark, but took no action as prime minister. Over the years he was closely associated with Palmerston, although there were stormy times as when he helped force Palmerston out as Foreign Secretary in 1851, and in revenge Palmerston defeated his government in 1852. Russell often acted before building a consensus among his leadership team. He mishandled the reform movement during the second premiership, and left office only to watch Benjamin Disraeli carry a strong Reform Bill.

On the negative side, he headed a government that failed to deal adequately with the Irish Famine, a disaster which saw the loss of a quarter of Ireland's population. It has been said that his ministry of 1846 to 1852 was the ruin of the Whig party: it never composed a government again, and his ministry of 1865 to 1866 was very nearly the ruin of the Liberal Party also.


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Published in 10/09/2020

Updated in 19/02/2021

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