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George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen

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George Hamilton Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen (January 28, 1784 - December 14, 1860), Tory politician and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1852-55.

He was the eldest son of George Gordon, Lord Haddo. Born in Edinburgh on the 28th of January 1784, he lost his father in 1791 and his mother in 1795; He was brought up by Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville. He was educated at Harrow, and St John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated as a nobleman in 1804. Before this, however, he had become Earl of Aberdeen on his grandfather's death in 1801, and had travelled all over Europe. On his return to England founded the Athenian Society[?]. In 1805, he married Catherine Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of John James Hamilton, 1st Marquess of Abercorn[?]. In December he took his seat as a Tory in the House of Lords.

Following the death of his wife in 1812 he joined the Foreign Service. He was appointed ambassador extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary at Vienna, where he signed the Treaty of Toplitz[?] between Great Britain and Austria in October 1813. He was one of the British representatives at the Congress of Chatillon[?] in February 1814, and at the negotiations which led to the Treaty of Paris in the following May.

Returning home he was created a peer of the United Kingdom as Viscount Gordon of Aberdeen (1814), and made a member of the privy council. In July 1815 he married Harriet, daughter of John Douglas, and widow of James, Viscount Hamilton. During the ensuing thirteen years Aberdeen took a less prominent part in public affairs.

He served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1828) and Foreign Secretary (1829-30) under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. He resigned with Wellington over the Reform Bill of 1832. He was Secretary for the Colonies (1834-35) and then Foreign Secretary (1841-46) under Robert Peel. It was during his second stint as Foreign Secretary that he settled two disagreements with the US - the Northeast Boundary dispute by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842), and the Oregon dispute by the treaty of 1846. he also worked successfully to improve relationships with France. He again followed his leader and resigned with Peel over the issue of the Corn Laws.

After Peel's death in 1850 he became the recognized leader of the Peelites. His dislike of the Ecclesiastical Titles Assumption Bill[?], the rejection of which he failed to secure in 1851, prevented him from joining the government of Lord John Russell.

In December 1852, however, be became Prime Minister and headed a coalition ministry of Whigs and Peelites. Although united on free trade and on questions of domestic reform, his cabinet which contained Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell, was certain to differ on questions of foreign policy.

He entered the country into the Crimean War on the side of the Ottoman Empire following pressure from some of his cabinet. Palmerston, supported by Russell, favoured a more aggressive policy, and Aberdeen, unable to control Palmerston, acquiesed.

However the war proved his downfall. As reports returned detailing the mis-management of the conflict Russell resigned; and on January 29, 1855 a motion for the appointment of a select committee to enquire into the conduct of the War, was carried by a large majority. Treating this as a vote of confidence Aberdeen resigned.

He died in London on December 14 1860, and was buried in the family vault at Stanmore.

By his first wife he had one son and three daughters, all of whom predeceased their father. By his second wife, who died in August 1833, he left four sons and one daughter. His eldest son, George John James, succeeded as 5th Earl; his second son was General Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon, K.C.B.; his third son was the Reverend Douglas Hamilton-Gordon; and his youngest son Arthur Hamilton, was created Baron Stanmore in 1893.

Aberdeen was a distinguished scholar. His private life is believed to be exemplary by the standards of the day. His manner was lofty and reserved, and as a speaker he was ponderous rather than eloquent. It is said that he lacked strength and his foreign policy was essentially one of peace and non-intervention.

The 6th Earl, George (1841-1870), son of the 5th Earl, was drowned at sea, and was succeeded by his brother John Campbell Gordon, 7th earl of Aberdeen, (b. 1847), a prominent Liberal politician, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1886, Governor-General of Canada 1893--1898, and again the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman formed his ministry at the close of 1905.

Lord Aberdeen's Government, December 1852 - February 1855

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