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Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell

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Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, Viscount Amberley of Amberley and of Ardsalla (all from 1861), (August 18, 1792 - May 28, 1878) was a Whig politician who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the mid-nineteenth century.

A younger son of the 6th Duke of Bedford, Russell entered parliament as a Whig in 1813. In 1819, Russell embraced the cause of parliamentary reform, and led the more reformist wing of the Whigs throughout the 1820s. When the Whigs came to power in 1830 in Earl Grey's government, Russell entered the government as Paymaster-General, and was soon elevated to the Cabinet. He was one of the principal leaders of the fight for the Reform Act of 1832. In 1834, when the leader of the Commons, Lord Althorp, succeeded to the peerage as Earl Spencer, Russell became the leader of the Whigs in the Commons, a position he maintained for the rest of the decade, until the Whigs fell from power in 1841. In this position, Russell continued to lead the more reformist wing of the Whig party, calling, in particular, for religious freedom, and, as Home Secretary in the late 1830s, played a large role in democratizing the government of British cities (other than London).

In 1845, as leader of the opposition, Russell came out in favor of repeal of the Corn Laws, forcing Tory Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel to follow him. When the Tories split the next year over this issue, the Whigs returned to power and Russell became Prime Minister. Russell's premiership was frustrating, and, due to party disunity and his own ineffectual leadership, he was unable to get many of the measures he was interested in passed.

Russell's first government coincided with the Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s. His ministry's adherence to its belief in a laissez faire economic policy is credited with causing what had been a crisis in Ireland to become a calamity. Russell's government also saw conflict with his headstrong Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, whose belligerence and support for continental revolution were frequently embarrassing. When, without royal approval, Palmerston recognized Napoleon III's coup of 2 December, 1851, Palmerston was forced to resign, and the ministry soon collapsed.

After a short-lived minority Tory government under the Earl of Derby, Russell brought the Whigs into a new coalition government with the Peelite Tories, led by the Peelite Lord Aberdeen. Russell served again as Leader of the House of Commons, and together with Palmerston was instrumental in getting Britain involved in the Crimean War, against the wishes of the cautious, Russophile Aberdeen. Incompetence in the early stages of the war, however, led to the collapse of the government, and Palmerston formed a new government. Although Russell was initially included, he did not get on well with his former subordinate, and temporarily retired from politics in 1855, focusing on writing.

In 1859, following another short-lived Tory government, Palmerston and Russell made up their differences, and Russell consented to serve as Foreign Secretary in a new Palmerston cabinet - usually considered the first true Liberal Cabinet. This period was a particularly eventful one in the world outside Britain - the Unification of Italy, the American Civil War, and the 1864 war over Schleswig-Holstein between Denmark and the German states. Russell's handling of these crises was not particularly noteworthy, and he was always overshadowed by his more eminent chief. In particular, his attempts to attain British mediation in the American war, which were shot down by the cautious Palmerston, did not improve his position. Russell was elevated to the peerage as Earl Russell in 1861.

When Palmerston suddenly died in late 1865, Russell again became Prime Minister. His second premiership was short and frustrating, and Russell failed in his great ambition of expanding the franchise - a task that would be left to his Tory successors, Derby and Benjamin Disraeli. In 1866, party disunity again brought down his government, and Russell went into permanent retirement.

He was succeeded as Liberal leader by former Peelite William Ewart Gladstone, and was thus the last true Whig to serve as Prime Minister.

Among Russell's descendants is the philosopher Bertrand Russell, his grandson.

Lord John Russell's First Government, July 1846 - February 1852


  • July, 1847 - Henry Labouchere[?] succeeds Lord Clarendon as President of the Board of Trade. Labouchere's successor as Chief Secretary for Ireland is not in the cabinet. T.B. Macaulay leaves the cabinet. His successor as Paymaster-General is not in the Cabinet.
  • March, 1850 - Lord Carlisle succeeds Lord Campbell as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
  • July, 1850 - Lord Truro succeeds Lord Cottenham as Lord Chancellor. Lord Seymour succeeds Lord Morpeth as First Commissioner of Woods and Forests
  • 1851 - Fox Maule, the Secretary at War[?], and Lord Granville, the Paymaster-General, enter the Cabinet
  • December, 1851 - Lord Granville succeeds Lord Palmerston as Foreign Secretary. Granville's successor as Paymaster-General is not in the Cabinet
  • February, 1852 - Fox Maule succeeds J.C. Hobhouse as Preisdent of the Board of Control. Maule's successor as Secretary at War is not in the Cabinet.

Lord Russell's Second Government, October 1865 - June 1866


  • February, 1866 - Lord Ripon succeeds Sir Charles Wood as Secretary for India. Lord Hartington succeeds Ripon as Secretary for War.

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