Russell, John Russell, 1st Earl
RUSSELL, JOHN RUSSELL, 1ST EARL (1792-1878), British statesman, third son of the 6th duke of Bedford, by Georgiana Elizabeth Byng, second daughter of the 4th yiscount Torrington, was born in London on the 18th of August 1792. He was sent to a private school at Sunbury in 1800, and from 1803 to 1804 he was at Westminster School, but was then withdrawn on account of his delicate health. From 1805 to 1808 he was with a private tutor at Woodnesborough, near Sandwich. After travelling in Scotland and in Spain, he studied from the autumn of 1809 to 1812 at the university of Edinburgh, then the academic centre of Liberalism, and dwelt in the house of Professor John Playfair. On leaving the university, he travelled in Portugal and Spain, but on the 4th of May 1813 he was returned for the ducal borough of Tavistock and thereupon came back to England.
In foreign politics Lord John Russell's oratorical talents were especially shown in his struggles to prevent the union of Norway and Sweden. In domestic questions he cast in his lot with those who opposed the repressive measures of 1817, and protested that the causes of the discontent at home should be removed by remedial legislation. When failure attended all his efforts he resigned his seat for Tavistock in March 1817, and meditated permanent withdrawal from public life, but was dissuaded from this step by the arguments of his friends, and especially by a poetic appeal from his friend Tom Moore. In the parliament of 1818-20 he again represented the family borough in Devon, and in May 1819 began his long advocacy of parliamentary reform by moving for an inquiry into the corruption which prevailed, in the Cornish constituency of Grampound. During the first parliament (1820-26) of George IV. he sat for the county of Huntingdon, and secured in 1821 the disfranchisement of Grampound, but the seats were not transferred to the constituency which he desired. Lord John Russell paid the penalty for his advocacy of Catholic emancipation with the loss in 1826 of his seat for Huntingdon county, but he found a shelter in the Irish borough of Bandon Bridge. He led the attack against the Test Acts by carrying in February 1828 with a majority of forty-four a motion for a committee to inquire into their operations, and after this decisive victory they were repealed (gth of May 1828). He warmly supported the Wellington ministry when it realized that the king's government could only be carried on by the passing of a Catholic Relief Act (April 1829). For the greater part of the shortlived parliament of 1830-31 he served his old constituency of Tavistock, having been beaten in a contest for Bedford county at the general election by one vote; and when Lord Grey's Reform ministry was formed, in November 1830, Lord John Russell accepted the office of paymaster-general without a seat in the cabinet. This exclusion was the more remarkable in that he was chosen (ist of March 1831) to explain the provisions of the Reform Bill, to which the cabinet had given its formal sanction. The Whig ministry was soon defeated, but an appeal to the country increased the number of their adherents, and Lord John Russell was returned by the freeholders of Devon. After many a period of doubt and defeat, " the bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill " passed into law (yth of June 1832), and Lord John stood forth in the mind of the people as its champion. After the passing of the Reform Bill he sat for the S. division of Devon, and continued to retain the place of paymaster-general in the ministries of Lord Grey and Lord Melbourne. The former of these cabinets was broken up by the withdrawal of Mr Stanley, afterwards Lord Derby.
Lord John Russell had visited Ireland in the autumn of 1833 and had come back with a keen conviction of the necessity for readjusting the revenues of the Irish church. To these views he gave expression in a debate on the Irish Tithe Bill (May 1834), whereupon Stanley, with the remark that " Johnny has upset the coach," resigned his place. The latter was abruptly, if not rudely, dismissed by William IV. when the death of Lord Spencer promoted the leader of the House of Commons, Lord Althorp, to the peerage, and Lord John Russell was proposed as the spokesman of the ministry in the Commons (Nov. 1834). At the general election which ensued the Tories received a considerable accession of strength, but not sufficient to ensure their continuance in office, and the adoption by the House of Commons of the proposition, that the surplus funds of the Irish church should be applied to general education, necessitated the resignation of Sir Robert Peel's ministry (April 1835). In Lord Melbourne's new administration Lord John Russell became home secretary and leader of the House of Commons, but on his seeking a renewal of confidence from the electors of South Devon, he was defeated and driven to Stroud. The Whig ministry succeeded in passing a Municipal Reform Bill (7th of Sept. 1835), and a settlement of the tithe question in England and Ireland (1836). In May 1839, on an adverse motion concerning the administration of Jamaica, the ministry was left with a majority of five only, and promptly resigned. Sir Robert Peel's attempt to form a ministry was, however, frustrated by the refusal of the queen to dismiss the ladies of the bedchamber, and the Whigs resumed their places with Lord John Russell as secretary of state for the colonies. Their prospects brightened when Sir John Yarde Buller's motion of " no confidence " at the opening of the session of 1840 was defeated by twenty-one, but a similar vote was some months later carried by a majority of one, whereupon the Whig leader announced a dissolution of parliament (June 1841). At the polling-booth his friends sustained a crushing defeat; the return of Lord John Russell for the City of London was almost their solitary triumph.
On Sir Robert Peel's resignation (1846) the task of forming an administration was entrusted to Lord John Russell, and he remained at the head of affairs from July 1846 to Feb. 1852, but his tenure of office was not marked by any great legislative enactments. His celebrated Durham letter (4th of Nov. 1850) on the threatened assumption of ecclesiastical titles by the Roman Catholic bishops weakened the attachment of the " Peelites " and alienated his Irish supporters. The impotence of their opponents, rather than the strength of their friends, kept the Whig ministry in power, and, although beaten by a majority of nearly two to one on Mr Locke King's County Franchise Bill in February 1851, it could not divest itself of office. Lord Palmerston's unauthorized recognition of the French coup d'etat was followed by his dismissal from the post of foreign secretary (Dec. 1851), but he had his revenge in the ejectment of his old colleagues in February 1852. During Lord Aberdeen's administration Lord John Russell led the Lower House, at first as foreign secretary (to the 21st of February 1853), then without portfolio, and lastly as president of the council (June 1854). In 1854 he brought in a Reform Bill, but in consequence of the war with Russia the bill was allowed to drop. His popularity was diminished by this failure, and although he resigned in January 1855, on Mr Roebuck's motion for an inquiry into the conduct of the war in the Crimea, he did not regain his old position in the country. At the Vienna conference (1855) Lord John Russell was England's representative, and immediately on his return he became secretary of the colonies (May 1855), but the errors in his negotiations at the Austrian capital followed him and forced him to retire in July of the same year.
For some years after this he was the " stormy petrel " of politics. He was the chief instrument in defeating Lord Palmerston in 1857. He led the attack on the Tory Reform Bill of 1859. A reconciliation was then effected between the rival Whig leaders, and Lord John Russell consented to become foreign secretary in Lord Palmerston's ministry (1860) and to accept an earldom (July 1861). During the American War Earl Russell's sympathies with the North restrained his country from taking sides in the contest, and he warmly sympathized with the efforts for the unification of Italy, but he was not equally successful in preventing the spoliation of Denmark. On Lord Palmerston's death (October 1865) Earl Russell was once more summoned to form a cabinet, but the defeat of his ministry in the following June on the Reform Bill which they had introduced was followed by his retirement from public life. His leisure hours were spent after this event in the preparation of numberless letters and speeches, and in the composition of his Recollections and Suggestions (1875), but everything he wrote was marked by the belief that all philosophy, political or social, was summed up in the Whig creed of fifty years previously. Earl Russell died at Pembroke Lodge, Richmond Park, 28th May 1878.
Earl Russell was twice married first in 1835, to Adelaide, daughter of Mr Thomas Lister, and widow of Thomas, second Lord Ribblesdale, and secondly, in 1841, to Lady Frances Ann Maria, daughter of Gilbert, second earl of Minto. By the former he had two daughters, by the latter three sons and one daughter. His eldest son, Lord Amberley, who married a daughter of the second Baron Stanley of Alderley, predeceased him on the 9th of January 1876, and their eldest son (b. 1865) succeeded as second Earl Russell.
Lord Russell played some part as an author. His tales, tragedies and essays (including The Nun of Arrouca, 1822, and Essays and Sketches by a Gentleman who has left his Lodgings, 1820) are forgotten, but his historical works, Life of William Lord Russell (1819), Memoirs of the Affairs of Europe (1824-29, 2 vols.), Correspondence of John, 4th Duke of Bedford (1842-46, 3 vols.), Memorials and Correspondence of C. J. Fox (1853-57, 4 vols.) and Life and Times of C. J. Fox (1859-66,3 vols.) are amongthe chief authorities on Whig politics. He also edited the Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore (1853-56, vols.).
The chief biography is that by Sir Spencer Wai pole (1891, 2 vols.). The volume by Stuart J. Reid (1895, " Prime Ministers of Queen Victoria" Series) should also be consulted. (W. P. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)