RUSSELL, Lord John

Lord John Russell

b. 18 Aug 1792, London
d. 28 May 1878, Pembroke Lodge, Richmond Park, Surrey

Ministerial offices: Paymaster General of the Forces (16 Dec 1830 - 9 Jul 1834)
Home Secretary (18 Apr 1835 - 30 Aug 1839)
Leader of the House of Commons (18 Apr 1835 - 30 Aug 1841, 30 Jun 1846 - 21 Feb 1852, 19 Dec 1852 - 30 Jan 1855)
Colonial Secretary (30 Aug 1839 - 30 Aug 1841, 23 Feb 1855 - 13 Jul 1855)
First Lord Commissioner of the Treasury (30 Jun 1846 - 21 Feb 1852, 29 Oct 1865 - 26 Jun 1866)
Foreign Secretary (28 Dec 1852 - 21 Feb 1853, 18 Jun 1859 - 29 Oct 1865)
Lord President of the Council (12 Jun 1854 - 24 Jan 1855)
Leader of the House of Lords (29 Oct 1865 - 26 Jun 1866)
Names/titles: Lord John Russell [until 1861], Viscount Amberley of Amberley, County Gloucester, and of Ardsalla, County Meath, and Earl Russell of Kingston Russell, County Dorset [from 30 Jul 1861]

The third son of the 6th Duke of Bedford, Lord John Russell was educated at the University of Edinburgh. In the age of 22, he was elected to Parliament in 1813 (MP, 1813-1817, 1818-1861). He was soon identified as a reformer and his early work included drafting and introducing the Reform Bill. By 1834 he was the recognized leader of the Liberals and served as Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons (1834-1855), Leader of the Liberal Party (1845-1855), and Leader of the Liberal Party in the Lords (1865-1868).

In December 1845 Russell was invited to form a government after the resignation of Sir Robert Peel (5 Dec 1845), but could not obtain sufficient support for this task. He supported Peel's repeal of the Corn Laws and when in 1846 Peel was finally defeated, Russell was appointed First Lord of the Treasury (30 Jun 1846) and formed his government with the support of the Peelites. The 1847 General Election strengthened his position but he continued to lack an overall majority. His problems included the famine in Ireland, resulting in the deaths of around one million Irish in 1846-1847. Russell achieved some improvements to the Poor Law, better pay for teachers (Education Act, 1847) and the granting of representative government for New South Wales (Australian Colonies Act, 1850). In 1851 the Russell administration passed the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, which rendered illegal the assumption of titles by Roman Catholic priests in England. Russell resigned his office on 22 Feb 1851 after his government was defeated on new Reform measures, but Lord Stanley found it impossible to form a new administration and Russell resumed office on 3 Mar 1851. Continuous friction with Lord Palmerston, the Foreign Secretary, who sometimes acted independently from the Government, led to his dismissal in December 1851, but in two months he helped bring down Russell's administration by defeating the Government on the Militia Bill. Russell resigned on 21 Feb 1852 and later held the offices of Foreign Secretary (1852-1853) and Colonial Secretary (1855).

On Palmerston's death, Russell was again appointed (29 Oct 1865) First Lord of the Treasury and head of the new administration with William Gladstone as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Russell immediately sought to introduce a further Reform Bill to extend the franchise, but it was defeated by the combined forces of Conservatives and Whigs. After eight months in office Russell tendered his resignation (26 Jun 1866). Biography source: [1, pp. 155-161]

[1] Englefield, Dermot; Seaton, Janet; White, Isobel (eds.) Facts About the British Prime Ministers: A Compilation of Biographical and Historical Information. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1995. online
Image: photograph of Earl Russell, c. 1865.