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Compelling but not controlling?: Palmerston and the press, 1846-1855

Brown, David (2001) Compelling but not controlling?: Palmerston and the press, 1846-1855. History, 86 (201). pp. 41-61. ISSN 0018-2648

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Abstract

The growing importance of the newspaper press in nineteenth-century politics has long been recognized by historians. It has also been acknowledged that newspapers were not only read by politicians but manipulated by them to achieve particular ends. This is, of course, nothing new in early twenty-first century Britain, but in the mid-nineteenth century the practice was less well defined. It was through the pages of the press that Lord Palmerston, foreign secretary, home secretary and ultimately prime minister, contrived to rally the support of middle England in an attempt to compensate for a lack of party and parliamentary support. This article examines in more detail than has been attempted elsewhere the methods Palmerston employed in manipulating different newspapers and their editors in the period immediately preceding his accession to the premiership in 1855. On becoming prime minister, he claimed he was 'l'inëvitable', but in so far as this con-tained any truth, it was due largely to his ability to cultivate the image of himself through the press as the nation's favourite. To some extent, then, Palmerston was the first media manipulating prime minister, and this article illustrates how and why he paid such careful attention to the press in this period.