During the period of 1815 and 1840 there were five main principles of British Foreign Policy: To maintain Britain’s naval supremacy, to further her trading interests, to maintain the balance of power in Europe, to oppose all regimes that supported the slave trade and to give support to liberal regimes. Throughout this period, Britain saw three influential foreign secretaries. These were: Viscount Castlereagh (1821-22,) George Canning (1822-27) and Lord Palmerston (1830-34, 1834-41. ) Each had their own views on what role Britain should play in Europe.
Some were more successful than others; however, it is through their individual successes and failures that we can form a generalization of how successfully British Foreign Policy was pursued during this time. During this period Britain aimed to keep command of the seas and to prevent any power from challenging her supremacy. As a result of this, Britain managed to gain strategic colonial possessions. This status was extremely vital to Britain; she could use it to maintain her status and, on occasion, to bully other smaller, less powerful states.
For example, when Lord Palmerston sent in the British Navy in 1850 to blockade the Greek coast and to seize merchant ships after the Don Pacifico affair. In a less creditable venture, a British fleet was sent in with a Russian Fleet in 1827 to defeat a Turkish/Egyptian fleet when the Turkish would not cooperate with the terms of the Treaty of London. Although Britain wished to maintain her navel supremacy, she did not wish to be excessively powerful. Castlereagh in particular thought that a balance of power in Europe was the best solution to maintain peace.
Once could argue, this was easy for Britain to say as she already had a flourishing colonial empire. There are many instances in which this particular area of foreign policy came in to play. One example was at the Congress of Vienna (1814-15): Castlereagh met with the representatives of the five Great Powers to conclude peace after nearly twenty-five years of war and social upheaval. Thus making it a successful move for British Foreign Policy as it was aimed to prevent further European wars which could alter the balance of power.
At this congress Castlereagh also made another strategic, successful move; he signed a treaty in 1815 with Austria and France. This secret treaty was aimed to prevent Russia and Prussia from gaining too much territory to the detriment of Poland and Saxony. Castlereagh must be congratulated on this treaty as it managed to roughly maintain the balance of power in Europe up until the First World War, thus making it a very successful move for British Foreign Policy.
Castlereagh also proved to be the driving force behind the Article VI of the Second Treaty of Paris (1815), which created the Quadruple Alliance between Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria. This treaty suggested that the great powers meet from time to time to discuss current matters. Probably the most significant part of this particular success, despite further securing the balance of power, is that fact that its creation, along with other agreements at the time, laid the basis of the establishment of the Congress System which operated between 1815 and 1823.
Regular meetings between the great powers meant that most tension would be soothed and no dissatisfaction would be left to fester. Meanwhile it also ensured relatively good relations between the great powers. British Naval supremacy was also essential to the progression of British trade. Britain made a number of strategic maneuvers to open up new trading opportunities. For example, Britain aided the Greeks in their revolt against Turkey. She also gave recognition to Latin American republics which declared independence from Spain.
Another example would be when Palmerston negotiated a free trade convention with the Turkish Empire. Outside Europe, Castlereagh was still mostly successful. After the wars between Britain and the USA, Castlereagh strove to improve relations between the two countries. He managed to prevent the break down of the relationship in 1818 when General Jackson invaded Spanish Florida and executed two British subjects accused of organizing Indian raids in the US. By maintaining a good relationship with the USA, Castlereagh managed to sustain trading opportunities and generally lessen tension that could lead to future conflict.
Britain even went to the extreme of declaring war in the name of maintaining British trade interests. In 1839 Britain began a war with China when the Chinese tried to prevent the trading of Opium to China. It could be argued, however, that Britain’s retaliation to this was only to extreme as at the time she was the most successful drug dealing power, therefore, the prevention of the trading of opium to China could have had a considerable influence. China was defeated and therefore Britain was able to trade Opium freely again. Although a slightly extreme measure, British foreign policy was again maintained successfully.
However, the solution to such problems was not always so easily found. Canning was faced with the problem of a revolution in Spain. At the Congress of Verona in 1822 all the great powers agued about who should restore legitimacy. Eventually the French made an aggressive attack and easily overcame the rebels. Finally, the French restored the former King Ferdinand VII with brutish force. Canning’s inability to prevent this invasion shows a great failure in the pursuit of British Foreign Policy. As a result, in 1823 Canning negotiated the Polignac Memorandum.
This was an agreement signed by Britain and France in 1823, whereby France agreed not to intervene in British attempts to reach trading agreements with Spain’s former colonies. Its creation aimed to warn France off the idea of taking advantage of Spain’s difficult position at this time by attempting to intervene in its colonial affairs. Thus, maintaining British trading opportunities successfully. Another of Britain foreign policies of this time was to give limited support to liberal regimes as long as it was not to their commercial detriment.
An example of this was in 1820. Portugal was in a state of revolution. King John VI was forced to accept a liberal constitution as a result. This made the situation difficult for the current foreign secretary Canning. It was one of Britain’s central policies to support liberal regimes; however, Canning sympathized with the monarchy. Again, there was the threat of French intervention. In 1823, the Royal Navy were sent to monitor the situation. However, all counter-revolutionary activity was ceased and liberalism continued to flourish.
Again, a success for British Foreign Policy. Although it may have not been a suitable foreign policy in all cases in some cases it was even in British interest. For example, it was strongly in the interests of Britain to ensure the Turkish empire remain strong, particularly as the collapse of the Turkish empire would be of great benefit to Russia, causing a threat to the balance of power in Europe. A particular concern was that the Greeks might rise up against the Turks and claim their nationalist rights. At home, there was very strong British support for the Greeks.
This posed a great problem for canning; after all, he had to maintain popularity within his own people. If he took a step back and allowed Russian intervention, Russia would expand her influence, causing a fundamental imbalance. The situation intensified further when the Tsar insisted on intervention with, or without international support. However, an agreement was signed by Britain and Russia which offered mediation with the Turks on the condition that the Greeks retained some form of self-government. This was codified in the Treaty of London in July 1827.
Unfortunately, the Turks did not cooperate and a British/Russian fleet was sent to destroy the Turkish/Egyptian fleet in October 1827. The fact that the Great Powers had to result to conflict shows bad negotiations and badly carried out foreign policies. Although this does seem to be one of the only obvious examples of badly carried out foreign policy. Another, less selfish Foreign policy was that to oppose the slave trade and all states that supported it. At the time some of the major powers were still using the slave trade.
This caused problems. For example when Britain implemented an African naval squadron which reserved the right to ‘visit and search’ ships and free any slaves on board. This caused friction with European countries who still engaged in the slave trade. However, it is because of Britain’s efforts the carry out this particular policy that the slave trade began to disappear from European countries. Overall, the majority of British Foreign Policy was pursued successfully making Britain prosperous and maintaining good relationships with other countries.