Were the principal objectives of British foreign policy between 1830-1880

In order to evaluate the motives and methods of British foreign policy within the period stated, it is necessary to determine what constituted British Foreign Policy. Whilst considering closely the various events that shaped British foreign policy in the early and mid parts of the nineteenth century, it is also important to relate them to and to see them in the context of reform.

Britain saw a dramatic series of reforms in domestic and political spheres, these changes had an effect on government policy and most notably in foreign policy, as Jane Sampson (2001 p. 21) astutely observes:

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“It should also be remembered that the 1840’s were a period of particular tension at home, with the Chartist troubles rising to their height and that was one of Aberdeen’s most important functions; to keep foreign affairs tranquil while Peel undertook important reforms at home.”

Foreign policy as the term denotes on should deal with only that: foreign matters and policies concerning them. The influence, then of domestic affairs, in the sense of affecting foreign policy should not happen.

British Foreign policy when viewed in simple terms can be divided into various sections and considered to be the principle defining objectives of the early to mid nineteenth century.

Politics – who was in power beginning of nineteenth century and how their political standing affected the foreign policy.

Firstly the maintenance of peace in Europe was deemed essential on many levels. It protected the newly founded principles of free trade (replacing the traditional mercantilist system). The repealing of the Corn Laws marked an end to protectionist policies and was seen as a major stepping stone in turning Britain into a free trading nation.

In economic terms, peace when perpetuated reduced the unnecessary level of expenditure that a war would provoke, the consequent shifts of power within a frequently closer world, and loss of financially advantageous trade links. In this sense the overriding desire to maintain peace was almost entirely established by economic prerequisites. The main importance for preserving peace within Europe was that a great power such as Britain could not afford to be isolated and ‘go it alone’ confidently or sensibly. As Chamberlain writes: “its security and influence depended to a significant extent on its relations with the other great powers, on where it would find itself within Europe.” M.E. Chamberlain

Britain found herself one of five great powers; France, Austria, Russia and Prussia, of all the powers mentioned the one who gave greatest cause for concern was undoubtedly France. A policy of cautious containment of France was thought to be necessary and was perpetuated by Aberdeen in particular. More about France

Further discussions by Chamberlain highlight the importance of the Vienna settlement in terms of promoting peace:

“What all British statesman from Pitt onwards sought was stability in Europe. The Vienna settlement approximated closely enough to British views of what the peace settlement should be.” Chamberlain, M.E. (1980) British Foreign Policy in the Age of Palmerston

The Vienna settlement aimed to; reduce the size of France to its frontiers before the Revolution; ensure that France could never again pose a threat to the rest of Europe, especially the east; reward those countries that had been ‘anti Napoleon’ and punish those that had been ‘pro napoleon’. It terms of promoting peace

The degree to which economic concerns influenced British foreign policy, was to a certain extent inhibited or restricted by the form and nature of government. The economic structure of the country was stable, the economy blooming with rapid velocity, the cause of this boom, the industrial revolution had created the need for continuation of the following principles of foreign diplomacy and policy in order for Britain to survive:

“Industrialisation meant dangers as well as opportunities. Britain could no longer feed her own people. She was dependent on international trade both for food and for the raw materials necessary to keep her industry going: any interference with trade was an immediate and serious threat.” M.E. Chamberlain