George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen


George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen (1784-1860), prime minister of Britain during much of the Crimean War. He was born George Hamilton Gordon at Edinburgh, Scotland, on Jan. 28, 1784. His father died when he was seven, and his mother died four years later; his guardians were William Pitt and Lord Melville. He succeeded to the Scottish earldom of Aberdeen on the death of his grandfather in 1801. Before his graduation from St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1804, travels on the Continent and in Greece had furthered his classical leanings and made him an ardent Hellenist. Between 1806 and 1812 he was three times elected a Scottish representative peer in the House of Lords.

George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen

George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen

Family connections and his own ability fa-vored a political career. In 1813 he was sent to persuade the Austrian emperor, Francis I, to enter the coalition against Napoleon and then was made ambassador to Vienna. He signed the treaty of alliance with Austria at Toplitz, served as a British representative at the Congress of Châtillon in 1814, and later in that year helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris. He then returned home to be created a peer of the United King-dom and to enjoy a temporary retirement.

Aberdeen returned to prominence in 1828 in the duke of Wellington’s short-lived cabinet, be-came foreign secretary, and was influential in negotiating the protocols of 1829 and 1830, granting Greece its independence and fîxing its boundaries. He resigned with Wellington in 1830 and in 1834 took ofiîıce as colonial secretary during Sir Robert Peel’s brief ministry.

Aberdeen came into his own as foreign secretary (1841-1846) in Peel’s second cabinet. He strove to reestablish friendly relations with France and settled the boundary differences with the United States by the Webster-Ashburton and Oregon treaties of 1842 and 1846.

On Peel’s death in 1850, Aberdeen became leader of the Peelites (or liberal conservatives). In 1852 he founded a coalition ministry with the Whigs and became prime minister. Although his cabinet was united on domestic policy, it split over the negotiations preceding the Crimean War. Aberdeen’s policy of maintaining peace by evulv-ing a formula acceptable to ali the great powers and by restraining Turkey was opposed by sev-eral associates.

To avoid the fail of his cabinet, the prime minister consented to a compromise, on which the war party capitalized. The outcome was that Turkey was able to force England to assist it. The consequent blunders, military disasters, and mounting casualty lists, as well as the cabinet’s irresolute policy, deprived the government of support, and it was defeated in January 1855 on a motion to inquire into the conduct of the war. Aberdeen interpreted this as a vote of no confi-dence and resigned, leaving to Viscount Palmer-ston, his successor, the task of terminating the war and to the earl of Clarendon the duty of con-cluding the treaty of peace.

Aberdeen’s first wife, Lady Catherine Elizabeth Hamilton, died in 1812, seven years after their marriage. In 1815 he married Harriet, widow of Viscount Hamilton. She died in 1833. Aberdeen had four children by his first wife and five by his second. He died in London on Dec. 14, 1860.

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