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George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen (January 28, 1784
- December 14, 1860) was a Tory politician who served as Prime
Minister of the United Kingdom from 1852 until 1855.
He was the eldest son of George Gordon, Lord Haddo. Born in
Edinburgh on the 28th of January 1784, he lost his father in 1791
and his mother in 1795.
Upbringing and education
He was brought up by Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville. He was
educated at Harrow, and St John's College, Cambridge, where he
graduated as a nobleman in 1804.
Before this, however, he had become Earl of Aberdeen on his grandfather's
death in 1801, and had travelled all over Europe. On his return
to England founded the Athenian Society. In 1805, he married Catherine
Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of Lord Abercorn. In December he
took his seat as a Tory in the House of Lords.
Official and political career
Following the death of his wife in 1812 he joined the Foreign
Service. He was appointed ambassador extraordinary and minister
plenipotentiary at Vienna, where he signed the Treaty of Toplitz
between Britain and Austria in October 1813. He was one of the
British representatives at the Congress of Chatillon in February
1814, and at the negotiations which led to the Treaty of Paris
in the following May. Returning home he was created a peer of
the United Kingdom as Viscount Gordon of Aberdeen (1814), and
made a member of the privy council. In July 1815 he married Harriet,
daughter of John Douglas, and widow of James, Viscount Hamilton.
During the ensuing thirteen years Aberdeen took a less prominent
part in public affairs. He served as Chancellor of the Duchy of
Lancaster (1828) and Foreign Secretary (1829-30) under Arthur
Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. He resigned with Wellington
over the Reform Bill of 1832. He was Secretary for the Colonies
(1834-35) and then Foreign Secretary (1841-46) under Robert Peel.
It was during his second stint as Foreign Secretary that he settled
two disagreements with the US - the Northeast Boundary dispute
by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842), and the Oregon dispute
by the treaty of 1846. he also worked successfully to improve
relationships with France. He again followed his leader and resigned
with Peel over the issue of the Corn Laws. After Peel's death
in 1850 he became the recognized leader of the Peelites. His dislike
of the Ecclesiastical Titles Assumption Bill, the rejection of
which he failed to secure in 1851, prevented him from joining
the government of Lord John Russell. In December 1852, however,
be became Prime Minister and headed a coalition ministry of Whigs
and Peelites. Although united on free trade and on questions of
domestic reform, his cabinet which contained Lord Palmerston and
Lord John Russell, was certain to differ on questions of foreign
policy. He entered the country into the Crimean War on the side
of the Ottoman Empire following pressure from some of his cabinet.
Palmerston, supported by Russell, favoured a more aggressive policy,
and Aberdeen, unable to control Palmerston, acquiesed. However
the war proved his downfall. As reports returned detailing the
mis-management of the conflict Russell resigned; and on January
29, 1855 a motion for the appointment of a select committee to
enquire into the conduct of the War, was carried by a large majority.
Treating this as a vote of confidence Aberdeen resigned.
Death, successors to title, and other personal matters
He died in London on December 14 1860, and was buried in the
family vault at Stanmore. By his first wife he had one son and
three daughters, all of whom predeceased their father. By his
second wife, who died in August 1833, he left four sons and one
daughter. His eldest son, George John James, succeeded as 5th
Earl; his second son was General Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon,
K.C.B.; his third son was the Reverend Douglas Hamilton-Gordon;
and his youngest son Arthur Hamilton, was created Baron Stanmore
in 1893. Aberdeen was a distinguished scholar. His private life
is believed to be exemplary by the standards of the day. His manner
was lofty and reserved, and as a speaker he was ponderous rather
than eloquent. It is said that he lacked strength and his foreign
policy was essentially one of peace and non-intervention. On his
death his title passed to his son George John James Hamilton-Gordon
(1816-1864) whose eldest son George Hamilton-Gordon (1841-1870)
became the 6th earl. When he was drowned at sea, he was succeeded
by his brother John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon (1847-1934), a prominent
Liberal politician, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1886,
Governor-General of Canada (1893-1898), and again the Lord-Lieutenant
of Ireland when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman formed his ministry
at the close of 1905. He was made Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair
on 4 January 1916.
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