The eldest son of the 14th Earl, he was educated at Rugby and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took a high degree and became a member of the society known as the Apostles. In March 1848 he unsuccessfully contested the borough of Lancaster, and then made a long tour in the West Indies, Canada and the United States. During his absence he was elected member for King's Lynn, which he represented till October 1869, when he succeeded to the peerage. He took his place, as a matter of course, among the Conservatives, and delivered his maiden speech in May 1850 on the sugar duties. Just before, he had made a very brief tour in Jamaica and South America. In 1852 he went to India, and while travelling in that country he was appointed under-secretary for foreign affairs in his father's first administration.
From the outset of his career he was known to be a most Liberal Conservative, and in 1855 Lord Palmerston offered him the post of Secretary of State for the Colonies. He was much tempted by the proposal, and hurried down to Knowsley to consult his father, who called out when he entered the room, "Halo, Stanley! what brings you here? — Has Dizzy cut his throat, or are you going to be married?" When the object of his sudden appearance had been explained, the Conservative chief received the courteous suggestion of the prime minister with anything but favour, and the offer was declined.
In his father's second administration Lord Stanley held, at first, the office of Secretary of State for the Colonies (1858), but became President of the Board of Control on the resignation of Lord Ellenborough. He had the charge of the India Bill of 1858 in the House of Commons, became the first Secretary of State for India, and left behind him in the India Office an excellent reputation as a man of business.
After the revolution in Greece and the disappearance of King Otto, the people most earnestly desired to have Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Alfred, for their king. He declined the honour, and they then took up the idea that the next best thing they could do would be to elect some great and wealthy English noble, not concealing the hope that although they might have to offer him a Civil List he would decline to receive it. Lord Stanley was the prime favourite as an occupant of this bed of thorns, and it has been said that he was actually offered the crown. That, however, is not true; the offer was never formally made.
After the fall of the Russell government in 1866 he became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his father's third administration. He compared his conduct in that great post to that of a man floating down a river and fending off from his vessel, as well as he could, the various obstacles it encountered. He thought that that should be the normal attitude of an English foreign minister, and probably under the circumstances of the years 1866-1868 it was the right one. He arranged the collective guarantee of the neutrality of Luxembourg in 1867, negotiated a convention about the Alabama, which, however, was not ratified, and most wisely refused to take any part in the Cretan troubles. In 1874 he again became Foreign Secretary in Disraeli's government. He acquiesced in the purchase of the Suez Canal shares, a measure then considered dangerous by many people, but ultimately most successful; he accepted the Andrassy Note, but declined to accede to the Berlin Memorandum. His part in the later phases of the Russo-Turkish struggle has never been fully explained, for with equal wisdom and generosity he declined to gratify public curiosity at the cost of some of his colleagues. A later generation will know better than his contemporaries what were the precise developments of policy which obliged him to resign. He kept himself ready to explain in the House of Lords the course he had taken if those whom he had left challenged him to do so, but from that course they consistently refrained. Already in October 1879 it was clear enough that he had thrown in his lot with the Liberal party, but it was not till March 1880 that he publicly announced this change of allegiance. He did not at first take office in. the second Gladstone government, but became Colonial Secretary in December 1882, holding this position till the fall of that government in the summer of 1885. In 1886 the old Liberal party was run on the rocks and went to pieces. Lord Derby became a Liberal Unionist, and took an active part in the general management of that party, leading it in the House of Lords till 1891, when Lord Hartington became Duke of Devonshire. In 1892 he presided over the Labour Commission, but his health never recovered an attack of influenza which he had in 1891, and he died at Knowsley on 21 April 1893.
During a great part of Lord Derby's life he was deflected from his natural course by the accident of his position as the son of the leading Conservative statesman of the day. From first to last he was at heart a moderate Liberal. After making allowance, however, for this deflecting agency, it must be admitted that in the highest quality of the statesman, “ aptness to be right,” he was surpassed by none of his contemporaries, or — if by anybody — by Sir George Cornewall Lewis alone. He would have been more at home in a state of things which did not demand from its leading statesman great popular power; he had none of those "isms" and "prisms of fancy" which stood in such good stead.
Edward Smith Stanley
|Earl of Derby||Followed by:|
Frederick Arthur Stanley