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15 January 1848
Don Pacifico affair

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Don David Pacifico is a Jewish Portuguese merchant who was born in Gibraltar, thus giving him a claim to British citizenship. In 1847, an anti-Semitic mob burns his house in Greece. When the Greek government refuses compensation, he asks Britain to intervene. Greek independence is guaranteed by Russia and France, and Britain is obliged to consult them before acting. However, Foreign Secretary Palmerston unilaterally orders a blockade of the Greek coast. This lasts for two years, as do protests and threatening gestures from Russia and France.

Finally, in 1850, British forces seize Greek merchant ships and hold them until Greece agrees to compensate Don Pacifico. Palmerston is criticised in Parliament, but defends himself robustly, comparing Britain to the Roman empire and declaring that it must defend all its citizens worldwide. He wins public support, but alienates France and Russia. This is the first of many gunboat ventures that Palmerston will undertake, to assert British power and boost its trade.


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