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The Don Pacifico Affair concerned a Portuguese Jew, named David Pacifico (known as Don Pacifico), who was a trader and the Portuguese consul in Athens during the reign of King Otto. Pacifico was born in Gibraltar, a British possession. He was therefore technically a British subject. In 1847 an antisemitic mob that included the sons of a government minister vandalised and plundered Don Pacifico's home in Athens whilst the police looked on and took no action. In 1848, after Pacifico had unsuccessfully appealed to the Greek government for compensation for his losses, he brought the matter to the attention of the British government.

Whig British Foreign Secretary Palmerston, a philhellene and supporter of the Greek War of Independence 1828-1829, took unilateral action in support of Pacifico by sending a Royal Navy squadron into the Aegean in 1850 to seize Greek ships and property equal to the value of Pacifico's claims. The squadron eventually blockaded the port of Piraeus, the main port of the capital, Athens.

Greece was a state under the joint protection of Britain, France and Russia and the imposition of the blockade caused a diplomatic conflict between Britain, on the one hand, and France and Russia on the other. France and Russia objected to the blockade and the French ambassador temporarily left London. The affair also caused considerable damage to the reputation of King Otto in Athens. The blockade lasted two months and the affair ended only when the Greek government agreed to compensate Pacifico.

The British Houses of Parliament took up the issue with considerable energy. After a memorable debate on June 17, 1850, a vote of the House of Lords condemned Palmerston's policy. John Arthur Roebuck led the House of Commons to reverse the condemnation, which it did on June 29 by a majority of 46. Palmerston delivered a famous five-hour speech in which he sought to vindicate not only his claims on the Greek government for Don Pacifico, but his entire administration of foreign affairs. "As the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say, Civis Romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen], so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him from injustice and wrong."[1]

See also

Further reading

  • Don Pacifico: The Acceptable Face of Gunboat Diplomacy by Derek Taylor.

Footnotes

  1. ^  Hansard CXII (3d Ser.), 380-444, Retrieved 28 March 2006.
  2. ^  Civitas Review, Volume 2, Issue 1; March, 2005 (pdf), Retrieved 28 March 2006.
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