n the early 1830s, the spirit of the age tended towards social and political reform. Believing utterly in the necessity for the application of Jeremy Bentham's aphorism "The greatest good for the greatest number," Edward Bulwer sought election to the House of Commons in May, 1831, as a Whig Radical, serving initially as the member for St. Ives in Huntingdonshire. After the passage of the Great Reform Bill in 1832 (in which, ironically, his rural seat was swept away), he was returned as the M. P. for Lincoln. As a Whig, he spent a total of eleven years in government, making his maiden speech in the Commons on the second night of the debate for Lord John Russell's epoch-making legislation in 1832. To forestall a Tory return to government, Bulwer attempted to expose Sir Robert Peel's stated interest in reform as mere pretense by publishing the pamphlet Letter to a Late Minister on the Present Crisis (21 November, 1834). When his political ally, Lord Durham, accepted the post of British ambassador to St. Petersburg, Bulwer resigned his seat and remained out of government for eleven years.
In the general election of 1852, Bulwer stood for the Conservatives, the shift in his political allegiance accounted for by his inheriting Knebworth after his mother's death in 1843 (under the terms of her will, he hyphenated his name to the patrician-sounding "Bulwer-Lytton" ), his fear of social unrest on the continent after the year of revolutions (1848), and his friendship with the brilliant Benjamin Disraeli. As a rural landowner, he was particularly distressed about the Whigs' repeal of the Corn Laws, the laissez-faire doctrines of the Cobdenite faction, and the growing influence of the factory-owners. As member for Herfordshire, he supported his government in the Crimean War and opposed abolition of the East India Company in 1857. Of significance to his fellow writers was his bill to abolish stamp duties on newspapers, which he regarded as a tax on knowledge. Upon the fall of Lord Palmerston's administration in 1858, Bulwer accepted a cabinet post under Lord Derby as Colonial Secretary. When gold was discovered on the Fraser River in 1858, Bulwer drafted a bill to secure the crown's rights to the territory and created the colony of "New Caledonia," aptly named by Bulwer for its many mountain chains. His bill provided for representative government at the end of a five-year period. Although only Colonial Secretary for little over a year, he also separated Queensland from New South Wales administratively, introduced legislation regarding estates in the West Indies, settled the French dispute over the exchange of Portendio for Albuda, and sent Gladstone to the eastern Mediterranean to deal with the issue of whether the Ionian Islands should remain a British protectorate or become part of Greece.
The termination of this second, highly productive political career was occasioned by his ex-wife's harassing him and his friends with obscene letters as part of a blackmail scheme to draw from him a larger allowance. In the 1858 elections, she vilified her husband in public as he was addressing his constituents from the platform. The result was a physical breakdown and his resignation from cabinet in December, 1858. To support Lord Derby he agreed to remain at his post until a suitable replacement could be found. Although no longer in the front benches, he retained his seat in the Commons until 1866, when he was elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Lytton of Knebworth.
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Last updated 12 December 2000