Don Pacifico Affair and Case

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 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. A more likely alternative was that the attack was fomented by the police. Mayer de Rothschild was visiting Athens, during the Greek Orthodox Easter, to discuss a possible loan, and the government, in order to coax him, decided to ban the tradition of burning the effigy of Judas, thinking that Rothschild would be offended. In Easter celebrations in Athens, some children burnt an effigy anyway, the police attacked them, and the escalating violence resulted in the raiding of the house. 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.

In 1850 the British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston, a philhellene and supporter of the Greek War of Independence of 1828-1829, took decisive action in support of Pacifico by sending a Royal Navy squadron into the Aegean to seize Greek ships and property equal to the value of Pacifico's claims, which had been decided by British courts, and were exorbitantly high. Palmerston did not recognise Greek judicial sovereignty in the matter, as the case involved a British subject. The squadron eventually blockaded 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, Édouard Drouyn de Lhuys, 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.

At Westminster, both houses of parliament took up the issue with considerable energy. After a memorable debate on June 17, 1850, the House of Lords voted to condemn Palmerston's actions. John Arthur Roebuck led the House of Commons to reverse this 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, 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."

Pacifico received 120,000 drachmas and £500 in the settlement.

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