Charles James Fox: The Life of the Party
In November 1776, the king wrote Lord North:
I have learnt . . . that Charles Fox . . . should set out for Paris and not return till after the recess: I think therefore You cannot do better than bring as much forward [while he is absent] as real business is never so well considered as when the Attention of the House is not taken up by noisy declamations. 1
This quotation illustrates the extent to which, by 1776, Charles James Fox had assumed the leadership of the Whig opposition to the American war. By this time, he clearly realized that the American cause and the struggle of Parliament to free itself from royal domination were inextricably linked. As he wrote to his political associate, Lord Ossory, America's defeat would "give the completest triumph to Toryism that it ever had." 2 His rise to leadership is more remarkable because in 1774, when he began criticizing ministerial conduct of American affairs, he spoke more as an individual than as a member of any political party or group. Then, during 1775, he unofficially joined the Rockingham Whigs (he did not formally affiliate until 1779) and, as we read in chapter 7, loyally supported Edmund Burke, whose speech On Conciliation with America he enthusiastically seconded.
He introduced a motion when Parliament assembled in February 1776, requesting a committee "to enquire into the Causes of the ill Success of his Majesty's Arms in North America." In what the London Chronicle called "one of his most able and best directed speeches," Fox disclaimed any desire to reopen constitutional questions and focused on the Coercive Acts, their application, and their consequences. He alleged that "there had been mismanagement and misconduct somewhere" and insisted that it was cru