Charles James Fox: a Man for the People

By Loren Dudley Reid | Go to book overview

4
In and Out of Government
1771-1774

Charles Fox is commenced patriot, and is already attempting to pronounce the words country, liberty, corruption, &c.

Edward Gibbon

The issues debated in parliament during 1771 to 1774 offered various opportunities for the young speaker who became the great liberal, the Man of the People, to join the enlightened and forward-looking. On the domestic side was the major controversy concerning the rights of printers to report parliamentary debates, and less hotly contested proposals to review capital punishment and the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Established Church. On the foreign side was the persistent problem of the management of an empire, with questions involving America on one side of the globe and India on the other. How Charles Fox reacted to these and other issues is the theme of this chapter.

One point emerges: the infant of the House speedily became one of its most frequent speakers. Not for him was the traditional advice that a new member should sit respectfully and quietly on a back bench. Along with North, who excelled everybody in number of speeches, Burke, who was difficult to surpass in either length or quantity, and other well-known personages like Sir George Savile, Alderman John Sawbridge, Solicitor-General Alexander Wedderburn, and Colonel Isaac Barré, whose name is perpetuated in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Fox appeared often in the lists of speakers regularly forwarded to the King. Now in his early twenties, he was seventeen years younger than North or Sawbridge, twenty years younger than Burke, twenty- three years younger than Barré or Savile. Reporters in the galleries wrote paragraphs branding Fox as presumptuous, ambitious, and violent. And outside the House he had to face the fury of volatile, articulate mobs. Fox thrived on both the missives and the missiles. Far from suffering any damned obscurity, he was from the start fully exposed to public appraisal.

The most prolonged and eventful debate, with Parliament and the King on one side and the Lord Mayor and other authorities of the City on the other, concerned the illegal publication of parliamentary debates in eight London newspapers. This dispute came to a crisis in 1771. Fox

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