Charles James Fox: a Man for the People

By Loren Dudley Reid | Go to book overview

5
Fox Discovers America 1774-1775

You know I have a natural partiality to what some people call rebels.

Charles James Fox

Nothing can be more calculated to bring the Americans to a due submission than the very handsome Majority that at the outset have appeared in both Houses of Parliament.

George the Third

Looking back over his stormy career, Fox could reflect that the ability to speak well was a double-edged sword. If one spoke in behalf of the Government, it could reward him with marks of favour. If one spoke against the Government, it could either make an effort to win him back or take from him such favours as it had already bestowed.

In 1774 and the years that followed nearly every major proposal of the Government had to face his pointed, eloquent criticism. Occasionally the criticism was pro forma but usually it was substantive, and either it had to be replied to, or if ignored, had to be offset by other kinds of influence.

A silent parliamentarian can listen to the debates, or inform himself in other ways, and then vote according to his convictions or his prejudices. The small handful of speakers in the House, however, like North, Burke, Fox, and Wedderburn, were invariably prepared to discuss in reasoned, articulate, fashion each issue as it came along. A parliament considers a wide variety of proposals concurrently, foreign affairs interspersed with domestic urgencies. The various strands that are intertwined to make up Fox's long speaking career can be labelled America, France, Ireland, India, parliamentary reform, slave trade, religious and political liberty, and scores of transient matters.

Fox's resignation brought him more notoriety than he relished. It was observed that he was tender in years but tough in politics and already had been twice in and twice out of place.1 George Selwyn, wit

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1
Last Journals, i, 309.

-47-

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