Charles James Fox: a Man for the People

By Loren Dudley Reid | Go to book overview

8
Fox and North: Conflict 1778-1779

If you get Charles Fox it may do for a while, but otherwise you are at your last gasp.

John Robinson

Ignorance in a minister is a crime of the first magnitude.

Charles James Fox

Even before Fox's February 2 speech, North had informed the King that the complexities of the American problem had deprived him of memory and understanding and had convinced him of his incapacity for the office of first minister.

North had also advised that the time had come 'to take some step of a pacifick kind' toward the colonies. News from the Continent carried the threat that France would likely join forces with the Americans. The possibility of this contingency also spurred North to urge the Commons to appoint commissioners to negotiate with the Americans on all matters that aggrieved them. A dull melancholy silence followed this speech, according to the Annual Register; 'astonishment, dejection, and fear, overclouded the whole assembly'. Fox agreed to the proposals, observing that they did not differ materially from Burke's, presented three years previously.

Meanwhile, Franklin had signed a treaty providing that America and France should become allies should France engage in war with Britain. Here Horace Walpole's account is more revealing than the parliamentary record. Thomas Walpole, with news from Paris that the treaty between America and France had actually been signed, decided to tell Fox, through the Duke of Grafton, an hour or two before the House was to meet.1 In the concluding moments of his speech, Fox could therefore tell the House of his certain knowledge that a treaty had been concluded and called upon North to give the House satisfaction on this interesting point. North, astounded, could only say lamely that he could not answer from authority, but that it was possible, nay too probable, that the treaty alluded to had been signed.2

Before many days had passed the news was generally known. Sir Gilbert Elliot wrote that the French in London broke the news at the

____________________
1
Last Journals, ii, 116-17.
2
Parliamentary History, xix, 767-75.

-85-

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