Charles James Fox: a Man for the People

By Loren Dudley Reid | Go to book overview

14
The India Bill 1783

The Bishops waver and the Thanes fly from us.

Richard Fitzpatrick

Now Fox was to proceed by unwise and uncharacteristic steps from the teetery base of the coalition to the precarious India problem.

Everybody had talked about doing something for the natives, the princes, the East India Company, but nobody had done anything systematic. Yet in one form or another India had been before Parliament as long as Fox had been a member of the House. He could look back to debates on tea duties, adjusted to help the Company unload its surplus, that led to the affair in Boston Harbour. He had heard reports of secret and select committees. The India question was a complex of officials that got too rich, a Company that was too poor, natives and princes who were exploited, commercial and political responsibilities that were tangled. Certainly Fox had observed that any aspect of India touched sentiments and sensitivities, strongly vested loyalties and interests.

The Shelburne ministry had called the attention of the House to the financial affairs of the East India Company but had not held office long enough to propose legislation. Between ministries the company had petitioned for relief, but its petition had been laid on the table. As the Prince's financial affairs and the preliminary and definitive articles of peace had compelled the prior attention of Parliament, India had been further postponed. Now the long-promised legislation regulating the affairs of the Company was to be introduced into the House of Commons.

Building on his already extensive background, Fox had studied diligently during the interim, attempting to master topics 'of infinite importance not only to the credit of our Administration, but to the well- being of the country'.1 Astonishingly enough, considering his usual approach to the study of an issue, he did not consult London officials of the East India Company. Had he done so, he would undoubtedly have evolved a plan more acceptable to them; failing that, he would at least have been made fully aware of their objections. He had, however, written to friends like Ossory, urging them to read the official docu-

____________________
1
Add. MSS. 47667. Fox Cor., ii, 163-71. To Northington, November 1, 1783.

-180-

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