Charles James Fox: a Man for the People

By Loren Dudley Reid | Go to book overview

22
For Freedom of Speech 1794-1795

When the power of speaking is taken away, what is left but . . . implicit submission?

Charles James Fox

During the parliamentary session that opened on December 30, 1794, and its successor, Fox continued to speak frequently for the freedom and the dignity of the individual.

His party was still split; some of his closest friends still sat across the chamber. Hence in his greatest speeches during these years he would be followed into the lobby, not by a hundred or more as in the better days, but by numbers in the forties or fifties. Even so, he continued on the line he marked out for himself. His nineteenth-century reputation, not too surprisingly, was enhanced not only because of his ideas but also because of his persistence against enormous odds.

The forcible overturning of the French monarchy, the succession of despotic governments with their mass drownings and guillotinings, the impassioned French oratory, the violation of long-establislied property rights, the sour odour of republicanism, alarmed the British Government. In France men indeed seemed to be acting like flies in the summertime, cutting themselves off from the past, making little provision for the future. In England the anxiety was ever present that mass meetings if allowed would get out of hand with frightening consequences. Memories of the Gordon riots of 1780 had been freshened by the Paris riots of 1789. Simple, elemental prudence seemed to dictate that meetings should be placed under stout governmental surveillance. Seditious writings should also be made subject to severe legislation, in order to intimidate and shackle authors. Fox vigorously opposed all manoeuvres of this sort.

The King's address opening the session on December so mentioned disappointments in the war with France but called for firmness and perseverance. Military reverses encouraged a slight increase of peace sentiment in the Commons. Fox urged the House not to delay to an extremity that left no room for choice; the country 'was already sorely beaten; it had received wounds both deep and wide, but the obstinacy

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