The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Fox, Charles James

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The American Cyclopædia
Fox, Charles James
Edition of 1879. See also Charles James Fox on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

FOX, Charles James, an English statesman and orator, born in London, Jan. 24, 1749, died at Chiswick, Sept. 13, 1806. His father, Henry Fox, afterward Lord Holland, had amassed a great fortune as paymaster of the forces; his mother was a daughter of Charles, the second duke of Richmond, and by her he was descended from Charles II. of England and Henry IV. of France. It is said that his father, when he was about 14, having taken him to Spa, gave him five guineas a night to play with; the source, perhaps, of his invincible attachment to gaming. He studied at Wandsworth and Eton, where he impressed his schoolfellows with a conviction of his superiority. From Eton he went in 1764 to Oxford. Here he gamed, studied, and spent profusely the lavish allowance given him by his father. He read Homer and Longinus, and gained a good knowledge of Greek. In later years he was able to repeat long passages from Homer. Leaving Oxford without graduating, he went to the continent in 1766. During his residence abroad he taught himself Italian, and contracted a partiality for Italian literature which lasted through his life. In August, 1768, he returned to England, where he had been elected to parliament in his absence, while yet under age. He took his seat as a supporter of the duke of Grafton's ministry, following the political faith of his father, and made his first speech in the house April 15, 1769. In February, 1770, he was made a junior lord of the admiralty, but resigned in 1772. In January, 1773, he was made one of the lords of the treasury, but came into collision with the premier, and was dismissed Feb. 28, 1774. After his father's death Fox joined the opposition, and was an eloquent assailant of the leading measures of the ministry. He foretold the defeat of the British arms in America, and stood by Edmund Burke in the struggle against the policy of Lord North. In the beginning of 1780 Burke brought forward his plan of economical reform, which was zealously supported by Fox; this was rejected by the house, but resolutions were passed for an inquiry into the public expenditure. Fox supported Pitt's motion for parliamentary reform in May, 1782, and introduced a measure of concession to Ireland. When the ministry of Lord North fell in this year, Fox was made secretary for foreign affairs, and undertook to secure peace with the hostile powers, and the recognition of the independence of the United States. The negotiations were interrupted by the death of the marquis of Rockingham, the prime minister; and when Lord Shelburne took the head of the ministry, Burke, Fox, and several of their associates resigned. In April, 1783, Fox came again into power as foreign secretary in the coalition which he had made with his former enemy, Lord North, and on account of which much odium was cast upon him. On Nov. 18 he introduced his bill designed to relieve the sufferings of India, which he pressed with his usual warmth, and aided by Burke it passed the commons; but the lords, the crown, and the India company being against him, the coalition fell, and the ministry were dismissed, Dec. 18. On resolutions introduced by Fox, there was a decided majority against the new ministry, and parliament was dissolved. Fox stood for Westminster, against the whole influence of the court and ministry, and was declared elected by a large majority; but the unsuccessful candidate demanded a scrutiny of the vote, and the high bailiff took upon himself to make no return of representatives for the city. The returns being delayed for about a year, Fox entered parliament for a Scotch borough. The high bailiff was afterward fined £2,000. Fox finally triumphed, and the nation was now divided into two parties, that of Fox and that of the king. On April 22, 1788, Fox opened the Benares charge against Warren Hastings, in whose impeachment he aided Burke and Windham. When in 1788 George III. became insane, Pitt advocated the appointment of a regent by parliament, but Fox maintained the right of the prince of Wales, afterward George IV., as indefeasible. The recovery of the king ended the discussion for the time. Fox moved, March 2, 1790, the repeal of the corporation and test acts. A lack of sympathy on this subject, as well as in regard to the principles of the French revolution, arose between him and Burke, and led to their formal separation, May 6, 1791. Fox was in earnest sympathy with liberal principles, and in 1791 aided Wilberforce in his efforts to abolish the slave trade. He introduced a bill defining the powers of juries in trials for libel, which was passed in April, 1792. In 1793 he supported Grey's motion for parliamentary re- form, and soon became a leader of the reform party. This party was in a hopeless minority, and finding his opposition in the house of commons useless, he ceased to attend its sessions in 1797; and in 1798 he was struck from the list of privy councillors for having repeated the duke of Norfolk's toast, “The majesty of the people.” From 1797 to 1802 he passed his time chfefly in retirement. He planned an edition of Dryden, a defence of Racine and the French stage, a refutation of the historical theories of Hume, and a history of the revolution of 1688. His researches for this last work took him to Paris in 1802, and while there he was treated by Napoleon with marked distinction. Only a portion of the proposed history of the revolution of 1688 was ever written; it is chiefly notable from the fact that Fox would not use any word which had not been used by Dryden. Returning to parliament, he united with Pitt against the Addington ministry, but upon its fall, when Pitt wished to form a new ministry, Fox was expressly excluded by the king, and Pitt was obliged to make his selections from the subordinates of his predecessor. This ministry was dissolved by Pitt's death, Jan. 23, 1806, and Fox became secretary for foreign affairs in the new ministry formed by Lord Grenville. During his short service of only seven months, Fox procured a vote in the commons for the abolition of the slave trade, and entered into negotiations for peace with France. Fox was one of the most brilliant and successful of debaters. His personal appearance was fine, and his manner impassioned and convincing. His recklessness dissipated his estate, and during a large part of his life he was continually in debt. Yet such was the sweetness of his temper, the generosity of his disposition, and the magnanimity of all his conduct, that he was loved and honored by the purest men of the time. Burke loved him as his chosen friend; with Wilberforce he labored side by side in the cause of humanity; and even the austere Johnson boasted of his friendship. In his political principles he was firm and unbending; no emotion of ambition took him from the path of honor; no opposition terrified or discouraged him. He gave to the whig party of England its distinguishing principles; he originated those measures of reform in the constitution which have finally been adopted; and probably no other statesman has had so large an influence upon the politics of England. Mackintosh says of him: “He certainly possessed, above all moderns, that union of reason, simplicity, and vehemence which formed the prince of orators. He was the most Demosthenean speaker since Demosthenes.” — See “Character of the late Charles James Fox,” by Dr. Samuel Parr (2 vols. 8vo, London, 1809); “Speeches in the House of Commons by C. J. Fox,” with a biographical and critical introduction by Lord Erskine (6 vols., London, 1815); and “Memorials and Correspondence of Charles James Fox,” by Lord John Russell (4 vols., London, 1853-'7). Some interesting particulars of the private life of Fox are given in the posthumous “Recollections of Samuel Rogers” (London, 1859), and in “Holland House,” by Princess Marie Liechtenstein (London, 1873).