The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Fox, Charles James

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Fox, Charles James
Edition of 1920. See also Charles James Fox on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

FOX, Charles James, English statesman: b. London, 24 Jan. 1749; d. Chiswick, Surrey, 13 Sept. 1806. He was the son of Henry, 1st Lord Holland, and was educated at Eton and Hertford College, Oxford. His father procured him a seat for the borough of Midhurst in 1768 before he was of legal age, and in 1770 the same interest procured him the office of one of the lords of the admiralty, which post he resigned in 1772, and was appointed a commissioner of the treasury.

After being a supporter of the administration for six years, Fox was ejected owing to a quarrel with Lord North, and was thrown into the ranks of the Opposition. The adoption of the disastrous measures which terminated in the independence of the American colonies enabled him to take this part without opposing any of the policy which he had previously supported. During the whole of this eventful contest he spoke and voted in direct opposition to the ministerial system, and, in conjunction with Burke, Barré, Dunning and other eminent parliamentary leaders, displayed the highest talents both as a statesman and orator. On the final defeat of the administration of Lord North and the accession of that of the Marquis of Rockingham, Fox obtained the office of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. But the death of the Marquis of Rockingham suddenly divided the party, and on the Earle of Shelburne becoming first Lord of the Treasury Fox retired and soon after a union took place between his friends and those of Lord North, under the name of the coalition. The temporary success of this party movement served only to render popular disgust the more general; and the dismissal of the coalition excited general satisfaction. Though in the new Parliament Pitt had a decided majority, Fox headed a very strong opposition, and political questions were for some years contested with a display of talent on both sides which the House of Commons had seldom previously exhibited.

In 1790 and 1791 Fox regained a share of popularity by his opposition to war with Spain and Russia, and also by his libel bill, regulating the rights of juries in criminal cases and rendering them judges both of the law and the fact. On the breaking out of the French Revolution he was disposed to regard it as likely to prove extremely beneficial. The contrary views of Burke, and the extraordinary manner in which that ardent politician on that account publicly renounced his friendship, is one of the most striking incidents in parliamentary history.

The opinions formed of this eminent leader as a practical and theoretical statesman have been as various as the shades of party difference. That he was a sincere friend to all the broad and generous principles on the due development of which rest the freedom and best interests of mankind, is not to be doubted, and that they were alloyed by great latitude on the subject of party and political expediency is equally clear. As a powerful and purely argumentative orator he was of the very first class; though as to eloquence and brilliancy he perhaps yielded to Pitt, Burke and Sheridan; nor were his voice and manner prepossessing, though highly forcible. Of his amiability in private life, after making allowance for a dissipated youth, all accounts agree. Friends and foes equally testify to his ingenuous and benign character. As an author, besides some Latin poetry and a Greek dialogue, by which he highly distinguished himself at Eton, and a few numbers of a paper, entitled ‘The Englishman,’ he published nothing during his lifetime but ‘A Letter to the Electors of Westminster’ (1793). To his nephew, Lord Holland, the world is indebted for his posthumous publication, entitled ‘The History of the Early Part of the Reign of James II.’ It is written with unpretending simplicity, but disappointed expectation, and has never been popular. Lord John Russell, ‘Life and Times of C. J. Fox’ (1859-66); Wakeman, ‘Life of Charles James Fox’ (1890); Trevelyan, ‘Early History of Charles James Fox’ (1881).