Charles James Fox.

Memorials and correspondence of Charles James Fox (Volume 1) online

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connected or intimate. Lord Ossory was a man of sense, reflec-
tion, and prudence, and not much liable to be swayed by party


feelings, or much disposed hracJiia tendere contra torrentem. He
had little ambition, though very desirous, from a dislike of the
turmoil, and still more of the expense of elections, to obtain an
English peerage. He must have known that he might easily have
obtained his wishes, and without reproach, from his brother-in-law,
if he had joined him; but he (like many others) felt that Mr.
Fox was formed to govern the country, and could not bear to se-
parate from him — a proof of the ascendency the great and amiable
qualities of Mr. Fox, in spite of his imprudences, had given him
over calm, dispassionate, and reasonable minds, as well as over
his immediate adherents.


"Dublin Castle, July 15, 1782.
" Dear Brother : —

" I was not mistaken in my opinion of the Duke of Portland's
sentiments upon the present crisis, and found that, from the first
moment he had been apprised of what the state of things was in
England, he had not entertained one instant's doubt of the pro-
priety of immediate resignation. If you had pursued your inten-
tions of coming over here, your alarms, with respect to Ireland,
would have been considerably increased by seeing the effect which
the Duke of Portland's resignation is likely to produce. I assure
you, without exaggeration, that the difficulties we shall find in
quieting the minds of the public, and moderating the violence
which seems ready to burst forth against the new system, are
hardly to be conceived but by people on the spot. The Duke of
Portland's intentions, though not declared, are so strongly sus-
pected, that they are ripe for proceeding all lengths against a
Ministry in whom they have no confidence, and against which
their prejudices are strengthened by the supposed intention of
resigning in the Duke of Portland. The recruiting for the navy,
which had begun with the fairest prospect of success, is likely to
be much retarded by the prevailing jealousies; there seems even
a disinclination to suffer the bill for the offer of 5000 land forces
to pass. In short, the appearances are such that I really think


tlie future prospects in this country are to the last degree alarm-
ing. Lord Shelburne's unpopularity in Ireland is really something
hardly to be credited, particularly in the north (where he fancies
himself a great favorite), upon the score of American independ-
ence, and the idea of that being the cause of the rupture does not
a little add to the general ferment. Our task under these circum-
stances is full of difficulty. The measure of resignation implies
such want of confidence, that it is but with a bad grace we can
recommend it to the public. I had fifty people before the meeting
of the House this morning with me, all inquiring what were the
wishes of Grovernment at the present moment. My answer was
that all our wishes were to conclude the business of the session,
quietly and expeditiously, and I hope we shall efiect this. But
how our successors will conduct the Government I am at a loss to
conceive. I believe I may say, and really without lyuffing, that
the Duke of Portland's Administration had so completely concili-
ated the minds of the people at large to them, and had inspired
such a degree of confidence in the public, that the change of
Government, and especially by proceeding from the exaltation of
a man of whom a general distrust and ill opinion prevails, will
make this country ten times more difficult to govern than ever.

"The Duke is now employed in writing his letter to Lord Shel-
burne. He has written to the Duke of Kichmond letters, which, if
he has any feeling, must, I think, cut him severely. I have no letter
from Charles, but accounts say that he never distinguished him-
self more than on Tuesday. He is here held in a degree of the
highest estimation from his step on this occasion, as he must be
in England when his conduct is understood. I will write again
when I have time. I shall certainly keep my resolution faithfully,
of checking all mischief. Indeed, the country is so much more
ripe for it than I could have imagined, that no excesses will sur-
prise me.

" Yours affectionately,

"R. F.

"P. S. The state of things will, I fancy, smooth our par-


liamentary business; it is out of doors that the danger is to be

*The resignation of Mr. Fox, upon Lord Shelburne's succeed-
ing to Lord Rockingham as First Lord of the Treasury, seems to
have been almost inevitable. After the secret negotiation of Mr.
Oswald, at Paris, Mr. Fox could not have conducted the negotia-
tions for peace with that reliance on his chief which was necessary
in so difficult a matter. Putting resentment out of the question,
the responsibility imposed on the Secretary of State required a
cordiality of co-operation which Mr. Fox could never have ex-
pected from Lord Shelburne.

But, conceding this point, it must be owned that, whether Mr.
Burke or Lord J. Cavendish were the adviser, the field of battle
was the worst that could be chosen. Lord Shelburne, the friend
and colleague of Lord Chatham, a Secretary of State under Lord
Rockingham, a man of varied acquirements, and undoubted abili-
ties, was, personally, far superior to the Duke of Portland as a
candidate for the office of Prime Minister. The King, therefore,
had a great advantage over Mr. Fox in the apparent ground of the

Had Mr. Fox declared that he would not serve under any one ;
or, at all events, not under Lord Shelburne, who had withheld
from him knowledge indispensable to his performance of the
duties of Secretary of State, he would have stood on firm ground.
The choice of a Prime Minister against the choice of the Crown,
and that in the person of a man whose rank and fair character
were his only recommendations, appeared to the public an unwar-
rantable pretension, inspired by narrow jealousies and aristocratic
prejudices; nor must it be overlooked, that, technically speaking,
the conduct of Lord Shelburne in the negotiation, had in one part
not been without excuse. Mr. Grenville had, properly speaking,
no more right to negotiate with Franklin, than Mr. Oswald had to
negotiate with Yergennes.

Accordingly, the Duke of Richmond, General Conway, and
Lord Keppel, remained in office. The cause of reform and re-


trenchment sustained a notable damage, and Mr. Fox did not
obtain that justice to which he was entitled.

Lord Holland's reflections on Mr. Fox's public conduct in Lord
Rockingham's Administration, and his resignation of the Seals in
1782, will form an appropriate termination to the present volume.
It will be seen that, while Lord Holland justifies the resignation,
he says nothing to justify the preference given to the Duke of
Portland over Lord Shelburne, the Duke of Richmond, and, above
all, over his uncle's own superior claims to the succession of Lord

The first endeavors of Mr. Fox, on the accession of Lord Rock-
ingham's Administration, were directed to an overture for peace,
and the establishment of a pacific system founded on a balance of
power in Europe, and for that purpose was recommended the
mission, first of Mr. Oswald, and then of Mr. Grenville, to Paris,
to negotiate on the basis of the peace, 1763, and the concession of
American independence; and, early in May, it was suggested that
the independence of America should be conceded in the first in-
stance, and not made a condition of the treaty. It was obvious
that the King, distant and haughty in all his communications with
Mr. Fox, was averse to such a policy, whenever suggested by him ;
and it was not long ere symptoms of a different policy, if not of
a secret understanding with the King, appeared in another quar-
ter, namely. Lord Shelburne. Both the plans of detaching Holland
from the confederacy, and of employing the secret good ofiices of
Prussia for that purpose, and the still more important scheme of
propitiating the United States, through Franklin, by an immediate
and frank recognition of their independence, were by some means
or other bafHed and postponed, and Mr. Fox and his immediate
friends very early surmised that it was the unwillingness, the
incoherence, or possibly the cabals of his colleagues and of the
Court, which threw impediments in his way. Soon afterwards,
private and confidential letters in May, confirmed yet more
strongly in those of June, came from Mr. Grenville at Paris,
which contained more than conjectures — actual proof, of under-
hand negotiations carried on through Mr. Oswald and Lord Shel-
VOL. I.— 31


burne with Franklin, by which the former was encouraged bj the
prospect of some new concessions, and especially of Canada, to
hold aloof from the overtures made to him through Mr. Grenville,
and the French Government was taught to expect other and more
advantageous terms than had hitherto been offered them, from the
state of disunion which they ascertained to subsist in the English
Cabinet. Mr. Fox, notwithstanding Lord Rockingham's infirm
state of health, had before his death expressed in Cabinet his
uneasiness and dissatisfaction at the shape the negotiation was
assuming; he had often hinted, in pretty plain terms, at the cause
of the impediments in the work of peace. He more than once
intimated his inclination to resign, unless some steps were taken
to give greater authority to the negotiation he was conducting ^
and on the Sunday before Lord Rockingham's death he actually
tendered his resignation, being outvoted in the Cabinet on the
question of acceding unconditionally to American independence.
His complaints, regarding a secret negotiation yet pending, and
resting upon information yet more confidential and secret, rendered
the entire disclosure of his motives, if he did resign, impossible
and unjustifiable, and it was not till the death of Lord Rocking-
ham, and the subsequent elevation to the Premiership of Lord
Shelburne, thac he could allege public ground for the step he
took; and even then, the ostensible reason, while the real one wa&
suppressed, appeared too personal to find much favor with the

Though he was thus deprived of the satisfaction of bringing ta
a conclusion a war he had so successfully opposed, and the two
countries of England and America were perhaps deprived of all
the advantages which might have arisen from a speedy, frank, and
possibly separate reconciliation between Great Britain and her
former subjects, conducted in the spirit of peace and good-will^
under his able auspices, yet his short Administration of three
months sufficed to impress all European courts with great con-
fidence in his abilities, and to heal for a season, at least, another
breach, which, at the accession of the Whig Ministry, seemed on
the eve of rending Ireland from Great Britain. The adjustment,


in Ireland, of 1782, was not less the result of the confidence which
the congenial honor and genius of two great men, Mr. Fox and
Mr. Grrattan, inspired in each other, than of the force of circum-
stances and the skill of negotiation. Incomplete and defective as
it undoubtedly was, it yet rescued the empire from great imme-
diate danger, and was the first step taken in the great work of
placing the connection of the two Islands on the broad basis of
equality, liberty, and justice. Another event, but one for which
the Ministry could claim no merit, had somewhat improved the
prospects of the country, and was no doubt of advantage in the
negotiations for peace — the victory of Lord Rodney. It was not,
however, unmixed with embarrassment. That bold and fortunate,
but vainglorious commander, had recently been arraigned by the
Whigs in Opposition, and especially by Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke,
for his rapine and cruelty at St. Eustatia. On their accession to
power, in consonance with the opinion they had expressed of his
conduct, his recall was sent out immediately. The news of his
splendid victory arrived after the recall was sent. But the Minis-
ters virtuously and honestly determined to persist in their measure.
They agreed, however, to reward liberally, and even lavishly, the
hero of so great and seasonable a victory. They wished to create
him an earl. George III. obstinately resisted it; but whether
from a reluctance to make honors too cheap by an unexpected and
lavish bestowal of them, or from not liking to wash out any odium
the Whigs might have incurred by recalling him, I cannot con-
jecture. '

The resignation of Mr. Fox is unquestionably one of the two
passages of his public life most open to animadversion, and most
requiring explanation. Everything, therefore, that shows the
uneasy state of the Cabinet during Lord Rockingham's Ministry,
and the grounds for the suspicion and complaint entertained against
the King and Lord Shelburne (the real motives o^ Mr. Fox's
resignation), should be preserved for his biographer.

The step was universally lamented, and very naturally cen-
sured by many friends of freedom and peace, who were unac-
quainted with the personal character of Mr. Fox and his colleagues.


and who saw in it nothing but a fatal division in a body of men
to whom they were looking for a restoration of the blessings of
peace, and the re-establishment of a virtuous system of govern-
ment at home. To them it seemed the result of mere personal
jealousy and squabbles for superiority, in which the interests of
the public were overlooked. Some even of those who were better
informed of the secret transactions of the parties, and more
attached to Mr. Fox than to Lord Shelburne, or the individuals
who sided with him, yet doubted the propriety or expediency of an
open rupture on the appointment of Lord Shelburne to the Trea-
sury, though they neither approved of the manner of that appoint-
ment, nor of the man who had been selected by the King without
any consultation with his colleagues. The Duke of Richmond, who
there is good reason to believe was yet more personally estranged
from Lord Shelburne than Mr. Fox during Lord Rockingham's
life, and who, it appears by Mr. Fox's correspondence, fully par-
took of the indignation felt at Lord Shelburne's conduct, was, it
must be presumed, swayed in his judgment against the resigna-
tion by the preference given by Mr. Fox and the party to the
Duke of Portland, but Burke himself was averse to immediate
resignation. Fitzpatrick, and the most intimate personal friends of
Mr. Fox, while they acknowledged it to be almost unavoidable,
were in their hearts doubtful, and inclined to procrastinate ; and
although Lord John Cavendish and the Duke of Portland urged,
and warmly applauded it, they were not, as Horace Walpole false-
ly supposes, the real authors and causes of the measure. It was
Mr. Fox's own resolution, adopted after much reflection, and
founded on a general conviction that be could not conduct the
public affairs under Lord Shelburne's Treasury with safety, honor,
or advantage ; and from resentment at the duplicity with which
his negotiations at Paris had been impeded by Lord Shelburne
through Mr. Oswald, of which he thought Mr. Grenville's letters
furnished him indubitable evidence. He had never been inti-
mately acquainted with Lord Shelburne. At his first entrance
into life, he must have been strongly prepossessed against him,
for his father, in his latter years, was loud and constant in his

1782.] CHARLES JAMES FOX. , 365

complaints of what lie termed and thought (perhaps unjustly) the
treachery and ingratitude of Lord Shelburne. During the whole
of the American War, Lord Shelburne, though active and able in
his opposition to that war, carefully and ostentatiously professed
either attachment to Lord Chatham, or an insulated and separate
system of politics, and kept studiously aloof from all connection
with the Rockingham party. His habits were altogether different
from those of Mr. Fox. There was no previous intimacy, much
less friendship, between them. When Lord North was driven
from the helm, the King preferring Lord Shelburne, as he had
more than once preferred Lord Chatham, to the powerful associa-
tion of the Whig lords, sent to him, and he, in the first instance,
concealed the substance of the royal communication ; and when he
recommended their admission, and conceded what he called " the
great prize" of the Treasury to Lord Rockingham, he took spe-
cial care to mark that it was his advice, and not the King's favor,
which placed them in power. He then introduced Mr. Dunning
into the Cabinet without notice or concert. Few weeks or even
days elapsed before his colleagues perceived, very sensibly, that
the small glimmer of royal countenance, which shone upon the
Cabinet, was entirely confined to Lord Shelburne and his personal
supporters. This was beginning under unfavorable auspices. The
distribution of offices was not such as to allay the apprehensions
of those who foreboded divisions in the Council or conflicting wills
in the administration of affairs. The Foreign Department was, in
the improvident regulations of that day, divided between two Sec-
retaries of State. They presided over their respective offices, one
of which embraced the north and the other the south of Europe
and the Colonies. The consequences were, that wherever a diplo-
matic agency was required for negotiation with joint powers, the
same man was furnished with instructions, and had to correspond
with two different principals ; or each of those principals employed
respectively a separate servant in an affair which was, or ought to
have been, substantially the same. This circumstance seems to
have accelerated and imbittered the jealousies, which no doubt
would sooner or later have arisen between Lord Shelburne and



Mr. Fox ; for, though both Mr. Oswald and Mr. Grenville were
sent to Paris on their respective missions — the one to Franklin
and the other to Vergennes — by Lord Shelburne and Mr. Fox,
with the express sanction of the Cabinet, yet the former (Mr.
Oswald), it would appear by Franklin's correspondence, and Mr.
Grenville' s, was the channel of many private communications from
Lord Shelburne to Franklin and from Franklin to Lord Shelburne j
and the latter (Mr. Grenville), it is clear from his own correspond-
ence to Mr. Fox, suspected yet more concealment and intrigue,
and urged most forcibly the danger and dishonor of that double
and separate negotiation. There was great mistrust and jealousy
on both sides, much mystery and concealment on that of Lord
Shelburne, which Mr. Fox and Mr. Grenville attributed perhaps
too hastily to a secret understanding with the King, a suspicion
which the appointment of Lord Shelburne to the Treasury, with-
out consultation or advice, strongly confirmed. Whether there
did exist any absolute difference in the views of the two branches
of the Ministry on the subject of peace, is a problem which pos-
sibly the perusal of all the papers may not enable the reader quite
satisfactorily to solve. But that Lord Shelburne so far listened
that he discussed, entertained, and communicated through Mr.
Oswald with Franklin, several projects of the latter without com-
municating them to his colleagues, and especially that strange one
of ceding Canada . to the United States, is clear enough. There
had indeed occurred, before the change of Ministry, and under
Lord North, through the busy interference of David Hartley and
others, what Franklin calls a tampering for a separate peace ; and
the notion of separating in substance, if not in form, the interests
of America from those of France, seems to have been inherited by
the Whig Ministry from their predecessors. It had been, accord-
ing to Hartley, distantly and covertly suggested by Franklin
himself. Franklin, however, represented it, when it suited his
purposes, as a base endeavor to seduce the Americans to abandon
a generous friend, and to sacrifice their feelings of honor and
gratitude to an enemy. In the course of these preliminary steps
to negotiation, it appeared that there were five Commissioners from


America in Europe empowered to treat of general peace when the
Rockingham Administration was appointed ; and Dr. Franklin,
having communicated his desire of peace through Lord Chol-
mondeley to Lord Shelburne as early as the 22d of March, and
before the change of Ministry was known. Lord Shelburne natu-
rally enough chose him as the channel of communication to the
Commission, of which he (Franklin) was one. Mr. Oswald,
besides his public instructions, received and delivered private
letters to him from Lord Shelburne, immediately on his arrival
at Paris, which represented him as "fully apprised of Lord
Shelburne's mind." Much confidential intercourse took place
between Oswald and Franklin ; and according to the relation
of the latter, and the subsequent suspicions of Mr. Grenville
and Mr. Fox, some projects of Franklin, concerning the cession
of Canada to the United States, had been entertained by Oswald
and Lord Shelburne before Mr. Grenville's arrival at Paris,
and were not communicated either to him or Mr. Fox till long
afterwards. The diiference at least of the two negotiations,
through Oswald and Grenville, did not escape the penetration
of Franklin; it was the subject of jokes in society, and of specu-
lation no doubt in the Ministry. Franklin, though he preferred
Oswald for his own purposes, and either did, or professed, to
doubt the good faith of Mr. Grenville, infers directly the exist-
ence of jealousy between the two departments in London, and
accounts for it, by remarking that Mr. Oswald was the choice of
Lord Shelburne — Grenville, of Mr. Secretary Fox. It is possible
and not improbable, that Grenville suspected more conceal-
ment, intrigue, and counteraction than really subsisted; but there
was certainly, neither in Lord Shelburne's way of transacting
business, which was always confused and indistinct, though oc-
casionally striking and decisive — nor in his professions, which
were always overcharged and "excessive — nor in symptoms per-
ceptible elsewhere — nor in his previous or general character, which
may be judged of from the nicknames of " The Jesuit,'^ and " Ma-
lagrida," whether deserved or undeserved, anything to disarm
the suspicions which prepossession, situation, and circumstances.


attested by a friend naturally raised in Mr. Fox's mind, and which
Lord Shelburne's acceptance of the Treasury tended strongly to
confirm. This, then, was the true ground of Mr. Fox's resigna-
tion. His future biographer and his readers must pronounce if it
was sufficient to justify the step, after duly weighing the evidence.
How far the King was himself cognizant of Lord Shelburne's
share in these transactions, it is perhaps more difficult to ascertain.
The points on which Mr. Oswald, with Lord Shelburne's appro-
bation, outstepped the wishes of the rest of the Cabinet, namely,
in acknowledging the absolute necessity of peace, the forlorn and
disunited state of England, the wish to court America, and the
cession of more territory to her, rather than to France, are pre-
cisely those to which Greorge III. must have had, one should pre-
sume, the greatest repugnance. Yet his original message to Lord
Shelburne, rather than to Lord Rockingham, his uniform bias on
every trifling occasion, where shades of diffisrence could be dis-
cerned, to the former, and his final appointment of him to the
Treasury, confirms the persuasion then generally felt in Paris and
in London, and strongly entertained by Mr. Fox and his im-
mediate friends, that the Crown and Lord Shelburne were acting
in concert to disunite and baffle the Cabinet in all their designs at
home and abroad. Lord Shelburne always complained that the
King had tricked and deserted him in 1782 and 1783; and to
the best of my belief, George III. never formally retracted, or
even accidentally contradicted, the character, which in his familiar
correspondence with Lord North he had given to Lord Shelburne,
by the nickname of " The Jesuit," at any period, or on any occa-
sion subsequent to 1783. They may, and probably did, act in
concert together for a purpose, and for a time; but they seemed
not to have inspired any mutual confidence, much less any friend-

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