Charles James Fox.

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

. (page 7 of 31)
Online LibraryCharles James FoxMemorials and correspondence of Charles James Fox (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

him. The story, with some variations, is introduced in one of Foote's
farces. — V. H.



January 26. On Robert's petition against the Lord Mayor,
objected to by Sawbridge, '' Charles Fox supported it, and, by
Rigb/s instigation, abused George Grenville's select committee
for hearing elections, which had really restored some credit to
Parliament, and which the Court disliked as impartial, and de-
stroying the weight of a majority when petitions were tried there,
since a small number would not expose themselves to the odium
of injustice as a whole party would. T. Townshend observing
that Charles Fox sat near the bar, as his father had used to do
when he managed elections, said, the young gentleman seemed
to think he had, and wished to recover, an hereditary right of
managing elections. Rigby, to court Fox, made a panegyric on
Lord Holland, whom he had used very ill, and abused G. Gren-
ville's bill. Townshend, with his usual quickness, replied that
had he been the friend of Lord Holland, or G. Grenville (as
Rigby had been, and deserted both for interest), he should not
have forfeited their friendship." — H. w.

"On the 11th of February, appeared in the ^Public Adver-
tiser' a most daring attack on the Speaker, Sir F. Norton, for
partiality in preventing the presentation of a memorial in behalf
of one William Tooke, a Norfolk gentleman, oppressed by Mr.
De Grey, brother of the Chief Justice, who was soliciting a bill
to inclose a common, in which Tooke had property, and to which
inclosure Tooke would not give his consent. Tooke set his name
to the publication, but it was said to be written by Parson Home,
and contained a representation of the Speaker's injustice, which
appeared, however, to have been only slovenly hurry." — H. w.

" The Speaker, as soon as the House met, made his complaint,
and said that all he desired was to be acquitted of partiality.
The members on whom he called disculpated him, and then Lord
North, Rigby, and Charles Fox called for the orders of the day,
and the matter had like to have ended there, but Mr. Herbert
went up to Lord North, and asked him if he did not mean to


vindicate the dignity of tlie Speaker and of the House. Lord
Northj with his usual indolent indecision, replied, he had not
determined ; he must have time to think of it ; but Herbert did
not give him time, and moved for vengeance on the printer. This
set the House in a flame, and many cried that now was the time
to assert the honor of the House against the insolence of the
press. Lord North himself took up spirit and spoke well, as he
always did when he took his part, and he drew a ridiculous pic-
ture of a former transaction, to mortify Sawbridge and the city
patriots. He said if they sent for the printer, the Lord Mayor
would refuse to obey their order. The magistrate would think it
his duty, like one of his predecessors, to be sent to prison, would
have the comfort of martyrdom, and would probably meet with
the same gratitude from his fellow-citizens as his predecessor had
done. Dowdeswell put Lord North in mind that Wilkes might
avow himself the author of Tooke's letter, and then what would
his lordship do ? He remembered, he said, how often the min-
isters had shrunk from the charge, when it had been necessary
to question and encounter Wilkes. Woodfall, the printer, was
ordered to attend, and, on the 14th of February, Woodfall ap-
peared at the bar of the House. He declared he had received
the offensive paper from Parson Home, but in the hurry of busi-
ness had not perused it, only seeing two petitions, concluded the
paper related to common business of the House, and submitted
himself, hoping allowance would be made for his having exercised
his profession for twenty years without having ever ofi'ended the
House before. This behavior greatly softened the House, and
Mr. Herbert moved for his being only committed to the Sergeant-
at-Arms ; but Charles Fox, prompt to be violent and to disgust,
and assuming the minister, moved to commit Woodfall to New-
gate, in defiance, he declared, of the city and sheriffs, and was
seconded by General Burgoyne ; but many others objected to
the punishment as too severe, and the courtiers themselves were
against extremities, as Herbert, Sir William Meredith, and others,
were not for violating the liberty of the press. Lord North at
last said the offence was too great to be slightly passed over, but,


wishing to avoid a quarrel with the city magistrates, preferred
the Gate-house, which was without their jurisdiction, to Newgate.
However, if a precedent of a milder punishment could be found,
he would yield to it ; if not, must tread in the steps of our an-
cestors, who had been much more watchful over the privileges
of the House than the present generation were ; and he indis-
creetly owned that the House was got into a scrape, must
avoid it if it could, at least ought not to provoke it. A tedious
debate ensued, everybody trying to procure unanimity and mode-
ration. At last Dowdeswell pointed out a case in the journals
exactly parallel, only stronger, as it extended abuse on both
Houses ; when Meres, the printer, was committed to the Sergeant-
at-Arms. This brought over several to the milder side, and Lord
North confessed that the case was in point, and that he must
submit to it, if Charles Fox, with whom he had concurred for
imprisonment, would let him off, though he had bound him to
the stake. But Charles Fox, with the most indecent arrogance,
stuck to his point, and declared that he would take the sense of
the House, and Lord North was so weak as to vote with him,
but they were beaten by 152 to 68, Jenkinson, Dyson, and the
very Secretaries of the Treasury voting against the minister.
Home was then ordered to attend, and Jenkinson moved that it
might be in custody, but that too was overruled, and he was
ordered to attend on the 16th. The court was equally odious for
the badness of its designs, and the pusillanimity of its execution.
Lord North's conduct was irresolute, Charles Fox's presumptuous,
and every step he made added to his unpopularity.^' — H. av.

The indignation of Greorge III. at this transaction is thus ex-
pressed in his correspondence with Lord North : —

February 15. "I am greatly incensed at the presumption
of Charles Fox in forcing you to vote with him last night, but
approve much of your making your friends vote in the majority.
Indeed, that young man has so thoroughly cast off every principle
of common honor and honesty, that he must become as contemp-
tible as he is odious. I hope you will let him know that you are
not insensible of his conduct towards you.''


" Charles Fox being asked the next day at the club at Almack's
whether Lord North had not turned him out, said aloud, ' No ;
but if he does, I will write a letter to congratulate and tell him
that, if he had always acted with the same spirit, I should not
have dfffered with him yesterday/ '' — H. w.

February 16. A complaint was made to the House of a-
letter printed in the "Public Advertiser," and reprinted in the
"Morning Chronicle.'^ This paper was an "impudent invective
on the Revolution. Indeed, the printers of newspapers seemed
to be trying whether they could not provoke the legislature to
persecute them. The 'Morning Post' had for a twelvemonth
been the grossest vehicle of all manner of scandal." "It was
Charles Fox who made the complaint." "T. Townshend took the
occasion of teasing and flinging in Lord North's teeth the pen-
sions bestowed by the King on those notorious Jacobites, Dr.
Johnson* and Dr. Shebbeare." — H. w.

On February the 19th, after Home Tooke had embarrassed
Lord North by surrendering himself contrary to all expectation,
appearing at the bar, and conducting himself with great temper
and ability there, a debate ensued in which "Charles Fox, struck
with Lord North's insufficient behavior, and impatient to ag-
grandize himself at his expense, cautioned the House, the next
time they should be concerned in such a business, not to ascribe
any particular merit to a printer in giving up his author, and he
rudely blamed Lord North for his imprudence in promising
Woodfall indemnity for betraying Home; he thought printers
more culpable than authors, and that the chief punishment ought

1 I tliink I have heard that Dr. Johnson happened to be in the gallery
that day, and was much gratified by Mr. Fox's reply to Mr. T. Towns-
hend in which he approved of the pension to Johnson, and without being
aware of his presence, spoke with great warmth in his praise. Even his
subsequent exertions in favor of American liberty never cancelled this
obligation. In 1784, in the heat of the Westminster election. Dr. John-
son bade Sir Joshua Reynolds surmount his scruples and vote for Mr.
Fox, saying — "I am for the lung against Fox, but for Fox against Pitt."
—V. H.

VOL. I. — 9


to fall on the former. Colonel Barre drew a picture, with much
wit, of Lord North, counselled on one hand bj Wedderburne,
on the other by the youngest man in the house, Charles Fox,
both of whom he painted well and extolled ironically : for him-
self, as he had been a soldier and used to disposing troops, he
would advise the noble lord to place the young gentleman on the
right, who had recommended to him not to be rash, and the
faithful Achates, his learned friend, on the left, and then he
would find common sense on one side, and law on the other." —

H. W.

February 23. King George III. to Lord North. ^'I think
Mr. Charles Fox would have acted more becoming to you and
himself, if he had absented himself from the House ; for his con-
duct is not to be attributed to conscience, but to his aversion to
all restraints,"

February 24. Charles Fox was dismissed, for his late be-
havior to Lord North, from being a Lord of the Treasury. — h. w.

Horace Walpole, under the date of the following day, says,
speaking of Lord North : '^With his usual hurry after indolence
he turned out Charles Fox, as a threat to those who might incline
to desert, but without effect."




*In 1774 we may place the real commencement of Mr. Fox's
political career. In early life, though surrounded by the political
friends of his father, and involved in his resentments, though
admired for his quickness in argument, and boldness in discus-
sion, he seems to have given but little earnest attention to the
questions of the day. Part of this indifference to grave parlia-
mentary debate may be traced to the violence of his attachment
to other and less worthy pursuits; to his passion for gaming,
and his indulgence in all the vices of headstrong and unbridled
youth. -^

But part of this indifference may be traced to another cause,
and it is necessary for a due understanding of Mr. Fox's cha-
racter to give in this place an outline of the period in which he
had completed his education, and entered the House of Commons.
There is no part of our history since the Revolution, which is so
little creditable to the Government or to the people, as that which
elapsed between the signature of the peace of Paris, and the end
of the American War.

The first princes of the house of Hanover who reigned in this
country had greatly contributed, by their very ignorance of its
manners and its laws, to consolidate its free constitution. Inca-
pable of leading a political party like Charles I., or a religious
sect like James 11. , they naturally sought the aid of the men
most able to conduct the business of a complex government, and
secure a disputed throne. The affairs of the country had been
conducted by Walpole, by Pelham, and by Pitt : men of different


tempers, indeed, but each of them qualified by comprehensive
knowledge, by parliamentary experience, and by firmness of cha-
racter to lead the great Whig party which had founded and had
maintained the Hanover succession. The means employed by
these three men were various, but all fitted to the end they had
in view. Each had observed with scrupulous fidelity the laws
which secure personal liberty. At no time was the freedom of
the subject more fully enjoyed than in the period from 1720 to
1760. Upon religious questions each was careful not to revive
past heats, and without taking off the fetters of the dissenter,
not to aggravate the weight of his chains. Upon financial mat-
ters and foreign policy, there was a manifest diversity. Walpole,
taking the helm of affairs soon after a costly war, and immedi-
ately after the South Sea fever, was careful in husbanding the
resources of the country, in improving commerce by taking off
duties on raw materials, in relieving the subject from taxes, in
holding fast to a most scrupulous maintenance of public credit.
Pelham had followed in the same course, and while lowering the
interest of the public debt, had seen the Three per Cents, rise to
par under his administration. Walpole, in order to preserve his
system, had paid a minute attention to foreign affairs. But
while using the name and influence of England in all continental
disputes, he had steadily employed that name and influence for
the purpose of preserving or restoring peace. Nor did the eager
desires of the Court, or the public clamor of the nation, alter
his views, or induce him to swerve from his path.

Mr. Pitt took a different course. He found the nation drifting
into war from the negligence or timidity of the Administration
to which he succeeded. He did not attempt to ward off hostili-
ties, but framed his measures boldly with a view to cripple his
principal enemy.

The part which England took in the Seven Years' War had
its origin exclusively in her American quarrel with France. In
Europe, her old and natural ally was Austria. It was not her
interest to see that ally despoiled of Silesia, and so precarious
was her friendship with Prussia, that a few months before the


breaking out of the war, she had been on the point of hostilities
with that power on maritime differences.

In America, the interests of England were more nearly con-
cerned. France, holding Louisiana in the south, and Canada in
the north, was engaged in forming a line of posts to the west,
which should effectually check the growth of the British Ameri-
can colonies. The colonists vigorously attacked the line of forts ;
Washington drew his sword for the first time against French
aggression ; and when the American colonists themselves were
threatened with a large regular force from France, they appealed
to their mother country for safety and for succor.

The English Grovernment, however averse to such a quarrel,
did not choose to decline it. Orders were sent to our naval com-
manders which brought on a conflict.

At the same period a new face had been given to the affairs of
Europe. While our relations with Prussia were unfriendly, the
ancient alliance of England with the Austrian empire was not
entirely dissolved; so that politicians might reasonably speculate
on a war of England and Austria against Prussia and France.
But these were days of Court intrigue, and a very singular one
at this moment altered the face of Europe.

Maria Theresa, with all the pride of Charles Y., had seen one
of the ancient provinces of her empire conquered by a young
rival. She could not reconcile herself to the loss of Silesia, and
the diminution of her fame. It occurred to her, or was suggest-
ed, that the ancient enemy of Austria might be made an instru-
ment in rebuilding the fortunes of her house. Madame de Pom-
padour, and the Abbe de Bernis, eagerly caught at a plan which
miffht minister to the ambition of the mistress, and the fortunes
of the sycophant. France and Austria were thus united to de-
spoil Prussia of her new conquest; out of these materials Mr. Pitt
worked up the fabric of a successful and glorious war. By
furnishing to Frederic of Prussia the means of victory at Bosbach,
he crippled the power of France in America and on the seas.
^'I conquered America in Oermany," was his justifiable boast at
the end of the war.



When that war was concluded, Mr. Pitt was no longer minister.
After Lord Bute had held the rudder for an instant, and had
shrunk appalled from the roar of the waves, and the dark prospect
hefore him, Mr. Grrenville accepted the post of First Lord of the
Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. His views were
honest, but narrow ; he had been unable to comprehend the great-
ness of Mr. Pitt, and he had served under him in the House of
Commons without catching a spark of his genius, or comprehend-
ing the vision of his far-seeing eye. To his mind the seventy
millions of debt incurred by the war, the lenity allowed in the
admission of accounts, the deficiency of contributions from
America in a cause that was their own, comprised the whole
question before him.

In order to obtain a sufficient revenue for defraying the charge
of the debt, he framed fifty-five resolutions imposing stamp-duties
on the American colonies, and he devised a system of regulations
to defeat the contraband trade carried on between the Americans
and foreign countries. From his projected stamp-duties in
America he expected to raise a revenue of one hundred thousand
pounds ! Never were the interests of a great country sacrificed
to such paltry and peddling considerations.

The American colonies had never before been subject to direct
taxes. The unwise regulations which England, like other coun-
tries, had adopted for confining the trade of the colonies to the
mother country, had been rendered tolerable by the discreet for-
bearance with which they were enforced. The colonies resented
the attempt to impose internal taxes, and they fretted under the
pressure of minute cords which galled and confined their com-

In order to estimate fully the want of wisdom shown by Mr.
Grrenville, some other circumstances must be viewed in connection
with his policy.

The North American colonies had been founded by men of the
freest spirit, and the most popular notions, both of religion and
policy. Some had fled from Laud and Straiford in their own
country; others had been impelled by a desire to found a new

1774.] CHARLES JAMES FOX. ^ 103

state of society in an unfrequented land. The forms of the
English Church had never been introduced with success. The
outline of our political constitution had been so far copied as to
impress the colonists with the belief that all taxes, in order to be
legal, must be voted by their own representatives, convened by
their Governor, in an assembly of the Commons.

But whatever may have been the freedom of the colonies,
their subjection to the mother country had hitherto been main-
tained by the circumstances of their position. With Canada on
the one side, and Louisiana on the other, they felt as keen a
rivalry with France as the inhabitants of Southampton or
Plymouth. They looked to British fleets and British regiments
to protect them from French aggression, and while they felt as
Englishmen in our national wars, they contributed liberally as
colonists to ward oflf dangers threatening their own territory and
their own trade.

But the very success of England in the late war had weakened
the connection. A French army, holding Quebec, commanded
by a distinguished general, had disappeared; a British province
was in its place. The sagacity of the Marquis of Montcalm had
enabled him to predict the consequences of such a change. In
the disaster of his country he had drawn consolation from the
reflection that the British colonies, relieved from the dread of
France, would no longer preserve the same attachment, or practise
an equal submission. Some persons in England had made simi-
lar predictions. In these new circumstances any provocation to
the colonies was doubly dangerous.

The Stamp Act produced the greatest excitement in America.
It was reprinted with a death's head prefixed instead of the royal
arms, and a name was given to it not inappropriate — ^'England's
folly, and America's bane." At Boston the colors of the ship-
ping were hoisted half-mast high, the church bells were muffled
and tolled a funeral knell. More deliberate resistance followed.
Proceedings in the courts of justice were suspended that stamps
might not be required. Merchants refused to pay debts incurred
for English importations. Associations were formed for the ex-


elusive use of colonial manufactures. The collectors, sent over
to distribute the stamps, were maltreated, and resigned in a panic.
Finally, public offices and private houses were pillaged by a dis-
orderly mob.

These riots took place in August, 1765. When the news
reached England, a new ministry was in power. Lord Rocking-
ham was at the head of that ministry ; Greneral Conway was their
leader in the House of Commons, and Mr. Burke, although then
little known, was the confidential adviser of the head of the

The situation was perilous and perplexing. It was impossible
to pass unnoticed the flagrant disobedience of America. It was
folly to persist in executing an unjust and unwise law.

Parliament met on the 14th of January, 1766. Then occurred
that famous debate on the right of Great Britain to tax the colo-
nies, which, in fact, decided the question. Mr. Pitt rose. After
speaking of the large proportion of property held by the Com-
mons of England compared with the Crown, the Lords, and the
Church, he concluded his argument by saying — " When, there-
fore, in this House we give and grant, we give and grant what is
our own. But in an American tax, what do we do ? We, your
Majesty's Commons of Great Britain, give and grant to your
Majesty — what ? Our own property ? No ! We give and grant
to your Majesty the property of your Majesty's Commons of
America. It is an absurdity in terms."

Mr. Grenville made a labored reply, and seems to have quoted
the precedents of Chester and of Durham.

Mr. Pitt rose again. There was some doubt whether he was
in order, but as only part of the Address had been read, and the
desire of the House to hear him was great, he was allowed to

He treated Mr. Grenville with scorn and sarcasm. He pro-
claimed aloud his sympathy with America. "The gentleman
tells us America is obstinate; America is almost in open rebel-
lion. I rejoice that America has resisted. Three millions of
people so dead to all the feelings of liberty, as voluntarily to


submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make
slaves of the rest. I come not here, armed at all points, with
law cases and Acts of Parliament, with the statute-books,
doubled down in dog' sears, to defend the cause of liberty ; if I
had, I myself would have cited the two cases of Chester and of

He concluded with this advice : —

'^ Upon the whole, I will beg leave to tell the House what is
precisely my opinion. It is that the Stamp Act be repealed,
absolutely, totally, and immediately. That the reason for the
repeal be assigned, that it was founded on an erroneous principle.
At the same time, let the sovereign authority of this country
over the colonies be asserted in as strong terms as can be devised,
and made to extend to every kind of legislation whatsoever.
That we may bind their trade, confine their manufactures, and
exercise every power whatsoever, except only that of taking their
money from their pockets without their own consent. '^

Two great questions were at this time pending. The one was
the taxation of America; the other was the government of Eng-
land by party, or by the Court.

It is not true to say, as the vulgar at that time believed, that
George III. was governed by Lord Bute, and that he sought to
favor the Scotch to the prejudice of the English. But there was
truth in the accusation which is brought in Mr. Burke's " Essay
on the Causes of the present Discontents.'' The substance of
that accusation may be told very shortly.

After the Revolution of 1688, the two great parties called
Whigs and Tories had endeavored to carry into effect their difier-
ent views of government by means of a majority in the two
Houses of Parliament. The personal ascendency of William
III., however, had enabled him to employ the party to which he
was most inclined at the time, and to give way to his predilec-
tions in favor of Tory doctrines, without entirely breaking with

Online LibraryCharles James FoxMemorials and correspondence of Charles James Fox (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 31)