Charles James Fox

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He that is conscious of guilt cannot bear the innocence of others: So they will try to reduce all others to their own level.

Charles James Fox (24 January 174913 September 1806) was a British Whig politician most noted for his support of the American and French Revolutions.

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  • What acquaintance have the people at large with the arena of political rectitude, with the connections of kingdoms, the resources of national strength, the abilities of ministers, or even with their own dispositions?...I pay no regard whatever to the voice of the people: it is their duty to do what is proper, without considering what may be agreeable.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (25 March 1771), reprinted in J. Wright (ed.), The Speeches of the Rt. Hon. C. J. Fox in the House of Commons. Volume I (1815), pp. 13–14.
  • Religion was best understood when least talked of.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (7 February 1773), quoted in Lord John Russell (ed.), Memorials and Correspondence of Charles James Fox. Volume I (London: Richard Bentley, 1853), p. 71.
  • Kings govern by means of popular assemblies only when they cannot do without them.
    • Speech to the House of Commons (October 31, 1776)
  • ...against which we should direct all our force, the navy of France: in the destruction of her marine we might see some hope of recovering America; but while our army remained in that country, we were to expect nothing from its operations. On the continent of Europe, it might be employed; there we might contend with France, in a manner that would make her feel that her own consequence was at stake. But the old Whig system of alliances on the continent had been given up, and we were left to fight all our battles by ourselves. If these alliances were renewed, France might then be taught, that rashness, not prudence, had made her enter into the American confederacy...America...might be won in Europe, while England might be ruined in America.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (14 December 1778), reprinted in he The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803. Vol. XX (London: 1814), p. 79.
  • There is no man who hates the power of the crown more, or who has a worse opinion of the Person to whom it belongs than I.
    • Letter to Edmund Burke (24 January 1779), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 41.
  • ...the question now was...whether that beautiful fabric [the English constitution]...was to be maintained in that freedom...for which blood had been spilt; or whether we were to submit to that system of despotism, which had so many advocates in this country.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (24 April 1780), reprinted in J. Wright (ed.), The Speeches of the Rt. Hon. C. J. Fox in the House of Commons. Volume I (1815), p. 261.
  • Gentlemen, the malicious and groundless Reports which have been spread, make it necessary for me to assure you, that notwithstanding all that has been said, I never have supported, nor ever will support, any Measure which can by any Means be prejudicial to the Protestant Religion, or in any way tend to establish Popery in this Kingdom.
  • It is intolerable that it should be in the power of one blockhead to do so much mischief.
    • Fox on George III in a letter to Mr. Fitzpatrick (9 September 1781), quoted in John Brooke, George III (Panther, 1974), pp. 363-364.
  • [Fox] exhibited two pictures of this country; the one representing her at the end of the last glorious war, the other at the present moment. At the end of the last war this country was raised to a most dazzling height of splendour and respect. The French marine was in a manner annihilated, the Spanish rendered contemptible; the French were driven from America; new sources of commerce were opened, the old enlarged; our influence extended to a predominance in Europe, our empire of the ocean established and acknowledged, and our trade filling the ports and harbours of the wondering and admiring world. Now mark the degradation and the change, We have lost thirteen provinces of America; we have lost several of our Islands, and the rest are in danger; we have lost the empire of the sea; we have lost our respect abroad and our unanimity at home; the nations have forsaken us, they see us distracted and obstinate, and they leave us to our fate. Country! ...This was your situation, when you were governed by Whig ministers and by Whig measures, when you were warmed and instigated by a just and a laudable cause, when you were united and impelled by the confidence which you had in your ministers, and when they were again strengthened and emboldened by your ardour and enthusiasm. This is your situation, when you are under the conduct of Tory ministers and a Tory system, when you are disunited, disheartened, and have neither confidence in your ministers nor union among yourselves; when your cause is unjust and your conductors are either impotent or treacherous.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (27 November 1781), reprinted in J. Wright (ed.), The Speeches of the Rt. Hon. C. J. Fox in the House of Commons. Volume I (1815), p. 429.
  • On speaking to Mr. Fox (who had just received the seals as Secretary of State) on the important event of the day, he said certainly things look very well, but he, meaning the K[ing], will dye soon, and that will be best of all.
    • Fox to Lord Carmarthen (27 March 1783), quoted in Oscar Browning (ed.), The Political Memoranda of Francis Fifth Duke of Leeds (Camden Society, 1884), pp. 65-66, n.
  • [I] charged Mr. Pitt with having come into office upon unconstitutional grounds, and upon such principles as were disgraceful to himself, disgusting to the country, and such as must necessarily deprive him and his coadjutors of the confidence of that House.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (12 January 1784), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 75.
  • The true simple question of the present dispute is, whether the House of Lords and Court Influence shall predominate over the House of Commons, and annihilate its existence, or whether the House of Commons...shall have power to....regulate the prerogative of the Crown, which was ever ready to seize upon the freedom of the Electors of this country.
    • Speech to his constituents in Westminster (1784), quoted in W. T. Laprade, 'William Pitt and the Westminster Election', American Historical Review, 23 (1912), p. 263.
  • The worst of revolutions is a restoration.
    • Speech to the House of Commons (December 10, 1785)
  • I stand, said Mr. Fox, upon this great principle. I say that the people of England have a right to control the executive power, by the interference of their representatives in this House of parliament. The right honourable gentleman [William Pitt] maintains the contrary. He is the cause of our political enmity.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (27 February 1786), reprinted in J. Wright (ed.), The Speeches of the Rt. Hon. C. J. Fox in the House of Commons. Volume III (1815), p. 201.
  • [The situation was] as in the case of his majesty's having undergone a natural and perfect demise...There was then a person in the kingdom different from any other person that any existing precedents could refer to—an heir apparent of full age and capacity to exercise the royal power. It behoved them, therefore, to waste not a moment unnecessarily, but to proceed with all becoming speed and all becoming diligence to restore the sovereign power and the exercise of royal authority.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (10 December 1788) advocating the Prince of Wales being appointed Regent, reprinted in J. Wright (ed.), The Speeches of the Rt. Hon. C. J. Fox in the House of Commons. Volume III (1815), pp. 400-401.
  • We shall have several hard fights in the H. of Cs. this week and next, in some of which I fear we shall be beat, but whether we are or not I think it certain that in about a fortnight we shall come in; If we carry our questions we shall come in in a more creditable and triumphant way, but at any rate the Prince must be Regent and of consequence the Ministry must be changed...I am rather afraid they will get some cry against the Prince for grasping as they call it at too much power, but I am sure that I can not in conscience advise him to give up any thing that is really necessary to his Government, or indeed to claim any thing else as Regent, but the full power of a King, to which he is certainly entitled.
    • Letter to Mrs. Armistead (15 December 1788), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 84.
  • How much the greatest event it is that ever happened in the world! and how much the best!
    • Letter to Mr. Fitzpatrick (30 July 1789) on the fall of the Bastille, printed in J. Russell (ed.), Memorials and Correspondence of Charles James Fox. Volume II (London: Richard Bentley, 1853), p. 361.
  • ...he was indebted to his right honourable friend [Edmund Burke] for the greatest share of the political knowledge he possessed,—his political education had been formed under him,—his instructions had invariably governed his principles.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (2 March 1790).
  • Persecution always says, 'I know the consequences of your opinion better than you know them yourselves.' But the language of toleration was always amicable, liberal, and just: it confessed its doubts, and acknowledged its ignorance … Persecution had always reasoned from cause to effect, from opinion to action, [that such an opinion would invariably lead to but one action], which proved generally erroneous; while toleration led us invariably to form just conclusions, by judging from actions and not from opinions.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (2 March 1790), quoted in Loren Reid, Charles James Fox: A Man for the People (1969), p. 261.
  • Toleration in religion was one of the great rights of man, and a man ought never to be deprived of what was his natural right.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (19 April 1791), quoted in J. Wright (ed.), The Speeches of the Rt. Hon. C. J. Fox in the House of Commons. Volume IV (1815), p. 192.
  • Any thing that proves that it is not in the power of Kings and Princes by their great armies to have every thing their own way is of such good example that without any good will to the French one can not help being delighted by it, and you know I have a natural partiality to what some people call rebels.
    • Letter to Mrs. Armitstead (7 October 1792), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 125.
  • He would never forgo inquiry into the causes of the war, and measures to prevent similar calamities in future. This was due to the people, least, in the enjoyment of peace, they should forget their former sufferings from war, and again yield themselves up to delusion. Both the present and the American war were owing to a court party in this country, that hated the very name of liberty; and to an indifference, amounting to barbarity, in the minister, to the distresses of the people. It was some consolation to him that he had done his utmost to prevent the war, and to know that those who provoked it could not but feel, even while they were endeavouring to persuade others of the contrary, that they must, in no very long space of time, adopt the very course which he was recommending as fit to be adopted now.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (30 December 1794), quoted in J. Wright (ed.), The Speeches of the Rt. Hon. C. J. Fox in the House of Commons. Volume V (1815), p. 339-340.
  • ...a greater evil than the restoration of the Bourbons to the world in general, and England in particular, can hardly happen.
    • Letter to Lord Holland (28 July 1795), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 160.
  • Peace is the wish of the French of Italy Spain Germany and all the world, and Great Britain alone the cause of preventing its accomplishment, and this not for any point of honour or even interest, but merely lest there should be an example in the modern world of a great powerful Republic.
    • Letter to Lord Holland (7 August 1795), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), pp. 161-162.
  • But at no one time had he given an unqualified opinion of the governments which succeeded that event [the abolition of the French monarchy]; much less would he stand pledged to give the least countenance to the scenes of blood and cruelty which had been the almost inseparable attendants on the varied and successive governments that followed one another. He formed his opinion of government by the test of practice, and not by the theory and on paper.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (29 October 1795), reprinted in J Wright (ed.), The Speeches of the Rt. Hon. C. J. Fox in the House of Commons. Volume V (1815), p. 505.
  • There appears to me to be no device at present but between an absolute surrender of the liberties of the People and a vigorous exertion...My view of things is I own very gloomy, and I am convinced that in a few years this Government will become completely absolute, or that confusion will arise of a nature almost as much to be deprecated as despotism itself...This is a great Crisis.
    • Letter to Lord Holland (15 November 1795), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 140.
  • Our Sovereign's Health, the Majesty of the People.
    • Toast given at the Whig Club (1 May 1798), quoted in John Ehrman, The Younger Pitt. The Consuming Struggle (London: Constable, 1996), p. 116. The King struck off Fox's name from the list of Privy Councillors in response. Fox also gave the toast "may the ancient Nobility of England ever think it their highest honour to support the Rights of the People".
  • That a great General like Bonaparte should be inclined to military means of effecting a military Government is less to be wondered at than lamented...by taking the common & beaten path of Ambition he has...done much against the liberty of mankind in every part of the world...The only good that could come from this Event, so pernicious to the cause of general Liberty, was Peace, and that you see our Ministers are determined to refuse.
    • Letter to Christopher Wyvill (8 January 1800), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 166.
  • [Napoleon has now] surpassed...Alexander & Caesar, not to mention the great advantage he has over them in the Cause he fights in.
    • Letter to Denis O'Bryen (16 July 1800), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 167.
  • As to Bonaparte, you know what my apprehensions always were, and I can not help thinking they are in a great degree verified. For though he may, and I hope he will, trounce the Austrians...yet it is impossible to deny that he has lost, or at least risqued the losing of an opportunity. Every man has his weak side, and I have always thought Bonaparte's was the thinking Austria more inclined to peace and more to be depended upon than She is. I hope to God he will not suffer from his errour.
    • Letter to R. Fitzpatrick (10 September 1800), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 168.
  • Why Egypt should be of such importance either to the French or to Us I never could discover and I have always thought the Expedition there the foolishest part, perhaps the only foolish part of Bonaparte's Conduct, unless perhaps he had some views in it connected with the internal Politicks of France of which we are not informed, or (which I have always suspected) that he had a desire to be out of the way of either accepting or refusing the command of an army destined to invade England.
    • Letter to H. E. Fox (15 May 1801), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 168.
  • It may be said that the conditions are glorious for the French Republic: it must be confessed that they are; and there is not a Briton but who ought honestly to rejoice that such is the fact. The people of France resisted, as they ought to do, the whole combination of powers who would have imposed upon them a constitution contrary to their own will. Their's was the cause of liberty—the cause of mankind at large. They had every obstacle to oppose which imagination can suggest—but they have triumphed over such obstacles—their cause has been crowned with an everlasting triumph...We have not, I acknowledge, obtained the objects for which the War was undertaken—so much the better—I rejoice that we have not. I like the Peace the more on this very account.
    • Speech to his constituents at the Shakespeare Tavern, Westminster (10 October 1801) on peace with Napoleonic France, reported in The Times (12 October 1801), p. 2.
  • ...for the truth is, I am gone something further in hate to the English Government than perhaps you and the rest of my friends are, and certainly further than can with prudence be avowed. The triumph of the French Government over the English does in fact afford me a degree of pleasure which it is very difficult to disguise.
    • Letter to Lord Grey (22 October 1801), quoted in E. A. Smith, Lord Grey. 1764-1845 (Alan Sutton, 1996), p. 86.
  • However it may have happened, it is an excellent thing, and I do not like it the worse for its being so very triumphant a peace for France...The sense of humiliation in the Government here will be certainly lost in the extreme popularity of the measure...this rascally people are quite overjoyed at receiving from Ministers what, if they had dared to ask it, could not have been refused them at almost any period of the war. Will the Ministers have the impudence to say that there was any time (much less that when Bonaparte's offer was refused) when we might not have had terms as good? Bonaparte's triumph is now complete indeed, and, since there is to be no political liberty in the world, I really believe he is the fittest person to be the master.
    • Letter to T. Maitland (1801), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), pp. 169-170.
  • As to War I can only say that my opinion is clearly that it will not be. I can tell you my reasons for this opinion in two sentences. 1st. I am sure that Bonaparte will do everything that he can to avoid it. 2nd. that, low as my opinion is of our Ministry, I cannot believe them quite so foolish as to force him to it, without one motive either of ambition or interest to incite them.
    • Letter to Lord Lauderdale (18 November 1802), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 177.
  • Bonaparte's wish is Peace, nay that he is afraid of war to the last degree.
    • Letter to Charles Grey (12 December 1802), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 201.
  • There is not a power in Europe, no not even Bonaparte's that is so unlimited [as the British monarchy].
    • Letter to Lord Holland (9 January 1804), quoted in L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 194.
  • So fully am I impressed with the vast importance and necessity of attaining what will be the object of my motion this night, that if, during the almost forty years that I have had the honour of a seat in parliament, I had been so fortunate as to accomplish that, and that only, I should think I had done enough, and could retire from public life with comfort, and the conscious satisfaction, that I had done my duty.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (10 June 1806) on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, quoted in J. Wright (ed.), The Speeches of the Rt. Hon. C. J. Fox in the House of Commons. Volume VI (1815), p. 659.
  • I die happy.
    • Last words. Quoted in Lord John Russell Life and Times of C J Fox, Vol.3 (1860), Ch. 9

Attributed[edit]

  • ...the following passage from Major Cartwright's Memorandum Book: “On Sunday the 10th of April, 1814, Earl Stanhope informed me that in conversation with Mr. Fox and a third person, Mr. Fox said ‘Parliamentary reform was a fit thing to be made use of in argument in the House of Commons, but not to be carried into execution.’” Lord Stanhope also mentioned the same fact to Major Cartwright's friend, Mr. Holt White, and in the same words.
    • F. D. Cartwright (ed.), The Life and Correspondence of Major Cartwright. Volume I (London: Henry Colburn, 1826), pp. 132-133, n.

About[edit]

  • I asked him [Samuel Johnson] if it was true as reported, that he had said lately, ‘I am for the King against Fox; but I am for Fox against Pitt.’ JOHNSON: ‘Yes, Sir; the King is my master; but I do not know Pitt; and Fox is my friend.’ ‘Fox, (added he,) is a most extraordinary man; here is a man (describing him in strong terms of objection in some respects according as he apprehended, but which exalted his abilities the more) who has divided the Kingdom with Caesar; so that it was a doubt whether the nation should be ruled by the sceptre of George the Third, or the tongue of Fox.’
    • Samuel Johnson in conversation with James Boswell (11 June 1784), quoted in James Boswell, Life of Johnson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 1292.
  • Although Fox's private character was deformed by indulgence in vicious pleasures, it was in the eyes of his contemporaries largely redeemed by the sweetness of his disposition, the buoyancy of his spirits, and the unselfishness of his conduct. As a politician he had liberal sentiments, and hated oppression and religious intolerance. He constantly opposed the influence of the crown, and, although he committed many mistakes, and had in George III an opponent of considerable knowledge of kingcraft and immense resources, the struggle between him and the king, as far as the two men were concerned, was after all a drawn game...the coalition of 1783 shows that he failed to appreciate the importance of political principles and was ignorant of political science...Although his speeches are full of common sense, he made serious mistakes on some critical occasions, such as were the struggle of 1783–4, and the dispute about the regency in 1788. The line that he took with reference to the war with France, his idea that the Treason and Sedition bills were destructive of the constitution, and his opinion in 1801 that the House of Commons would soon cease to be of any weight, are instances of his want of political insight. The violence of his language constantly stood in his way; in the earlier period of his career it gave him a character for levity; later on it made his coalition with North appear especially reprehensible, and in his latter years afforded fair cause for the bitterness of his opponents. The circumstances of his private life helped to weaken his position in public estimation. He twice brought his followers to the brink of ruin and utterly broke up the whig party. He constantly shocked the feelings of his countrymen, and ‘failed signally during a long public life in winning the confidence of the nation’ (LECKY, Hist. iii. 465 sq.). With the exception of the Libel Bill of 1792, the credit of which must be shared with others, he left comparatively little mark on the history of national progress. Great as his talents were in debate, he was deficient in statesmanship and in some of the qualities most essential to a good party leader.
    • William Hunt, 'Fox, Charles James (1749–1806)', Dictionary of National Biography (1889).

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