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Fox's political morality is not without one very dark stain. For some years he had been the leader of the opposition to Lord North's administration. Under his repeated and powerful blows the great Tory ministry was obliged to give way. Fox had been so conspicuously at the head of the opposition that everybody looked to see him elevated to the position of First Minister. But the king had been scandalized by the irregularities of Fox's life, and probably was quite willing to find an excuse for not calling so able a Whig into power. Lord Shelburne was appointed instead, and Fox refused to take office under him. But that was not all. He not only refused to support Shelburne, but within six months even formed a coalition against him with Lord North. Cooke, in his “ History of Party,” characterizes his action as “a precedent which strikes at the foundation of political morality, and as a weapon in the hands of those who would destroy all confidence in the honesty of public men.” This characterization is not too
severe ; for the ability and the lofty integrity of Lord Shelburne were such as to forbid us to suppose that Fox's action was the result of any other motive than that of personal pique and disappointment. He carried his ardent followers with him; and so shocked were the thinking men of the time, that there was a general outcry either of regret or of indignation.
Lord Shelburne was of course defeated, and the Coalition ministry, which it was afterward the great work of Pitt to break, came into power. The popular sentiment was shown in the fact that, in the first election that followed, a hundred and sixty of Fox's friends lost their seats in the House, and became, in the language of the day, “Fox's Martyrs.”
The views of Fox in regard to the French Revolution were so opposed to those of Burke, that in 1791 their intimacy and even their friendship were broken violently asunder. Of that memorable and painful incident it is not necessary here to speak, other than to say that both of the orators were wrong and both of
them were right. Time has shown that the evils predicted by Burke as the result of the Revolution were scarcely an exaggeration of what actually followed ; but it has also shown that Fox was right in continually maintaining that nations, however wrong may be their principles and methods, should be left to conduct their internal affairs in their own way. It was this position of Fox that led him to oppose the general attitude of England in regard to the course of Napoleon. In the House of Commons he was always listened to with pleasure ; but his habits were such as to prevent his gaining that confidence of the public which otherwise he might easily have enjoyed.
CHARLES JAMES FOX.
ON THE REJECTION OF NAPOLEON BONAPARTE's OVERTURES OF PEACE; HOUSE OF COMMONS,
FEBRUARY 3, 1800.
The following speech was delivered immediately after that of Pitt on the same subject, given above, and in answer to it. MR. SPEAKER:
At so late an hour of the night, I am sure you will do me the justice to believe that I do not mean to go at length into the discussion of this great question. Exhausted as the attention of the House must be, and unaccustomed as I have been of late to attend in my place, nothing but a deep sense of my duty could have induced me to trouble you at all, and particularly to request your indulgence at such an hour.
Sir, my honorable and learned friend [Mr. Erskine] has truly said, that the present is a new era in the war, and the right honorable gentleman opposite to me (Mr. Pitt] feels the justice of the remark; for, by travelling back to
the commencement of the war, and referring again to all the topics and arguments which he has so often and so successfully urged upon the House, and by which he has drawn them on to the support of his measures, he is forced to acknowledge that, at the end of a seven years' conflict, we are come but to a new era in the war, at which he thinks it necessary only to press all his former arguments to induce us to persevere. All the topics which have so often misled us—all the reasoning which has so invariably failed—all the lofty predictions which have so constantly been falsified by events-all the hopes which have amused the sanguine, and all the assurances of the distress and weakness of the enemy which have satisfied the unthinking, are again enumerated and advanced as arguments for our continuing the war. What ! at the end of seven years of the most burdensome and the most calamitous struggle in which this country ever was engaged, are we again to be amused with notions of finance, and calculations of the exhausted resources of the enemy, as a ground of confidence and of hope ? Gracious God! were we not told five years ago that France was not only on the brink and in the jaws of ruin, but that she was actually