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Charles James Fox

Fox, Charles James, 1749–1806, British statesman and orator, for many years the outstanding parliamentary proponent of liberal reform. He entered Parliament in 1768 and served as lord of the admiralty (1770–72) and as lord of the treasury (1772–74) under Frederick, Lord North. Dismissed by George III, he went into bitter opposition, lending his remarkable oratorical genius to the attack on North's policy in North America.

Despite the king's objection, he became foreign secretary in the marquess of Rockingham's Whig ministry (1782) and helped to secure the repeal of Poynings's Law (see under Poynings, Sir Edward), thus giving Ireland legislative independence. He quarreled with the earl of Shelburne over the negotiation of peace with the former American colonies, France, and Spain, and he resigned when Shelburne succeeded Rockingham. Fox then allied himself with his old enemy, Lord North, to insure Shelburne's defeat, and he became (1783) foreign secretary again, in a coalition with North. This ministry fell in the same year, when George III brought his influence to bear in the House of Lords to secure defeat of Fox's bill vesting the government of India in a commission nominated by Parliament. He was replaced in office by William Pitt, whom he bitterly opposed for the rest of his life.

In 1788, when George III became temporarily insane, Fox wanted an unrestricted regency vested in the prince of Wales (later George IV). This position seemed to belie his strongly professed belief in the supremacy of Parliament and the need to restrict royal power, but the prince, who was Fox's close friend, would have brought Fox and the Whigs back to office. George III recovered, however, and Fox remained out of power.

Fox favored the French Revolution and opposed British intervention in the French Revolutionary Wars. He objected to the suppression of civil liberties in wartime and was the parliamentary spokesman of several reform movements, urging such measures as enlargement of the franchise, parliamentary reform, and political rights for Roman Catholics and dissenters. At Pitt's death he became (1806) for a few months foreign secretary in the "ministry of all the talents." Abolition of the slave trade, which he proposed and urged, was passed in 1807, soon after his death.

Fox combined dissolute habits with remarkable warmth of character and great courage and skill in debate. Although he could be opportunistic as well as idealistic, he is remembered as a great champion of liberty.

See biographies by G. O. Trevelyan (1880, repr. 1971), E. C. P. Lascelles (1936, repr. 1970), J. W. Derry (1972), and D. Schweitzer (1989); E. Eyck, Pitt versus Fox (tr. by E. Northcott, 1950); J. Carswell, The Old Cause (1955); J. Cannon, The Fox-North Coalition (1970); L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox and the Disintegration of the Whig Party, 1782–1794 (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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