Charles James Fox was born in London on January 24, 1749 to fairly well-to-do parents. His father was a baron and his mother was the daughter of the Duke of Richmond. As a boy he was sent to a prestigious private school, then to Eton and when, as a teenager, his father took him on his first trip to Europe he taught him how to gamble and paid for his visit to a prostitute. He was only nineteen when his father bought him a seat in the House of Commons, representing Midhurst. Today his admirers speak only of his great gift for making speeches but little of his actual conduct. He was a thoroughly dissolute young man who was handed several high offices only to resign them when things did not go entirely to please him. Thoroughly selfish, he took the exact opposite of his later position because it served his own ends and only fell out with the statesman Lord North when his family were passed over for a promotion in the peerage. He only began to espouse any sort of coherent ideology after being taken under the wing of the towering Whig politician Edmund Burke and this was particularly seen after the move towards and outbreak of the revolutionary war in America.
|Fox's enemy: King George III|
When the war in America broke out, Fox was outlandish in his support for the enemies of his country. He was pen pals with Thomas Jefferson, met Benjamin Franklin in Paris, doing his best to boost the morale of the rebel public by saying that Britain could not go on fighting much longer and, most famously, he and his friends took to wearing the blue and buff colors of the Continental Army, celebrating every colonial victory and mourning every British success. All too often people today look at this as being rather comical and indeed at the time Fox seemed to regard the whole thing as a purely political debate over some grand game of chess. However, even if he had not a shred of loyalty to his King and country, these rebels he cheered so enthusiastically were killing his own countrymen, making new widows and orphans and ruined families for each redcoat they shot down. And he was best pleased when as many of his own countrymen were slaughtered as possible to give the colonials victory. The fact that he remained free and at large, even holding government office while carrying on in this fashion should have been ample evidence enough that the King he was living under was no arbitrary tyrant. Certainly those loyalists in America who dared to oppose the revolutionary government were not tolerated in the same way but assaulted, driven from their homes, imprisoned, their property taken and oftentimes even killed.
This, of course, put Fox even further at odds with the King who was the most ardent of his countrymen that the war in America had to be pursued to the utmost until final victory was achieved. He was, sadly, joined in his antagonism toward the King by the Prince of Wales and this furthered the personal animosity between the two as the King blamed Fox for influencing his son toward his lifestyle of excess. The Prince actually needed little encouragement but the King was not without cause in blaming Fox for the corruption of his eldest. It was then with the greatest reluctance that the King countenanced a coalition government, formed out of necessity, between the bitter enemies Lord North and Charles Fox. It didn’t last long and despite his claim to be a popular champion it was the people who largely opposed Fox for his determination to interfere with the prerogatives of the King and the British constitutional monarchy as it was established. As usual, Fox had few original ideas of his own and it says something that he would come to be seen as the father of radical liberalism in Britain as he was seemingly always against everything and for nothing.
Not surprisingly, when the French Revolution broke out, Fox rejoiced against at the violence, bloodshed and rebellion. Again, like so many utopians, he seemed to totally disregard the ramifications and intense human suffering that accompanied the ideology he so championed. It was also during this period that he showed his hypocrisy again in taking up the cause of, among other things, Catholic emancipation. This in spite of the fact that, during the war in America, he had sympathized with the mob in the Gordon Riots which flared up as a result of easing the legal discrimination against Catholics. But, of course, Fox had proven throughout his career that there was no cause he would not hesitate to betray and no policy he condemned which he would not later champion if it served his purpose in opposing the Crown and the King’s government. And, even when the French Revolution degenerated into the orgy of murder known as the Reign of Terror, he still defended the blood-soaked republic as preferable to the monarchy that preceded it, setting a course still followed by republican historians to this day.
|Fox as the serpent on the Tree of Liberty|