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Mr. Fox's adherents gradually fell off, until, on a division at the end of eleven weeks, March 8th, 1784, his majority had sunk from fifty-four to a single vote! A shout of triumph now broke forth from the ministerial benches. The contest in the House was ended, and the question was carried at once to the whole country by a dissolution of Parliament.
The elections which followed, in April, 1784, went against the friends of Mr. Fox in every part of the kingdom; more than a hundred and sixty having lost their places, and become “Fox's Martyrs,” in the sportive language of the day. In Westminster, which Mr. Fox and Sir Cecil Wray had represented in the preceding Parliament, the struggle was the most violent ever known—Wray in opposition to his old associate. At the end of eleven days, Mr. Fox was in a minority of three hundred and eighteen, and his defeat seemed inevitable, when relief came from a quarter never before heard of in a political canvass. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, a woman of extraordinary beauty and the highest mental accomplishments, took the field in his behalf. She literally became the canvasser of Mr. Fox. She went from house to house soliciting votes; she sent her private carriage to bring mechanics and others of the lowest class to the polls ; she appeared at the hustings herself in company with Mr. Fox; and on one occasion, when a young butcher turned the laugh upon her by offering his vote for a kiss, in the enthusiasm of the moment she took him at his word, and paid him on the spot! With such an ally, Mr. Fox's fortunes soon began to mend, and at the termination of forty days, when the polls were closed, he had a majority over Sir Cecil Wray of two hundred and thirty-five votes. This triumph was celebrated by a splendid procession of Mr. Fox's friends, most of them bearing fox tails, which gave rise to one of Mr. Pitt's best sarcasms. Some one having expressed his wonder how the people could procure such an immense number of foxes' tails ; “That is by no means surprising,” said Pitt; “this has been a good sporting year, and more foxes have been destroyed than in any former season. I think, upon an average, there has at least one Fox been run down in every borough of the kingdom "" The Prince of Wales showed the lively interest he had taken in the contest, by joining the procession on horseback in his uniform of a colonel of the Tenth Dragoons. A few days after, he celebrated the victory in a fête at Carlton House, attended by more than six hundred persons, the gentlemen being dressed in the costume of Mr. Fox," buff and blue," and some even of the ladies wearing the same colors, with the “ Fox laurel” on their heads, and the “ Fox medal” suspended from their necks.
But Mr. Fox was not allowed to enjoy the fruits of his victory. Sir Cecil Wray demanded a scrutiny or revision of the poll, involving enormous expense, and a delay, perhaps, of years, in taking testimony as to disputed votes. All this time Mr. Fox was to be deprived of his seat—the object really aimed at in the whole transaction. The presiding officer lent himself to this design.; he returned Lord Hood (the third candidate) as a member; and made a report to the House, that he had granted a scrutiny in relation to Sir Cecil Wray and Mr. Fox. There was no precedent for a scrutiny in a case like this, where the poll had been continued down to the very day before the meeting of Parliament, and the presiding officer was required by his writ to return two members for Westminster on the 18th of May, being the next day. If he could avoid this—if he was authorized (instead of doing the best he could) to reserve the question, and enter on a scrutiny after the session had commenced, it is obvious that the entire representation of the country would be in the hands of the returning officers. Any one of them, from party views or corrupt motives, might deprive a member of his seat as long as he saw fit, under the pretense (as in the present case) of satisfying his “conscience" by a protracted revision of the polls. The case came up early in the session, and Mr. Fox, being returned by a friend for the borough of Kirkwall, in the Orkney Isles, was enabled to
join in the debate. Under any other circumstances Mr. Pitt would never have allowed his passions to become interested in such an affair ; even if he thought the scrutiny legal, he would have seen the necessity of putting an end at once to a precedent so ob noxious to abuse. But the conflict of the last session seems to have poisoned his mind, and he showed none of that magnanimity which we should naturally expect in one who had achieved so splendid a victory at the recent elections. He assailed Mr. Fox in the language of taunt and ungenerous sarcasm, describing him as a man on whom a sentence of banishment had been passed by his country—as “ driven by the impulse of patriotic indignation an exile from his native clime, to seek refuge on the stormy and desolate shores of the Ultima Thule." Nothing could be more admirable than the firmness and elasticity of Mr. Fox's spirit under these depressing circumstances, stripped as he was of nearly all his former supporters in the House. He seemed, like the old Romans, to gather strength and courage from the difficulties that surrounded him. On the 8th of June, 1784, he discussed the subject of the Westminster scrutiny in one of the clearest and most fervid pieces of reasoning ever delivered in the House of Commons; adding, at the same time, some admonitions for Mr. Pitt and his other opponents, which effectually secured him against uncivil treatment in all their subsequent contests. Although the vote went against him at that time by a majority of 117, the House and the country soon became satisfied that the whole proceeding was dishonorable and oppressive ; and, at the end of nine months, Mr. Pitt had the mortification to see his majority, so firm on every other subject, turning against him upon this, and, by a vote of 162 to 124, putting an end to the scrutiny and requiring an immediate return. Mr. Fox was accordingly returned the next day. The moment he took his seat as a member for Westminster, Mr. Fox moved, that all the proceedings in regard to the scrutiny be expunged from the journals of the House. This motion was supported by Mr. Scott, afterward Lord Eldon, who, on this occasion (the only one in his life), came out in opposition to Mr. Pitt; but the majority were unwilling to join him in so direct a vote of censure, and the motion was lost:13 Mr. Fox recovered two thousand pounds damages from the presiding officer, the High Bailiff of Westminster, and a law was soon after passed providing against any farther abuses of this kind.
Mr. Fox was appointed one of the managers of the impeachment against Warren Hastings in 1786, and had assigned to him the second charge, relating to the oppressive treatment of Cheyte Sing, Rajah of Benares. This duty he performed in a manner which awakened general admiration, and fully sustained the high character he had already gained as a parliamentary orator.
In the autumn of 1788, while traveling in Italy, Mr. Fox was unexpectedly presented with the prospect of being called again to the head of affairs. The King became suddenly deranged ; and if the malady continued, the Prince of Wales would, of course, be Regent, and Mr. Fox his prime minister. A messenger with this intelligence found him at Bologna, and urged his immediate return, as the session of Parliament was soon
He started at once, and never quitted his chaise during the whole journey, traveling night and day until he reached London, on the 24th of November. At this time no definite anticipations could be formed in respect to the King's recovery. Parliament had voted a fortnight's recess, to allow time for deciding on the proper steps to be taken, and the political world was full of intrigue and agitation. It was the great object of the Prince and his future ministers to come in untrammeled—to
13 Lord Eldon, speaking of this subject at a later period, said : “When the legality of the conduct of the High Bailiff of Westminster was before the House, all the lawyers on the ministerial side defended his right to grant a scrutiny. I thought their law bad, and I told them so. I asked Kenyon how he could answer this—that every writ or commission must be returned on the day on which it was made returnable. He could answer it."
have his authority as Regent, during his father's illness, established on the same footing as if he had succeeded to the throne by the King's death. The existing ministry, on the other hand, who believed the King might speedily recover, were desirous to impose such restrictions on the Regency as would prevent Mr. Fox and his friends from intrenching themselves permanently in power. It is curious to observe how completely the two parties changed sides under this new aspect of their political interests. Mr. Fox became the defender of the prerogative, and Mr. Pitt of the popular part of the Constitution. Before Mr. Fox returned from Italy, Lord Loughborough (Mr. Wedderburne) had devised a theory to meet the present case. He maintained that here (as in the case of natural death) “the administration of the government dovolved to him [the Prince of Wales] of right;" that it belonged to Parliament “not to confer, but to declare the right;" and it is now known that he actually advised the Prince, in secret, to assume the royal authority at a meeting of the Privy Council, and then to summon Parliament, in his own name, for the dispatch of business. This theory, with one important modification, Mr. Fox took with him into the House. In a debate on the 10th of December, 1788, he maintained that during the incapacity of the King, the Prince "had as clear and express a right to assume the reins of government and exercise the power of sovereignty, as in the case of his Majesty's having undergone a natural and perfect demise;" but he added (limiting the theory of Lord Loughborough) that was to this right, the Prince himself was not to judge when he was entitled to exercise it, but the two Houses of Parliament, as the organs of the nation, were alone qualified to pronounce when the Prince ought to take possession of and exercise this right." Mr. Pitt, the moment he heard this doctrine, exclaimed to a friend who sat by him in the House, “ Now I'll unwhig that gentleman for the rest of his life !” He instantly rose, and declared it to be “ little less than treason against the Constitution : he pledged himself to prove that the Heir-apparent had no more right, in the case in question, to the exercise of the executive authority, than any other subject in the kingdom, and that it belonged entirely to the two remaining branches of the Legislature, in behalf of the nation at large, to make such a provision for supplying the temporary deficiency as they might think proper.” Mr. Fox, either seeing that he had been misunderstood, or feeling that he had gone too far, explained himself, two days after, to have meant, that “from the moment the two Houses of Parliament declared the King unable to exercise the royal sovereignty, from that moment a right to exercise the royal authority attached to the Prince of Wales”—that "he must appeal to the court competent to decide whether it belonged to him or not, or must wait till that court itself made such a declaration."'6 This was apparently taking still lower ground; but even this Mr. Pitt maintained was equally false and unfounded. “He denied that the Prince had any right whatever;" he declared it " subversive of the principles of the Constitution to admit that the Prince of Wales might set himself on the throne during the lifetime of his father ; he denied that Parliament were mere judges in this emergency, affirming that they acted for the entire body of the people in a case not provided for in the Constitution ;” and affirmed it to be “a question of greater magnitude and importance even than the present exigency, a question that involved in it the principles of the Constitution, the protection and security of our liberties, and the safety of the state.” A Regenoy Bill was now framed by the Ministers, making the Prince of Wales Regent, but committing the King's person to the care of the Queen, with the right of appointing the officers of the royal household. It provided that the Prince should have no power over the personal property of the King, and no authority either to create new peers, or to grant any pension, place, or reversion to be held after the King's recovery, except
14 See a paper of Lord Loughborough on this subject in Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, vol. vi., page 195. 15 Speeches, vol. iii., page 401.
16 Id. ib., page 407.
offices made permanent by law. Nearly four months were spent in debating this subject, every possible delay being interposed by Mr. Pitt, who was now confident of the King's early recovery. Accordingly, at the close of April, his Majesty was declared by the physicians to be restored to a sound state of mind; and Mr. Fox's prospect of office became more remote than ever, the King and the people being equally imbittered against him, as having again endeavored to establish himself in power by the use of violent and illegal means. On the question so vehemently discussed at that time touching the rights of the Prince of Wales, there has been a diversity of opinion down to the present day. All agree in considering Lord Loughborough's theory as "a flimsy speculation;" but men have differed greatly as to Mr. Fox's doctrine. When the Regency question came up again, in 1810, an able writer in favor of the Prince remarked in the Edinburgh Review : "Strict legal right, which could be asserted and made good in a court of judicature, he [the Prince) certainly had none It was observed, with more truth than decorum, by Mr. Pitt, that every individual of his father's subjects had as good a legal right to the Regency as his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales."$ Lord Campbell, however, would seem to hold with Mr. Fox, when he says: “The next heir to the throne is entitled, during the continuance of this [the King's] disability, to carry on the executive government as Regent, with the same authority as if the disabled Sovereign were naturally dead;"19 unless, indeed, he uses the word “entitled” in a looser sense to describe not what is strictly a legal right, but what is most accordant with the analogies of the Constitution and the nature of a hereditary monarchy. If so, he agrees with Lord Brougham, who nevertheless regarded the restrictions imposed on the Prince Regent as wise and necessary. After stating what he considered the argument from analogy, he says, in respect to this case : “ There were reasons of a practical description which overbore these obvious considerations, and reconciled men’s minds to such an anomalous proceeding. It seemed necessary to provide for the safe custody of the King's person, and for such a sure restoration of his powers as should instantly replace the scepter in his hand the very moment that his capacity to hold it should return. His Vicegerent must plainly have no control over this operation, neither over the royal patient's custody, nor over the resumption of his office and the termination of his own. But it would not have been very easy to cut off all interference on the Regent's part in this most delicate matter, had he been invested with the full powers of the Crown. So, in like manner, the object being to preserve things as nearly as possible in their present state, if those full powers had been exercised uncontrolled, changes of a nature quite irreversible might have been effected while the monarch's faculties were asleep; and not only he would have awakened to a new order of things, but the affairs of the country would have been administered under that novel dispensation by one irreconeilably hostile to it, while its author, appointed in the course of nature once more to rule as his successor, would have been living and enjoying all the influence acquired by his accidental, anticipated, and temporary reign. These considerations, and the great unpopularity of the Heir-apparent and his political associates, the Coalition party, enabled Mr. Pitt to carry his proposition of a Regency with restricted powers, established by a bill to which the two remaining branches alone of the crip
17 George III., throughout his whole life, believed that a conspiracy had been formed to prevent his remounting the throne. No explanations could ever relieve his mind from this error, and he always looked with abhorrence on those who resisted the limitations of the Regent's authority, and the transfer of his person to the custody of the Queen. The feelings of the nation were strongly excited in his behalf. Without sharing in his error, they considered him as treated with disrespect, and strongly condemned those who objected to the restrictions mentioned above. It was in this way, as well as by his East India Bill and Coalition, that Mr. Fox did more than any other man in the empire to remove the unpopularity of the King, and to draw his subjects around him in support and sympathy 18 Vol. xviii., page 91.
19 Lives of the Chancellors, vol. vi., page 187.
pled Parliament had assented ; instead of their addressing the Heir-apparent, declaring the temporary vacancy of the throne, and desiring him temporarily to fill it " When the same question came up again, in 1810, the Prince waived the claim of right, and yielded quietly to the restrictions enumerated above. These two precedents have settled the constitutional law and usage on this subject.
Mr. Fox's next conflict with his antagonist related to the Russian Armament, and here he carried the whole country with him in opposition to the warlike designs of the ministry. The courts of London and Berlin had demanded of the Empress of Russia, not only to desist from her war with Turkey, but to restore the numerous and important conquests she had made. Unwilling to provoke the resentment of these powerful and self-created arbiters, Catharine consented to yield every thing but a small station on the Black Sea called Ockzakow, with the dependent territory. Mr. Pitt, under a mistaken view of the importance of this fortress, peremptorily insisted on its surrender ; the Empress, taking offense at this treatment, as peremptorily refused ; and the British ministry made the most active preparations for war. When the subject came before Parliament, early in 1791, Mr. Fox put forth all his strength against this armament. Reflecting men throughout the country condemned Mr. Pitt for interfering in the contests of other nations; and, as the discussion went on in Parliament, ministers found their majority so much reduced, that they promptly and wisely gave up the point in dispute. Mr. Fox gained greatly in the public estimation by his conduct on this occasion. He appeared in his true character, that of a friend of peace; and was justly considered as having saved the country, probably from a long and bloody war, certainly from much unnecessary expense contemplated by the ministry. While this question was under discussion, he sent a friend, Mr. Adair, to St. Petersburgh, as it was generally supposed with confidential communications for the Empress. Mr. Burke, after his breach with Mr. Fox, spoke of this mission as involving, if not treason, at least a breach of the Constitution fraught with the most dangerous consequences. It is not easy to understand the ground of this severe charge. Mr. Fox was not in the secrets of the government, and could communicate nothing to the Empress which was not known to the world at large. He could only assure her that the English people were averse to war, and might, perhaps, exhort her not to lower her terms (though this was never proved); but as the two nations were still at peace, his communications with Catharine were certainly less objectionable than Burke's correspondence with Dr. Franklin during the American war, which he once proposed to read in Parliament, and which caused Lord New Haven to exclaim : “Do not my senses deceive me? Can a member of this Assembly not only avow his correspondence with a rebel, but dare to read it to us ?" There is one decisive fact which shows, that Mr. Adair's mission could not have been regarded by the King and ministry as it was by Mr. Burke. He was afterward sent as Envoy to the courts of Vienna and Constantinople. • The confidence of the Sovereign,” as Dr. Parr remarks, “completely and visibly refutes the accusations of Mr. Burke." After Mr. Pitt was thus beaten off from the Russian Armament, Mr. Fox and his friends opened upon him one of the severest attacks he ever experienced, by proposing a vote of censure, on the ground that he had acted the part either of a bully or a coward—that he had disgraced the country by disarming, if there was just cause of war, and by arming if there was not. Mr. Fox's speech on that occasion will be found in this volume; it was one of his most powerful and characteristic efforts.
Mr. Fox likewise distinguished himself at this period by his efforts to defend the rights of juries. The law of libel, as laid down by Lord Mansfield in the case of Woodfall, o restricted the jury to the question of fact, “ Was the accused guilty of publishing, and did he point his remarks at the government ?” They were not allowed 20 Wraxall's Memoirs, vol. ii., p. 277.
21 See page 199.