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CHARLES JAMES FOX (1749–1806)
THE FAMOUS PARLIAMENTARY DEBATER
MONG the British statesmen who were on the side of the AmeA rican colonists in their Revolutionary War, Fox ranks high, being still more radical in his views than the great Lord Chatham. Chatham urged conciliation of the rebellious colonists, but Fox favored complete separation, and foresaw and foretold its advantages. Throughout the war he was the most vigorous advocate of the claims of the colonists. At a later date the Warren Hasting's trial, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic wars gave him an abundant field for the exercise of his rare talents, and he played a very active part in Parliament. The leader of the opposition to Pitt, he strenuously opposed the war with France, and advocated non-intervention views. He was on the point of introducing a bill for the abolition of the slave-trade when he died in 1806. Fox, despite the vicious irregularity of his life, was a man of genial and kindly instincts, generous and devoid of malignant feelings towards his opponents. As regards his powers as an orator he had a phenomenal fluency of extemporaneous speech, and we may quote Burke's opinion that he was “the greatest debater the world ever saw,” and that of Mackintosh, who called him “the most Demosthenian speaker since Demosthenes.”
THE TYRANNY OF THE EAST INDIA COMPANY
[On the 1st of December, 1783, Fox arraigned in a vigorous speech the reprehensible conduct of the irresponsible East India Company. It was a preliminary step towards the subsequent trial of Warren Hastings for his cruel and rapacious acts.]
The honorable gentleman charges me with abandoning that cause, which, he says, in terms of flattery, I had once so successfully asserted.
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I tell him in reply, that if he were to search the history of my life, he would find that the period of it, in which I struggled most for the real. substantial cause of liberty is this very moment I am addressing you. Freedom, according to my conception of it, consists in the safe and sacred possession of a man's property, governed by laws defined and certain: with many personal privileges, natural, civil, and religious, which he cannot surrender without ruin to himself; and of which to be deprived by any other power is despotism. This bill, instead of subverting, is des: tined to give stability to these principles; instead of narrowing the basis of freedom, it tends to enlarge it; instead of suppressing, its object is to infuse and circulate the spirit of liberty. What is the most odious species of tyranny ? Precisely that which this bill is meant to annihilate. That a handful of men, free themselves, should execute the most base and abominable despotism over millions of their fellow-creatures; that innocence should be the victim of oppression; that industry should toil for rapine; that the harmless laborer should sweat, not for his own benefit, but for the luxury and rapacity of tyrannic depredation; in a word, that thirty millions of men, gifted by Providence with the ordinary endowments of humanity, should groan under a system of despotism unmatched in all the histories of the world. What is the end of all government? Certainly the happiness of the governed. Others may hold other opinions, but this is mine, and I proclaim it. What are we to think of a government whose good fortune is supposed to spring from the calamities of its subjects, whose aggrandizement grows out of the miseries of mankind 2 This is the kind of government exercised under the East India Company upon the natives of Hindostan ; and the subversion of that infamous government is the main object of the bill in question. But in the progress of accomplishing this end, it is objected that the charter of the company should not be violated; and upon this point, sir, I shall deliver my opinion without disguise. A charter is a trust to one or more persons for some given benefit. If this trust be abused, if the benefit be not obtained, and its failure arise from palpable guilt, or (what in this case is fully as bad) from palpable ignorance or mismanagement, will any man gravely say that that trust should not be resumed and delivered to other hands; more especially in the case of the East India Company, whose manner of executing this trust, whose laxity and languor have produced, and tend to produce consequences diametrically opposite to the ends of confiding that trust, and of the institution for which it was granted 2 I beg of gentlemen to be aware of the lengths to which their arguments upon the intangibility of this charter may be carried. Every syllable
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virtually impeaches the establishment by which we sit in this House, in the enjoyment of this freedom, and of every other blessing of our Government. These kinds of arguments are batteries against the main pillar of the British Constitution. Some men are consistent with their own private opinions, and discover the inheritance of family maxims, when they question the principles of the Revolution ; but I have no scruple in subscribing to the articles of that creed which produced it. Sovereigns are sacred, and reverence is due to every king; yet, with all my attachments to the person of a first magistrate, had I lived in the reign of James II. I should most certainly have contributed my efforts, and borne part in those illustrious struggles which vindicated an empire from hereditary servitude, and recorded this valuable doctrine, “that trust abused is revocable.” No man, sir, will tell me that a trust to a company of merchants stands upon the solemn and sanctified ground by which a trust is committed to a monarch ; and I am at a loss to reconcile the conduct of men who approve that resumption of violated trust, which rescued and re-established our unparalleled and admirable Constitution with a thousand valuable improvements and advantages at the Revolution, and who, at this moment, rise up the champions of the East India Company's charter, although the incapacity and incompetency of that company to a due and adequate discharge of the trust deposited in them by that charter are themes of ridicule and contempt to the world ; and although in consequence of their mismanagement, connivance, and imbecility, combined with the wickedness of their servants, the very name of an Englishman is detested, even to a proverb, through all Asia, and the national character is become degraded and dishonored. To rescue that name from odium and redeem this character from disgrace are some of the objects of the present bill; and, gentlemen should, indeed, gravely weigh their opposition to a measure which, with a thousand other points not less valuable, aims at the attainment of these objects. Those who condemn the present bill as a violation of the chartered rights of the East India Company, condemn, on the same ground, I say again, the Revolution as a violation of the chartered rights of King James II. He, with as much reason, might have claimed the property of dominion ; but what was the language of the people 2 “No ; you have no property in dominion; dominion was vested in you, as it is in every chief magistrate, for the benefit of the community to be governed ; it was a sacred trust delegated by compact; you have abused that trust; you have exercised dominion for the purposes of vexation and tyranny, not of comfort, protection and good order; and we, therefore, resume the power
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which was originally ours; we recur to the first principles of all government—the will of the many ; and it is our will that you shall no longer abuse your dominion.” The case is the same with the East India Company's government over a territory, as it has been said by my honorable friend (Mr. Burke), of two hundred and eighty thousand square miles in extent, nearly equal to all Christian Europe, and containing thirty millions of the human race. It matters not whether dominion arise from conquest or from compact. Conquest gives no right to the conqueror to be a tyrant; and it is no violation of right to abolish the authority which is misused. LIBERTY IS STRENGTH AND ORDER
[Fox, a supporter of the French Revolution, uttered in 1797 the following vigorous words in advocacy of liberty.]
Liberty is order Liberty is strength ! Look round the world and admire, as you must, the instructive spectacle. You will see that liberty not only is power and order, but that it is power and order predominant and invincible, that it derides all other sources of strength. And shall the preposterous imagination be fostered that men bred in liberty—the first of human kind who asserted the glorious distinction of forming for themselves their social compact—can be condemned to silence upon their rights? Is it to be conceived that men who have enjoyed, for such a length of days, the light and happiness of freedom, can be restrained and shut up again in the gloom of ignorance and degradation ? As well, sir, might you try, by a miserable dam, to shut up the flowing of a rapid river. The rolling and impetuous tide would burst through every impediment that man might throw in its way; and the only consequence of the impotent would be, that, having collected new force by its temporary suspension, in forcing itself through new channels, it would spread devastation and ruin on every side. The progress of liberty is like the progress of the stream. Kept within its bounds, it is sure to fertilize the country through which it runs; but no power can arrest it in its passage; and shortsighted, as well as wicked, must be the heart of the projector that would strive to divert its course.