The Age of George III
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Charles James Fox (a Whig) and Lord North (a Tory) put forwards the Duke of Portland (a Rockinghamite Whig) as PM. Fox was the Foreign Secretary and North was Home Secretary. Since the three main office-holders came from different areas of the political spectrum, there was no political philosophy to hold the coalition together. Fox used North's followers to get back into office and North used the opportunity to regain political credibility after his resignation at the end of the American war. Fox had been an advocate of extreme reform, believing that parliament should govern without royal interference and that parliament should, therefore, choose its own PM and Cabinet on a 'democratic principle'. This rationale was used to remove Shelburne, who was not a popular man. Fox claimed that he had effected "a complete change in the Constitution". The king was furious because he had been out-manoeuvred and Shelburne had been ousted by a coup d'état. George III said that the coalition was "the most daring and unprincipled act that the annals of this kingdom ever produced".
Fox's attitude did much damage to his reputation because few people were anti-royalist in Britain. Also Shelburne was more popular than Fox thought. Worse still, the alliance with North lost Fox the support of many independent gentlemen: Fox had attacked North consistently from 1774 to 1782 and had now joined him in government. It appeared that Fox was merely a self-seeker and no longer a man of principle.
In power, Fox supported almost everything he had attacked in Shelburne's policies, including in 1783 the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles on the same terms that Shelburne had negotiated. This also added to Fox's unpopularity. The coalition, and the damage it did to Fox's reputation and credibility, could partially explain his long years in opposition: people no longer felt that they could trust him. When the coalition fell at the end of 1783, Fox did not hold office again until 1806.
Portland's ministry was an uneasy alliance, disliked by George III. Its supporters soon felt as if they had been 'used' by Fox and North for their own selfish purposes. Ironically, the ministry fell whilst attempting to legislate for the government of India - Chatham's empire. This came in the shape of the
1783 India Bill
Edmund Burke had become interested in India in 1773: he and his brother were shareholders in the East India Company. Burke persuaded Fox to try to reform British rule in India. North's 1773 Regulating Act for India had led to problems concerning the division of authority between the Company and the government. Burke drafted a "vigorous and hazardous" India Bill which Fox introduced to parliament early in December 1783. The Bill proposed a total separation of powers. The government would govern and the East India Company would deal with trade. This in itself raised all kinds of ghosts: direct rule from Westminster had recently failed in a most dramatic way in America.
The Bill also proposed that seven Commissioners should be responsible for the government of India. Initially they were to be appointed by the government for four years and thereafter by the East India Company. The proposals alienated the City and the "nabobs" who had returned to England, but the greatest outcry came when the names of the Commissioners were published: four were supporters of Fox, two were Northites and the seventh was North's son. Between 1780 and 1782 Fox had been most outspoken about the use of patronage for political purposes and how he seemed to be doing exactly the same. It appeared to be a classic case of nepotism. A great political scandal ensued with accusations of political rigging so the Foxites could secure a monopoly on the East India Company for four years.
This gave George III the opportunity for which he had been waiting. He had weakened the coalition at its inception by refusing to create peerages whist it was in office - thus removing some of its chance of securing support - and now he had the opportunity to destroy it. Before any Bill becomes law it must pass through both Houses and receive the royal assent. The India Bill passed the Commons but before it reached the House of Lords, George III let it be known in a note to Lord Chancellor Thurlow that "whoever voted for the India Bill was not only not his [i.e. the King's] friend, but would be considered by him as an enemy" and thus would be socially ostracised. The Lords defeated the Bill. Since this indicated a ministry too weak to govern, George III dismissed it immediately. George III used his legitimate constitutional powers very astutely in this instance.
The king acted like this probably because he believed he had a new minister and administration ready to take over. He believed in Pitt's ability and thought that there would be a stable ministry under Pitt. George III's faith was vindicated in the coming years.
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Last modified 5 January, 2011
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