On this day in 1806, Charles James Fox, first foreign secretary of the United Kingdom and vocal supporter of American independence, dies in Chiswick, Devon, England.
Fox was born to noble parents, Henry Fox, later first Baron Holland, and Lady Caroline Lennox, daughter of the second Duke of Richmond, and received a noble education at Eton College and Oxford University. Despite this traditional upbringing, he devoted his political career to defending liberty and was adamantly opposed to slavery. His personal life, however, was quite different: it revolved around gambling, fashion, debt and adultery.
The Fox family suffered public humiliation when King George III rejected Charles’ aunt, Lady Sarah Lennox, as a potential fiancée after enjoying a very public flirtation with her in 1760-61. The relationship between George III and Charles James Fox, then, was marked by both personal and political animosity. Fox supported the protesting American colonists during his first stint in Parliament from 1768 to 1772, and the citizens of Foxborough, Massachusetts, responded by naming their town in his honor. Fox eventually resigned from Parliament after a squabble with George III and, while out of office, developed a strong friendship with British radical Edmund Burke, who also supported the American cause.
When Fox’s political faction returned to power in 1780, Fox returned to Parliament, and in 1782, he became Britain’s first foreign secretary, charged with negotiating a peace treaty with the Americans following the British defeat at Yorktown. Fox again angered George III with his readiness to declare the Americans independent and was ousted from his position as foreign secretary by the king’s parliamentary allies. Fox managed to retain his seat in Parliament after a close and legally contested election in 1784. Fox went on to support the French Revolution in 1789 and continued to stand against royal power until his death in 1806.