In the coming year, one of the more nuanced anniversaries of the enduring struggle against slavery is slated to occur. Set prominently within London’s Westminster Abbey, the imposing monument to the great parliamentarian Charles James Fox will soon attain the two-century mark.
Though of purely symbolic importance, the occasion nevertheless gives us pause to evaluate the contribution of this ardent defender of popular liberty to his nation’s struggle with the thorny issue of slavery. Of central importance to the success of this vital undertaking was the willingness of Fox and his contemporaries to fully comprehend the humanity of those whose cause they championed.
Despite his conventional pose, the sturdy figure of the black man kneeling in the foreground of Fox’s monument embodies this necessary state of resolve, even as it leaves other aspects of his future unaddressed.
During his long political career, Fox was instrumental as a leader of the liberal Whig faction. He introduced enlightened legislation that transformed contemporary politics with the active spark of idealism. His committed struggle against slavery began with the passage of the Regulated Slave Trade Act in 1788. His ultimate contribution to the cause of freedom took this half-measure to its logical conclusion. In 1806 Fox introduced a bill calling for the abolition of the trade itself. In declining health, he died six months before the passage of the bill in March 1807.