FULLER, John (c.1756-1834), of Rose Hill, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. c.1756, o.s. of Rev. Henry Fuller of South Stoneham, Hants by Frances, da. of Thomas Fuller of Park Gate, Catsfield, Suss. educ. Eton 1767-74; ?L. Inn 1774. unm. suc. fa. 1764; uncle Rose Fuller† in Rose Hill and Jamaican plantations 1777.
Capt. Suss. militia 1778; sheriff, Suss. 1796-7; capt. Suss. yeomanry 1798; lt.-col. Hastings vols. 1803.
After 1784, when he went out of Parliament, Fuller remained active as a magistrate and militia officer in east Sussex, where he was one of the wealthiest and most boisterous commoners. In 1797, anticipating a vacancy for the borough of Lewes, Thomas Pelham* wrote to his father, ‘I think we should look to some person in the county: John Fuller of Rose Hill has always been a steady friend and he is too much a man of honour to cultivate any interest to our prejudice’. Nothing came of that, but in 1801, assisted by Lord Sheffield, he replaced Pelham unopposed as a county Member. According to Sheffield his nomination speech was ‘mountebank’; he ‘talked of the services of his family, that none of them had ever accepted of any office or received a farthing of the public money ... that he wished to serve for the people among whom he lived, and to have their support and that he should ever consider the voice of the people, as the voice of the divinity, vox populi ut vox Dei’. At his election he got into an argument with the radical John Frost, and gave thanks ‘with the most vile theatrical twang rolling about even much less gracefully than Punch: people stared’. Two years before, Lady Holland had reported him ‘good-natured’ and added, ‘His vulgar bluntness excited much mirth; he thought the laugh was raised by his waggery, so was delighted’.1 For nearly nine years the same illusion sustained him in the House.
Fuller’s voice was frequently heard in debate. His first known speech was in support of a bill to remove the stigma of paupers’ badges, 1 Dec. 1801. On 7 Dec. he introduced a digression into the debate on the bread assize (which he disliked) by proposing some reward for long-serving magistrates. He supported inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s claims on the duchy of Cornwall revenues, 31 Mar. 1802. He maintained this line, with a compliment to the Prince, on 4 Mar. 1803, but objected to any reduction of the Prince’s creditors’ bills. As a West India planter, he voted for the continuation of the prohibition of distillation from grain, 14 Dec. 1801; complained of idle speechifying about the slave trade, 27 May, and supported the sugar bounty bill, on behalf of ‘the most oppressed people in the world’, 20 Dec. 1802. He almost certainly voted with Pitt in the minority for the orders of the day, 3 June 1803, and was listed ‘Pitt’ in March 1804. He was a critic of the volunteer consolidation bill, 29 Feb., 2 Mar. 1804, but his only known vote against Addington that session was for Fox’s defence motion on 23 Apr. On Pitt’s return to power he was first preoccupied with opposition to the bid (approved by Pitt) to abolish the slave trade: ‘He had never heard the Africans deny their mental inferiority’ (30 May). ‘It was by meddling with the colonies in this way that the French broke down their monarchy. By the operation of this measure persons were about to be plundered of one of the finest properties under the canopy of heaven, in order to gratify ill-designing men in this country’ (7 June). The recent events in St. Domingo made abolition impolitic (12 June). He counted out the House, 13 June, called for delay, 20 and 25 June, and opposed public support for the Sierra Leone settlement, 9 July. He also complained that the corn trade bill was too favourable to the agricultural interest (implying neglect of the sugar planters’ lobby), 20 June.
Fuller had other reasons for dissatisfaction with Pitt. Criticizing his additional force bill as impracticable on 8 June, he assured Addington
that he need not view him as one who entertained any animosity towards him. He had merely meant that the administration should comprehend the greatest man in the country. He had merely wished to see it comprehend that hon. gent. who would have carried on the war greatly and honourably; whose coming into office would have roused and secured the spirit of the country; and who would, if it could be obtained, have procured us an honourable peace.
He was ruled out of order when he ventured to state what he supposed the King’s views to be. He did not vote against Pitt’s bill until the report stage and on 15 June professed to be a friend of Pitt’s when accused of being a party tool by the attorney-general. He was also listed ‘Pitt’ in September 1804 and applied to him for patronage in December.2 But his doubts lingered. He complained of the expense to coastal counties like Sussex of conveying troops and baggage, 4 Feb. 1805. He reproached Pitt for countenancing Wilberforce’s renewal of the parliamentary campaign against the slave trade, impugning both of them: Pitt because government contracted to procure slaves as troops in the West Indies, and Wilberforce because he did nothing for the peasantry at home, whose plight Fuller constantly affirmed was worse than that of the slaves, 15, 28 Feb. On 21 Feb. and 6 Mar. he supported the opposition bid to repeal Pitt’s Additional Force Act, although he could not approve Windham’s aversion to the volunteer system; and on 21 Mar., while he supported the militia enlisting bill, he observed:
There was only one thing wanted and that was that the hon. gent. on the other side [Fox] should take his seat with the right hon. proposer of the motion [Pitt] to enable us to bid defiance to and to overwhelm all the dangers that menaced us.
He spoke and voted with opposition on Melville’s question, thinking that depredation of public money could not be a party question, 2 May, and he favoured delay of the Duke of Atholl’s compensation bill, 27 June. As a colonel of volunteers he defended them against Craufurd’s motion, 28 June. On 10 July he was one of the Members who brought up the bill to continue Melville’s impeachment. He was listed ‘doubtful Pitt’ at that time.
Fuller was undismayed at Pitt’s death: he was sure the country had a reservoir of men of talent, 25 Feb. 1806. He opposed the election treating bill, because it would disfranchise many voters who could not afford to convey themselves to the poll, 21 Mar. He was in the minority that supported Hamilton’s motion for further information on Indian affairs, 21 Apr. He was sure that Pitt himself would have approved the repeal of his Additional Force Act, 6, 8 May, as an experiment that had failed. He preferred an income tax to the property duty, 12 May, as the latter was hard on landowners; but he favoured the tax on private brewers, which he had himself suggested to Pitt the year before, 19 May. On the same day, supporting Nelson’s annuity bill, he hinted at provision for Lady Hamilton. He was prepared to meet the expenses of Melville’s impeachment out of the public funds, if necessary, 16 June. He approved the vote of thanks to the volunteers, 11 July. He welcomed the tightening up of procedure on private bills, which would shorten the session and relieve those ‘who did not come to the House to make their fortunes’, 1 Jan. 1807. He supported Turton’s motion for inquiry into the Carnatic question, 26 Feb. Next day he threw on the ground a petition against the Westminster election which he described as insulting to the House. He opposed hasty proceedings for the expulsion of John Fenton Cawthorne*, 11 Mar. His chief preoccupation that session, however, was a last ditch opposition to the abolition of the slave trade, 20, 27 Feb., 6, 9 Mar. He maintained that for the benefit of the slaves, Britain was sacrificing her West Indian interests in the name of ‘affected piety’ and he was bitter against those who impugned his motives as a slave owner—his family had received no favours from government in 200 years.
Fuller’s robust independence seemed to be confirmed, on the advent of the Portland ministry, by his opposition to the grant of the duchy of Lancaster for life to Spencer Perceval, 25 Mar. 1807; but on 9 Apr. he denounced the late ministry, chiefly for their abolition of the slave trade at the cost of 170,000 hogsheads of sugar a year, adding, apropos of Lord Grenville’s family, ‘no family had been better paid for their theories’. He was fortunate to retain his seat in the ensuing election, when he hesitated about standing and was closely challenged by the Sussex Whigs. He left it to his friends to resist the petition against his return.3 In the House he became more truculent. Of the militia transfer bill, 27 July 1807, he complained that the militia had been turned virtually into a regular army, to the detriment of recruitment to the regulars. He opposed public subsidy of the Sierra Leone Company, 29 July. He favoured inquiry into the state of Ireland, 13 Aug. He defended the Copenhagen expedition against opposition, 22 Jan. 1808. On 7 Apr. he announced his support for the regulation of offices in reversion to humour public opinion, though he was personally against it, thinking it ‘of no use’. There was an uproar on 11 Apr. when William Henry Lyttelton complained that Fuller ‘appeared to suppose that in his characteristic coarseness he monopolized in his own breast the whole political honesty of the House’ and shrugged off Fuller’s abusive reply. A champion of the claims of John Palmer*, he chaired the committee to procure him compensation, 20 May 1808. He objected to Romilly’s attempt to mitigate the penal code, 18 May. On 30 May he championed a bill to prevent smallpox epidemics by inoculation, though he abused the London vaccine institution because its patrons were Quakers, 2 June. On the same day he supported the Scottish judges pension bill, because he wished to see fewer Scots take the high road to England. He objected to the reduction of Indian affairs to a party question, 17 June 1808—he thought the East India Company fortunate to have so many champions in the House compared with the West Indian lobby, ‘denied justice, and oppressed’, 23 Feb. 1809.
Fuller tried the House’s patience beyond endurance on the Duke of York’s question, which he described, 3 Feb. 1809, as ‘the foulest conspiracy that ever was set on foot against the son of the crown’. When he was shouted down, he said the House should be whipped and was greeted by loud laughter when he said, ‘You had better all go home and go to bed’. He attempted to sabotage the case against the duke and admitted, 17 Mar., that he had received many abusive letters, but maintained that he would be re-elected if there were a dissolution: ‘those who did not like England, damn ’em, let them leave it’. On 4 May after a clash with Windham he was required by the Speaker to apologize, and stalked out of the House. He was critical of Curwen’s reform bill, 26 May, thinking it impracticable, but would not impede it. He favoured taxation of foreign fund holders, 13 June.
Fuller rallied to Perceval’s ministry on the address, 23 Jan. 1810, but supported inquiry into the Scheldt expedition, 26 Jan. He was also anxious to reform sinecures, though averse to parliamentary reform. On 5 Feb. he moved an instruction to the finance committee to proceed to the abolition of sinecures, but was thwarted. He therefore sought leave for his own bill for the purpose, 12 Feb., but withdrew it on the understanding that Henry Bankes* would undertake it. On 16 Feb. he defended Wellington’s pension against Burdett. He claimed impartiality when he sided with the sugar planters against the corn growers in favour of the corn distillery prohibition bill, 22 Feb. It was on 27 Feb. that Fuller overstepped the mark. To quote from The Times, 1 Mar.:
In the course of the inquiry of Tuesday night into the Walcheren expedition, an extraordinary scene, we understand, took place in the House. While the Earl of Chatham was under examination Mr Fuller put several questions which were not attended to by either his lordship or the House. When his lordship withdrew Mr Fuller rose and said that his questions had as much right to be attended to as those of the chancellor of the Exchequer. ‘God d—n me Sir’, said he, ‘I have as much right to be heard as any man who is paid for filling the place he holds.’
The Speaker, officially apprised of what had occurred,
informed the House that it had come to his knowledge that a Member had used unparliamentary language which was a breach of the privileges of that honourable House. He felt sorry that it would become his duty to name him.
Mr Fuller: ‘You need not be diffident—it’s I, Jack Fuller.
The Speaker ordered the Hon. Member to withdraw but he declined until several of his friends interfered.
After it had been resolved that he should be taken into custody by their serjeant-at-arms,
Mr Fuller who was in the lobby on the vote of the House being communicated to him rushed into the body of the House and, in a loud voice, said the Speaker had not the power or authority to order him into custody; he was only the servant of the Members, and, by their submitting to him, they had made him their master. He meant ‘the insignificant little fellow in the wig’. The Speaker directed that the serjeant-at-arms should collect the person under his command, and remove Mr Fuller by force from the House. It was with difficulty that the serjeant and four messengers took him into custody.
On 1 Mar. Perceval, having received a letter from him, conveyed Fuller’s apology to the House. After a long debate, a more sober Fuller was reprimanded by the Speaker and discharged, the proceeding being entered in the journals. He was listed ‘doubtful’ by the Whigs that month, during which he disappeared from view, but it is amusing to find that he supported the discharge of the radical Gale Jones on 16 Apr., warning the House against the abuse of their privileges.
After such disgrace, it might have been expected that Fuller would lie low. Not so: but he was careful not to exacerbate the House again. He was treated with good-humoured contempt. He rallied to ministers on the adjournment and on the Regency proposals, putting in a word for the ‘old King’, 15, 29 Nov. 1810, 1, 17, 18 Jan. 1811. On 22 Feb. he informed the House, ‘I have no great faith in Catholic emancipation. I think that there is a radical and rooted antipathy between England and Ireland.’ He called for the rehabilitation of the Duke of York, 28 Mar. He remained a spokesman for the sugar planters on distillery questions. On 9 Apr. he tried an anti-Semitic joke on the House. He described the bullion committee as ‘a humbug’, 14 May, having always disliked long speeches. He opposed the repeal of the orders in council, 13 Apr. 1812: ‘Old England should never yield to France’. Opposing Williams Wynn’s motion of 14 Apr., he said it was ‘a Grenville question’ and attacked them as ‘a bloated family’. On 24 Apr. he annoyed Romilly by labelling him head of the dissenters. He supported a monument to Perceval, who had fallen in the public service; he had supported his measures because they were right, without knowing him. On 11 June he announced that Lords Grenville and Grey had exposed themselves for their ‘love of places and pensions, and power and emolument’ and had forfeited public support. On 22 June he opposed Catholic relief: ‘This question was to the constitution, what the title-deeds of his estate were to him’. The Irish loved ‘women and wine as much as he did’, but he did not share their ‘false faith’. So he burbled on until the dissolution, when to the relief of his former supporters he retired, for reasons of age.4
Fuller died 11 Apr. 1834. We are asked to believe that he had declined Pitt’s offer of a peerage with the words, ‘I was born Jack Fuller and Jack Fuller I will die’.5