How close to revolution was Great Britain in the 1790’s?
The 1790’s wasn’t the easiest of times for Britain. Revolution overthrowing the monarchy in France caused working-class civilians in Britain to entertain the idea of revolutionizing. This, among other aspects such as the war with France and food supply, meant that Britain, led by Pitt, had to fight off the threat of revolution. It would be a fair statement to make that although Great Britain had big enough threats and factors for revolution to actually happen, the threat lacked a certain spark that could have ignited the revolution, spreading into a full-blown fire across the whole country, helping end the monarchy.
The first key point to look at is the nature of British society at the time. The economy and living conditions can always be catalysts for a revolution- an example is the sorry state of the French economy, one of the major causes of revolution breaking out there, just before they went into revolution. Now, had the economy of Britain in the 1790’s been as crippled as France’s was, then it would have been likely that people in Great Britain would have been feeling desperate for change, and a revolutionary would have been looking likely. However, this was not the case. Although the years 1795 and 1797 were very difficult in terms of high bread prices and unemployment, the situation was simply not severe enough to make revolution a necessity for people in Great Britain. Hunger and famine were very sparse, in comparison to France. In fact, the standard of living of most people in the 1790’s had actually improved due to the industrial revolution taking place at the time. Pitt, thanks to his numerous reforms and changes to the government, such as increasing taxes and the introduction of the sinking fund, meant that the threat of revolution was significantly decreased.
Unions were also an issue that Pitt had to combat. There were many unions in Britain at that time, and they consisted of and represented a large chunk of the population, for example the worker’s union. Due to the sheer size of the unions they posed a big threat to Pitt, especially the worker’s unions which had many members due to every second man in Britain at the time being a working-class worker, and so most probably part of a union. Unrest in the unions could have caused an uprising, which may not have ended nicely for Pitt due to the volume of workers in Britain at the time. Also, the workers would have been almost all the people in Britain influenced by the events in France and wanting to revolutionize, and if they, with the help of trade unions, were to rebel then Pitt would have had a serious problem. And this is why in 1799 Pitt took the decision to effectively abolish all trade unions when he banned the “combination” of men, and this helped to partly eliminate the danger of (dissatisfied) working men along with their union trying to cause trouble for the government, hence why many saw this as a very good measure taken by Pitt.