How far did Pitts domination of politics from 1783-1792 rest upon his reforms?
How far did Pitt’s domination of politics from 1783-1792 rest upon his reforms?
Pitt’s reforms dramatically changed the way the country was run and greatly helped him to dominate politics and consolidate his position as Prime Minister from 1783-1792.
When Pitt took over in 1783, Britain was in economic crisis. The American War of Independence (which lasted 8 years) caused the value of exports to decline and the National Debt had risen to £242 million by 1784. He needed to act fast and make drastic change to avoid complete financial ruin in Britain.
To do this, Pitt made a variety of changes and reforms. His first one was stopping the smuggling trade, in order to halt the thousands of pounds being lost in revenue due to smuggling. He introduced the Communication Act, which was designed to lower the import duty on tea and therefore make smuggling less profitable. Also, a Hovering Act introduced meant that smugglers’ vessels could be searched up to 12 miles out to sea, which deterred and reduced the number of smugglers. The fact that Pitt also reduced duties on items such as brandy led to an increase in the value of food and raw material imports, which was good news for Pitt, as it allowed the government to gain more money.
Pitt then decided to put extravagant taxes on the rich. Items such as horses, wigs, windows and hair powder would be taxed. This new policy of taxation was on the whole successful, and raked in more money for the government to pay back the national debt. The implication of The Sinking Fund also meant that the government always had a fund of money to meet any emergency payments which needed to be paid in the future, which helped too reduce the national debt.
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Pitt’s administrative reforms also proved vital in reducing the debt, and so securing power. Pitt’s ideology was that of cutting out the “waste” in a government in order to improve its efficiency. There were two key areas where improvements in government administration were made. First of all, Pitt’s passing of the India Act was designed to remove the exclusive rights the company had in the financial administration of the empire. Sadly this act was one of Pitt’s failings as the East India Company continued to retain a large financial and political stake in the running of British India’s administration.
The second area Pitt focused on was removing waste from the government, especially managing the excessive amount of patronage given out by the King. As a result of Pitt’s reforms, government control over the Excise Board was massively strengthened and government financial accountability was increased. These reforms made by Pitt enabled and ensured future administrations to grow. This reform improved the financial situation of Britain and showed Pitt to be a competent man, when managing financial affairs.
Another example of a reform/new idea of Pitt was that of the Eden treaty. Pitt was always a firm believer in free trade, and held the belief that free trade meant greater trade between countries, which in turn would lead to greater economic wealth all round. The Eden Treaty allowed the citizens of both Britain and France to have free access to the goods produced by each other’s countries, as well as reducing the number of tariffs on selected items. This allowed for increased trade between Great Britain and France and, until 1793 when the war broke out, greatly increased Britain’s economic situation.
The French revolution which broke out in 1789 and intensified during the early 1790’s was a serious danger to Pitt. Ideas from the French could spread to the British, and a revolution was the last thing Pitt needed. To prevent such a thing from happening, it was essential for him to introduce a variety of reforms to laws and acts. Between May 1794 and July 1795 and 1798 to 1801 the Habeas Corpus Amendment act was suspended, which meant that people could be arrested on suspicion of committing a crime! Although it was extreme, it made sure that people would be completely deterred from plotting or committing a crime, which helped decrease the likelihood of a revolution starting.
The second acts that Pitt implemented where the Seditious Meetings Act and Treasonable Practices act. Best known as the “two acts”, they banned meetings that had not been approved of by the local magistrate. They attempted to keep an eye on illegal gatherings and broadened the definition of treason to allow more arrests of known radicals. This stopped people from organising gatherings and so prevented the ideas of individuals to be spread onto other people.
In 1797, a law was passed which increased the penalty for undermining authority to the military. This was implemented after a mutiny in the Navy, and the law was extremely effective as it ensured troops to stay loyal, or get a severe punishment. It was also essential, as Britain needed to be fully prepared to fight off any revolution, especially after shortages in the military following the war with America.
The Defence of the Realm Act implemented in 1798, was an act which required information and numbers ready to fight for England. It was important as Britain had been under attack from France and Ireland recently, and this Act ensured a large number of soldiers ready to fight off any trouble.
Finally, Pitt finally abolished trade unions in 1799, when Pitt banned the “combination” of men. Seeing as trade unions were usually seen as epicentres of unrest, the act was hailed a success, further quashing the chances of a revolution.
However, it was not only reforms that helped Pitt dominate from 1783-1792. Pitt, who was pro-monarch, was naturally supported by George III, the king at that time. The King, being the powerful patron he was and the fact he was “ruler” of the country was extremely influential in how the government was run. Any Prime Minister who did not get along with the King would not be likely to last in office for very long, which just shows how important it was for Pitt to be on the side of the King. The fact that the King openly despised Fox (who was anti-monarch) played nicely into Pitt’s hands, as the King was only too happy to cooperate with Pitt with almost anything as he desperately wanted to keep his enemy Fox out of office. The King also decided a very crucial thing- when the general election as to be called. Pitt managed to survive until 1784 when the King decided it was the right time to call an election. Indeed, Pit achieved an outstanding victory which set him on course to be in power for the next 18 years.
Another reason why he “survived” the French revolution, and so stayed in power, was because the majority of Britain had no real desire to overthrow the monarchy, and so Pitt was never in any real danger, which was lucky for him. Another reason is because he had no real opposition, because apart from the Fox-North coalition which eventually faded away once Pitt took power, no one ever really challenged him, so he was free to rule as he wished.
Also, Earl Grey and Samuel Whitbread, who were two for Fox’s political allies, demanded parliamentary reform just at the time when events in France were becoming more extreme. Whig landowners, who were traditionally on the side of Fox, felt endangered by Fox’s extreme views in supporting the French Revolution, and feared for their lands and property. Not only did other fellow Whigs disagree with Fox’s ideologies, voters also became repelled by the views, and the Whigs lost a great deal of support and public sympathy, which led to their downfall and their eventual failure to seize power from Pitt. Pitt saw this an opportunity to “win over” moderate Whigs who felt let down by Fox’s views, and as a result, many moderate Whigs, led by the Duke of Portland, joined Pitt’s Conservative administration in 1794. This was a large step in Pitt stabilising and securing his government, and this new-looking government was the foundation of what became the Conservative Party of the 19th and 20th centuries, which highlights the significance of moderate Whig’s breaking free from Fox and joining Pitt.
In conclusion, although other various factors greatly helped him to secure his place in power during 1783-1792, it was his cunning government reforms that helped keep the country in order and helped restore the economy, which were the defining part in Pitt’s domination of British politics towards the end of the 18th Century.
Thomas Smith 6F3