How well did Pitt deal with the radical threat?

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How well did Pitt deal with the radical threat?

Thomas Smith

In the late 1780’s and throughout the 1790’s, the British government and monarchy faced one of their greatest fears, a revolution from the people. Events going on just across the channel in France instigated a sense of change, one of revolution in many ordinary working-class people in Britain and the threat of revolution to Britain like never before. Pitt had to make drastic changes to the way the country was run, and one of the most important things he did was the implementation of various acts and reform of laws. Had it not been for these changes made by Pitt to the government, I believe that it is on the whole likely, and one could even say probable, that the tiny spark of revolution in the British Kingdom could have spread into a full-blown fire across the whole country, helping end the monarchy.

To supress the threat of revolution, Pitt brought upon changes to certain acts and even created new ones. One example is how Pitt suspended the Habeas Corpus Amendment act from 1974-1795, then again from 1798-1801. This act meant that people could only be arrested after solid evidence, however after the temporary removal of this act, anyone could be arrested and held indefinitely, even if there was no evidence and they were merely being held on suspicion. This act was very effective, as it deterred potential revolutionaries from committing crimes. It instilled a “fear factor” in them and helped reduce the number of crimes, hence eliminating the threat of revolution. Not only did the act scare people away, but it also actually caught those who had indeed conspired to revolutionise, and so helped immediately lock up and extinguish those who posed a danger to the monarchy. Though this may seem very harsh and over the top, almost tyranny-like, the threat of revolution at the time was so great that Pitt was in no position to take any risks or compromises and despite the harshness of this and other acts, they prove that they were effective and that Pitt only helped himself in creating and remodelling acts, as the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Amendment act proves.

After the King’s coach had been stoned by an unruly London mob in 1795, it was clear that the radical threat was becoming a greater danger for Pitt. To combat these mini-uprisings, Pitt implemented 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. This act in general helped to scare radicals away and deter them from causing trouble, as, thanks to these acts, being arrested had now become a lot easier- and no one wanted to be arrested in 18th century Britain. This act in turn helped reduce the number of meetings and suspicious gatherings, and reducing the threat of radicalism in this way was very effective, as halting a potential revolution is best done when stopping and quashing the beginnings of a revolution- such as these small gatherings and outbreaks- before they become out of control.

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In 1797, following a mutiny in the Navy at Spithead and The Nore 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. This law stopped radicals in the army from causing unrest as the punishment was very harsh, which obviously, ...

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