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, similar to the two previous acts, deterred many possible radicals from starting an uprising. This act was especially effective because the army/navy are one of the most important things for somebody running the country- if they’re on your side they are a massive help-however as soon as the armed forces start conspiring against you, you know that you’re in trouble. Pitt understood the importance of this and took no chances when he imposed this law, as keeping the army/navy in order and under control was an essential part of Pitt’s stay in power.
The same year, the French had invaded England. Luckily for Britian, it was a failed invasion, however it helped Pitt realise the importance of army numbers. By April of 1798 a bill had been passed by parliament called the “Defence of the Realm Act”. This enabled the government to obtain a return of all males eligible to serve in the event of an invasion. By the 1st of May some 625 men at and around Newport Pagnell had added their names to the list. A larger army was absolutely key for Pitt. Not only did he need the army on his side, but in case revolution were to break out he would heavily rely on them to help fight against it, or if the French invaded the British once more he would also need a strong military to repel any danger, hence why this act was introduced in order to bring in more troops to strengthen Britain’s defence, and indeed it did.
Trade unions are always a threat to the government. This was the case in the late 1790’s for the Pittie government, when ever-growing trade unions had threatened to rebel and revolt against the government. 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 Mr. Pitt.
Other, maybe slightly less known acts were also implemented by Pitt to try and quash the threat of radicalism.
Introduced in 1793, the Aliens act prevented French revolutionary agents from entering Britain, which was of course helpful for Pitt as it prevented ideas being spread onto people in Britain, which of course helped to decrease the potential popularity of revolution in Britain and so helped decrease the chances of it.
Corresponding societies and left-wing newspapers also had to be dealt with by Pitt. Numbers of people joining corresponding societies all over the country were rising sharply due to an increasingly literate working class. This meant that they read pro-reform, anti-monarchy books such as “The Rights of Man” by Thomas Paine, which only “enhanced” and made their views on the monarchy and reform more extreme. One could say that the knowledge obtained by the working class by reading these books could have been a potential catalyst for the beginning of a revolution, and so Pitt had to act fast to stop the “rebels” from reading about these revolutionary ideas. Although he did not close down the corresponding societies, and this could be seen as one of the things he failed to do, he managed to pass new laws that enabled the government to suppress and regulate newspapers, which meant that workers were not as exposed to pro-reform stories as they were before which helped reduce the “brainwashing” of workers to try and overthrow the monarchy. This was very important for Pitt, as had the newspapers not become regulated and printed anything they liked, many of the workers would have become more radical, which would definitely have increased the threat of revolution in Britain as more workers would have become willing to rebel.
Another point worth mentioning is that 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. These rather unexpected turn of events stabilised Pitt’s position in the country, and allowed him to continue fighting against revolution and if anything strengthened him in his quest to preserve the monarchy.
Pitt was also winning a war in propaganda, where he made Jacobites (anti monarchy, pro-reform believers) seem like horrible, scandalous people which helped turn the British public against them and made the monarchy seem as something good, something that should be desired. This worked- the institution of monarchy became much more respected by the people and support for the King also increased as a result of the French execution of their King Louis XVI in 1793 and the patriotic feeling created by the declaration of war between France and England a year later. It also helped create many pro-monarchy associations which often attacked meetings of the Levellers and Republicans (both radicals). This was all extremely important and necessary for Pitt as getting the majority of the country on your side to become pro-monarch and outnumber the radicals meant that revolution was always going to be less likely, as for revolution to happen most of the population have to have a genuine desire to overthrow a hated regime. By winning a propaganda war, Pitt prevented this and ensured he had strong support throughout the country, which was good for him as it reduced the chances of revolution.
Although debateable, one could also say that Pitt’s ability to maintain economic stability helped him stop revolution. Pitt implemented various schemes to boost the economy before and during the revolution to try and keep the economy intact. Higher taxes (Items such as horses, wig powder, windows and hair powder were taxed) which created the much-needed money to wage a war against France after 1793. The introduction of the Sinking Fund (which meant that the government always had a fund of money to meet any emergency payments which needed to be paid in the future, which also helped reduce the national debt by around £10 million) and the Eden Treaty (which 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) all helped to help improve and stabilise the economy. Although these schemes were mainly created before the radical threat arose, they carried on during the years of threat and helped keep the economy relatively strong. This helped Pitt greatly, because if Britain had been in a serious economic crisis/ruin during the years of radical threat (like France had been) then discontent would have swept throughout the country, a lot more people would have been unhappy and this could, and most probably would, have caused big revolts in Britain which may well have led to a full-blown revolution. Thankfully for Pitt, he helped keep this essential aspect- the economy- and standard of living adequate, which kept the people of Britain happy and prevented what could have been a major catalyst for revolution.
So, on the whole it seems as though Pitt dealt with the radical threat well, however he did have his own flaws.
For instance, one could argue that the suspension of the Habeus Corpus Ammendment act wasn’t a good idea as it was used very sparingly during the period, and very few radicals were tried, and so one could say that this was one of his failures, as he implemented a very harsh act but got little results.
Also, as mentioned before, his inability to close down the Corresponding Societies only resulted in the numbers of radicals thriving, and so this too can be counted as a slight flaw in Pitt’s changes.
Also, possibly one of the most arguable things is that one could say that the extreme harshness of Pitt’s reforms made it a tyranny, or “reign of terror” which terrorized the people of Britain and took away innocent peoples’ basic rights of freedom. One could say that although actions were needed, Pitt went “too far” in his implementation of certain acts and that he needn’t have, as it would have been possible to manage the situation without creating such harsh laws.
To conclude, Pitt dealt with the radical threat by imposing stricter laws and acts which on the whole made it harder for radicals to thrive. Acts such as the “Defence of The Realm Act”, the suspension of Habeas Corpus, the “Two Acts” and the abolition of trade unions, as well as victory in propaganda and popularity with most of the civilians, and keeping the country from economic ruin, as well as other clever schemes amassed by Pitt, he helped to prevent the threat of radicalism and revolution in Britain. Yes, one could say that although he made some beneficial changes, it was the under-supported and not united radical movement (there was a north-south divide- those from the north were more in favour of change, and also the radicals were all split over aims), and the lack of a genuine public desire to overthrow a hated regime(unlike in France where the majority of the county were “fed up” with the current regime, in Britain only a relatively small percentage of the population were keen on revolt), that was the main reason for Britain not going into the revolution. One could also say that although the changes were good, they were too harsh and caused there to be a reign of terror in Britain under the Pitt government which took away the freedom of people in Britain, which is something that would be very detrimental to the Pitt government.
However it is my opinion that during the late 18th Century and early 19th Century, Pitt was in no position whatsoever to take any risks or compromises and despite the harshness of the schemes he introduced, they proved that they were extremely effective as, thanks to the changes he made to the government and country, Pitt had successfully managed to extinguished the threat of radicalism and revolution in Britain.
Thomas Smith 6F3