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The Age of George III

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The Gag Acts

During the period 1812-22, it could be said that England suffered more, economically, socially and politically, than during the French Wars. Consequently there were a number of manifestations of discontent and distress, in the shape of riots and disaffection, which epitomised the 'Condition of England Question'.

Prior to the passing of the Gag Acts (or Two Acts), some evidence of general discontent had been manifested: The Luddites (1811-16) had been smashing machines which took away their work, the Spa Fields Riots took place on 2 December 1816. Then on 28 January 1817 the Prince Regent's carriage was mobbed after the State opening of parliament. The government acted quickly.

On 4 March 1817, Habeas Corpus was suspended; the suspension was not lifted until January 1818. The Seditious Meetings Act was passed and continued in force until 24 July 1818: it was designed to ensure that all reforming 'Societies and Clubs ... should be utterly suppressed and prohibited as unlawful combinations and confederacies'. No meeting of more than fifty persons could be held without the prior consent of the magistrates.

At the same time, Sidmouth sent out a Home Office circular informing magistrates of their powers to arrest persons suspected of disseminating seditious libel. He ordered the Lords Lieutenant to apprehend all printers of seditious and blasphemous materials, all writers of the same, and demagogues. However, he failed with the attempt to prosecute the writers and printers because of Fox's 1792 Libel Act; only one printer was convicted. However, there is a definite parallel here with the 1794 Treason Trials.


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Last modified 30 April, 2017

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