The Age of George III

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Pitt's repressive legislation 1793-1801

The 1793 Aliens Act prevented any French Republican from coming to England. It also stopped the exchange of visitors and speakers. However, it did allow émigrés to travel freely.

In 1794 the suspension of Habeas Corpus allowed the arrest and imprisonment of persons 'on suspicion' without requiring charges or a trial. Local JPs were ordered to investigate leaders of the Corresponding Societies, and if there was evidence against them, to prosecute. JPs were very active because they represented the landed interest, and feared for their lives and property in the event of a revolution. There were many trials and imprisonments.

The 1795 Treasonable Practices Act appeared to be a vicious attack on personal liberties. It extended the definition of 'treason' to include speaking and writing, even if no action followed. It attacked public meetings, clubs, and the publication of pamphlets, for example. Tom Paine had been outlawed; his writings were deemed to be treasonable and were blacked. Paine was in France at this time. It became treasonable to bring the king or his government into contempt.

The 1795 Seditious Meetings Act said that any public meeting of more than 50 persons had to be authorised by a magistrate. JPs had the discretionary power to disperse any public meeting.

In 1797 taxes on printed matter were vastly increased, to price cheap periodicals off the market. This legislation merely created an 'underground' press.

In 1799 and 1800 the Combination Acts were passed. These laws forbade societies or amalgamations of persons for the purpose of political reform. Interference with commerce and trade became illegal. The penalty for breaking these laws was 3 months in gaol. Pitt passed the Combination Acts because trade clubs and societies had effectively demanded wage rises to keep pace with inflation. The government saw wage claims as a clear sign of disaffection. The Combination Acts introduced no new principle into law because unlawful combinations were already unlawful. These Combination Acts offered faster application of the law. They provided for summary trial before a JP instead of awaiting the Assize. The new laws were not widely used because existing, older laws were much more severe, providing a sentence of 7 years transportation. The Combination Acts were passed because:

The legislation was repealed in 1824.

Between 1793 and 1800 reform movements were driven underground in the attempt to suppress them. Pitt the reformer became Pitt the reactionary.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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