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To What Extent Was Pitt’S Repressive Policy The Main Reason For His Success In Resisting The Radical Challenge Of 1801?

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To What Extent Was Pitt’s Repressive Policy The Main Reason For His Success In Resisting The Radical Challenge Of 1801?

During his administration, Pitt proved his worth as a successful and capable prime minister. His approach to his duty was far reaching and effective and his repressive legislation was paramount to his success in resisting the radical challenge in 1801 and Pitt the reformer became Pitt the reactionary.

The fall of the main prison and palace, the Bastille, in Paris sparked the French revolution in 1789. Opinions towards the revolution were mixed in Britain. Pitt, prime minister at the time, was optimistic and thought it would strengthen his politics because it would leave France weak and put an end to their colonial ambitions. Others thought it may lead to reform in Britain. People felt flattered that, after the glorious revolution of 1688, France was copying Britain; after all, they were the “freest people in Europe”. However, the revolution in France proved to have and huge ongoing impact on Britain.

The term radical was used in the late 18th century as proponents of the radicalism movement. Some radicals sought republicanism, abolishment of titles, redistribution of property and freedom of the press. Pitt was faced with radicals calling for reform and a more democratic government.

In 1790, Edmund Burke, an Irish political theorist, wrote the book “Reflections on the Revolution in France” repudiated the French Revolution even though he had support the American Revolution. He felt the American Revolution was a legitimate assertion of the rights of the American colonists, however the French revolution was a violent rebellion against tradition and proper authority and, as he rightly predicted, would end in disaster.

In response, Thomas Paine penned “The Rights of Man” in 1791. The Rights of Man is dedicated to General Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, a French military officer and former aristocrat who participated in both the American and French revolutions, acknowledging the importance of the American and the French Revolution in laying down the principles of a democratic government. The rights of man encouraged mass support for democratic reform along with rejection of the monarchy, aristocracy, and all forms of privilege. Thomas Paine had managed to rouse a collected opinion in Britain and different strands of the movement developed.

Many radicals were willing to go one step further and large numbers of radical organizations sprang up such as The London Corresponding Society of Artisans (artisans being the skilled manual workers) and The Scottish Friends of the People Society who, in 1793 issued a manifesto demanding universal male suffrage with annual elections and expressing their support for the principles of the French Revolution.

Pitt and the British government reacted harshly and began what has been called Pitt’s “reign of terror”. Pitt’s first reaction to radical protest was the signing of two royal proclamations against seditious writings in May and December of 1792.they regarded a statement is seditious if it "brings into hatred or contempt", the government and constitution amongst other things. They were convinced they faced a revolutionary conspiracy and believed their actions were truly justified. The government monitored the activities of radical societies by using spies although its resources were very limited with less than 25 members of staff. From May 1784 to July 1795 and again from 1798 to 1801, The Habeas Corpus Amendment act was suspended. Habeas Corpus is the name of a legal action, through which a person can seek relief from unlawful detention of themselves or another person. The suspension of this privilege gave the authorities the ability to arrest anyone on suspicion of having committed and crime and detain them indefinitely without bringing specific charges. 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 although few were imprisoned without charge.

From 1794 to 1795, poor harvests and economic depression combined with political consciousness produced large amounts of unrest and, in October 1795, when King George III’s coach was attacked and stoned on the way to open a new session of parliament,



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