William Pitt the Younger had to overcome many hurdles in his political career as Prime Minister, after his arguably successful ‘National Revival’ he encountered emerging Radicalism. Contributing and possibly creating Radicalism was the onset of war with Revolutionary France in February 1793. Pitt’s Government strategy for dealing with the radical threat from 1793 was coined ironically by the radicals themselves as his ‘Reign of Terror’ in attempt to equate his policies with the ‘terror’ in France, however Pitt’ government was far less violent than the Jacobin regime. Although Pitt’s heavy-handed approach concerning repressive policies was occasionally criticised, he operated on different levels and controlled radical threat using various forms which could be construed as his reason for success in resisting radical challenge. However, there were also other contributing factors which enabled Pitt to resist radical challenge so successfully.
On one level, Pitt’s government used intimidation. He did this is three aspects, first between 1790 and 1793; the government relied on magistrates to monitor and discourage radical action in the localities. For instance, magistrates were responsible for issuing pub owners licenses to pubs, in doing so they could also threaten to revoke the licences if the publicans allowed radical meetings on the premises. Secondly in 1793 the government decided purely localised agents of law and order were insufficient and subsequently the Home Office expanded. They established an Alien Section and a small Secret Service, the Home Secretary also made extensive use of spies and informants to infiltrate radical societies. Lastly, the government mobilised the judicial system by bring prosecutions against prominent radicals. Two sets of trial became particularly notorious, the first in Scotland 1793-94, where Thomas Muir attempted to set up National Convention, and he was sentenced to 14 years transportation by a bias judge. The second set of trial known as ‘the treason trials’ took place in England in 1794 where leaders of the LCS and the Constitutional Society were arrested and initially charged with Treasonable Conspiracy. These repressive policies did resist radical challenge to a certain extent, but not all of these measures were completely successful.
As well as Intimidation, Pitt’s government passed a number of laws designed to curb the activities of radicals. First in 1794, the Act of Habeas Corpus was suspended meaning the government could effectively hold political prisoners for an indefinite length of time. Second in December 1795 after an attack of the Prince Regent’s coach the government rushed the ‘Two Acts’ through Parliament, the first being the Treasonable and Seditious Practices Act which broadened the law of treason. The second, The Seditious Meetings Act which banned meeting more than 50 people who object was to petition Parliament or discuss any reform. In 1799 and 1800 the government also extended its repressive measures to the labour market with the Combination Laws effectively banning the development of early trade unions.
There was more to the government’s policy than repressive legislation, the ‘reign of terror’ was underpinned by a propaganda campaign designed to tap into and mobilise conservative sentiment throughout British society. The 1790s saw a flood of conservative publications such as The Oracle, The Sun and The True Briton, all of which advanced the virtues of the existing system and banded together all radicals claiming they were dangerous traitors and anarchists. Parliamentary support began to increase during the 1790sas the more conservative Whigs began to break away from Charles James Fox and joined the coalition. Conservative propaganda appears to have been particularly effective in exploiting deep-seated feelings of popular patriotism,…