How close to revolution was Great Britain in the 1790

The 1790’s wasn’t the easiest of times for Britain. Revolution overthrowing the monarchy In France caused working-class civilians in Britain to entertain the Idea of revolutionizing. This, among other aspects such as the war with France and food supply, meant that Britain, led by Pitt, had to fight off the threat of revolution.
It would be a fair statement to make that although Great Britain had big enough threats and factors for revolution to actually happen, the threat lacked a certain spark that could ave Ignited the revolution, spreading into a full-blown fire across the whole country, helping end the monarchy. The first key point to look at is the nature of British society at the time. The economy and living conditions can always be catalysts for a revolution- an example Is the sorry state of the French economy, one of the major causes of revolution breaking out there, Just before they went into revolution.
Now, had the economy of Britain in the 1790’s been as crippled as France’s was, then it would have been likely that people in Great Brltaln would have been feeling desperate for change, and a revolutionary ould have been looking likely. However, this was not the case. Although the years 1 795 and 1797 were very difficult in terms of high bread prices and unemployment, the situation was simply not severe enough to make revolution a necessity for people In Great Britain. Hunger and famine were very sparse, In comparison to France.

In fact, the standard of living of most people In the 1 79ffs had actually Improved due to the industrial revolution taking place at the time. Pitt, thanks to his numerous reforms and changes to the government, such as increasing taxes and the ntroduction of the sinking fund, meant that the threat of revolution was significantly decreased. unions were also an Issue that Pitt had to combat. 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 aused 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 ause trouble for the government, hence why many saw this as a very good measure taken by Pitt Religion can also be an extremely key factor. The King and monarchy 1 OF5 are tra01tlonally symools 0T rellglon ana tnelsm, ana countrles tnat nave a nlgn percentage of the population of people as Christians are less likely to go into revolution.
Britain was a country that was very theist at the time, which meant that the absence of atheism helped Britain to steer clear of revolution. All in all, in terms of the society of Britain at the time, despite certain strains such as the weakening of he economy and rise of trade unions, a fundamental cohesion and stability was seen in the country, partly down to Pitt, which meant that in this particular “field” (the nature of British society) Britain, although it had dangers and threats, never really came close to revolution.
One could again say that a spark was lacked. Radical ideas, spreading over the channel from France to Britain, were one of the greatest threats to Britain- the more people learnt about the idea of the revolution in Britain, the more potential revolutionaries there would be, resulting in a greater ikelihood of revolution.
It is important to point out however, that although the concept of radicalism was in theory a serious threat to the British monarchy, it was by no means popular with everyone in the country and contained serious flaws, which stopped the revolution from growing, Just like sunlight stops a plant from growing, or a robin stopping the invincibility of the blues from growing. Corresponding societies were a big threat to the monarchy. 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 nd 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. So to sum up, things like corresponding societies and pro-radical newspapers were a serious threat to Britain, however although they were helpful to the revolution, they alone were not enough to put the revolution into full force.
It is vital to explore other factors that too could have aided the revolution, or prevented it from happening. One factor which simply meant that Britain was never really going to come that close to revolution is desire. The genuine public desire to overthrow the monarchy was simply not large enough- the majority of the population were content of the way the country was run, only a small population wanted change. For a country to revolutionize, most of the countrys people need to have the desire to overthrow the King, in order to have enough power and force to do so.
Take France as an example once again, the Third Estate made up around 90% of the country, and virtually all of the third estate wanted to see change, hence why France was swept up in revolution. This was not the case in Britain. Perhaps it was because the class-system was on the whole fairer-the clergy did not aomlnate as mucn In Brltaln as It 010 In France, ana tne working class 0T Brltaln, though most likely discontent, were on the whole miles happier than the French working class in comparison.
This one factor alone was one of, if not the, greatest reasons why Britain steered clear of revolution and did not come as close as it may well have. Having said that, Pitt made sure radical ideas, actions and organisations were subdued. To supress the threat of revolution, Pitt brought upon changes to ertain acts and even created new ones. One example is how Pitt suspended the Habeas Corpus Amendment act from 1974-1795, then again from 1798-1801.
This act meant that people could only be arrested after solid evidence, however after the temporary removal of this act, anyone could be arrested and held indefinitely, even if there was no evidence and they were merely being held on suspicion. This act was very effective, as it deterred potential revolutionaries from committing crimes. The “Two Acts” were also introduced, which kept an eye on illegal gatherings, reducing hem to a minimum, which helped Britain halt the threat of revolution from growing.
Another point is that for a revolution to happen, the radical movement must be strong and united. Although the radical movement had been a big threat, its potential was massively limited because it did not have the support it needed. The movement was split along a North South divide and was also split over aims- some radicals argued that parliamentary reform went far enough whereas others argued that a republic was the only solution to their problems.
In addition the radicals were seriously under-powered in terms of weaponry and such, and all these problems ere one of the reasons why, although the threats were present, the spark, or cutting edge, was not, hence why Britain did not have revolution. The government was doing its best to extinguish the radical ideas that were sweeping through the country during the 1790’s, however it needed some help from loyalists. Loyalists were people, predominantly working class, who were in support of the monarchy.
This reinforces the view stated earlier that not all the working class were in favour of revolution. The 1790’s witnessed the creation of many loyalist, pro- monarchy associations, an example of one being founded by John Reeves in 1792, hich fought against Republicans and Levellers by gate-crashing and attacking their meetings. Many ordinary men were also turned into “militas” to protect the country from internal threat. However, the main reason for all this internal support was William Pitt and the British government.
Pitt was winning a propaganda war, and very successfully. 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 eople 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.
This factor, although was helpful to the government as many people, whose background fitted in to the revolutionary type of person, gave support to the King, was not crucial to the government and did not repel the threat of revolution as much as other factors did, an example which links in with tnls one Delng tne lack 0T wlaespreaa aeslre to revolt. one could say na t tne sole reason for the creation of so many loyalist associations was due to the propaganda war being won by Pitt, which helped reduce the chances of revolution.
All in all the “battle of ideas”, although won by the monarchy, never threatened the British government to a large enough extent due to the low population of the radicals, and so taking into account that fact that not even all working class people were willing revolutionaries, and that the revolutionary opposition was under-populated, this highlights how Britain managed to contain the threat of ideas spreading across the ountry in a way which was not overly-hard, and only pushed the chances of revolution further away.
Finally, as has been mentioned a number of times already, the British State was exposed to the threat of revolution, and it did extremely well to contain the radical threat, helping to limit the effectiveness of it. William Pitt, who was in power at the time, was instrumental in making brave changes to the way the country was run in order to supress the growing threat of revolution.
Taking into account that Britain at the time had no national police force, Pitt had to be extra careful to make sure revolution did not spread. He did this by introducing a variety of acts: The suspension of Habeas Corpus, the “Two Acts”, repelling mutiny following an incident at Spithead & the Nore, the abolition of trade unions, the DORA, and sustaining an acceptable economy were all things Pitt did to help quash revolution.
And indeed they worked-, and although many found them harsh and very tyranny-like, Pitt was in no position to take chances and in most cases the threat of the use of the measures introduced by Pitt was enough to deter the radical movement, which helped to steer Britain away from revolution even further, and ensured that Great Britain was never hat close to revolution despite numerous threats being posed. To conclude, although the threats of radicalism that were posed to the government were certainly dangerous, there were many aspects of the threat of revolution which were very flawed and resulted in the failure of the radicals.
Britain faced many threats, such as radical ideas spreading across Britain, the faltering economy, the war with France, the lack of a police force and so on; however Britain reacted very well and did everything it could to the best of its ability to suppress the idea of revolution rom getting out of hand-harsh measures introduced helped dispel revolutionaries, and the stabilisation of the economy and standard of life was crucial in helping to satisfy the majority of the population.
Fundamental flaws were present in the opposition, and it was these flaws which never allowed them to have a real chance in overthrowing the King. A distinct minority of people in Great Britain wanted change, and so trying to disrupt the regime, as well as having very little access to arms and weaponry and themselves being spilt about their aims, was always going to be a aunting task.
It was a task that was attempted to be carried out by the revolutionaries, and despite posing a variety of threats to the country, the radicals lacked a certain spark and the government dealt with them well. A fundamental cohesion and stability was seen throughout Britain in 1790’s, as, despite the fact the revolutlonarles prooea ana questlonea tne governments staDlllty, tne government and Britain answered, responded well, and managed to quash the threat of revolution in Great Britain, ensuring that Britain, although sternly tested, sailed clear of revolution

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