History AS: William Pitt 1783-1801

Overview of the premiership of William Pitt 'the Younger' from 1783-1801. This topic covers:

  • Why Did William Pitt the Younger dominate politics 1783-1793 ?
  • Pitt and his domestic policies 1784-1793
  • How successfully did Pitt face the challenge of the French Revolution 1789 -1801?
  • Pitt and his anti-radical legislation 
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Why Did William Pitt the Younger dominate politics

Pitt the Younger was able to dominate politics between 1783-1793 primarily because of:

  • The continued support of King George III - Pitt soon became the monarch's protogee; excelling in his role as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1782 he seemed to possess remarkable abilities for finanncial management and  administration. Pitt caught the Hanoverian Kings attention by defining his political agenda, in which he stated, that he was an "independant Whig"; which pleased the King who held a personal vendetta against the Fox-North coallition. 
  • The division of his Whig opponenets - The Whig party, led by Charles James Fox was Pitts main opposition party, however the support from the monarchy assisted Pitt in his victory over the Whigs in the 1784 General Election. The Whigs lost a great deal of support and public sympathy. Their weakness and lack of party unity was confirmed later by the differing of opinions over the French Revolution.
  • The dominace Pitt exercised in the conduct of domestic policy - the 1784 election victory placed Pitt in a position to embark on an ambitious refroming programme up to 1793. The defeat in the American War of Independance had created a major financial crisis which needed to be tackled. Pitt also endeavoured to reform the administation in British politics to create a more efficient Parliament     
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Pitt and his domestic policies 1784-1793

Finacial Policy

 Imports and exports  

  • Commutation Act 1784 - Designed to lower the import duty on tea and so make smuggling less profitable. During the years 1785-1787, duties on such items as brandy were reduced. This lead to to an increase in the value of food and raw material imports, exactly what Pitt wanted. 
  • Hovering Act 1784 - Allowed smugglers vessels to be searched up to 12 miles out to sea increasing trade security and reducing the chances of smuggling. 


  • Indirect taxation on luxuries - Pitt realised that the best solution of raising new revenue would be through indirect taxes on the rich. He therefore embarked on taxing the luxuries of the upper class such as horses, wigs, hair powder and windows. His taxation policy was generally successful in terms of increasing revenue reaching the Treasury. However, his legislation was largely unpopular with the public, especially his window tax which he imediately removed. This demonstrated Pitts laxity and regards to public opinion.     
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Pitt and his domestic policies 1784-1793

Finacial Policy

National Debt

  • Sinking Fund 1786 - simply a means of reducing government debt by accumilating money. Comissioners were appointed to maintain the policy and to regulate its use in terms of government expenditure. In peace-time it was successful and by 1793, the national debt had been reduced by around £10m. However, the outbreak of the war with France in 1793 raised the national debt and the Sinking fund became obsolete. 

Trading Policy

Free Trade

  • Eden Treaty 1786 - Signed with France, the treaty gave citizens of Britain and France free access to each others countries as well as reducing the number of tariffs on select items. British manufacturers were grateful to Pitts government in finding new areas for their products. The outbreak of war in 1793 proved the treatys undoing. 

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Pitt and his domestic policies 1784-1793

Administrative Policy 

Government Efficiency

  • Reduction in patronage - removing government waste was on Pittite preoccupation and especially the excessive amount of patronage (granting influence and money to a favourite) that the Crown exercised. However, Pitt was caught in a paradoxical situation, as George III was an immensely powerful politican patron. In the event, government control over the Excise Board was strenghtened and government financial accountability increased. Patronage was still pre-existing well into the nineteenth century, but Pitts reforms had sown the seeds for future administrations to cultivate.

In domestic politics, Pitt also concerned himself with the cause of parliamentary reform. In 1785, he introduced a bill to remove the representation of thirty-six rotten boroughs, and to extend in a small way, the electoral franchise to more individuals. Pitt's support for the bill, however, was not strong enough to prevent its defeat in the House of Commons. The bill introduced in 1785 was Pitt's last parliamentary reform proposal introduced in Parliament.

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How successfully did Pitt face the challenge of th

Pitt successfully met the challenge of the French Revolution between 1789 and 1801 by:

  • Exploiting Whig divisions - in their response to the French Revolution. This party had a number of leading personalities such as Edmund Burke, Charles James Fox and the Duke of Portland, all whom disagreed on the future of their party as a result of the revolution in France.
  • Introducing anti-Jacobin legislation - Pitt was determined to stamp-out the radical threat, which seemed to be strongest in the cities and which was dominated in membership by skilled artisants and craftsmen who, in the light of Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, were becoming evermore involved in the politics of the revolution. during the period 1792-1801, a number of laws were passed aimed at blunting the radical message and its attractiveness.
  • ensuring that Pitt won the "propaganda war" - especially after the execution of the French King in 1792 and the declaration of war in 1793. He claimed his victory over Jacobinism, which was defined in disloyalty to the monarchy under George III. The execution of Louis XVI stimulated beneficial patriotism and anti-radicalism in Britain.
  • Loyalist support - from the majority of the people, especially towards King George III. Such Loyalist societies like the Church and Kings mob were extremelly beneficial in suppressing the movement of radicals which weakened them further owing to the anti-radical legislation already imposed. 
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Pitt and his anti-radical legislation

  • Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Amendmant Act - from May 1974 to July 1975 anyone could be arrested and held indefinitely merley on suspicion of having committed a crime. Many were oppossed to this legislative policy, though arguably the act was only temporary and therefore demonstrated Pitts endeavour for equality and maintaining Law and order, rather than repression and political exploit.
  • Seditious Meetings Act/Treasonable Practises Act 1795 - known as the 'Two Acts', these banned meetings that were not approved by the local magistrates and broadened the definition of treason to allow more arrest. managed to suppress radical movements therefore reducing their publicity and popularity. However, it also forced them underground. This made it increaslingly difficult for Pitt to monitor their movements making them more dangerous.
  • Act Against Unlawful Oaths 1797 - increased the penalty for undermining authority, was passed following a mutiny in the Navy.
  • Defence of the Realm Act 1798 - required infromation to be given and volunteer millitas to be set up, ready to fight for King and country. 
  • Combiantion Laws 1799 - effectively abolished trade unions. it hit the radical movement as the unions were the only methods working men had of redressing grievances against their employers.
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How successfully did Pitt face the challenge of th

The Revolution could not have come at a worse period for Pitt. Between 1788 and 1789 his position was undermined by what is more commonly known as the Regency Crisis

  • George III was pronounced "unfit to govern". Suffering from a mental illness identified by mordern science as porphyria. 
  • Pitt had lost a valuable and powerful ally. The prospect of the King stepping aside for the pro-Whig Prince of Wales was a real concern for the Prime Minister. It threatened his political stability and dominace with the notion that Fox had the advantage over him and could defeat his administration.
  • In the event he was rescued both by the recovery of the King and by Whig divisons over how to approach the revolution. Fox was extremly enthusiastic, yet fellow Whigs such as Edmund Burke did not share his enthusiasm. The split was widened by Burke in which he condemned Fox for supporting the revolution. 

Pitt saw an opportunity to win over aristocratic Whigs who disapproved of Fox's radicalism and create the first broad-based aristocratic Conservative administration. 

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The strong political alliance that existed between Pitt and George III ended over Irish affairs at the turn of the century. The Act of Union signed between Ireland and England in 1800 was an important thurning point. Pitt wanted Catholics to be allowed to become MPs (Catholic Emancipation) and take up their seats in the Parliament in London. George III refused to agree to this, leaving Pitt and his followers no option but to leave office. Pitt returned as Prime Minister in 1805, but his ministry was cut short by ill health. He died in 1806.

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James Croxford

Hayley Van-Heerden

Very very helpful summarisation, thank you very much!


THANKYOU! mock tomorrow and this is a great help

Jacob Williams


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