British history – essay plan

‘Pitt successfully dealt with the challenge of radicalism in the years 1783 to 1801’

Explain why you agree AND disagree with this view


  • By 1783 – desperately needed someone to restore national confidence, by 1784 Pitt had successfully gained the confidence of the country through his loyalty to his role
  • He had several issues to tackle:
  1. Control of national debt – Britain’s national debt was extremely high, partially due to the war against American colonists. National debt had reached an all time high of £240 million, this was 16 times the government’s annual revenue. Pitt introduced the sinking fund, £1 million a year paid in from taxation. This was successful in peacetime, but failed as a war-time policy – this failure is of high significance because the issues he was trying to fix had worsened during war-time, and so were inefficient when they were most needed
  2. Trade reforms – Pitt was invested in adopting free trade, as he believed the country would benefit due to a consequential boost in the economy. Pitt lowered, simplified or removed customs duties on importance and exports – Consolidation Acts 1787. Customs duties and excise duties were united into one tax. Book of rates – listing of the duty to be paid on every item, increasing efficiency and accuracy of tax collection. Smuggling was ripe before Pitt made it less attractive by introducing the Hovering Act enabling authorities to confiscate ships carrying smuggled goods up to four miles off the shore. Result: eventually it increased the volume of legitimate trade, however immediately it created a reduction in income from taxation, a negative because the government was already under stress from their debt during the war, a decrease in income would only add to the pressure
  3. The decline in government revenue was countered with Pitt’s reform of the tariff system. Indirect taxes – taxes on horses, windows, bricks, hats, playing cards, ribbons and candles, commodities of the wealthy upper classes. However, the window tax disabled the development of the glass industry. The new taxes increased government revenue by £4 million by 1793

Essentially, he put Britain in a stronger position to face the war with France when it came in 1793


Pitt’s government ignored the demands for parliamentary reform – unrepresentative, corrupt public ballots, instead he used repression to ignore the calls for reform. Pitt didn’t improve every part of the system, only that of which would benefit his government and the prospering and enlightened classes, suppressing radicalism differs from solving the issue of radicalism 

Could argue that luck/events in France played a part – French revolution turned many reformers away from the idea of revolution. Pitt didn’t play a part in preventing radicalism, as it was believed the government should suppress radicalism, not introduce reform acts to solve the problems of the lower and working classes

Outbreaks of unrest – Radical author Tom Paine – demands for religious tolerance and a reform of parliament and the poor voting system. Shows there was still a vast majority of people, including people with a voice such as Tom Paine, who saw the faults of the system and of Pitt’s highly repressive government. 


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