The French Revolution was generally seen as a good thing in Britain when it first happened. Fox and some of his Whig allies saw it is the beginning of freedom. Supporters of Pitt saw it in a more pragmatic light. The Revolution would be a major distraction for Britain’s great rivals. Pitt planned to reduce defence expenditure in February 1792, as he thought the Revolution would keep France far too busy sorting out it’s old problems to go to war with Britain.
Pitt is quoted as saying, “unquestionably there was never a time in the history of this country, when, from the situation in Europe, we might more reasonably expect fifteen years of peace than at the present moment. ” However, despite these predictions, the French Revolution did cause problems, both internally and externally. It has been argued by historians that Pitt dealt with these internal problems effectively. I think that if Pitt dealt with these problems effectively, then his administration continued as it had done before the problem arose.
However, some people argue that Pitt dealt with the internal problems of the French Revolution ineffectively. If he dealt with them ineffectively, then they would have weakened his administration in some way, be it Pitt’s reputation suffering, his support in Parliament decreasing, or general public opinion against him. Pitt could be seen as having dealt with the internal problems effectively in various ways. Firstly, there was the problem of a number of radical societies and groups.
Pitt passed his 6 acts that were able to suppress the radical societies in Britain. There was large support for these in Parliament. Few arrests were made on the basis of these 6 acts. This could have been because people were afraid of the punishments that might befall them if they broke the law, and so weren’t prepared to risk radical actions. However, the few arrests could also be because there was no real threat in the first place, so this argument is flawed. Pitt also dealt with the problem of radicalism with propaganda.
The propaganda was published to make the radicals look like dangerous and untrustworthy people. The most successful piece of anti-radical propaganda was Hannah More’s Cheap Repository Tracts, which sold around 2 million copies, compared to Thomas Paine’s pro-radical book, The Rights of Man, which sold 200,000 copies. The theme of the anti-radical propaganda was patriotism. It was said that if you believed in the French Revolutionary ideas, then you were agreeing with one of Britain’s biggest enemies, and you were not supporting your country.
This meant that radicals were very much in the minority Another internal problem was the split in the Whig party, as some believed that radical reform should be copied from France, and some did not. Fox, Grey, Sheridan and Whitbread were all included in the smaller, former group, and Portland, Loughborough, Windham and Burke in the larger, latter group. Pitt created a coalition with Portland, and 6 of the 13 Cabinet posts went to the Whigs.
This coalition was formed to try and heal the split in British politics, and instead of fighting among themselves, fight against the French abroad and the spread of French principles at home. It is this coalition that has been called the foundation of the modern day Conservative Party. However, it has been said that Pitt did not deal with some of the internal problems caused by the French Revolution effectively. Some of the 6 acts that he brought in were hardly used, as there was already legislation in place that gave out longer sentences for punishment, so they were not really feared by the radicals.
Also, the activites of some of the radical societies, for example the Corresponding Societies, enabled the politicisation of the working class. Although this political consciousness wasn’t significant during Pitt’s reign as Prime Minister, it made a significant long-term impact on the development of British society in the 19th century. It has also been said that, if the middle class people who initially were in favour of the French Revolution had supported the working class radicals, then they would have been able to mount a much more significant and effective challenge on the government.
However, the problem with this theory is that it is hypothetical, as these things did not happen, so we can only guess. There is a certain amount of debate as to whether there were any real internal problems in Britain because of the French Revolution. Some historians have argued that the radicalism in British society was already there, the French Revolution just made it recognised as a potential threat. Also, it has been argued that there was no real threat of revolution in Britain.
Radical groups were looking more for reform of the political system rather than revolution, as most of the groups rejected violence or conspiracy as methods of achieving their aim of constitutional reform. To conclude, I think that Pitt dealt with the internal problems caused by the French Revolution fairly effectively, however I think it is worth noting that some of the problems were already present before the French Revolution, they were just accelerated or enlarged because of it.