Reforms and ReformersCategory: 18th century
In the wake of the American war, many old institutions were reexamined. The Economical Reform Act of 1782 reduced the patronage powers of the king and his ministers. The Irish Parliament, controlled by Anglo-Irish Protestants, won a greater degree of independence.
The India Act in 1784 gave ultimate authority over British India to the government instead of the English East India Company. The India Act was sponsored by William Pitt the Younger, who was named Prime Minister late in 1783 at the age of 24. Pitt remained in office for most of the rest of his life and did much to shape the modern prime ministership. In the aftermath of the American war, he restored faith in the government’s ability to pay interest on the much-increased national debt, and he set up the first consolidated annual budget. Pitt was also sympathetic to political reform, repeal of restrictions on non-Anglican Protestants, and abolition of the slave trade, but when these measures failed to win a parliamentary majority, he dropped them.
Reformers, such as Charles James Fox and Thomas Paine, were inspired by the revolution that began in France in 1789, but others, such as Edmund Burke, became fearful of all radical change. Pitt was less concerned with French ideas than actions, and when the French revolutionary army invaded the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) and declared war on England in February 1793, a decade of moderate reform in Britain gave way to 22 years of all-out war.