The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

Reforms and Reformers

Category: 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.

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