Seditious Meetings Act 1795

Seditious Meetings Act 1795

The Seditious Meetings Act, approved by the British Parliament in November 1795, was the second of the well known "Two acts" (also known as the "Gagging Acts" or the "Grenville and Pitt Bills"), the other being the Treasonable Practices Act. Its purpose was to restrict the size of public meetings to fifty persons. It also required a magistrate's licence for lecturing and debating halls where admission was charged and policies discussed.

This legislation was reasonably effective. However, provided that Jacobin alehouse clubs were restricted to fifty persons and avoided corresponding, they were able to dodge the Seditious Meetings Act. Also, actions against individuals for seditious, treasonous or blasphemous words was hindered as spies and shorthand writers could not easily transcribe undiscovered in such an environment. Alehouse debaters could convey anti-establishment sentiments in oblique ways that were difficult to prosecute in a law-court.

In a period of revolution in Europe, the British Parliament attempted to avoid any seditious movement in the kingdoms. The period between 1790-1800 was one of intense lectures and public speeches in defence of political reformation, which, for the similarities with the French Revolution principles, were usually named "Jacobinic meetings". One of the most famous preachers in the period was John Thelwall, who interpreted the "Two Acts" as a violence against him and his teachings. His meetings used to reach a large number of people and, after the approval of the acts, were disturbed by many legalists who wished to see the law being respected. The "Seditious Meetings Act" stated that any place, like a room or building, where political meetings took place, with the purpose of discussing the injustice of any law, constitution, government and policy of the kingdoms, must be declared a house of disorder and punished.

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