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The Waning of ‘Old Corruption’The Politics of Economical Reform in Britain, 1779-1846$
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Philip Harling

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198205760

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198205760.001.0001

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Background to the French Wars: Pittite Reform in the 1780s

Background to the French Wars: Pittite Reform in the 1780s

(p.31) 2 Background to the French Wars: Pittite Reform in the 1780s
The Waning of ‘Old Corruption’


Oxford University Press

The critique of ‘Old Corruption’ arose from discontent with the wartime opportunities for feeding off the public spoil that the fiscal-military state ostensibly furnished to ministers and their cronies. This became especially formidable during the unprecedentedly expensive and seemingly endless wars with France between 1793 and 1815. The growth of the fiscal-military state during the American War had put far too much money in the hands of the executive. The machinery of government had to be improved for strictly administrative reasons and the operators themselves had to be seen to be ‘virtuous’ — not interested in turning office to their own pecuniary and political advantage at public expense. Pitt succeeded in this task where his immediate predecessors failed. One important consequence of his strict personal probity and his well-known reforms of the 1780s was to help finally to bring to an end the fairly widespread suspicion of ministerial greed that had been fostered by the American War.

Keywords:   French War, Old Corruption, American War, government machinery, public expense, Pittite reform

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