Today's post relates to an expression my mother used all the time when I was a kid.
“read the riot act” to their unruly children may not know it, but they are
following in the footsteps of British magistrates who enforced that country’s
Riot Act, which first took effect on August 1, 1715. Parliament passed the Riot
Act—officially known as “An Act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies,
and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters”—in response to
growing civil unrest by Jacobite mobs who in 1714 revolted against the
coronation of German-born Protestant King George I of Hanover, who succeeded
Catholic Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch.
Riot Act authorized local officials in the United Kingdom and British
possessions such as the American colonies and Canada to disperse groups of 12
or more people who “unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously assembled together
to the disturbance of the public peace.” The Riot Act stipulated that
magistrates first read the following proclamation to disorderly crowds: “Our
sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled,
immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their
habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act
made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies.
God save the King.” Anyone who failed to leave one hour after the reading of
the Riot Act would be guilty of a felony, punishable by prison time, hard labor
and even death. The Riot Act authorized authorities to use force to disperse
crowds and indemnified them against prosecution for injuring or killing
of the law proved challenging as defendants often claimed they never heard the
reading of the Riot Act—certainly possible in a noisy melee—and speakers needed
to recite the proclamation’s precise language in order for the law to take
effect. Omissions of phrases, especially “God save the King,” resulted in
several verdicts being overturned. By the 1900s, the use of the Riot Act had
become rare, but perhaps surprisingly, it remained in effect in parts of the
United Kingdom until its ultimate repeal in 1973. Today, only scolding parents
fed up with their rowdy children are left reading the riot act in Britain.
Clancy's comment: There ya go, folks. Now you know.