Citation:
Act Against Unlawful Combinations and Confederacies (1799) 39 Geo.III, c.79.


An act for the more efficient suppression of societies established for seditious and treasonable purposes; and for better preventing treasonable and seditious practices.

Whereas a traitorous conspiracy has long been carried on, in conjunction with the persons from time to time exercising the powers of government in France, to overturn the laws, constitution, and government, and every existing establishment, civil and ecclesiastical, both in Great Britain and Ireland, and to dissolve the connection between the two kingdoms, so necessary to the security and prosperity of both; and whereas, in pursuance of such design, and in order to carry the same into effect, divers societies have been of late years instituted in this kingdom, and in the kingdom of Ireland, of a new and dangerous nature, inconsistent with publick tranquillity, and with the existence of regular government, particularly certain societies calling themselves, Societies of United Englishmen, United Scotsmen, United Britons, United Irishmen, and The London Corresponding Society: And whereas the members of many such societies have taken unlawful oaths and engagements of fidelity and secrecy, and used secret signs, and appointed committees, secretaries, and other officers, in a secret manner; and many of such societies are composed of different divisions, branches, or parts, which communicate with each other by secretaries, delegates, or otherwise, and by means thereof maintain an influence over large bodies of men, and delude many ignorant and unwary persons into the commission of acts highly criminal: And whereas it is expedient and necessary that all such societies as aforesaid, and all societies of the like nature, should be utterly suppressed and prohibited, as unlawful combinations and confederacies, highly dangerous to the peace and tranquillity of these kingdoms and to the constitution of the government thereof, as by law established: Be it enacted … That from and after the passing of this Act, all the said Societies of United Irishmen … [etc] are hereby utterly suppressed and prohibited, as being unlawful combinations and confederacies against the government of our sovereign lord the King, and against the peace and security of his Majesty’s liege and subjects.

II. And be it further enacted, … That … societies, now established, or hereafter to be established, the Members whereof shall, according to the rules thereof, or to any provision or agreement for that purpose, be required or admitted to take any oath … not required or authorized by law … and every society, of which the names of the members or of any of them, shall be kept secret from the society at large, or which shall have any committee or select body so chosen or appointed, that the members constituting the same shall not be known by the society at large to be members of such committee or select body, … and every society which shall be composed of different divisions or branches, or of different parts, acting in any manner separately or distinct from each other, or of which any part shall have any separate or distinct president, … [etc] … shall be deemed and taken to be unlawful combinations and confederacies; …

III. Provided always nevertheless, and be it enacted, That nothing herein contained shall extend to any declaration to be taken, subscribed, or assented to by the members of any society, in case the form of such declaration shall have been first approved and subscribed by two or more of his Majesty’s justices of the peace for the county, stewartry, riding, division, or place, where such society shall ordinarily assemble, and shall have been registered with the clerk of the peace, or his deputy, for such county …

V. And whereas certain societies have long been accustomed to be holden in this kingdom under the denomination of Lodges of Free Masons, the meetings whereof have been in great measure directed to charitable purposes; be it therefore enacted, That nothing in this act shall extend to the meetings of any such society or lodge which shall, before the passing of this act, have been usually holden under the said denomination and in conformity to the rules prevailing among the said societies of free masons. …