The Insurrection Act
The Insurrection Act
By 1796 the organizing activities of the United Irishmen and the Defenders in the countryside were causing serious alarm in official and propertied circles. The Insurrection Act was intended to empower the authorities to stamp out such agitation.
AN ACT MORE EFFECTUALLY TO SUPPRESS INSURRECTIONS, AND PREVENT THE DISTURBANCE OF THE PUBLIC PEACE
Whereas traitorous insurrections have for some time past arisen in various parts of this kingdom, principally promoted and supported by persons associating under the pretended obligation of oaths unlawfully administered . . . be it enacted . . . that any person or persons who shall administer, or cause to be administered, or be present, aiding and assisting at the administering, or who shall by threats, promises, persuasions, or other undue means, cause, procure, or induce to be taken by any person or persons, upon a book, or otherwise any oath or engagement, importing to bind the person taking the same, to be of any association, brotherhood, society, or confederacy formed for seditious purposes, or to disturb the public peace, or to obey the orders or rules, or commands of any committee, or other body of men, not lawfully constituted, or the commands of any captain, leader, or commander (not appointed by his majesty, his heirs and successors) or to assemble at the desire or command of any such captain, leader, commander or committee, or of any person or persons not having lawful authority, or not to inform or given evidence against any brother, associate, confederate, or other person, or not to reveal or discover his having taken any illegal oath, or done any illegal act, or not to discover any illegal oath or engagement which may be tendered to him, or the import thereof, whether he shall take such oath, or enter into such engagement, or not, being by due course of law convicted thereof, shall be adjudged guilty of felony, and suffer death without benefit of clergy, and every person who shall take any such oath or engagement, not being thereto compelled by inevitable necessity, and being by due course of law thereof convicted, shall be adjudged guilty of felony and be transported for life. . . .
VI. And be it further enacted, that all persons who shall have arms in their possession at any time after the passing of this act, shall on or before the first day of May 1796, or immediately after they shall have possession of such arms, deliver to the acting clerk of the peace in the county, town, or city in which he resides . . . a written notification, signed by him or her, specifying therein . . . the place or places where the same are usually kept, accompanied by an affidavit, sworn by the person signing such notification, that the notification is true, and the he believes he is by law entitled to keep arms. . . .
VIII. And be it enacted, that any person having arms, and not making such registry as aforesaid, shall upon being convicted thereof, on the testimony of two credible witnesses on oath before any magistrate, for the first offence forfeit the sum of ten pounds . . . or be imprisoned by such magistrate for the space of two months, and for the second and every other offence shall in like manner forfeit the sum of twenty pounds, or be imprisoned for the space of four months. . . .
X. And be it further enacted, that it shall and may be lawful for any justice of the peace, or for any person authorized thereto by warrant under the hand of any justice of the peace, to search for arms in the houses or grounds of any person not having made such notification as aforesaid, and whom he shall have reasonable ground to suspect of having arms, and also in the houses or grounds of any person who having made such notification, shall refuse or neglect to deliver such list or inventory, or whom he shall have reasonable ground to suspect to have delivered a false list or inventory, and in case of refusal of admission, to break into such house and every part thereof by force, and if any arms shall be found in the possession of any such person respectively, to seize and carry away the same for the use of his majesty. . . .
XII. And whereas in several instances persons who have given information against persons accused of crime have been murdered before trial of the persons accused, in order to prevent their giving evidence and to effect the acquittal of the accused, and some magistrates have been assassinated for their exertions in bringing offenders to justice, be it declared and enacted, that if any person who hath given or shall give information or examinations upon oath against any person or persons for any offence against the laws, shall after the twentieth day of February 1796 and before the trial of the person or persons against whom such information or examination hath been or shall be given, be murdered or violently put to death, or so maimed or forcibly carried away and secreted as not to be able to give evidence on the trial of the person or persons against whom such information or examinations were given, the information or examination of such person or persons so taken on oath, shall be admitted as evidence on the trial of the person or persons against whom such information or examinations were given. . . .
XV. And be it further enacted, that it shall and may be lawful for any justice of the peace to arrest and bring before him, or cause to be arrested or brought before him, any stranger sojourning or wandering, and to examine him on oath respecting his place of abode, the place from whence he came, his manner of livelihood, and his object or motive for remaining or coming into the county, town or city, in which he shall be found, and unless he shall answer to the satisfaction of such magistrate, such magistrate shall commit him to gaol or the house of correction, there to remain until he find surety for his good behaviour.
XVI. And in order to restore peace to such parts of the kingdom as are or may be distributed by seditious persons, be it further enacted, that it shall and may be lawful to and for any two justices of the peace . . . to summon a special session of the peace . . . to consider the state of the county . . . and that the justices assembled in consequence, not being fewer than seven, or the major part of them, one of whom to be of the quorum, or if in a county of a town or city, not being fewer than three, shall and may if they see fit . . . signify by memorial signed by them to the lord lieutenant or other chief governor or governors of this kingdom, that they consider their county or any part thereof, to be in a state of disturbance or in immediate danger of becoming so, and praying that the lord lieutenant and council may proclaim such county, or part thereof, to be in a state of disturbance or in immediate danger of becoming so, and thereupon it shall and may be lawful to and for the lord lieutenant or other chief governor or governors of this kingdom, by and with the advice of his majesty's privy council by proclamation to declare such county, or any part of such county, to be in a state of disturbance or in immediate danger of becoming so, and also such parts of any adjoining county or counties as such chief governor or governors and council shall think fit, in order to prevent the continuance or extension of such disturbance.
XVII. And be it further enacted, that within three days after such proclamation made, or as soon after as may be, every clerk of the peace of every part of the district proclaimed, shall respectively in his county, give notice of holding within two days, or as soon after as may be, a petty session of the peace, and the justices of the peace shall pursuant to such notice assemble . . . and the said justices at said first meeting shall order and direct a notification signed by them to be made throughout the district so proclaimed, that such district has been so proclaimed, and commanding in inhabitants to keep within their dwellings at all unseasonable times between sun-set and sun-rise, and warning them of the penalties to which a contrary conduct will expose them. . . .
XVIII. And be it further enacted, that it shall and may be lawful to and for any magistrate or other peace officer within such district, after such notification shall be made as aforesaid, to arrest or cause to be arrested any person who shall within such district be found in the fields, streets, highways, or elsewhere out of his dwelling or place of abode, at any time from one hour after sun-set until sun-rise and to bring before two justices of the peace . . . and unless he can prove to their satisfaction that he was out of his house upon his lawful occasions, such person shall be deemed an idle and disorderly person, and shall be transmitted by the warrant of such justices to the officer at some port appointed to receive recruits for his majesty's navy, by which officer such person shall be received as a recruit for his majesty's navy, and transmitted to serve on board his majesty's navy.
XIX. Provided always, that it shall and may be lawful to and for every such person so arrested, to appeal to the next sessions of the peace. . . .
XXII. And be it enacted . . . that persons who cannot upon examination prove themselves to exercise and industriously follow some lawful trade or employment as a labourer or otherwise, or to have some substance sufficient for their support or maintenance, shall be deemed idle and disorderly persons, and shall be dealt with according to what is herein before directed respecting persons out of their dwellings at unreasonable hours aforesaid. . . .
XXIX. And be it further enacted, that it shall and may be lawful for any justice of the peace, or any persons authorized by the warrant of such justice in any district so proclaimed and whilst such proclaimation shall remain in force, to call upon every person who has registered arms within such district to produce or account for the same, and to enter any house or place whatever, and search for arms and ammunition, and to take and carry away all arms and ammunition which they may think necessary to take possession of, in order to preserve or restore the public peace. . . .
XXXI. And be it further enacted, that all person found assembled in any proclaimed district, in any house in which malt or spirituous liquors are sold, not being inmates thereof or travellers, whether licensed or unlicensed, after the hours of nine at night and before six in the morning, shall be liable to be deemed idle and disorderly persons within the meaning of this act. . . .
XXXII. And be it further enacted, that if any man or boy shall, in any district so proclaimed, hawk or disperse any seditious handbill, paper or pamphlet, or paper by law required to be stamped and not duly stamped, such man or boy shall be deemed an idle and disorderly person, and dealt with accordingly, and as is herein before directed; and if any woman shall hawk or disperse any seditious hand-bill, paper, or paper not duly stamped, such woman being convicted thereof by the oath of one witness before two justices of the peace, one of whom to be of the quorum, such woman shall by the warrant of such two justices be committed to the gaol of the county, there to remain for three months, unless she shall sooner discover the person or persons from whom she received or by whom she was employed to sell, hawk or disperse such papers or pamphlets, provided always, that such woman may appeal from such adjudication to the next sessions of the peace. . . .
XXXVII. Provided always . . . that when verdict shall be given for the plaintiff in any action to be brought against any justice of the peace, peace officer or other person, for taking or imprisoning or detaining any person, or for seizing arms or ammunition, or entering houses under colour of any authority given by this act, and it shall appear to the judge or judges before whom the same shall be tried, that there was a probable cause for doing the act complained of in such action, and the judge or court shall certify the same on record, then in that case the plaintiff shall not be entitled to more than sixpence damages, nor to any costs of suit.
XXXVIII. Provided also, that where a verdict shall be given for the plaintiff in any such action as aforesaid, and the judge or court before whom the cause shall be tried, shall certify on the record that the injury for which such action is brought was wilfully and maliciously committed, the plaintiff shall be entitled to double costs of suit.
Statutes at Large Passed in the Parliaments Held in Ireland, 1310–1800 (1786–1801), vol. 17, 978–990.