The Coercion Acts, formally Protection of Person and Property Acts, were British Acts of Parliament that gave a legal basis for increased state powers to suppress popular discontent and disorder.
In December 1816, a mass meeting took place at Spa Fields near London. The Coercion Act of 1817 was an act of Parliament that suspended habeas corpus and extended existing laws against seditious gatherings in Britain. The Coercion Act was the result of this mass meeting.
The total number of "Coercion Acts" relating to Ireland is a matter of definition, including whether to count separately an act which continues an expiring act. Michael Farrell in 1986 put the total from 1801 to 1921 at 105. John Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer said in the House of Lords that 87 such acts had been passed between the Acts of Union 1801 and 1887, a rate of one per year. The figure was repeated by John Redmond, whereas a writer in a Union Defence League pamphlet put the figure at 76 between 1801 and 1908, plus 22 during Grattan's Parliament (1782–1800).
Some of the more notable Irish Coercion Acts were the Local Disturbances, etc. (Ireland) Act 1833, the Protection of Life and Property in Certain Parts of Ireland Act 1871, and the Protection of Person and Property Act 1881.
An Irish Coercion Bill was proposed by Sir Robert Peel on 15 May 1846 to calm the increasingly difficult situation in Ireland as a result of the Great Famine of 1844–1847. The Bill was blocked and this led, in part, to Peel's retirement as Prime Minister. Later attempts to introduce Irish coercion acts were blocked by the filibustering of Joseph Biggar.
As a response to the Plan of Campaign of the mid-1880s the new Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour secured the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act 1887 or "Perpetual Crimes Act", a Coercion Act aimed at the prevention of boycotting, intimidation, unlawful assembly and the organisation of conspiracies against the payment of agreed rents. The Act resulted in the imprisonment of hundreds of people including over twenty MPs. The act was condemned by the Catholic hierarchy since it was to become a permanent part of the law and did not have to be renewed annually by parliament, but Pope Leo XIII issued the bull Saepe Nos in 1888 which was uncritical of the Acts. Trial by jury was abolished. An influential analysis of the pros and cons of the Act was published in 1888 by William Henry Hurlbert, a Catholic Irish-American author.
Many hundreds were imprisoned at times under the Acts, including many prominent politicians and agrarian agitators, Joseph Biggar, Alexander Blane, Michael Davitt, John Dillon, James Gilhooly, Patrick Guiney, Matthew Harris, John Hayden, J. E. Kenny, Andrew Kettle, Denis Kilbride, Pat O'Brien, William O'Brien, James O'Kelly, Charles Stewart Parnell, Douglas Pyne, Willie Redmond, and Timothy Sullivan.
The act was the first of over a hundred such Acts that aimed to suppress the increasing discontent in Ireland with British rule. England was seen in Ireland as responsible for having turned the failures of the potato crop into the Great Famine and the loss of 20% of its population. The Irish National Land League and the Fenian Brotherhood were part of the dissent in Ireland in the years from the Famine to the Irish War of Independence.
- Connolly, S.J. (ed.). "Coercion Acts". Oxford Companion to Irish History. Oxford Reference. ISBN 0-19-211695-9.
- Olson, James Stuart; Shadle, Robert (1996). "Coercion Acts (Ireland)". Historical Dictionary of the British Empire. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 311–312. ISBN 9780313293665. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
- Farrell, Michael (1986). Emergency legislation: the apparatus of repression. Field Day Pamphlet. 11. p. 5.
- "Government of Ireland Bill (No. 265.); Second Reading". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 17. House of Lords. 5 September 1893. col. 5. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
I believe that in 87 years there have been 87 Coercion Acts or renewal of Coercion Acts in that country
- "Historicus" (December 1908). "Coercion acts before the Union". Irish facts for British platforms. Westminster: Union Defence League. 2 (II): 522–525.
- 1833, 3 Will. IV, c. 4.
- 1871, 34 & 35 Vict., c. 25.
- 44 & 45 Vict., c. 4.
- Hurlbert W., Ireland under Coercion vol. 1 online vol.2 online
- Joseph Anthony Amato (2002). Rethinking Home: A Case for Writing Local History. University of California Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-5209-3633-1.
- Most notably by John Mitchel when he wrote: "The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine". (Pamphlet, "The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)" (1861), cited in Duffy, Peter (2007), The Killing of Major Denis Mahon, HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-06-084050-1, page 312.)
- "Index: Coercion Bill". Hansard.