Read the Riot Act
Carter K. George: I am interested in knowing the history and origins of the phrase "read the riot act" to someone. I have this image of it having to do with some specific civic emergency, "Major X reads the Riot Act to Dumbfounded Flatfeet", etc. Does anyone know its first use?
Doug: Here's my attempt to answer your question. George I was new to the British throne and was the first of the German Hanoverian kings to rule England. He was very unpopular with his subjects for a number of reasons, one of the main ones being his refusal to learn English. So there were often protests against him by the general populace. To quell these protests the British Parliament passed the 'Riot Act' in 1714. The act stipulated that if a dozen or more people assembled for what the authorities considered unlawful reasons any sheriff or justice of the peace could order them to disperse by reading the following statement.
"Our Sovereign Lord and King chargeth and commandeth all persons assembled to immediately disperse themselves and to peacefully depart to their habitations or their lawful business."
Anyone who didn't leave the area within the hour could then be subject to arrest and imprisonment. Since that time the expression has come to mean any strong criticism of anothers actions or conduct.
Juan Motime: Found this in an English Law Library.
In contrast a common mob, which sought merely the redress of private grievances, committed no treason, although the 1710 Riot Act rendered felonious the failure to disperse within one hour after the reading of a statutory proclamation. In Drinkwater v. The Corp. of the London Assurance a mob in Norwich, protesting at the high cost of provisions, destroyed a quantity of flour before dispersing when the Riot Act was read.
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