Society for the Suppression of Vice

The Society for the Suppression of Vice, formerly the Proclamation Society Against Vice and Immorality, or simply Proclamation Society, was a 19th-century English society dedicated to promoting public morality. It was established in 1802, based on a proclamation by George III in 1787, and as a successor to the 18th-century Society for the Reformation of Manners, and continued to function until 1885.


The Society was founded by William Wilberforce following a Royal Proclamation by George III in 1787, the Proclamation for the Discouragement of Vice, on the urging of Wilberforce, as a remedy for the rising tide of immorality. The proclamation commanded the prosecution of those guilty of "excessive drinking, blasphemy, profane swearing and cursing, lewdness, profanation of the Lord's Day, and other dissolute, immoral, or disorderly practices". Greeted largely with public indifference, Wilberforce sought to increase its impact by mobilising public figures to the cause, and by founding the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It was also known as the Proclamation Society Against Vice and Immorality.

Other members of the Clapham Sect, of which Wilberforce was one, were also involved in the society.

As listed in an address published in 1803, the Society's particular concerns were: "profanation of the Lord's Day and profane swearing; publication of blasphemous, licentious and obscene books and prints; selling by false weights and measures; keeping of disorderly public houses, brothels and gaming houses; procuring; illegal lotteries; cruelty to animals".

M.J.D. Roberts writes that the Jacobin ideas, from the French Revolution, raised fears of atheism, leading some to set up organizations like the Society for the Suppression of Vice, to campaign for tough application of the law against atheists. One who suffered from the attentions of the Society for the Suppression of Vice was the campaigner for free speech, Richard Carlile.

The Society was involved in enforcing the stamp duty on newspapers. The campaign to abolish the stamp duty was led by the radical press. Other more establishment figures like Lord Brougham, the Lord Chancellor, 1834, also argued against it. The stamp duty was reduced to 1d in 1836 and abolished in 1855.

The Obscene Publications Act came into force in September 1857, superseding the 1787 Proclamation. One effect of the Act was to forbid the distribution of information about contraception and human biology to the working classes.[citation needed]

The Society was the means of suppressing "low and vicious periodicals", and of bringing the dealers to punishment, by imprisonment, hard labor and fines. The article reproduced on the Victorian London site records a list of items seized and destroyed. This included "large quantities of infidel and blasphemous publications."

In 1885 the Society was still operational to some extent, as witnessed by its low-key harassment of Sir Richard Burton and his wife upon the publication of Sir Richard's unexpurgated translation of the Arabian Nights. In August of that year, however, the Society was absorbed into the National Vigilance Association.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Pollock 1977, p. 61
  2. ^ Brown 2006, p. 346
  3. ^ Hochschild 2005, p. 126
  4. ^ a b Hague 2007, p. 108
  5. ^ Brown 2006, p. 385
  6. ^ Gathro, Richard (2001). "William Wilberforce and His Circle of Friends". Knowing & Doing. C. S. Lewis Institute. ...originally appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of the C. S. Lewis Institute Report.
  7. ^ Scotland, Nigel (29 January 2020). "The social work of the Clapham Sect: an assessment". The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved 20 December 2020.
  8. ^ "History – William Wilberforce". BBC. 7 November 2006. Retrieved 20 December 2020.
  9. ^ Roberts 1983, p. 159
  10. ^ Roberts 2004
  11. ^ Making English Morals: Voluntary Association And Moral Reform In England, 1787–1886 Reviews in History, July 2006
  12. ^ News LTD – Why you can't read all about it Kirkby Times, archived on February 12, 2009 from the original
  13. ^ Society for the Suppression of Vice Dictionary of Victorian London
  14. ^ M.S. Lovell 2000, A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton, Ch. 33.
  15. ^[dead link]


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