Of the popular societies that government repressed in the 1790s, the public debating societies in London are probably the least known although some of them had been meeting without interruption for over fifty years. Since these societies admitted all who paid the weekly entrance fee and allowed anyone to stand up and speak, they were quite different from the private, limited debating clubs where new members had to be approved and where the speeches were often prepared orations. Because of their size, the public debating societies attracted men who wanted to practise speaking before a large audience. Burke is said to have gained his first experience in public speaking at one of these debating societies. Pitt not only spoke at them; he helped found one. Boswell and Goldsmith attended them. Most of the speakers and auditors, however, were men of a lower class; and in the 1790sin reaction to the French Revolution, these societies were repressed. Although they constitute a significant social phenomenon, their history has not beenj traced, as has that of the London Corresponding Socie-ty (LCS) or the United! Irishmen (UI). In a sense the debating societies form an adjunct to, and complement the history of the declared reform societies of the 1790s: Members of the Corresponding Society might go from their meeting to a debating society in order to hear an LCS member speak. The few known managers of debating societies were also prominent members of the LCS or the UI or both; 1 and when a political topic was debated, most of the speakers would take a reformist position.