Interest in the origin of Walpole's Black Act (9 Geo. 1, c. 22), or the Waltham Black Act, as it was actually called, has arisen from work by Pat Rogers and E. P. Thompson. It was an act of exceptional severity, making no less than some fifty new offenses capital, and its origins have been debated by legal as well as by political historians. While Rogers stressed the criminality of the Blacks, Thompson set the act in a sociohistorical context, suggesting that its importance was in assisting the placemen of the Hanoverian establishment and Walpole's administration to a stronger hold on lands in the Black areas, at the expense of older and smaller gentry and the usage rights of yeomen farmers, tenantry, and the poor. In Thompson's argument the Black Act has exemplary significance for the tendency of greater Whig land owners toward more efficiently exploitative procedures, backed by ferocious legislation. The involvement in Blacking of Alexander Pope's kinsmen Charles and Michael Rackett, stressed by both Rogers and Thompson, constituted a point of additional interest.
The difference between Rogers and Thompson over whether Pope felt shame at his relatives' predicament turns in part on the political dimension of Blacking. Aside from the politics of conflict over land usage, Thompson rejected a link between the Blacks and the Jacobites, even though the act was introduced in the midst of legislation against the Atterbury conspiracy.