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Dear Matthew Alice:

My wife has threatened on several occasions to read me the riot act, but she can't seem to find a copy of it. If she could find a copy of it, what would it say? Can you read me the real riot act? Is there even such a thing as the riot act?

-- Sammy, San Diego

There certainly was. King George I of England was having a little trouble keeping his subjects in line, so he came up with the Riot Act of 1715 to put some teeth into the existing unlawful assembly statutes. And the act was read aloud to the mob before they were hauled off to a tower or dungeon somewhere. Actually, they weren't read the full Riot Act. The complete text has a little over 1000 words. The first sentence alone is 385 words long. I, too, won't read you the full Riot Act. We'll fast-forward through part of it to give you the drift, then word-for-word the part that was read aloud.

"Whereas of late many rebellious riots and tumults have been in diverse parts of this kingdom (blah, blah) punishments not being adequate to such heinous offences (drone, drone, drone) alienate affections of the people from His Majesty (yadda, yadda) speedy and effectual punishing (yap, yap, yap) persons to the number of 12 or more remain or continue together (blab, blab) shall be adjudged a felony (drone, drone) shall suffer death. Persons authorized (blah) make the said proclamation among the said rioters or as near to them as he can safely come (yak, yak) with loud voice."

Then comes the meat of the matter. "Our sovereign lord the king chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business, upon pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the king." The final 418-word sentence says, basically, if you're injured or killed while resisting arrest, it's your own fault and you can't sue anybody.

So there you have it. Guess there'll be no more tumults or riotous assemblies in diverse parts of your kingdom, Sammy. And why wasn't Matthew Alice invited over before all this hit the fan? I haven't been to a good tumult in months.

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