Biography of William Pitt


WILLIAM PITT, the second son of the Earl of Chatham, was born May 28th, 1759. His genius and ambition displayed themselves with an almost unexampled precocity. "The fineness of William's mind," his mother writes of him, when he was but twelve years old, "makes him enjoy with the greatest pleasure what would be above the reach of any other creature of his small age." Owing to the excessive delicacy of his constitution, it was found impossible to educate him at a public school. His studies were, however, prosecuted at home with vigor and success. In 1773, he was sent to the umversity of Cambridge, where his knowledge of the classics seems to have astonished veteran critics. In 1780, Pitt was called to the bar. He took chambers in Lincoln's Inn, and joined the western circuit. A general election having taken place in the autumn of the same year, he obtained a seat in Parliament as member for Appleby. Lord North was now prime minister. On the 26th of February, he made his first speech in parliament. It was in favor of Burke's plan for economical reform, and was a splendid success. "It is not a chip of the old block," said Burke; "it is the old block himself." At the end of three months after his accession to office, Buckingham died; Lord Shelburne succeeded to the head of the treasury, and Pitt, at the age of 23, became Chancellor ot the Exchequer. In opposition to the government, there was then formed a coalition, emphatically known as "The Coalition." On Lord Shelburne's resignation, in 1783, the king himself, who hated the Coalition, tried to persuade Pitt to take the helm of affairs, but he resolutely declined. In 1783, the ministry having been defeated on a motion for transferring the government of India to parliament. Pitt became First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. But parliament was dead against him; between December 17th, 1783 and March 8th, 1784, he was beaten in sixteen divisions. The nation, however, was in his favor, both on account of his policy, and from admiration of his private character. At the general election in 1784, 160 supporters of the Coalition lost their seats, Pitt himself heading the poll for the university of Cambridge. He was now, at twenty-five years old, the most powerful subject that England had seen for many generations. He ruled absolutely over the cabinet, and was at once the favorite of the sovereign, of the parliament, and of the nation; and from this date, the life of Pitt becomes the history of England and of the world. For seventeen eventful years, he held his great position without a break. In 1784, he established a new constitution for the East India Company. In 1786, he carried through a commercial treaty with France. To exertions which were now begun for the abolition of the slave-trade, he gave the help of his eloquence and power. In 1788-1789, he maintained against Fox the right of parliament to supply the temporary defect of royal authority occasioned by the incapacity of the king. The year 1793 saw the beginning of the great war with France. Authorities differ as to the cause. It is, however, certain that Pitt's military administration was eminently unsuccessful. But no disaster could daunt his spirit. When a new French victory, a rebellion in Ireland, a mutiny in the fleet, and a panic in the city had spread dismay through the nation, Pitt, from his place in parliament, poured forth the language of inexhaustible hope and inflexible resolution. Disaster abroad was regularly followed by triumph at home, until at last he had no longer an opposition to encounter. In 1799, he effected a union with Ireland. It was part of his scheme to relieve the Roman Catholic laity from civil disabilities, and to grant a public maintenance to their clergy, but the obstinacy of the king frustrated this design. Chagrined by this failure, Pitt resigned office in 180l.

He was succeeded by Mr Addington, to whom, for a while, he gave his support. In 1804, he returned again to the head of the treasury, which position he continued to hold till his death on the 23rd of January, 1806.