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Chatham William Pitt

Chatham, William Pitt, Earl of (1708-1778), a great English statesman and orator, was born at Westminster, and educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Oxford, where his favourite author was Demosthenes, and whom he translated and retranslated to attain to facility of expression. At his father's death in 1727 he entered the army as cornet. In 1734 he entered Parliament as the member for Old Sarum, and soon became a prominent member of the Whig opposition to Walpole's government, and became so annoying a critic that Walpole punished him by procuring his dismissal from the army; but being appointed groom of the chamber to the Prince of Wales, Pitt continued to harass Walpole, and was one of the chief instruments in bringing about his downfall in 1742. The king, who resented the terms in which Pitt had spoken in debate of the House of Hanover, was opposed to his entry into the ministry, and it was not until 1746 that he was admitted into the Pelham ministry as first vice-treasurer of Ireland, and then as Paymaster-General - a post which gave him a seat at the Privy Council - and which, by giving him the occasion of displaying at that time unusual integrity, led to the confidence afterwards reposed in him by the nation.

In 1754, though still in office, he attacked his own Government, and was constrained to resign. But in 1756 Pitt was again in office as Secretary of State and leader of the Commons, under the Premiership of the Duke of Devonshire. In 1757 he was again out of office, but so strong was the confidence expressed by the public at large in the "Great Commoner," that he was soon back as virtual, though not nominal, Prime Minister. This was the celebrated four years during which Pitt's life has been called the history of England. It was he that chose General Wolfe, and so brought about the taking of Quebec; his encouragement of Clive "led to the founding of our Indian Empire ; and by his aid Frederick the Great ended the Seven Years' war. With the accession of George III. and the advent of Lord Bute to office arose difficulties, especially that of the Bourbon League, which led to Pitt's retirement, and he accepted a pension of £3,000 a year, and a peerage for his wife.

In 1766 he supported the bill for repealing the American Stamp Act, and in the autumn of that year he was entrusted by the king with the formation of a ministry. With its formation he went to the Upper House as Viscount Pitt and Earl of Chatham - a step which cost him much in popularity. At this point of his career, just when a most critical juncture had arisen, especially with regard to the American question, a mysterious illness utterly incapacitated him for business, and the Ministry were virtually without a head. He remained in retirement, and in 1768 he resigned on the ground of ill-health. In 1770 he appeared again in the House of Lords as the opponent of the Government on their American policy; and in 1778 he spoke for the last time against concluding a peace. The famous historical picture has made everyone acquainted with the details of this scene, and how the stricken peer was removed from the House to die the next month at Hayes. The great defect in Chatham's political career seems to have been the inconsistency with which he changed his opinions when the change brought power. In this he is not without later imitators.