William Pitt the Younger was a Prime Minister in the late Eighteenth Century and the youngest ever
When and Where was he Born?
28th May 1759, Hayes, Kent, England.
William Pitt was the son of William Pitt (The Elder) a statesman and former Member of Parliament for Old Sarum who later became the Earl of Chatham.
Educated at home by his father as he suffered from poor health.He was given lessons in oratory. Pembroke Hall, Cambridge under his tutor the Reverend George Pretyman.
Chronology/Biography of Pitt the Younger:
1776: Received his MA from Cambridge.
1778: (7th April) His father was making a speech in the House of Lords and Pitt who was in the gallery rushed down to help carry his dying father home.
1780: Called to the Bar. Failed to win a seat at Cambridge in the General Election.
1781: With the help of Sir James Lowther, Pitt became the Member of Parliament (MP) for Appleby-in-Westmoreland. His maiden speech was described by Lord North, later to become Prime Minister, as the best speech he had ever heard. Pitt then became influenced by Charles James Fox the Leader of the Whig Party and he joined in the move to establish peace in the American Colonies and described it as an unjust war. Pitt was also critical of the way that the monarchy influenced who should become MP’s and insisted that parliamentary reform was necessary if Britain was to preserve liberty.
1782: He supported a motion which would shorten the hours worked in Parliament and measures which would reduce the chances of government ministers being bribed. Lord North’s government fell in March and was replaced by Rockingham’s Whig Government. Fox was appointed Foreign Secretary but left the government in July as he could not work with the new Prime Minister Lord Shelburne. Short of people to appoint Shelburne made Pitt Chancellor of the Exchequer at the tender age of twenty three replacing Fox. Charles James Fox took the fact that Pitt accepted the post as an act of betrayal and the two became bitter enemies for the rest of their lives.
1783: Pitt resigned and declared that he had no connections with the party whatsoever. He could now turn back to seeking parliamentary reform. When Shelburne resigned the King offered the Prime Ministership to Pitt but he declined and it went to William Bentinck, Duke of Portland, instead. Pitt also opposed Charles James Fox’s India Bill. King George the Third was also opposed to the India Bill which had already been passed by the House of Commons and made it clear that any Member of the Lords who supported it would be his enemy. (19th December) The Lords duly voted against it bringing about the fall of The Duke of Portland’s Government. The King now asked Pitt himself to form a new government. At the age of Twenty-four he became Britain’s youngest Prime Minister. The news was received with derisive laughter in he House of Commons and he had difficulty in getting enough people to serve beneath him. Charles James Fox led the attacks on him but although defeated in several votes Pitt refused to resign.
1784: Pitt had now built up a reputation in the country and called a General Election. Pitt stood for Cambridge University and Fox duly lost 160 of his supporters when the vote came around. Now with a majority in the House of Commons he passed a series of Acts including one to curb the powers of the East India Company.
1785: Pitt proposed a Bill to remove thirty six rotten boroughs, i.e. places which had MP’s but little population to represent and which were in the gift of the local landlord. He proposed seventy two seats in areas were populations were rising. The Commons, not thinking he was serious on this issue, voted against the reforms and Pitt was never again to try such radical measures.
1790: (October) At the General Election Pitt increased his majority and he now turned his eyes towards France. He had seen the Revolution of the previous years as an internal matter but he now became concerned that reform groups in Britain were in touch with the French revolutionaries. He passed an Act preventing seditious writings.
1791: The Canada Act established a division between the English and the French.
1793: (January) He expelled the French Ambassador to London when he heard of the Execution of King Louis the Sixteenth of France. Charles James Fox accused Pitt of not doing enough to preserve peace with France who declared war on Britain on 1st February. (May) Habeus Corpus was suspended within twenty-four hours which meant that suspected rebels could now be tried in their absence. Those seeking parliamentary reform were now to be arrested. One of the main people in this cause Tom Paine managed to escape to America. Pitt formed alliances against France with Russia, Prussia, Austria and Spain amongst others but a series of defeats became costly and he was forced to put up taxes to pay for it.
1795: (October) When King George the Third went to open parliament the public shouted at him to remove Pitt as there had been a series of bad harvests as well as crippling tax rises.Pitt replied by passing the Act of Sedition which redefined the crime of treason.
1796: Pitt sued for peace with France to try and remove Britain’s financial burdens but this was rejected and he had to bring in even more taxes.
1797: He was forced to bring in Taxes on tea, sugar and spirits but still the budget deficit widened. Pitt now had to be protected by an armed guard everywhere he went. He passed a new law to regulate newspapers. Lord Castlereagh was appointed as Irish Chief Secretary and he followed Pitt’s desire to crush the Irish uprising and unite Ireland with Britain under one parliament. This required Catholic emancipation to achieve which was unpopular with the King.
1798: Pitt brought in a new graduated Income Tax.
1801: The Act of Union with Ireland was passed. Pitt resigned when he found out that the King had secretly been trying to get Henry Addington to become his new Prime Minister. Although highly paid for the time he was penniless and feared he would become bankrupt. He sold his family home and with the help of friends narrowly avoided this.
1804: Henry Addington resigned and Pitt again became Prime Minister. Lord Castelreagh was appointed Secretary for War but again Charles James Fox and other leading politicians refused to serve under him. Pitt hastily formed coalitions with Russia, Austria and Sweden.
1805: When it was found that Lord Nelson had defeated the French at the Battle of Trafalgar Pitt was hailed as the saviour of Europe. Napoleon fought back, however and made a tremendous victory over Austrian and Russian ground forces at the Battle of Austerlitz. Pitt was taken aback by the news and the onset of a serious illness came as a consequence. Again he was so heavily in debt that the House of Commons had to pay off his creditors at his death.
When and Where did he Die?
23rd January 1806, London, England.
Age at Death:
Site of Grave:
In his father’s tomb, North transept, Westminster Abbey, London, England.
Places of Interest:
Lived at 15 Johnstone Street, Bath.