William, first earl of Chatham, an English statesmen, born at Boconnoc, Cornwall, Nov. 15, 1708, died at Hayes, Kent, May 11, 1778. He was the son of Robert Pitt of Boconnoc, and grandson of Thomas Pitt, who obtained the sobriquet of Diamond Pitt from a large gem, still celebrated as the Pitt diamond, which came into his possession in India, where he had been governor of Fort St. George at Madras, and which he sold to the regent Orleans for £135,000. William Pitt received his early education at Eton, and in 1726 entered Trinity college, Oxford, which he quitted without taking a degree. He travelled in France and Italy, and on his return obtained a commission as a cornet of dragoons. He entered the house of commons in 1735 for the family borough of Old Sarum, and made his maiden speech April 29, 1736. He soon became the most formidable opponent of the ministry of Sir Robert Walpole, who in his vexation caused the "terrible cornet of horse," as he called him, to be dismissed from the service. In the debate, in 1740, on the bill for registering seamen, he was taunted by Horatio Walpole with his youth, though he was then 32 years of age, and made his celebrated reply.
He gradually obtained the reputation of being one of the most powerful, vigilant, and patriotic opponents in parliament of unconstitutional and unwise measures. The famous duchess of Marlborough left to Pitt in 1744 a legacy of £10,000, "for having defended the laws of his country and endeavored to save it from ruin;" and later Sir William Pynsent left him his whole property. In 1745 Pelham, who had become prime minister, wished to have him made secretary of war; but the king hated Pitt, and would not consent to the appointment. In 1746 he was appointed joint vice treasurer of Ireland and treasurer and paymaster of the army. He filled these offices with such integrity, refusing to accept the ordinary perquisites, which had made them in less scrupulous hands the most lucrative positions in the government, that his reputation rose to the highest pitch. In 1755 he determined to oppose certain measures of the ministry, and accordingly resigned his posts; but the popular discontent at his absence from office was so great that he was invited to enter the ministry as secretary of state. The king however continued bitterly hostile to him, and in a short time dismissed him.
The public indignation at this rose to such a degree that he was restored to office in 1757, under the duke of Newcastle, with additional powers, which made him in fact prime minister. England was then engaged in the seven years' war, which had opened disastrously for her arms in almost every part of the world. Under Pitt's administration the aspect of things speedily changed. A succession of victories and conquests in America, Europe, and India filled the kingdom with rejoicing, and raised still higher the already great fame of the minister. At the same time the nation exhibited all the signs of wealth and prosperity; the merchants of London had never been more thriving, and the importance of several great commercial towns, Glasgow in particular, dates from this period. George II. died Oct. 25, 1760, and was succeeded by George III. Just at this period the French court had obtained the cooperation of Spain by a secret treaty known as the "family compact." Pitt, fully informed of the hostile intentions of Spain, insisted on declaring war against her before she had time for preparation.
His colleagues in the ministry opposed this bold policy, and Pitt resigned Oct. 5, 1761. His wife was created Baroness Chatham in her own right, and a pension of £3,000 was settled on himself, Lady Chatham, and his eldest son. In 1764 he spoke against general warrants, and in 1766 he opposed the American stamp act with equal vigor. In that year he received the royal command to form a new ministry, in which he took the almost sinecure office of lord privy seal, and at the same time was created a peer with the titles of Viscount Pitt and earl of Chatham. His acceptance of a peerage very much damaged his popularity. The people had been proud of him as the " great commoner," and his elevation in rank was thought to have lowered his true dignity. On Oct. 15, 1768, he resigned the place of lord privy seal, and never afterward held any public employment. He had been from childhood tormented by the gout, which of late years afflicted him so severely that he now seldom appeared in public, but spent much of his time in bed, employing his wife as an amanuensis in his most confidential correspondence. In the intervals of pain he sometimes appeared in the house of lords to speak on questions of great importance.
In 1775, '6, and '7 he opposed with energy the measures of the ministry in the American colonies, and several of his speeches on that subject are yet popular in the United States for their lofty and impassioned eloquence. His last appearance in public was on April 7, 1778, when he went from his sick bed to the house of lords to speak against a motion to acknowledge the independence of America. He appeared swathed in flannel, crutch in hand, emaciated and debilitated, and supported by his son and his son-in-law, Lord Mahon. He protested with great animation against the dismemberment of the empire and the degradation of the power of England. The house listened in solemn silence and with profound respect. At the end of his speech he fell in an apoplectic fit, and was borne home to die a few weeks afterward. His debts were paid and his family provided for by the nation, and his body was buried in Westminster abbey. - Of Chatham's writings, there have been published a small volume of letters to his nephew Thomas Pitt, Lord Camelford, and his "Correspondence" (4 vols., London, 1838-40). His title expired with his eldest son (second earl), a general officer of unenviable notoriety, in 1835. His life has been written by the Rev. Francis Thackeray (2 vols. 4to, London, 1827). See also "Anecdotes of the Right Hon. William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, and of the principal Events of his Time, with his Speeches in Parliament, 1736-'78," by John Almon (2 vols. 4to, 1792; 4th ed., 3 vols. 8vo, 1810), and Viel-Castel, Essai Mstorique sur les deux Pitt (2 vols., Paris, 1846).
William, an English statesman, second son of the preceding, born at Hayes, Kent, May 28, 1759, died at Putney, Jan. 23, 1806. He was a singularly precocious child. He was .tail, slender, and so sickly that he was educated at home. At the age of 14 he wrote a tragedy. Before he had completed his 15th year he was sent to Pembroke hall, Cambridge, where he was first put under the charge of a tutor named Pretyman, who afterward took the name of Tomline, and was appointed by Pitt bishop of Lincoln, a favor which his preceptor endeavored to requite by writing a life of his pupil, which has been called the worst biographical work of its size in the world. At the university he was distinguished for mathematical talent and for proficiency in classical learning. Of the languages of the continent he had no knowledge except an imperfect acquaintance with Erench. His father had trained him from infancy in the art of managing his voice, which was naturally clear and deep-toned, and his whole education had been directed to the point of making him a great parliamentary orator.
On quitting the university he studied law in Lincoln's Inn, and at the age of 21 he became a member of parliament for the borough of Appleby. The party with which he acted was a section of the opposition composed of the old followers of his father, with the earl of Shelburne, Lord Camden, and Col. Barre at their head. His first speech, Feb. 26, 1781, was in favor of Burke's plan of economical reform, and made a great impression. In the next session he distinguished himself still more brilliantly, and on the rise to power of the Rockingham ministry he was offered the highly lucrative office of vice treasurer of Ireland. Though his income at this time was very small, he declined the offer, declaring that he would accept no post that did not give him a seat in the cabinet. Three months later, on the death of Rockingham, his successor Shelburne found that Pitt, although then but 23 years old, was the only member of his party in the house of commons who had the courage and the eloquence required to confront the great orators of the opposition. He was accordingly brought into the cabinet as chancellor of the exchequer. In the following year the Shelburne ministry resigned, and the king urgently pressed Pitt to accept the premiership.
With great judgment he steadily refused, satisfied that he could not at that time form a stable administration, and the coalition ministry of Lord North and Mr. Fox was formed. Pitt took his seat on the opposition benches, and advocated a project of parliamentary reform which was rejected. Parliament reassembled in November, 1783.
The ministry brought forward a bill for the government of India, which excited the fiercest opposition and was defeated in the house of lords. The ministry resigned, and Pitt succeeded as prime minister, being appointed first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer. He took office surrounded by difficulties of the most formidable kind. Among his colleagues in the house of commons there was not a single orator of note, while the opposition was led by Fox, Burke, Sheridan, and North. His policy, however, was from the outset firm and unflinching. He maintained the contest with haughty resolution from Dec. 17, 1783, to March 8, 1784, notwithstanding he was defeated in 16 divisions. Though the house of commons was hostile, the king and the people gave him the warmest support. In the midst of the struggle the clerkship of the pells, a sinecure place worth £3,000 a year for life, and one that could be held together with a seat in parliament, became vacant. Everybody thought that Pitt, whose whole private income was only £300 a year, would appoint himself; but he gave the office to Col. Barre, who was old and blind. The courage and determination of the young premier at length triumphed.
The opposition majority was reduced to one, and parliament was dissolved with the coalition of Fox and North demoralized and practically defeated. The appeal to the country met with an enthusiastic response, 160 of the coalition members losing their seats, and Pitt being returned at the head of the poll for the university of Cambridge. He was now, at the age of 25, the greatest subject that England had seen for many generations. No minister in modern times had ever been so powerful and so popular. In 1784 he secured the passage of a bill establishing a new constitution for the East India company. On March 29, 1786, in a speech of six hours, delivered without notes and without a moment's hesitation, he brought forward a'scheme for the redemption of the national debt by means of a sinking fund, and supported it by a vast and elaborate array of figures and arguments. It was agreed to by the house without a single dissentient vote. The same year he negotiated a liberal commercial treaty with France. George III. becoming insane in the autumn of 1788, the opposition, with whom the prince of Wales (afterward George IV.) had affiliated, contended that the prince was as a matter of course entitled to the full powers of the crown.
Pitt maintained that it belonged to parliament to determine with what degree of power the regent should be intrusted. The people sided with Pitt, and supported him with enthusiasm during a long and violent contest on the subject; and when that contest was terminated by the king's unexpected recovery, the popularity of the minister was greater than ever. At this time Pitt, who was always strongly opposed to slavery and the slave trade, carried by his eloquence and determination, against the opposition of some of his own colleagues, a bill to mitigate the horrors of the middle passage. He looked at first with approbation on the French movement for constitutional liberty, but in common with the vast majority of the English nation he was shocked and revolted by the atrocities of the revolutionists. He however labored hard to avert the war with France, but was at length forced by popular pressure and the current of events into hostilities. His military administration was feeble and unskilful. For a long series of years the operations of the English on land were marked only by inefficiency, blunders, and disasters; and on sea for a long while affairs went little better.
Pitt had made his elder brother, the earl of Chatham, first lord of the admiralty, a post for which he was totally unfitted; and nothing was done by the navy till Earl Spencer succeeded him, under whose administration two great naval victories were won within a year. Yet in spite of his blunders and failures in foreign expeditions, Pitt's extraordinary genius as a parliamentary leader continued to him the absolute control of the house of commons, and at length the opposition to him there substantially vanished away. In 1799 the largest minority that could be mustered on any question was only 25 votes. Most of the leaders of the opposition had given in their adhesion to the administration, and Fox, the greatest of them all, had withdrawn from the field. In his domestic policy Pitt was vigorous and severe, and effectually repressed the revolutionary spirit in the British islands by a series of high-handed measures and arbitrary enactments which rendered him exceedingly odious to the liberal part of the people. He formed great plans however for the benefit of Ireland, but could only effect the legislative union with Great Britain, his project of Catholic emancipation being defeated by the obstinate prejudices of the king.
Finding the monarch immovable on this point, Pitt resigned (March, 1801), and Addington became premier. Pitt at first made no opposition to the new ministry, and for a considerable period lived in retirement, so embarrassed in circumstances, after 18 years of absolute power, as to have serious thoughts of returning to his profession for subsistence. But when in May, 1803, the ambitious designs of Napoleon drove England to break the peace of Amiens, he appeared in parliament and made a great speech in favor of the war. In the following year the weakness of Addington and his colleagues became so apparent that the king was forced to recall Pitt to the head of affairs. He desired to form a cabinet of the first men in the kingdom, but on account of the prejudices of the king, the new government was formed chiefly of the wreck of Addington's administration, with the addition of a few personal friends of the premier, of whom Harrowby, Melville, and Canning were the most eminent. Pitt was soon beset with troubles of fearful magnitude. He was deprived by various causes of his ablest coadjutors. Harrowby fell sick, and Melville was disgraced and ejected from office for questionable pecuniary transactions.
Napoleon was everywhere victorious in spite of the mighty coalitions which the skill of Pitt and the money of England formed against him. Pitt grew ill with anxiety and grief. The surrender of the Austrian army at Ulm gave him a shock from which he never fully recovered, though four days later the news of the victory of Trafalgar for a moment revived his spirits. He finally gave way on hearing of the battle of Austerlitz, and died in a few weeks. He was honored by parliament with a public funeral, and his remains were deposited near those of his father in Westminster abbey. - See " Life of William Pitt," by Earl Stanhope (4 vols., London, 1861-'2; 3d ed., 1867).