Charles Pratt Camden, earl, an English statesman, born in Devonshire in 1714, died in London, April 18, 1794. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge, and was called to the bar in 1738, where, after passing a long period without practice, his rise was sudden and rapid. In 1752, upon the prosecution of a printer for a libel upon the house of commons, Pratt maintained, in opposition to the ruling of the judge, the doctrine of the right of juries to decide upon the nature and intention of alleged libels. His position upon this occasion was the commencement of a contest which continued for 40 years, until his doctrine was finally established as law. In 1757 he was made attorney general and knighted. Upon the accession of George III. he was appointed chief justice of the court of common pleas, and accepted the appointment as a retirement from public life. But the arrest of John Wilkes, April 30, 1763, under a general warrant from the secretary of state and other similar cases, brought the political and legal questions concerning the legality of such warrants before that court, and he was called upon to take a position in defence of the liberties of the subject. The principles which he then laid down have ever since been considered of the first importance.
He was raised to the peerage, July 17, 1765, under the name of Baron Camden. He distinguished himself by his exertions in behalf of the American colonies, and on the formation of Lord Chatham's second administration he was made lord chancellor, July 30, 1766. He held this office for 3 1/2 years, with universal approbation, but occupied as a minister a doubtful position in relation to the American policy of the cabinet. Upon the resignation of Lord Chatham he was removed from his place, Jan. 17, 1770. From this time until the close of the American war he continued in opposition to the government of Lord North, and distinguished himself by the eloquence with which he contended in parliament for the rights of the Americans. After the resignation of Lord North's ministry in 1782, he was made president of the council, but resigned the next year on the accession of the "coalition ministry," and enlisted under the banner of the younger Pitt. The success of Pitt led to Camden's restoration to the same office, which he filled for nine years. On May 13, 1786, he was created Earl Camden and Viscount Bayham of Bayham Abbey, Sussex, and still took a considerable share in the business of the house of lords, notwithstanding his advanced age.
In 1792, a short time before his death, he pressed the passage of Mr. Fox's declaratory libel bill through the house of lords, against the opposition of Lord Thurlow, who had procured a unanimous opinion of the 12 judges against it; and its final success was mainly attributable to his courage and vigor.