Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Pitt, William

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PITT, William, English statesman, b. in Hayes, Kent, 28 May, 1759; d. in Putney, Surrey, 23 Jan., 1806. He was the second son of the Earl of Chatham (q. v.), and was educated at Cambridge. His entire training was directed toward making him a parliamentary orator. He studied law at Lincoln's Inn, and in 1780 became a member of parliament for the borough of Appleby. His first speech, on 26 Feb., 1781, was in favor of Edmund Burke's plan of economical reform, and made a great impression. When explaining the principles and conduct of his father on American affairs, and referring to Lord Westcote, he said: “A noble lord has called the American war a holy war. I affirm that it is a most accursed war, wicked, barbarous, cruel, and unnatural; conceived in injustice, it was brought forth and nurtured in folly; its footsteps are marked with slaughter and devastation, while it meditates destruction to the miserable people who are the devoted objects of the resentments which produced it. Where is the Englishman who can refrain from weeping on whatever side victory may be declared?” The voice was listened to as that of Chatham “again living in his son with all his virtues and all his talents.” In the next session Pitt distinguished himself more brilliantly, and on the rise of the Rockingham ministry he was offered the office of vice-treasurer of Ireland, which he declined. At the age of twenty-three he was the only member of his party in the house of commons that had the courage and eloquence to confront Burke, Fox, and the other great orators of the opposition. He became chancellor of the exchequer, and in 1783 prime minister. He secured the passage of important bills, and negotiated the treaty of peace with the United States, but enforced the navigation acts of England against America with much severity. Owing to current events, his ministry became enfeebled, and yet, notwithstanding his failure in foreign expeditions, Pitt's extraordinary genius as a parliamentary leader gave him absolute control of the house of commons and overcame opposition. He resigned his office in March, 1801, and lived in retirement. In May, 1803, when the ambitious designs of Napoleon forced England to break the peace of Amiens, he appeared in parliament to deliver a speech in favor of the war. In the next year he was recalled to the ministry. He became ill with anxiety and grief at the success of Napoleon, and the surrender of the Austrian army at Ulm gave him a shock from which he never recovered. He died soon after hearing of the battle of Austerlitz, 2 Dec., 1805. Parliament gave him the honor of a public funeral, and buried him near his father's remains in Westminster abbey. See “Life of William Pitt,” by Lord Stanhope (4 vols.), and also that by Lord Rosebery (1891).