Chatham, William Pitt, 1st earl of
Chatham, William Pitt, 1st earl of(chăt`əm), 1708–78, British statesman, known as the Great Commoner. Proud, dramatic, and patriotic, Chatham excelled as a war minister and orator. He was the father of William PittPitt, William,
1759–1806, British statesman; 2d son of William Pitt, 1st earl of Chatham. Trained as a lawyer, he entered Parliament in 1781 and in 1782 at the age of 23 became chancellor of the exchequer under Lord Shelburne.
..... Click the link for more information. .
A member of a family whose wealth had been made in India, he entered Parliament in 1735. With his older brother he became a member of a group known as "Cobham's cubs" (after their leader Lord Cobham) or the "boy patriots," who opposed the ministry of Sir Robert WalpoleWalpole, Robert, 1st earl of Orford,
1676–1745, English statesman. Early Life and Career
He was the younger son of a prominent Whig family of Norfolk.
..... Click the link for more information. , particularly its foreign policy, and supported Frederick Louis, prince of Wales, in his quarrel with King George II. After the fall (1742) of Walpole, Pitt was the leading critic of Lord Carteret (later earl of GranvilleGranville, John Carteret, 1st Earl,
1690–1763, English statesman, better known as Lord Carteret. He served as ambassador to Sweden (1719–20) and as a secretary of state (1721–24), but his favor with
..... Click the link for more information. ) in his conduct of the War of the Austrian Succession.
Years in Government
Although detested by the king, Pitt entered the government as postmaster general of the forces in 1746 and won great popularity by his unusual honesty in refusing the usual perquisites of that office. He was dismissed in 1755, but the early disasters in the Seven Years WarSeven Years War,
1756–63, worldwide war fought in Europe, North America, and India between France, Austria, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and (after 1762) Spain on the one side and Prussia, Great Britain, and Hanover on the other.
..... Click the link for more information. gave him such an opportunity to denounce government policies in his eloquent speeches that in 1756 George II was forced to call on him to become a secretary of state. The next year he formed a coalition ministry with Thomas Pelham-Holles, duke of NewcastleNewcastle, Thomas Pelham-Holles, duke of,
1693–1768, English politician, brother of Henry Pelham. He inherited (1711) the estates of his uncle, John Holles, duke of Newcastle, adopted his name, and received (1715) his title.
..... Click the link for more information. .
Pitt wished to conduct the war primarily against the French to win imperial supremacy, a policy popular with the mercantile interests and with the generally anti-French public. His subsidies to Frederick IIFrederick II
or Frederick the Great,
1712–86, king of Prussia (1740–86), son and successor of Frederick William I. Early Life
Frederick's coarse and tyrannical father despised the prince, who showed a taste for French art and literature and no
..... Click the link for more information. of Prussia, his efficient handling of military supplies, his shrewd choice of commanders, his insistence on naval expansion, and his ability to raise English morale resulted in the defeat of the French power in India and the capture of the French provinces in Canada.
After the accession of George IIIGeorge III,
1738–1820, king of Great Britain and Ireland (1760–1820); son of Frederick Louis, prince of Wales, and grandson of George II, whom he succeeded. He was also elector (and later king) of Hanover, but he never visited it.
..... Click the link for more information. , however, Pitt was forced to resign (1761), and he fiercely denounced the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1763), by which the war was concluded. He joined the opposition in protesting the prosecution (1763) of John WilkesWilkes, John,
1727–97, English politician and journalist. He studied at the Univ. of Leiden, returned to England in 1746, and purchased (1757) a seat in Parliament.
..... Click the link for more information. and the imposition of the Stamp ActStamp Act,
1765, revenue law passed by the British Parliament during the ministry of George Grenville. The first direct tax to be levied on the American colonies, it required that all newspapers, pamphlets, legal documents, commercial bills, advertisements, and other papers
..... Click the link for more information. (1765) on the American colonies.
In 1766, Pitt was recalled to office as lord privy seal, accepted the title earl of Chatham, and formed such a broadly based ministry that it was soon impossibly divided. Troubled by increasing mental illness and gout, Chatham exercised little control over this administration, and his chancellor of the exchequer, Charles TownshendTownshend, Charles,
1725–67, English statesman; grandson of the 2d Viscount Townshend. Distrusted for his marked instability, he held relatively minor offices until the 1st earl of Chatham made him chancellor of the exchequer in 1766.
..... Click the link for more information. , not only sabotaged his plans to reorganize the East India Company but passed the ill-fated Townshend ActsTownshend Acts,
1767, originated by Charles Townshend and passed by the English Parliament shortly after the repeal of the Stamp Act. They were designed to collect revenue from the colonists in America by putting customs duties on imports of glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea.
..... Click the link for more information. (1767). In virtual retirement from 1767, he resigned office in 1768.
In his rare speeches in the House of Lords thereafter, he urged conciliation of the American colonies, and after the outbreak of the American Revolution he favored any peace settlement short of granting the colonies independence. On this issue he broke with the Whigs, and his last speech was a plea against the disruption of the empire he had done so much to build. At its conclusion he collapsed and was carried home to die.
See biographies by B. Williams (1913, repr. 1966), O. A. Sherrerd (1952), J. H. Plumb (1953, repr. 1965), and J. W. Derry (1962); D. A. Winstanley, Lord Chatham and the Whig Opposition (1912, repr. 1966).