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William Pitt the Younger

W. J. Rayment / -- Pitt the Younger was born the son of a famous Parliamentary figure (1759). His father was known as the Earl of Chatham, and was so famous that his statue actually graced a park in Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina at about the time of the American Revolution. Pitt's father would become known as "Pitt the Elder" after the advent of the young prodigy.

Although he surely benefitted from the fame of his father, it certainly was not the only thing that carried him to the very pinnacle of politics in Great Britain. Pitt was a gifted speaker and debater who could weave strong arguments to buttress his points in mere moments and deliver them with a verve and sparkle that no figure of the time could equal.

He had studied law at Cambridge, but left school to become a member of Parliament in 1781. His talents were so obvious that he was shortly raised to cabinet rank as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1782. By 1783 he became First Lord of the Treasury. In the Parliament of that day, there was no "Prime Minister" per se. The First Lord of the Treasury actually assumed the functions. It is interesting that in England the controller of public funds should become the executive of the government. In most cultures it tends to be members of the military. It says much for the English system that the leading figure of Parliament should be a man pursuing peaceful ends.

Pitt was the youngest man to ever become "Prime Minister". He was a mere 24 years old when he took on the responsibilities of that office. Many thought him too young for the job, but his talents, instincts and perhaps some of his father's experiences made his term a success. It was so much a success that he remained in office for 18 years.

Making use of new theories of economics, especially those propounded by Adam Smith, he made economic reforms which tended to benefit the country in general and built an economy with such strength that it successfully weathered the Napoleonic Wars and supplied the financing that kept Great Britain ruler of the oceans. Pitt's ideas were far seeing, but he was often confronted with recalcitrant forces that prevented them from being implemented, including the emancipation of Catholics, especially those in Ireland, a program, which if implemented at the time might have prevented many conflicts in the future.

In fact, Pitt resigned from office over this very issue in 1801. King George III was adamantly opposed to the proposed legislation and Pitt turned over his ministry to his protege, Addington. Addington would serve for three years, but by then the Napoleonic Wars were again boiling and Parliament chose to go back to Pitt to deal with the military and financial difficulties which arose.

Unfortunately, Pitt's health was giving out. There is some evidence that he drank too heavily and that this contributed to his demise in 1806 before he was able to complete his reform programs as well as see victory against Napoleon which would not finally come until 1815.


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