William Pitt


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William PittPitt, WILLIAM, the "Great Commoner"; born in Westminster, England, Nov. 15, 1708; entered Parliament in 1735, where he was the most formidable opponent of Robert Walpole. He held the office of vice-treasurer of Ireland (1746), and soon afterwards was made paymaster of the army and one of the privy council. In 1755 he was dismissed from office, but in 1757 was made secretary of state, and soon infused his own energy into every part of the public service, placing England in the front rank of nations. By his energy in pressing the war in America (see FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR) he added Canada to the British Empire and decided for all time the future of the Mississippi Valley. All through the progress of the disputes between Great Britain and its American colonies he advocated a conciliatory and righteous policy towards the Americans. In 1766 he was called to the head of affairs again; was created Earl of Chatham; but quitted office forever in 1768. In the House of Lords he opposed coercive measures towards the Americans, in speeches remarkable for their vigor and eloquence. He was opposed to the political independence of the Americans, for he deprecated a dismemberment of the empire, and, while opposing a motion to that effect, in an earnest speech in the House of Lords (April, 1778), he swooned, and was carried to his home so much exhausted that he never rallied. He had risen from a sick-bed to take his place in Parliament on that occasion, and the excitement overcame him. He died in Hayes, Kent, May 11, 1778.

When he became the first minister of the realm, he saw, with enlightened vision, the justice and the policy of treating the American colonies with generosity and confidence. This treatment gained their affections, and, under his guidance, they gave such generous support to the government in the war with the French and Indians that the conquest of Canada was achieved, and the French dominion in America was destroyed. The project of an American Stamp Act was pressed (1757), which Pitt disdained to favor. He and Temple were both driven from office in April, 1757, leaving the government in the hands of incompetent and unscrupulous men. The country turned to Pitt, as the only man who could save the nation from ruin. Like a giant, he directed the affairs of the nation with so much wisdom that in two short years England was placed at the head of nationalities in power and glory.

When Pitt resigned the seals of office (1761) the King offered to confer a title upon him. He accepted for his wife the honorary title of Baroness of Chatham, with a pension for her, her husband, and their eldest son, of $15,000 a year. In 1766 he was created Viscount Pitt and Earl of Chatham, and was then called to the head of public affairs.

In January, 1766, Pitt appeared in his place in the House of Commons, and declared that " the King had no right to levy a tax on the colonies," and said they had invariably, by their representatives in their several assemblies, exercised the constitutional right of giving and granting their own money. " They would have been slaves." he said. " if they had not... . The colonies acknowledge your authority in all things. with the sole exception that you shall not take their money out of their pockets without their consent." This avowal of the great commoner made a profound impression on the House. He made a powerful speech against the Stamp Act, to which the new ministry were compelled to give heed. Franklin was summoned to the bar of the House to testify. He gave reasons why the Stamp Act could not be enforced in America, and a bill for its repeal was carried (March 18, 1766), by a large majority.

In January, 1775, Pitt introduced Dr. Franklin on the floor of the House of Lords, when the former made an eloquent plea for justice towards the Americans. This was in support of a measure which he proposed.

Pitt early in the year 1775 proposed an address to the King advising the recall of the troops from Boston. It was rejected. In February, 1775, Pitt brought forward a bill which required a full acknowledgment on the part of the colonists of the supremacy and superintending power of Parliament, but provided that no tax should ever be levied on the Americans except by consent of the colonial assemblies. It also contained a provision for a congress of the colonies to make the required acknowledgment; and to vote, at the same time, a free grant to the King of a certain perpetual revenue, to be placed at the disposal of Parliament. It was rejected at the first reading.



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