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Brief Biographical / Historical Sketch

Biography

Born in 1708 to a merchant family, William Pitt rose to great heights in British politics, serving at various times as a Member of Parliament, secretary of state, and prime minister. Educated at Eton & Trinity College, Cambridge, Pitt began his political career in Parliament in 1735 after assuming a seat vacated by his older brother. Referred to as the "Great Commoner," Pitt stood apart from most of his colleagues for his willingness to court public support, criticize those in power, and promote the interests of the colonists abroad. Pitt married Hester Grenville, daughter of Richard Grenville and Countess Temple, in 1754.

In 1756, Pitt became secretary of state during the early stages of the Seven Years' War. During his tenure, Pitt focused the country's military strategy on confronting the French at sea and in the colonial areas of both North America and India. He also rallied public support behind the war effort and strengthened relations with Prussia. These actions greatly contributed to Britain's success in the war. He is also sometimes referred to as Britain's first Imperialist, who paved the way for expansion into North America, India, and Africa.

In 1766, Pitt was invited by King George III to become prime minister, at which point he accepted the title of Earl of Chatham. He selected cabinet members with varying political ideas which resulted in a divided administration. Pitt also suffered from chronic gout, and spent much of his term in seclusion. After two years in office, the statesman resigned and retreated to Hayes, his estate on the outskirts of London in Kent. During this time, Hester, Pitt's wife, looked after most of his affairs as his deteriorating condition left him at times unable to write or see visitors.

The following years were marked by illness and financial trouble. When his health permitted, Pitt continued to make sporadic appearances before the House of Lords, most notably speaking in defense of the North American colonists and their grievances. He argued that concessions should be made in order to appease the colonists and avoid war. William Pitt died in 1778.

William Pitt the Younger followed his father into a career in politics, becoming prime minister in 1783 at the age of 23. Influenced by the writings of Adam Smith, he reduced tariffs and government spending while levying new taxes in an effort to lower the debt resulting from the American Revolution. In 1793, following the French Revolution, France attacked Britain, prompting Pitt to form a number of ultimately unsuccessful coalitions with other European states. Pitt also introduced restrictive measures aimed at silencing those British subjects urging Parliamentary reform. The war drained Britain's financial reserves and inflamed Irish nationalists, who believed French revolutionaries would help them overthrow the monarchy in England. To ease these tensions, Pitt proposed a union between Ireland and England. However, due to a disagreement with King George III over Catholic emancipation, Pitt resigned from the government in 1801. In 1804, Pitt returned to serve a second term as prime minister, dying in office in 1806.