1st Earl of Chatham
William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, known as 'the Great Commoner', dominated the political scene influencing government from within and without. He is remembered for his vocal criticism of harsh British policy levied against the American colonies and his skills as a wartime leader during the Seven Years' War.
Pitt was the son of a member of Parliament and the grandson of Thomas Pitt who had helped to build British trade in India. He entered Parliament in 1735 at the age of 27 after attending Oxford. He gained attention by leading the Patriot faction in opposition to prime minister Sir Robert Walpole, but his skills at oratory did not establish for him a power base. His first office was as paymaster-general,1746, where he made a name for himself by his honesty and failure to take financial advantage of the office. Discouraged by his lack of progress within government, he turned to criticizing the Duke of Newcastle, and his government's war policy, resulting in his dismissal in 1755. After Newcastle resigned in 1756, Pitt formed a government with George Grenville and the Duke of Devonshire. Pitt and Grenville argued over the administration of the war and in April, 1757, King George II dismissed Pitt. After several months with virtually no government, Pitt was recalled to government at the outbreak of the Seven Years' War to form a coalition government with Newcastle.
Pitt served very effectively as a wartime prime minister with Newcastle attending to domestic affairs. He sent a strengthened British fleet to blockade French ports and provided supplies to Frederick the Great of Prussia. His policies resulted in victory over the French in India and Canada and on the seas. He sought to continue the war until France was completely defeated, and broaden the war by declaring against Spain. He met with opposition by other ministers and disagreement by George III. He resigned in 1761 and spent the next five years criticizing the government. He called the 1763 Peace of Paris "too lenient", encouraged criticism of the House of Commons and denounced British policy toward the American colonies gaining him a following both at home and in the colonies.
Second Ministry (1766-68)
In July, 1766, Pitt was recalled to form and lead another coalition government. This time, he met with little success as prime minister. He entered the House of Lords as Earl of Chatham which proved a disaster. His government was unable to deal with the problems in America; he supported the Americans against the king, but was not for independence; and in fact, proved incapable of governing at home as well. His most loyal ministers resigning around him, Pitt fell into depression and resigned his office October 1768.
Pitt did not leave the political arena. He continued to speak out against British policy in the colonies and fight for parliamentary reform, but he gained little following. He was a statesman, not a politician. He collapsed in the Lords speaking out against the withdrawal of troops from the colonies and died a month later in 1778 at the age of 70.
PHOTO CREDIT: Detail of a portrait of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, by William Hoare.
Part of the Carnegie Institute Permanent Collection. From the Collections of the Pennsylvania Department, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
1757 - Frederick the Great is victorious at Prague over the Austrians. General Robert Clive establishes British rule in India with victories in Bengal, Calcutta and Plassey. The first public concert is held in Philadelphia. "The London Chronicle" comes on the scene.
1758 - The Seven Years' War continues. East Prussia is held by the Russians. The Prussians blockade Olmutz. The British take Louisburg. Austrian troops lay seige to Neisse and defeat Frederick the Great at Hochkirch.
1759 - Austria defeats Frederick the Great at Kunersdorf. The British take Quebec from the French; Generals Montcalm and Wolfe are killed in the campaign. Scottish poet Robert Burns is born. Voltaire writes "Candide".
1760 - Russians burn Berlin. King George II dies and is succeeded by George III, his grandson. Josiah Wedgewood famous pottery works are founded in Staffordshire, England. London's Botanical Gardens in Kew are opened. Edmund Hoyle, establishes the rules for whist.
1766 - Repeal of the Stamp Act. Britain's right to tax the colonies is restated in the Declaratory Act. Mason-Dixon Line is laid down by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, two English surveyors. Theatre Royal in Bristol opens. Czarina Catherine the Great of Russia declares freedom of worship. The first paved sidewalk is finished in Westminster, London. Henry Cavendish discovers hydrogen is lighter than air.
1767 - Taxes on imports to the colonies are levied including tea, glass, paper and dyes. Chaos in India; General Clive leaves. The Assembly of New York refuses to support the quartering of troops and is suspended. Jesuits are expelled from Spain.
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