Pitt, the Younger William
British Tory prime minister 1783-1801 and 1804-06. He raised the importance of the House of Commons, clamped down on corruption, carried out fiscal reforms, and effected the union with Ireland. He attempted to keep Britain at peace but underestimated the importance of the French Revolution and became embroiled in wars with France from 1793; he died on hearing of Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz.
The son of William Pitt the Elder, he entered Cambridge University at the age of 14 and Parliament at the age of 22. He was the Whig William Shelburne's chancellor of the Exchequer 1782-83, and with the support of the Tories and king's friends became Britain's youngest prime minister in 1783. He reorganized the country's finances and negotiated reciprocal tariff reductions with France. In 1793, however, the new French republic declared war and England fared badly. Pitt's policy in Ireland led to the 1798 revolt, and he tried to solve the Irish question by the Act of Union of 1801, but George III rejected the Catholic emancipation Pitt had promised as a condition, and Pitt resigned in 1801.
On his return to office in 1804, he organized an alliance with Spain, Austria, Russia, and Sweden against Napoleon, which was shattered by French victories at the battles of Ulm and Austerlitz. In declining health, he died soon after hearing the news of these defeats, saying: ‘Oh, my country! How I leave my country!’ He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Pitt was born at Hayes, Kent, studied law at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, and was called to the Bar in 1780. In Parliament, his maiden speech, in favour of Edmund Burke's bill for economic reform, on 26 February 1781, drew extravagant praise from Burke, Fox, and North. Pitt was able to form his first administration when the coalition ministry between North and Fox collapsed in December 1783. However, leading a minority government, his position was not secure until he went to the country the following year, and secured a large majority. In this election, he was returned for Cambridge University, which he represented for the rest of his life. One of the most important financial measures that he introduced in his first term of office was a sinking fund to reduce the national debt. During the Revolutionary Wars against France, the British navy was successful in its battles, but the coalition's land armies suffered severely, and a general clamour arose for Pitt's resignation, which he tendered in 1801. He was succeeded by Henry Addington, whose administration he at first supported, and he spoke in support of the Peace of Amiens. When war broke out again in May 1803, it was evident that the Addington ministry could not prosecute it effectively, and a year later Pitt was again called to lead the country. He formed the third coalition of nations against Napoleon, but this was fatally weakened when Spain joined France, and destroyed by Napoleon's great military victories in 1805-06.
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