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William Pitt the Younger

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  • Category: British

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William Pitt was born at Hayes, Kent on 28th May 1759.
William Pitt died on 16th January, 1806. He suffered from poor health and was educated at home. His father, William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, was the former M.P. for Old Sarum and one of the most important politicians of the period. The Earl of Chatham was determined that his son would eventually become a member of the House of Commons and at an early age William was given lessons on how to become an effective orator. Died in debt of £40,000.

William grew up with a strong interest in politics and spent much of his spare time watching debates in parliament. On 7th April 1778 he was present when his father collapsed while making a speech in the House of Lords and helped to carry his dying father from the chamber. In 1781 Sir James Lowther arranged for William Pitt to become the M.P. for Appleby. He made his first speech in the House of Commons on 26th February, 1781. William Pitt had been well trained and afterwards, Lord North, the prime minister, described it as the “best speech” that he had ever heard.

Soon after entering the Commons, William Pitt came under the influence of Charles Fox, Britain’s leading Whig politician. Pitt joined Fox in his campaign for peace with the American colonies. On 12th June he made a speech where Pitt insisted that this was an “unjust war” and urged Lord North’s government to bring it to an end. Pitt also took an interest in the way that Britain elected Members of Parliament. He was especially critical of the way that the monarchy used the system to influence those in Parliament. Pitt argued that parliamentary reform was necessary for the preservation of liberty

The new prime minister, Lord Sherburne appointed the twenty-three year old Pitt as his Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the 31st March, 1783, Pitt resigned. Now out of power, Pitt turned his attention once more to parliamentary reform. On 7th May he proposed a plan that included: (1) checking bribery at elections; (2) disfranchising corrupt constituencies; (3) adding to the number of members for London. His proposals were defeated by 293 to 149. Another bill that he introduced on 2nd June for restricting abuses in public office was passed by the House of Commons but rejected by the House of Lords. In Parliament he opposed Charles Fox’s India Bill

The Duke of Portland’s administration resigned and on 19th December, 1783, the king invited William Pitt to form a new government. At the age of only twenty-four, Pitt became Britain’s youngest prime minister. Passed a series of measures including the India Act that established dual control of the East India Company. Pitt also attacked the serious problem of smuggling by reducing duties on those goods that were mainly being imported illegally into Britain. In April 1785 Pitt proposed a bill that would bring an end to thirty-six rotten boroughs and to transfer the seventy-two seats to those areas where the population was growing.

Pitt’s attitude towards political reform changed dramatically after war was declared. In May 1793 Pitt brought in a bill suspending Habeas Corpus. Pitt decided to form a great European coalition against France and between March and October 1793 he concluded alliances with Russia, Prussia, Austria, Spain, Portugal and some German princes. William Pitt once again had to introduce new taxes. This included duties on horses and tobacco. The following year Pitt introduced additional taxes on tea, sugar and spirits (in war with France). Britain’s financial problems: December 1798 William Pitt introduced a new graduated income tax. Pitt believed that this income tax would raise £10 million but in fact in 1799 the yield was just over £6 million.

The Duke of Portland’s administration resigned and on 19th December, 1783, the king invited William Pitt to form a new government. In May 1804 Henry Addington resigned from office and once again William Pitt became prime minister.

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