Pitt, the family name of two British prime ministers, father and son.
First Earl of Chatham (1708–1778), directed British military policy in the Seven Years' War (1756–63). His energy and genius did much to secure Canada and India, and to make Britain the greatest power in the world. Later he acted as a friend of the American colonists by favoring a generous settlement of their grievances. Pitt was often called "the Great Commoner." He is remembered as one of the greatest orators in the history of Parliament.
Pitt was born in Westminster, England. He attended Oxford University and in 1731 became an army officer. In 1735 he was elected to the House of Commons, where he sided with those Whigs who opposed Robert Walpole. Walpole found Pitt's first speech objectionable and stripped him of his army commission. Pitt eventually regained favor and was appointed paymaster general of the armed forces in 1746. He served in this post until 1755 and won a reputation for honest administration.
In 1756 Pitt became a secretary of state. He was dismissed in 1757 but was reappointed to the cabinet a few months later and was given the direction of Britain's faltering war effort. Pitt's policy was to finance Prussia in its struggle against France on the continent while concentrating naval power overseas against the French. He supported Robert Clive in India and sent capable generals to conquer Canada in the French and Indian War (1754–63).
Pitt resigned office in 1761. In 1766 he was created an earl and became prime minister, but was soon incapacitated by physical and mental illness. He resigned in 1768. Pitt opposed the Stamp Act tax and other measures obnoxious to the American colonies, but also opposed their independence. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other United States cities are named for him.
(1759–1806) was prime minister in 1783–1801 and 1804–06. He was one of Britain's greatest peacetime leaders. Coming to office at the end of the American Revolution, Pitt revived the economy, reestablished the Tory party, and revitalized the House of Lords by enlarging the nobility.
Pitt was born in Bromley, England, the younger son of the elder William Pitt. He graduated from Cambridge University in 1776 and was admitted to the bar in 1780. In 1781 Pitt entered the House of Commons, where he quickly showed brilliance and displayed surprising maturity for a man still in his early 20's. He was appointed chancellor of the exchequer (treasury) in 1782 and in late 1783 became prime minister. His first act, the lowering of tariffs, foreshadowed Britain's later free-trade policy. His India Bill of 1784 transferred political control in India from the East India Company to the government.
Pitt was not at first hostile to the French Revolution, but became a bitter enemy when France invaded the Low Countries. War began in 1793. Pitt formed two coalitions of European nations against France, but neither was successful, although Britain seized Dutch and French colonies in Asia and Africa. At home, he abandoned earlier plans for reform and punished sympathizers of the French Revolution severely. The writ of habeas corpus was suspended from 1794 to 1801, and the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 outlawed trade unions.
In 1800 Pitt bribed the corrupt Irish Parliament to approve the legislative union that created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1801). He promised the Irish an act allowing Catholics to hold public office, and when King George III refused to allow it, he resigned. Peace was signed with France in 1802 but lasted only a year. With the war going badly, Pitt assumed office again in 1804. He formed a third European coalition, but it was destroyed by Napoleon I at the battles of Ulm and Austerlitz in late 1805. Pitt died soon afterward.