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Earl of Chatham


CHATHAM, EARL OF, WILLIAM PITT (1708-1778), was born at Golden square, Westminster, on Nov. 15, 1708. His father was Robert, son of the famous governor Pitt of Madras, who sold to the Regent Orleans his great diamond still to be seen in the Louvre; his mother Harriet Villiers, daughter of Viscount ess Grandison, a notable character in her day. He was the fourth child of a family of six, of whom his elder brother Thomas inherited the governor's Cornish property, Beconnoc, and the youngest, his favourite sister Ann, attained some note in the world that Horace Walpole adorned. At the age of ten or 1 I he was sent to Eton and in Jan. 1727 to Trinity college, Oxford. He showed no remarkable genius at either place, but obtained a sound classical education and came to know many of those with whom he was afterwards associated : Lyttelton, the Grenvilles, two Foxes, Han bury Williams, Pratt and Henry Fielding at Eton, while Henley, the Wesleys, Samuel Johnson and Murray were his contemporaries at Oxford. But of ter a year he had to leave Oxford owing to the persistent gout which had already got hold of him and he spent some months studying law at the university of Utrecht. By this time, when he was barely 20 most of his natural protectors were dead, including his father, his uncle, the soldier-statesman Lord Stanhope, who used to delight in his nephew's martial spirit and call him the "young marshal," and the grim old governor who loved the boy and said of him "he is a hopeful lad and doubt not he will answer yours and all his friends expectations." But he had good friends in the Grenvilles, who procured him a cornetcy in their uncle Lord Cobham's regiment of Horse, which later became the ist Dragoon Guards. In spite of a small income of little more than £200 and though he took his military training more seriously than most, he made many friends in the political world and found time and money to make another, his last, journey abroad, in the course of which he had a passing love affair and at Lyons saw the confluence of the Rhone and Saone which, 20 years later, gave him a hint for one of his most famous speeches.

A Commoner.—In his real career began when he ob tained a seat in the House of Commons for Old Sarum, one of his brother's pocket-boroughs. Naturally he joined the opposition to Walpole, to which all his young friends belonged, under the leadership of Carteret, Chesterfield, Wyndham and Pulteney, with the prince of Wales as their patron and Bolingbroke their mentor. Pitt's maiden speech was delivered in the following year on an address moved by the opposition to congratulate the king on the prince's marriage. Except for some back-handed compliments to the king and covert allusions to the notorious dissensions in the royal family, the speech as reported hardly seems to account for its results. "We must muzzle this terrible cornet of horse," exclaimed Walpole and forthwith deprived him of his commission. At any rate this deprivation did Pitt no harm, for he obtained a better post in the prince's household: and his fame was made. Walpole too lived to regret it, for no speeches made from the opposition benches during the last years of his administration on the commercial disputes with Spain and on the conduct of the war, into which Walpole was finally goaded, were so pointed, so bitter and so damaging as Pitt's. Pitt, indeed, with that engaging frankness characteristic of his public utterances, subsequently admitted that on the main object of Walpole's policy, an accom modation with Spain on the vexed question of the right of search, he was wrong and Walpole right. But this his first duel with a great parliamentary leader is chiefly remarkable for the revela tion of his power of giving expression to the opinions of impor tant sections of the community, such as the commercial men and even the colonists beyond the sea, hardly represented in the close oligarchy of parliament. In one of his speeches, for example, he called on the House to remember "the two millions of people in your American colonies," so apt to be forgotten, and to con demn Walpole's policy because "the complaints of your despair ing merchants,—the voice of England has condemned it." Thus early he showed the source of his strength and of his influence as the Great Commoner by seeking for the national will and the national policy, not within the walls of a corrupt and unrepresen tative House of Commons, but in the hearts of the people of Eng land itself.

On Walpole's fall in 1742 the new ministry was constituted, largely owing to Walpole's influence behind the curtain, chiefly of men not prepared to carry the vendetta against him to ex tremes. It included his old colleagues Newcastle and Hard wicke; Carteret was appeased by the post of Secretary of State; Pulteney was silenced by a peerage; and Cobham's Boy Patriots, of whom Pitt was now the leading figure, were excluded. Pitt indeed secured a committee to enquire into Walpole's conduct during his ministry, but got little satisfaction from its half hearted proceedings. For the next two years he devoted himself to compassing Carteret's downfall.

Growing Influence.

Carteret, that downright and arresting figure of the 18th century with his genius for foreign affairs, had one principle in common with Pitt, a determination to overthrow the exorbitant power of the Bourbons in Europe, which both regarded as the standing menace to England. But they differed essentially in their methods. In the confusing war of the Austrian Succession (1741-48) Carteret could only see a purely continental issue and though, like Pitt, he was anxious to secure Frederick's support, he was mainly concerned in forming a great coalition of German states under the leadership of England and Hanover to support Maria Theresa in her struggle with France; in this aim he found support from George II., who was always preoccupied with the safety of his German electorate. Pitt on the other hand thought we were wasting our efforts in forming German alliances, always onerous and expensive, and made the most of the popular prejudice against the king's German dominions, maintaining that our true policy was to devote ourselves entirely to the duel with France in our proper sphere at sea and in attacks on France's colonial possessions, which threatened English enterprise and ex pansion both in America and in India. Hence he attacked Carteret even more bitterly than he had Walpole in a series of philippics in which full rein was given to his unrivalled power of invective. "A desperate rhodomontading minister," "An infamous minister, who seems to have renounced the name of an Englishman," "A Hanover troop minister, a flagitious taskmaster, whose only party are the 16,000 Hanoverians, the placemen by whose means he has conquered the cabinet,"—such are some of the gems of invective which abound in Pitt's attacks on Carteret's policy of continental alliances and Hanoverian subsidies. Even more in keeping with Pitt's lifelong views was his denunciation of Carteret's secret methods and his refusal to "gain the confidence of the people" for his measures. This secrecy, more than anything else, proved Carteret's undoing, for he was as secret with his colleagues as with parliament and people ; in 1744, finding that the cabinet re fused any longer to honour his blank cheques, he resigned.

The way now seemed open to Pitt ; for the Pelhams, now in the ascendant, felt they could no longer dispense with so formidable an orator. But unfortunately Pitt had grievously wounded the king's tenderest feelings by his attacks on Hanover, "a despicable electorate," as he called it, and by derogatory remarks about the battle of Dettingen ; the king absolutely refused to have him in his closet. It required a further exhibition of Pitt's power over the House and in the country and of his patriotic spirit during the '45, when he was consulted by all and looked up to as almost the only effective and vigourous statesman ; it required too the resignation of the Pelham ministry in 1746 before the king re called them a few days later on their own terms, which included a post for Pitt, first as Vice-Treasurer for Ireland, and shortly afterwards as Paymaster.

A Disinterested Paymaster.—The duties of Paymaster then, as now, were not onerous, but the pickings were not to be despised. It was the custom for the Paymaster to put out at interest on his own account the large lump sums paid over to him at the beginning of a year for subsequent disbursement ; as he had not to hand over any surplus balances he might have accumulated till the end of his term of office, the profits from this source were very large. It was also customary for the Paymaster to accept a commission of on every subsidy to a foreign prince, of which there were many at that time. Pitt resolutely set his face against these practices and after holding the office for nine years left it a poor man but with a resounding reputation for disinterestedness among his countrymen. He also introduced some useful reforms for the benefit of the recipients of pay and pensions.

Domestic Life.—He had leisure during the next seven years, two of them in war-time and the remainder uneasy years of prep aration for the Seven Years' War, to give a general support to the Pelham administration. He could also afford to indulge in his passion for landscape gardening, both on his friends' estates and in the grounds of South Lodge, Enfield, that he purchased for himself, to seek at various spas mitigation for his almost inces sant attacks of gout, and to allow himself the grandiose scale of expenditure that he affected especially in generosity to his friends. For, in addition to his salary of about £4,000, in 1744 he had received a legacy of f 10,000 from the old duchess of Marlborough "upon account of his merit in the noble defence he has made of the laws of England, and to prevent the ruin of his country." But though he had many warm friends bound to him, says a contemporary, by his "private good qualities, friendship beyond professions, industry and ability to oblige," yet he was essentially a solitary man, especially after a rift in the affection of himself and his favourite sister Ann. Fortunately in the autumn of he suddenly woke up to his love for Hester, the one sister of his five Grenville friends ; and at one of their places, Wotton, with its "deep shades of oak, softening lawns and tranquil waters, like a lively smile lightening up a thoughtful countenance," discovered his love to her and received the admission of hers. On Nov. 16 following they were quietly married in London; and so began one of the happiest unions that it has ever befallen the fate of a great statesman to find, blessed as it was with a perfect under standing between the two and soon with the added joys of happy parenthood. Pitt was especially fortunate in finding a home where he could be certain of abiding trust and sympathy at this time, for he was on the eve of his most arduous struggle as a prelude to those wonderful five years when he bore the whole weight of a decisive war upon his shoulders.

The Great Commoner.—Until Pelham's death during the year 1754, though not always entirely approving of the ministry's policy, he had supported it in war and peace, without surrendering his right of protest against measures which ran counter to his fundamental principles. He strove vainly to give the last period of the war a colonial and maritime bias, away from the futile campaigns on the continent; and during the years of peace set his face against Pelham's too drastic economies on the navy, which he always regarded as our chief weapon of offence and defence; he also protested against Newcastle's expensive and pusillanimous policy of seeking protection by subsidy treaties with a crowd of German princelings. But on Pelham's death he was driven to more forcible measures. Newcastle, on whom Pel ham's mantle fell, though unrivalled as a parliamentary manager, was no statesman and had the weak man's jealousy of eminence in that line. Pitt was incontestably the greatest leader in the House of Commons, but for that very reason Newcastle feared to put the leadership in his hands. His only possible rival was Henry Fox, but Newcastle forced Pitt and Fox into temporary alliance against him by placing over them Robinson, a worthy nonentity. The two great orators baited poor Robinson beyond endurance and forced him to resign whereupon Newcastle was reduced to taking Fox, as the less eminent of the two, to fill his place. Pitt naturally felt himself betrayed by Fox's desertion and transferred his attacks to him, being inspired in one debate to compare the junction of the feeble Newcastle and the vehement Fox with his recollection of "the conflux at Lyons of the Rhone and the Saone: this a feeble, languid stream, and, though lan guid, of no depth—the other a boisterous and overbearing tor rent—but they meet at last; and long may they continue united, to the comfort of each other, and to the glory, honour and happi ness of this nation." This jibe cost Pitt the Pay Office.

But it would not do. The war began with the defeat of Brad dock on the Monongahela and the loss of Minorca, while the old German muddle seemed likely to be repeated with the pro posals to hire troops from Hesse, Brunswick and Saxony and a treaty with Russia for an invasion of Germany in defence of Hanover and a few months later another with Prussia to prevent any foreign power entering on German soil. The popular demand for Pitt became irresistible and Pitt was ready to respond to the demand. "I know," he said, "that I can save this country and that no one else can." In Nov. 1756 he formed a ministry without Newcastle and with Devonshire as its nominal head : but even a Pitt with the whole country at his back could not stand against Newcastle's parliamentary legions, so in June 1757 the ministry was reconstituted on the understanding that Newcastle should wield all the patronage and Pitt bend his whole mind to the war. Never was division of labour more effectual.

America and India.—Pitt was determined that this should be a national war. He got rid of German mercenaries who had been sent over to resist invasion and revived the ancient militia, which he made a serviceable defence force ; he saw to it that England "should put herself on board her fleet," by finding her the necessary ships and men; he united all parties not only in the House but throughout the country by appeals "captivating of the people" and above all gave them confidence by enunciating a courageous and intelligible war policy. America and India he fastened upon as the main objects of our strategy, so to the first he sent out his main expeditions and gave his chief thoughts to elaborating the campaigns for the conquest of Canada ; and to the East India Company and their "heaven-born general" Clive he lent invaluable support in their struggle against the French East India Company. But not content with these main fields of opera tion he saw that a colonial empire could best be won by also distracting France in other parts of the world. He attacked her on her own coasts, in Africa, in the West Indies and above all kept her main armies and resources engaged in the duel with our ally Frederick by subsidizing him and sending a British force to guard his flank. He was of course accused of inconsistency in thus supporting a German war, but the essential difference between his policy and that of Carteret and Newcastle was that Germany was no longer the main object but subsidiary in the sense that he could boast that he had won America in Germany.

Not the least of his services was the new spirit he infused into his chosen generals, Wolfe, Amherst, Forbes; his admirals, Bos cawen, Hawke, Saunders, Pocock, Watson; the American levies and assemblies who fought and paid for the common cause as they had never been willing to do before ; and even the Highland levies, rebels ten years before, whom he had the courage to seek out "in their mountains of the north." Against such a minister directing so determined a national effort the Bourbon powers, even when they were united in 1761, were helpless. At the treaty of Paris in 1763, which consolidated the victories, England found herself supreme in North America and in India, had her Mediterranean base, Minorca, restored and gained territory both in Africa and the West Indies ; but above all she had learned that she could fight best when she relied on herself.

Before the end of the war, however, Pitt had been forced to resign. George III., on his accession in 176o, at once showed his determination to bring the war to an end as speedily as possible in order to gain control of the government machinery monopolized by Newcastle and the Whigs, and to become himself head of the administration as the Patriot King. In his first speech to the Council he gave Pitt a taste of what was coming by describing the war as "bloody and expensive" and practically ignoring Frederick, the faithful ally to whom Pitt was committed. The introduction of Bute into the cabinet and its refusal in Oct. 1761 to forestall Spain's entry into hostilities by an immediate declara tion of war, as Pitt advocated, led to his resignation and even to the momentary eclipse of his popularity by his acceptance of a pension and of a peerage for his wife.

But though the king had brought the war to an end in 1763, by the Treaty of Paris, which Pitt had attacked in the House as an inadequate recognition of England's worldwide successes in the war, and by the resignation of Newcastle had obtained con trol of the government machinery of patronage and bribery, yet he was not happy in his ministers. Bute resigned of ter the Treaty of Paris, his successor George Grenville still thought he could lecture and dictate to the king as in the old halcyon days of Whig supremacy. Indeed the king soon came to the conclusion that the superficial resemblance between Pitt's principle of "measures not men" and his own desire for non-party government with individual ministers subservient to himself indicated Pitt as the most satisfactory refuge from his difficulties. Pitt had indeed opposed the measures promoted by the king against Wilkes and the use of general warrants as an infringement of the liberty of the subject and was known to disapprove of the Stamp Act passed by Grenville with the king's full approval; but he would have accepted office in 1765 had it not been for difficulties with his own followers. Thereupon the king was driven to accept the old Whig party under Rockingham.

The Earl of Chatham.

In the following year, however, when the Stamp Act had been repealed, and the Rockingham ministry found its position untenable owing to the intrigues of George III.'s creature Northington, Pitt consented to form a ministry drawn from all sections of the House. The only chance for the success of such an experiment would have been complete control by Pitt himself : unfortunately his strength was waning and he chose the comparative ease of the House of Lords, being created earl of Chatham, and of the almost sinecure post of Lord Privy Seal. Even so he might have guided his heterogeneous team on the right lines had he been able to remain at his post. But a few months after assuming office his great mind temporarily gave way and he remained in retirement for close on two years, almost dead to the world and refusing even at the king's reiterated re quests to see him or take any part in government. At the end of 1768 he roused himself, on some slights to his own personal fol lowers, to resign the Privy Seal, but did not appear in the House of Lords till 177o, when for the first time he gave his peers a taste of that wonderful eloquence that had held the lower house spell-bound for so many years and had helped to earn for him the title of the Great Commoner. His principal subject of attack was on the conduct of the House of Commons in giving up its own privileges at the bidding of the king in the Wilkes case and in declaring that Luttrell, the candidate with a minority of votes, had been elected for Middlesex over Wilkes who headed the poll. He pressed for a dissolution to get rid of a corrupt and subservient House of Commons ; he supported the City in its protests on behalf of civil liberty; and he once more dealt with the invasion of civil liberties through general warrants. In 1770 Chatham pro posed to "infuse new health into the constitution" and neutralize its "rotten parts," the boroughs, by permitting "every county to elect one member more in addition to their present representation. The knights of the shire approach nearest to the constitutional representation of the country" : and in the following year de clared himself a convert to triennial parliaments, as a method of bringing parliament more into touch with the people. On foreign policy he sounded the alarm against the Bourbons as exemplified by Spain's high-handed seizure of the Falkland islands. But all his eloquence was to no purpose. He could not, nor was he per haps, with his dictatorial disposition the man to unite the opposi tion, and, as his speeches were unreported to the nation, where lay his strength, they made little immediate impression on his apathetic colleagues.


But the chief care of his last years was America. Though the Stamp Act had been repealed, largely as a result of a speech from Pitt, yet his own chancellor of the exchequer, Townshend, during Chatham's illness, had imposed other trifling duties, which brought in little revenue to England but irritated the Americans just as much as if they had been a serious financial burden. Attempts to enforce the obnoxious taxes led to violence in America, and repressive measures were adopted by the English government ; by 1775 it had come to war.

Chatham from the outset laid down the principle that while the imperial parliament might legitimately impose duties for the regu lation of imperial trade, any tax levied solely on the Americans should only be voted by the Americans themselves. But Chatham's pleas against the government policy went far beyond legal dis tinctions. He loved the Americans for their British independence of spirit and he knew from his own experience in the war that they only needed appeals to their sense of justice and to their patriotism to become a "willing, giving people." "I rejoice that America has resisted," he told the House of Commons at the time of the Stamp Act : at this graver crisis, he told the Peers that "it is not repealing this act of parliament, it is not repealing a piece of parchment, that can restore America to our bosom ; you must repeal her fears and her resentments; and you may then hope for her love and gratitude." But he broke away from the Whigs when they were prepared to recognize the independence of America, even when she had cast in her lot with England's secular enemy, France ; and he made his dying speech in the House of Lords in protest against any such diminution of an empire based on freedom, which he had done more than any living man to exalt. A few days later, of ter his collapse in the House of Lords, he died at his beloved country house at Hayes in Kent on May II, 1773.

Broken by illness as he was during the last 15 years of his life and of ten almost despairing of his country, at least he was su premely happy in his private life, whether at Hayes in Kent, the house that he bought in 1756, sold ten years later, and bought again in 1767, or at Burton Pynsent in Somersetshire, left to him with an estate worth some £3,000 a year by Sir William Pynsent, a man who admired his services to the country but whom he had never seen. Here he was never too busy to train his five children to his own standard of love and service to England, finding in "the young statesman" William a readiness to follow in his own footsteps,—or to enter into their childish games or more dignified amusements such as private theatricals on classical subjects.

As an orator he was perhaps the greatest that England has pro duced, as one may guess even from the indistinct fragments that have come down to us by surreptitious reporting. Even in reading them one can understand something of what Charles Butler meant when he said that "every hearer was impressed with the conviction that there was something in him even finer than his words, that the man was infinitely greater than the orator"; while Grattan said of him : "He lightened upon the subject and reached the point by the flashings of his mind, which, like those of the eye, were felt but could not be followed." As a statesman his greatness was not only in the executive ability and clear vision of objectives which he manifested in his glorious five years as Secretary of State ; but even more in the lessons he taught his countrymen, unheeding though they were at the time, of the spirit in which this empire of theirs was to be governed if it was to survive. BIBLIOGRAPHY.-J. Almon, Anecdotes of Chatham 3 vols. (1798, 6th ed.) chiefly inspired by Grenvilles; Rev. F. Thackeray, Life of Chatham, 2 vols. (1827) dull, but useful documents; Chatham Corre spondence, ed. W. S. Taylor and J. H. Pringle, 4 vols. (1839) selection from Chatham mss. now in Record Office; Correspondence of W. Pitt w. Colonial Governors, ed. J. S. Kimball, 2 vols., N.Y. 0900) invaluable for understanding Pitt's work as Secretary of State; A. von Ruville, William Pitt Graf von Chatham 3 vols. (Stuttgart, 1905) , English trs., 3 vols. (1907) , admirable for discovery of facts, but wrongheaded in judgment ; Lord Rosebery, Chatham, Early Life and Connections (191o) has early letters not found elsewhere; D. A. Winstanley, Personal and Party Government and Lord Chatham and the Whig Opposition (1912). Basil Williams, Life of Wm. Pitt, E. of Chatham, 2 vols. (1913) containing bibliography of further books and mss. (B. WI.)

pitt, war, house, policy, newcastle, king and america