William Pitt the Younger

British Prime Minister, politician (1759-1806)

The Right Honourable William Pitt the Younger (28 May 175923 January 1806) was a British politician during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He served as Prime Minister from 1783 to 1801, and again from 1804 until his death. He is known as William Pitt the Younger to distinguish him from his father, William Pitt the Elder, who also served as Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.


  • Most accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unnatural, unjust and diabolical.
    • Speech in Parliament on the American Revolutionary War (February 26, 1781), reported in Hansard (Vol. 22), p. 487, Debate on Mr. Fox's Motion for a Committee.
  • What I have now offered is meant merely for the sake of my country, for the simple question is: will you change your Ministers and keep the Empire, or keep your Ministers and lose the Kingdom?
    • William Cobbett, "Parliamentary History".
    • Speech in the House of Commons, supporting a motion of censure on the government of Lord North, 15 March 1782.
  • I feel, Sir, at this instant, how much I had been animated in my childhood by a recital of England's victories:—I was taught, Sir, by one whose memory I shall ever revere, that at the close of a war, far different indeed from this, she had dictated the terms of peace to submissive nations. This, in which I place something more than a common interest, was the memorable aera of England's glory. But that aera is past...the visions of her power and pre-eminence are passed away...Let us examine what is left, with a manly and determined courage...Let us feel our calamities—let us bear them too, like men.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (21 February 1783), reprinted in W. S. Hathaway (ed.), The Speeches of William Pitt in the House of Commons. Volume I (London: 1817), pp. 31-32.
  • I will repeat then, Sir, that it is not this treaty, it is the Earl of Shelburne alone whom the movers of this question are desirous to wound. This is the object which has raised this storm of faction; this is the aim of the unnatural coalition to which I have alluded. If, however, the baneful alliance is not already formed, if this ill-omened marriage is not already solemnized, I know a just and lawful impediment, and, in the name of the public safety, I here forbid the banns.
    • John Almon and John Debrett, "Register of Parliament".
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 21 February 1783. Referring to the Fox-North Coalition which was already agreed in outline.
  • You may take from me, Sir, the privileges and emoluments of place, but you cannot, and you shall not, take from me those habitual and warm regards for the prosperity of Great Britain which constitute the honour, the happiness, the pride of my life, and which, I trust, death alone can extinguish.
    • "The War Speeches of William Pitt", Oxford University Press, 1915, p. 7
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 21 February 1783, on the peace treaty with the United States. Pitt, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, knew the government would lose the vote and he would have to resign.
  • Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (18 November, 1783). Compare: "And with necessity, / The tyrant's plea, / excus'd his devilish deeds", John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book iv, line 393.
  • I came up no backstairs...Little did I think to be ever charged in this House with being the tool and abettor of secret influence. The novelty of the imputation only renders it so much the more contemptible. This is the only answer I shall ever deign to make on the subject, and I wish the House to bear it in their mind, and judge of my future conduct by my present declaration: the integrity of my own heart, and the probity of all my public, as well as my private principles, shall always be my sources of action.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (12 January 1784), quoted in Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England. 1783-1846 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008), p. 54.
  • Pitt: Never fear, Mr. Burke: depend on it we shall go on as we are, until the day of judgment.
    Edmund Burke: Very likely, Sir. It is the day of no judgment that I am afraid of.
    • Conversation at a dinner in 10 Downing Street (24 September 1791), quoted in George Pellew, The Life and Correspondence of the Right Hon. Henry Addington, First Viscount Sidmouth, Volume I (London: John Murray, 1847), p. 72.
  • We must not count with certainty on a continuance of our present prosperity during such an interval [15 years]; but unquestionably there never was a time in the history of this country when, from the situation of Europe, we might more reasonably expect fifteen years of peace, than we may at the present moment.
    • "The War Speeches of William Pitt", Oxford University Press, 1915, p. 16
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 17 February 1792, introducing the Budget. His prediction was a vain hope.
  • ...we have become rich in a variety of acquirements, favoured above measure in the gifts of Providence, unrivalled in commerce, pre-eminent in arts, foremost in the pursuits of philosophy and science, and established in all the blessings of civil society; we are in the possession of peace, of happiness, and of liberty; we are under the guidance of a mild and beneficent religion; and we are protected by impartial laws, and the purest administration of justice: we are living under a system of government which our own happy experience leads us to pronounce the best and wisest which has ever yet been framed; a system which has become the admiration of the world.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (2 April 1792), reprinted in reprinted in W. S. Hathaway (ed.), The Speeches of William Pitt in the House of Commons. Volume I (London: 1817), p. 394.
  • We learn with concern, that not only a spirit of tumult and disorder has shown itself in acts of insurrection, which required the interposition of a military force in support of the civil magistrate, but that the industry employed to excite discontent has appeared to proceed from a design to attempt, in concert with persons in foreign countries, the destruction of our happy constitution, and the subversion of all order of government.
    • Address in Reply, 13 December 1792. Parl Hist xxx, 6.
    • "The Great Melody", biography of Burke by Conor Cruise O'Brien, p. 493.
  • We owe our present happiness and prosperity, which has never been equalled in the annals of mankind, to a mixture of monarchical government.
    • "The War Speeches of William Pitt", Oxford University Press, 1915, p. 29
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 1 February 1793.
  • The amount of our danger, therefore, it would be impolitic to conceal from the people. It was the first duty of ministers to make it known, and after doing so, it should have been their study to provide against it, and to point out the means to the country by which it might be averted.
    • "The War Speeches of William Pitt", Oxford University Press, 1915, p. 314
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 18 July 1803, opposing a vote of censure on his successor Henry Addington.
  • I return you many thanks for the honour you have done me; but Europe is not to be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.
    • "The War Speeches of William Pitt", Oxford University Press, 1915, p. 351
    • Speech at the Guildhall, City of London, 9 November 1805. This was Pitt's last speech in public.
  • Prostrate the beauteous ruin lies; and all
    That shared its shelter perish in its fall.
    • The Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin, No. xxxvi, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • I think I could eat one of Bellamy's mutton pies.
    • Also "I think I could eat one of Bellamy's meat pies." Both in Rosebery, Pitt. Rosebery wrote that this story was related to him by Disraeli, who heard it as a young member of Parliament by a "grim old waiter of prehistoric reputation, who was supposed to possess a secret treasure of political tradition." According to Rosebery, "Disraeli mentioned the meat -- veal or pork I think, but I have forgotten." Reported in Rosebery, Pitt.


  • Roll up that map; it will not be wanted these ten years.

Quotes about PittEdit

  • Not merely a chip of the old 'block', but the old block itself.
    • Edmund Burke's reaction to Pitt's maiden speech in Parliament; the 'old block' was William Pitt the Elder, quoted in Nathaniel Wraxall, "Historical Memoirs of My Own Time", part 2
  • Here's to the Pilot that weather'd the Storm!
    • George Canning's poem, read at a public birthday dinner in Pitt's honour at Merchant Taylors' Hall (28 May 1802), quoted in The Times (29 May 1802), p. 2
  • In attacking France Pitt preserved social order in England, and kept civilisation in the paths of that regular and gradual progress which it has followed ever since. He loved power not as an end but as a means.
    • Cavour in his early political writings, quoted in Evelyn Martinengo Cesaresco, Cavour (1904), p. 30
  • The greatest statesman of his century.
  • [W]ith that last breath expired the last hopes of this country. ... [I]t is deprived of the services of such a man whose like we shall never look upon again.
    • Earl of Essex to Viscount Lowther (23 January 1806), quoted in Historical Manuscripts Commission, The Manuscripts of the Earl of Lonsdale (1893), p. 158
  • Impossible, impossible; one feels as if there was something missing in the world—a chasm, a blank that cannot be supplied.
    • Charles James Fox's reaction to Pitt's death, recorded in Lady Bessborough to Granville Leveson-Gower (23 January 1806), quoted in Lord Granville Gower, Private Correspondence, 1781 to 1821, Vol. II, ed. Castalia Countess Granville (1916), pp. 162–163
  • From personal knowledge I am therefore enabled to state, that no Minister ever understood so well the commercial interests of the country. He knew that the true sources of its greatness lay in its productive industry, and he therefore encouraged that industry.
    • Sir Robert Peel, 1st Baronet, speech in the House of Commons (7 May 1802), quoted in The Parliamentary Register; Or, an Impartial Report of the Debates ..., Vol. III (1802), p. 36
  • Mr. Pitt had foibles, and of course they were not diminished by so long a continuance in office; but for a clear and comprehensive view of the most complicated subject in all its relations; for that fairness of mind which disposes a man to follow out, and when overtaken to recognise the truth; for magnanimity, which made him ready to change his measures when he thought the good of the country required it, though he knew he should be charged with inconsistency on account of the change; for willingness to give a fair hearing to all that could be urged against his own opinions, and to listen to the suggestions of men, whose understandings he knew to be inferior to his own; for personal purity, disinterestedness, integrity, and love of his country, I have never known his equal.
    • William Wilberforce (1806), quoted in Robert Isaac Wilberforce and Samuel Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce, Vol. III (1833), pp. 249–250
  • Pitt was stiff with everyone but women.
    • Contemporary joke, quoted in Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People?: England, 1783–1846 (2008), p. 53, n.

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