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A study of the Pitts, American allies in Parliament

By Tom Glendinning
Posted Friday, May 2, 2014

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Pittsboro, NC - I was inspired to research the Pitt family contribution to early American history. I was impressed with several things. Pitt the Elder was a Whig and found that conservative link to Americans against unfair taxation, the Stamp Act, and quartering troops. Pitt the Younger was a fiscal conservative and yanked England from a pit of debt, saved the pound, and was against slavery. Both friends of America. Impressive for Brits at that time.

William Pitt the Elder

William Pitt the Elder, 1708-1778, holder of many offices, including paymaster on the privy council and Secretary of State for the Southern Department, eventually won a seat in the House of Commons. His early positions under King George II proved so effective in foreign and strategic policies that England successfully occupied France on the German front, weakened France to the point of helping to inspire the revolution, and gained new territory in the new world. Pitt the Elder then fell afoul of King George III, who succeeded to the throne in 1760. He resigned in 1761. From outside, he opposed the cider tax, the changes in strategies in foreign affairs, and the question of general warrants. The American Stamp Act was passed in 1765 along with the Quartering Act, leading to the 1 article and the 3 and st rd 4th amendments of the American Constitution.

In 1766, after several entreaties to serve again, Pitt regained a seat on the House of Lords, along with the title Earl of Chatham and Viscount Pitt, and became prime minister. The Stamp Act was repealed, but declaration of powers over the colonies and the general warrants rule passed on the heels of the repeal. The tax on tea was passed without his consultation in 1767. He resigned again in 1768.

Recalled in 1770, he resumed his seat. He fought diligently for fundamental liberties - no taxation without consent, independent judges, trial by jury, along with the recognition of the American Continental Congress. Though he lost the issue with the Lords, he gained popularity among colonists. In 1778, he appeared for the last time, pleading with the king to secure peace with the colonies as any cost. He passed later that year, having served his country for most of his life. The speech given to the House of Lords in January, 1775 was his most noted presentation of the main issues between England and America. Taxation by consent, equal power of legislatures, property rights, is expressed in a quotation, “To maintain this principle is the common cause of the Whigs on the other side of the Atlantic and on this. ‘'Tis liberty to liberty engaged,’ that they will defend themselves, their families, and their country. In this great cause they are immovably allied: it is the alliance of God and nature,-immovable, eternal, fixed as the firmament of heaven.”

William Pitt the Younger

William Pitt the Younger, 1759-1806, led a privileged political career, as checkered as his father’s. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1781. After being stripped of his post as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he joined the opposition and gained support of his peers. In the troubled times between 1776 and 1783, Britain lost the war with the colonies, fell on hard financial times and was plagued with corruption. After this tumult, the king appointed Pitt the Younger as Britain’s youngest prime minister for his work on the coalition of the opposition in Parliament.

He solved fiscal insolvency by instituting new taxes and establishing a sinking fund to raise interest. In 1790, by means of an alliance with Prussia and Holland, he forced possession of the western coasts of North and South America to Britain’s control. In 1791, England gained control of “upper Canada,” territories outside Quebec. Further, in the troubled 1790's, Pitt oversaw the conversion of gold based system to fiat currency, the first income tax, and the dissolution of alliances, leaving England facing France alone and the Irish rebellion. The Act of Union of 1801, created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In conflict with the king over Catholic emancipation, he resigned that same year.

He returned as prime minister in 1804, forming a coalition with Russia, Austria and Sweden, aided in popularity by Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. Serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he built economic strength, doubled the naval ships, multiplied naval forces by eight times, and gained the faith and confidence of industry and commerce. Though the national debt was twice the GDP, taxpayers and investors willingly backed the whole cost of war, which dealt a fatal blow to the French under Napoleon.

Passing away in 1806, he was heralded as a hero by conservatives. He had rehabilitated Britain’s economy after the loss of the colonies, instituted taxes, converted currency to the pound, and, in his honor, brought the Slave Trade Act of 1807, in his honor.

The two Pitts, father and son, had presided over the era of American independence, other troubling times and established the dominance of England in foreign affairs. William Pitt the Elder was a champion of the American people for his stand on taxation, property rights and equality of sovereignty in negotiations of the two countries. Both Pitts aided Britain and America through policy and fiscal practices.

William Pitt the Elder was honored for his resistance to King George III in name of our county and by the name of the town of Pittsboro, as are other governments on the east coast. However, this is our legacy.

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A study of the Pitts, American allies in Parliament
William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham PC.

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