William Pitt the Younger

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

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.

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  • 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.
  • 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 meat pies.
    • Lord Rosebery wrote that this story was related to him by Benjamin 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 Roseburry, "Disraeli mentioned the meat -- veal or pork I think, but I have forgotten." Reported in Rosebery, Pitt (London: Macmillan, 1891).
  • 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.

About[edit]

  • Not merely a chip of the old 'block', but the old block itself.
    • Nathaniel Wraxall, "Historical Memoirs of My Own Time", part 2.
    • Edmund Burke's reaction to Pitt's maiden speech in Parliament. The 'old block' was William Pitt the Elder.

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