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 in 1806. 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.



  • Most accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unnatural, unjust and diabolical.
    • Speech in Parliament on the American Revolutionary War (26 February 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?
    • Speech in the House of Commons, supporting a motion of censure on the government of Lord North (15 March 1782), quoted in William Cobbett, Parliamentary History
  • That beautiful frame of government which had made us the envy and admiration of mankind, in which the people were entitled to hold so distinguished a share, was so far dwindled and departed from its original purity, that the representatives ceased, in a great degree, to be connected with the people. It was the essence of the constitution, that the people had a share in the government by the means of representation; and its excellency and permanency was calculated to consist in this representation, having been designed to be equal, easy, practicable, and complete. When it ceased to be so; when the representative ceased to have connection with the constituent, and was either dependent on the Crown or the aristocracy; there was a defect in the frame of representation, and it was not innovation, but recovery of constitution, to repair it.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (7 May 1782), quoted in The Parliamentary Register; Or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Commons, Vol. VII (1782), p. 122. Pitt's motion for parliamentary reform was rejected by 161 votes to 141
  • 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), quoted in W. S. Hathaway (ed.), The Speeches of William Pitt in the House of Commons, Volume I (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.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (21 February 1783), quoted in John Almon and John Debrett, Register of Parliament. 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.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (21 February 1783), quoted in The War Speeches of William Pitt (1915), p. 7. Referring to 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 (2006), p. 54


  • William 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 (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.
    • Budget speech in the House of Commons (17 February 1792), quoted in The War Speeches of William Pitt (1915), p. 16. 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), quoted in W. S. Hathaway (ed.), The Speeches of William Pitt in the House of Commons, Volume I (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, quoted in Conor Cruise O'Brien, The Great Melody, 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.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (1 February 1793), quoted in The War Speeches of William Pitt (1915), p. 29


  • 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.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (18 July 1803), opposing a vote of censure on his successor Henry Addington, quoted in The War Speeches of William Pitt (1915), p. 314
  • 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.
    • Speech at the Guildhall, City of London (9 November 1805), quoted in The War Speeches of William Pitt (1915), p. 351. 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 Pitt[edit]

  • 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.
  • He was far too practical a politician to be given to abstract theories, universal doctrines, watchwords, or shibboleths of any kind. He knew of no political gospel that was to be preached in season and out of season alike. When he thought reform wholesome, he proposed it: when he ceased to think it wholesome, he ceased to propose it. Whether his memory would be claimed by Reformers or anti-Reformers was a question upon which he troubled himself very little. In the same way he urged Catholic Emancipation, even at the cost of power, when he judged that the balance of advantages was on its side. He abandoned it with equal readiness as soon as the King's strong resistance and the necessity of avoiding intestine division in the face of foreign peril had placed the balance of advantage on the other side. The same untheoretical mind may be traced in all his legislation. The great merit of his measures, so far as they had a trial, was that they were admirably calculated to attain the object they had in view, with the least possible damage to the interests which any great change must necessarily affect. Their demerit was, if demerit it be, that they were justifiable on no single theory, and were often marred by what seemed to be logical contradictions, which damaged them in argument, though they did not hinder them in practice.
    • Lord Robert Cecil, 'Lord Stanhope's Life of Pitt', The Quarterly Review, Vol. 109 (January & April 1861), p. 559
  • Were the Tories inimical to national improvement when under Pitt they first applied philosophy to commerce, and science to finance; when under their auspices the most severe retrenchment was practised in every department of the public expenditure; when a bill for the Commutation of Tithes was not only planned but printed; and when nothing but the violence of the French Revolution prevented the adoption of a matured scheme of Ecclesiastical Reform, which would not have left our revolutionary oligarchs a single pretext to veil their present plundering purpose? Why! the cry of Parliamentary Reform was first raised by a Tory minister, struggling against the bigoted and corrupt authority of the Whig oligarchy.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, Vindication of the English Constitution in a Letter to a Noble and Learned Lord (1835), p. 195
  • [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
  • [O]ur reverence for the memory of that statesman, to whom it is, in our opinion, mainly owing that those institutions are still preserved to us, and that the continuance of that policy is still within our power; that these nations now enjoy the blessings of domestic tranquillity, and that what remains of independent Europe is now leaning with confidence upon our aid. ... [T]hat great minister, who united in himself, beyond the example of all former ministers, the confidence of his fellow-subjects with the favour of his sovereign. ... [T]hose stupendous talents, of which even the most ordinary exercise was a source of wonder and delight; which resembled, in the mightiness of their force, the elementary powers of nature, and in the truth and precision of their movement, the most exquisite process of art.
    • John Hookham Frere, 'Trotter's Memoirs of the Rt. Hon. C. J. Fox', The Quarterly Review (December 1811), p. 552
  • Mr. Pitt, like other men, had his errors; and the country is still smarting for them. But I cannot refer even to the errors of so great a man without avowing my respect and veneration for his memory. [A Laugh.] Sir, I am under no obligation to profess such a sentiment; it is our right and duty to read the characters of public men in the light of history; but I say simply, because it is the truth, that I look with sincere and profound respect upon the political character and the genius of Mr. Pitt.
  • William Pitt, the greatest Parliamentary statesman whom England has produced. ... He...was...the one man upon whom, through long years of danger both from foreign and domestic enemies, a nation reposed confidence, whose removal from power was the signal for general despair, whose restoration revived the public spirit as sunrise renews the daylight, and whose death was lamented by the tears not only of personal friends and Parliamentary supporters, but by thousands who had never seen him, yet felt themselves reduced to sudden helplessness by the loss of their tried protector. Such a position as this no other man in English history has ever occupied; and this, which is wholly independent of particular measures or combinations, is Pitt's title to immortality.
    • T. E. Kebbel, A History of Toryism: From the Accession of Mr. Pitt to Power in 1783 to the Death of Lord Beaconsfield in 1881 (1886), pp. 78-79
  • 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
  • The firmness, propriety and prudence of every part of your young friends conduct must, as long as it is remembered, place him very high in the estimation of every wise and thinking man in the Kingdom.
    • Adam Smith to Henry Dundas (25 March 1789), quoted in The Correspondence of Adam Smith, eds. E. S. Mossner and I. S. Ross (1987), pp. 318-319
  • The actual occasions for war (the execution of Louis and the control of the Scheldt) came at the conclusion of twelve months which had transformed Pitt from the Prime Minister of economic retrenchment, peace, and piecemeal reform into the diplomatic architect of European counterrevolution. And this transformation was not of one man but of a class; of the patricians as well as of the commercial and manufacturing bourgeoisie who had seen in Pitt their hope for economic rationalisation and cautious political reform.
  • 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
  • [T]here was one man, whom Providence reserved for the tempestuous age which he adorned and controuled, whose unshaken fidelity to his sovereign, whose commanding genius sustained by the most courageous resolution, whose attachment to the British constitution, equalled only by his zeal for the liberties of the civilized world, qualified him to move upon a more elevated sphere, and to be at once the admiration of the good, and the hatred of the wicked. He towered above all his competitors, and stood alone, arrayed in glory, himself an host.
    • Henry Redhead Yorke, 'To the Electors of the United Empire', Mr. Redhead Yorke's Weekly Political Review, Vol. II. Number 19 (9 May 1807), p. 354
  • The name of Pitt...is embalmed in the heart of admiring nations, with a yet holier passion; for he not only preached, but fought the good fight; and with the reverence which is paid to him as a prophet, we mingle the love which is due to the memory of a hero and a martyr. ... The gratitude of those who bless his memory forms a bond of connexion and of confidence that will not easily be disunited.
    • 'Letter on the Present State of Administration', Blackwood's Magazine, No. XX, Vol. IV (November 1818), p. 202
  • Pitt was stiff with everyone but women.
    • Contemporary joke, quoted in Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People?: England, 1783–1846 (2006), p. 53, n.

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