How Did Pitt the Younger Become Famous?
Britain’s youngest prime minister was William Pitt (1759-1806). He accepted the post on December 19th, 1783, when he was 24, having refused the office when it was offered to him at the age of 23. William Pitt the Younger-so called to distinguish him from his father, who was also a famous statesman-freed British trade from many restrictions and remodeled the system of taxation.
He introduced Income Tax, for a short time, at two shillings in the pound and reduced both smuggling and frauds. He also simplified customs and excise duties. He was, at 24, the youngest man to become prime minister. He was immediately defeated in parliament but refused to resign. George III was prepared to abdicate rather than let the radical Charles Fox, whom the king detested in again. Fox became Pitt’s lifelong political rival.
In 1784, parliament was dissolved for a general election, which Pitt won. His government worked to restore public finances, severely strained by the cost of the American War of Independence and later by war with France. His other concerns were imperial and foreign policy. The India Act of 1784 asserted increased government power over the East India Company and the vast areas of India it controlled. But revolutionary France remained the greatest concern and in 1793, the French declared war on Britain.
During the Napoleonic Wars which began in 1793 Pitt showed qualities of determination and endurance which helped to save Britain from imminent invasion and probable defeat. At the same time he controlled industrial unrest. Pitt resigned in 1801, when George III refused to grant emancipation to the Roman Catholics in Ireland.
Three years later, with Napoleon threatening invasion, the king was forced to ask Pitt to form a government and he became prime minister again in May 1804. Thanks to Pitt’s efforts, Britain joined the Third Coalition against France (made up of Austria, Russia and Sweden) and in 1805 the British inflicted a serious defeat on the French navy at the Battle of Trafalgar.
However the Coalition collapsed and this imposed a severe strain on Pitt’s already weakened health. He died at the age of 46, three months after the Battle of Trafalgar on 23 January 1806 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.