Pitt the Younger was British prime minister during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars and helped to define and strengthen the office of the prime minister.
William Pitt was born on 28 May 1759 in Kent, the son of the earl of Chatham (William Pitt the Elder), himself a famous statesman. Pitt studied at Cambridge University, graduating when he was 17. In early 1781, he was elected to parliament aged 21. In 1782, he became chancellor of the exchequer. The following years were marked by the battle between George III and the radical Charles Fox, whom the king detested. Matters deteriorated when Fox forged an alliance with the previously loyal Lord North. The two men defeated the government and George was forced to ask them to take control. Fox became Pitt's lifelong political rival.
In December 1783, George III dismissed their coalition and asked Pitt to form a government. 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 Fox in again. 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 Indepence and later by war with France. Pitt imposed new taxes - including Britain's first income tax - and reduced both smuggling and frauds. He also simplified customs and excise duties.
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.
In 1798, there was a rebellion in Ireland, influenced by the ideas of the French Revolution. Pitt had long felt that union of the two countries was necessary and brought in an Act of Union which came into effect in January 1801. Yet fierce royal opposition to his attempt to abolish restrictions on Catholicism in Ireland forced his resignation in 1801.
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 on 23 January 1806 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
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