William Pitt was born in Westminster, England on November 15, 1708. He was the grandson of a wealthy diamond merchant. In 1727, Pitt enrolled at Oxford University, but dropped out because of a medical condition known as Gout. He traveled unsuccessfully throughout Europe for the next few years in the hopes of finding a doctor who could cure his ailment. In 1727, after the death of his father, Pitt returned to England and began his political career. In 1735, Pitt joined Parliament for the rotten borough (a city in England that had deteriorated) of Old Serum. He soon became one of its most influential members.
William Pitt quickly gained a reputation for opposition especially toward the British government and some of its officials. His animated, theatrical speeches, rebuttals, and accusations toward Parliament were apparently as persuasive as they were entertaining. He frequently spoke out about the ministry of England’s first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, and later the Earl of Granville. Although he was detested by the King, Pitt was named Postmaster General in 1755. In 1756, at the onset of the French and Indian War, Pitt was named Secretary of State. It was Pitt’s handling of the French and Indian War that sealed his place in history. After the British suffered disastrous defeats to the French in the Ohio River Valley, it was Pitt who reformulated the British strategy to attack the French from Canada. Furthermore, Pitt is credited with effectively managing the nation’s war supplies, soldier allocations, commander selection, and general morale in the war. Pitt, however, strongly opposed the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris, as well as the 1765 Stamp Act.
In 1766, Pitt was named Earl of Chatham. In essence, he was the British Prime Minister. Pitt’s reign, however, was short-lived and unsuccessful. During his tenure, he lost control of his administration, including Charles Townshend, who passed the ill-fated Townshend Act on the colonies in 1767. For the remainder of his life, Pitt spoke out for the rights of the American colonists and insisted on taking measures to promote peace. He died shortly after one of his spirited speeches on May 11, 1778. Today, the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, once at the center of the fighting during the French and Indian War, is named after him.