You Are There: Season 3, Episode 4

William Pitt's Last Speech to Parliament (19 Sep. 1954)

TV Episode  -   -  Drama | History
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19 September 1954 (USA)  »

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The Last of Lord Chatham
26 November 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

William Pitt the Elder was a remarkable leader - probably the most forceful political personality of the British Parliament between 1750 and 1770. His heyday was when he became the real center of the government in the French and Indian War (1757 - 1763), but once the war was over he failed to keep the momentum. He did serve as Prime Minister again briefly in the late 1760s, but his health was fading slowly, and he had a difficult time with his fellow politicians.

Pitt was one of the few political figures of stature (Edmund Burke was another) who tried to find a constructive solution for the relationship problems that were growing between the American Colonies and Great Britain about the costs of the war, of the larger empire, and taxes. Pitt felt the colonies were too valuable to jeopardize on matters of taxes, but he admitted that the supremacy of Parliament had to be defended. Like Burke he hoped that reason would triumph, but the situation was going far out of his hands or those of other reasonable men.

Then war finally came, and Pitt became the leading critic of the war in the House of Lords (he had been made Earl of Chatham). He gave speeches attacking the government of Lord North and it's mishandling of the situation leading to the current military situation. But finally there was a breaking point for Pitt and the colonies. When Franklin signed the treaty of alliance with France, Pitt (ever the enemy of France) felt his work had been betrayed. Still he made one last speech urging moderation and restraint to try to lure the colonies back to Britain. A few weeks after he collapsed and died in Parliament. Legend usually says his collapse occurred as the speech ended, but it was not the case (a painting of the event shows him dying that way). Despite his work and Burke's the colonies did not reverse themselves and return to the empire.


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