William Pitt (the Younger)

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Napoleon was not the only young leader of a state in his time:

William Pitt (the Younger) 1759-1806, was Prime Minister of England during most of the years between 1784 and 1805, and thus was France’s, and Napoleon’s, chief opponent. He entered Parliament at age 22 and became PM at 25. How did he manage it so young? His father was a former PM, who did not send the boy to school but reared him to be an orator and politician. Pitt entered Parliament when the Tory ministry in power was disgraced by defeats in America; and the opposition Whigs were split between Old Whigs and a Young Whig faction that Pitt’s father had led. Pitt joined neither, but began by fighting loudly for parliamentary reform, refusing office until the King gave him carte blanche.

He carried through a series of  government reforms, raising the House of Commons above the House of Lords, making the head of the Treasury supreme in government, and sharply reducing electoral corruption; government sinecures were abolished, revenue was rationalized by reforms in taxation and trade duties, finances were put in order, thereby enabling the huge military effort against France. In many respects Pitt paralleled what the French Revolution and Napoleon accomplished organizationally. Here again the “Great Man” emerges when large structural changes, long-proposed, are finally brought about by a super-energetic and impressive leader.

Pitt could impose his will, just as Napoleon could, because he had a clear goal and a sense that his quarreling compatriots could not carry it. Their micro-interactional skills were different; Pitt the master of swaying parliamentary factions by oratory; Napoleon the master of command in war and of holding together all the threads of organization. Both rose rapidly to the top in a political arena riven by multiple conflicts, which they resolved by a strong course of action that pulled others along with them. And both were workaholics, Pitt if anything even more so; he never married, apparently had no sexual interests, and avoided society. He was worn out and died as soon as he left office, aged 47; almost exactly the age that Napoleon was overthrown.



  1. Bruce says:

    Parkinson thought the British had no chance against Napoleon as long as Pitt was in office.

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