William Pitt

On this date in 1708, statesman and first Earl of Chatham, William Pitt, was born in England and educated at Eton and Oxford. He entered Parliament at age 27 in 1735. After one of his speeches in 1736 offended the King, Pitt was dismissed from the army. He continued eloquent calls for reform in the House of Commons, served several prestigious posts, and in 1756 was named a Secretary of State and became leader of the House. Pitt, known as "the Great Commoner," was England's most powerful politician by 1760, and was known for his honesty. The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was named for Pitt, who served as wartime Prime Minister during the 7 Years' War against the French in the colonies. Pitt argued in Parliament against the Stamp Act, and introduced many measures to placate the Americans, which were all voted down, such as recalling British troops from Boston. Pitt advised: "You cannot conquer the Americans." The King consequently called Pitt "a trumpet of sedition." Pitt was believed by some to be author of an unsigned "Letter on Superstition," published in the London Journal in 1733, and reprinted with his name in 1873 by Austin Holyoake, calling for a "religion of reason." Biographer Basil Williams, in his Life of William Pitt (1913), disputes this claim. Yet Williams' research found that Pitt was a Deist with "a simple faith in God," who wrote a "fierce denunciation" of those with a "superstitious fear of God." There is agreement Pitt had no ministration from the Church on his deathbed. "Lord C. died, I fear, without the smallest thought of God," recalled William Wilberforce, a friend of Pitt's son (Correspondence of William Wilberforce, 1840). Pitt, who suffered from gout most of his life, collapsed at age 70 during debate on granting independence to the colonies (which he opposed) and died shortly thereafter. D. 1778.

“The only true divinity is humanity.”

—Attributed to William Pitt, Letter on Superstition, 1733. (Source for all quotes: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists by Joseph McCabe)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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