On June 12, 1781, William Pitt, referred to as the “Younger” to differentiate from his father, Lord Chatham, William Pitt, and former prime minister of Great Britain during the Seven Years’ War, stood up in the House of Commons.
Like his late father, Pitt spoke on a war, this time not in favor of a conflict but in opposition. Also like his father, he spoke with a passion and eloquence that marked him for future roles of higher prominence. He also stood to correct his father’s legacy in regards to the Americans which that day was referred to by other members in Parliament. His view on the current war, the American Revolution, is quite evident.
“A Noble Lord who spoke earlier has in the warmth of his zeal called this a holy war. For my part, although the Right Honorouble gentleman who made the motion, and some other gentlemen, have been more than once in the course of the debate reprehended for calling it a wicked or accursed war, I am persuaded, and I will affirm, that it is a most accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unnatural, unjust, and most diabolical
The expense of it has been enormous, far beyond any former experience, and yet what has the British nation received in return? Nothing but a series of ineffective victories or severe defeats–victories only celebrated with temporary triumph over our brethren whom we would trample down, or defeats which fill the land with mourning for the loss dear and valuable relations, slain in the impious cause of enforcing unconditional submission. Where is the Englishman who on reading the narrative of those bloody and well-fought contests can refrain from lamenting the loss of so much British blood shed in such a cause, or from weeping on whatever side Victory might be declared?”
Approximately a year and a half later, in December 1783, the 24-year old William Pitt became the prime minister of Great Britain. His tenure as prime minister, which lasted into the 19th century, would like his father’s, be marked with a war against France.
Yet, for a brief moment, in late spring, in London, William Pitt, the Younger, stood up, without preparing, as he did not intend to speak that day, and gave a passionate but reasonable response to the issue of the war with America. His closing words ring through the centuries.
Who (in Pitt’s case Englishmen but substitute whomever you’d like) “can refrain from lamenting the loss…or weeping on whatever side Victory might be declared.”