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A Comparison of Pitt the Younger and Sir Robert Peel

Helen Knight, History teacher

Pitt the Younger was an eighteenth-century Prime Minister who arguably was very forward thinking for his time. Sir Robert Peel was a nineteenth century Prime Minister who has been seen as the founder not only of the modern Conservative Party but also as the man responsible for beginning the move towards free trade. Nearly fifty years separated their two ministries but both are remarkably similar. Therefore was the great statesman Peel, as many see him, simply using eighteenth century politics to suit nineteenth century needs and were the reforms of the 1840s really therefore as radical as they first appear? Furthermore, were Pitt's policies so remarkable that they were still influencing politicians nearly half a century afterwards?




Born May 1759 February 1788
Died January 1806, aged 46 July 1850, aged 62
Father The Earl of Chatham, a very able MP and Secretary of State, but left much to be desired as Prime Minister. Sir Robert Peel, an MP who spoke for Robert Owen and introduced the 1802 Apprentices Act and the 1819 Cotton Mills and Factories Act.
Marital status Single. Married Julia Floyd in 1820.
Education In 1773 He was sent to Cambridge to study Classics, Mathematics, English History and Political Philosophy.
In 1778 Pitt entered Lincoln's Inn to study Law.
In 1800 he went to Harrow School.
In 1805 he became an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford where he studied a degree in Literae Humaniores, Mathematics and Physics.
First experience of Parliament Early in 1775 Pitt went to the Lords to hear Chatham speak. 1804/5 Peel went to the Commons with his father and witnessed some of the last battles between Fox and Pitt.
Early political career Stood as a candidate for Cambridge University and lost.
November 1780: offered Appleby by Sir James Lowther.
January 1781 took his seat in the Commons at the age of 21.
In 1809 he became MP for Cashel City, Co. Tipperary thanks to the patronage of his father and the recommendation of Sir Arthur Wellesley. Peel was 21.
First post 1782: Pitt refused a minor office under Rockingham.
In 1783 he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer under Shelburne. Pitt was 24.
1810 becomes Under-Secretary for War and the Colonies under Spencer Perceval.
In 1812 he became Chief Secretary for Ireland under Liverpool.
Prime Minister 1783-1801
Views on Catholic Emancipation In favour. Pitt wanted to follow up the 1801 Act of Union with Ireland with this but was refused and he resigned over the issue. Against. Peel supported Wellington's passing of the Act due to the threat of violence within Ireland but because of this he lost a lot of support and his seat at Oxford University.
Views on reform of parliament In favour. In 1785 Pitt introduced a Reform Bill that would extend the franchise and redistribute seats. The Bill was defeated. Against. Peel had relied on pocket and rotten boroughs to be elected. Also he refused to join a Tory government that supported reform, although Peel later supported the issue to a point.
Views on Free Trade In favour, up to a point. In favour.
Economic influences Influenced by Adam Smith (1776 Wealth of Nations) Many ideas had also been previously Shelburne's. David Ricardo (1817 Principles of Political Economy and Taxation) who was a disciple of Adam Smith.
Peel shared the same ideas as Huskisson.
Peel had been appointed as the Chairman on the Bullion Committee in 1819.
Economic policies 1786 Vergennes Treaty, a commercial treaty with France, reduced duties on, tea, wines, spirits and tobacco.
Window Tax was subject to graduate rise, repealed 1851. Indirect taxation was spread over many luxury goods. Reduction in Government spending.
1786 began a sinking fund .
1797 introduced Income Tax and England was put on to a paper money economy.
1820 Currency Act that saw a return to the Gold Standard.
1842 Budget abolished duties on some goods; customs duties lowered on many other goods; reintroduction of Income Tax for 3 years. Reduced the sliding scale on corn further.
1843 Budget allowed the export of machinery abroad.
1845 Budget further reduction of duties on imported goods.
1846 repealed the Corn Laws.
1844 Bank Charter Act.


Pitt the Younger and Sir Robert Peel are very similar although fifty years separated their first Ministries. Both made very important contributions to the economy in their respective time: Pitt's economic policies allowed Britain to fight and sustain the French Wars; Peel's policies allowed Britain to become one of the richest countries in the world in this period. Therefore, although it could be argued that Pitt was a very forward looking Prime Minister and that Peel was just a man of his time, both fulfilled very important roles in their period. It could also be said that Peel was influenced by Pitt. It is rumoured that Peel actually met Pitt in the House of Commons and Peel may well have modelled himself on Pitt. As Gash writes on the incident in Mr Secretary Peel,

One day, while still a schoolboy, he [Peel] was standing at the entrance to the House of Commons with his father and Samuel Oldknow, another great cotton manufacturer, when Pitt came up to them. He asked who the boy was, and when told he was Sir Robert's son, took him by the hand and led him in to the House.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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