The Men Who Lost America: “The Tyrant”
As we transition from American History November to Holiday Gift-giving December, we are sharing a series of previews of Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s profiles of the British leaders during the American Revolution from The Men Who Lost America, beginning with King George III. Each profile looks carefully at the myths that have develop around each man and reveals their true role in losing the war.
King George III, referred to in the Declaration of Independence, and in many history classes to this day, as a “Tyrant . . . unfit to the the ruler of a free people.” O’Shaughnessy challenges this image of George III, demonstrating through exhaustive research the larger role that Parliament played in inciting the American Revolution. George III ruled England when the power of the monarchy was declining. He opposed policies which chafed at the colonists, arguing with the ministers who enacted them to make the policies more fair. Until his support of the Coercive Acts in 1774, most colonists were not displeased with the King himself. Detailing George III’s reign from coronation to death, O’Shaughnessy reveals how the King’s opinion on the Revolution changed over time, his involvement in military strategy and why John Adams and his wife loved George III, but Thomas Jefferson hated him.
Preview O’Shaughnessy’s profile of George III in the following excerpt.
George III did not instigate the colonial policies that triggered the American Revolution. The government ministers, not the king, were the architects of those policies, whose origins predated his reign. When he ascended the throne, George III was politically inexperienced. Throughout the 1760s he was preoccupied with the problem of forming a stable government. The king appointed the ministers of the government—the most significant of the political powers remaining to the monarchy—but his choices were confined to men who were able to command majority support in Parliament, and were governed by domestic rather than imperial considerations.
George III not only did not initiate the policies that led to the breakdown in imperial relations, but he was even a restraining influence on some of the more extreme measures proposed by his ministers. His first statement about affairs in America recommended that the colonies receive proper compensation for their expenses in the French and Indian War. He discouraged George Grenville’s government from including a clause in the Quartering Act (1765) that permitted the billeting of soldiers in private houses in America. He later remarked that the Stamp Act was “abundant in absurdities,” having “first deprived the Americans, by restraining their trade, from the means of acquiring wealth, and (then) taxed them.” He supported the conciliatory colonial policies advocated by the Duke of Grafton’s ministry in 1769.
George III advised against the more draconian proposals of Lord Hillsborough, the secretary of state for America. He agreed that the abolition of elections for the Council of Massachusetts Bay might indeed “from a continuance of their conduct become necessary; but till then ought to be avoided as altering Charters is at all times an odious measure.” He similarly advised against the proposal to abolish assemblies that denied the absolute sovereignty of Parliament. He argued that such action was “of so strong a nature that it rather seems calculated to increase the unhappy feuds that subsist than to assuage them.” He cautioned that colonial governors “ought to be instructed to avoid as much as possible giving occasion to the Assemblies again coming on the apple of discord.” He suggested that a hint be given that colonies that submitted to the Townshend Duties (1767) might be exempted from the tax on tea. He had been willing to grant such a favor to Virginia and the British West Indies in 1769, but desisted because “the Virginians were so offensive the last Spring.”
It was not until the Boston Tea Party (1773) that George III suddenly became actively involved in the growing imperial crisis in America. He became more vehement from the conviction that the crisis had been caused by too much lenience towards the colonies. He regretted that Britain had previously indulged them by repealing the Stamp Act in 1766. Believing that any concessions were likely to be interpreted as a sign of weakness and that they would only encourage further demands, he was against appeasement of the colonies. He was much impressed by the advice of the commander of the British army in America, General Thomas Gage, that “they will be lyons, whilst we are lambs; but, if we take the resolute part, they will undoubtedly prove very meek.” He denied wishing to use force, but argued that it was the only means of success.
Copyright © 2013 by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy. All rights reserved.
This month we will share and excerpt from O’Shaughnessy’s profile of Charles, Earl Cornwallis in The Men Who Lost America. Be sure to subscribe to the blog using the form in the sidebar for e-mail updates on new posts!