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King George III

George Eliot says somewhere that all beginnings are make-believes. Especially is this statement found true in attempting to trace the origin of the American Revolution. Every cause assigned is at once seen to be the effect of some more remote cause, until one might go back step by step to the liberty-loving ancestors of the early Saxons in their forest home of Northern Germany. Without undertaking any work so elaborate it is the purpose of this study to show the effects of one of these causes.


All free governments have developed parties, but as the word is used at present true political parties in England did not arise till after the wars of the Puritans and Cavaliers in the seventeenth century. The men who migrated to America, with the exception of the aristocratic element that located largely in the South between 1640 and 1660, were of the party who believed in restricting the power of the king, and were opposed by the party who professed implicit faith in the divine right of kings. By the time of the accession of William of Orange the former party was recognized by the name of Whigs, while the loyal devotees of regal infallibility were called Tories.

The first king of the Hanover line, George I, was seated on his throne through a successful piece of Whig politics, so admirably described by Thackeray in Henry Esmond, and his government was conducted by a Whig minister, Robert Walpole, assisted by a Whig cabinet. The power remained in the hands of a few families, and this condition, which amounted to an aristocratic rule of "Old Whigs," lasted down to the accession of George III, in 1760. The new king, who was destined to be the last king in America, was not like his father and grandfather, a German-speaking prince who knew nothing of England and her people, but one who gloried in the name Briton. Brought up by his mother with the fixed idea he should never forget that he was king, his ambition was to restore the autocratic power of William I. or Henry II. To attain this end he set himself to overthrow the Whig party and so recall to favor the Tories, who had by this time given up their dreams of "Bonnie Prince Charlie" and Stuart restorations.

This misguided monarch, who was a model of Christian character in private life, but who in the words of a great English historian, wrought more lasting evil to his country than any other man in its history, determined first to overthrow William Pitt, the elder, the greatest statesman that the English speaking race has ever produced--that man who sat in his room in London and planned campaigns in the snow covered mountains of Silesia and the impassable swamps of Prussia, on the banks of the Hugli in India and on the Plain of Abraham in Canada, in the spicy islands of the East Indies and the stormy waters of the Atlantic, who brought England from the depths of lowest dejection to a point where the gifted Horace Walpole could say in 1759, "We must inquire each morning what new victory we should celebrate." This great man was overthrown by the king in 1761, and there came into power the extreme Tory wing, known as the "king's friends," whose only rule of political guidance was the royal wish. These men, led by the Earl of Bute, followed the king on one of the wildest, maddest courses that English partisan politics has known.

At this point we must pause and examine the constitution of the British Empire. England, Scotland, and Wales were governed by their own Parliament, but so defective was the method of representation that villages which had formerly flourished but had now fallen into decay or even like Old Sarum, were buried under the waves of the North Sea, still returned their two members to Parliament, while important cities like Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham, which had grown up in the last hundred years, were entirely unrepresented. The Whigs in England, as least the New Whigs, the progressive element, were contending for the same principle of representation that inspired the Americans. In addition to the home-land, England ruled, as colonies, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, sea fortresses, such as Gibraltar and Malta, Asiatic possessions, including in India an empire twenty times as populous as the ruling country, Canada, Jamaica, the Barbadoes, the Thirteen Colonies, etc. Our own thirteen colonies, which were not united among themselves and which were not different in the eyes of an Englishman from any other of the colonies, formed a small part geographically of the empire and had for their peculiar distinction only the larger proportion of English residents.

Furthermore, the modern idea of governing colonies for the welfare of the colonies had not yet been invented. A colony was considered as a farm or any other wealth producing piece of property. Adam Smith's epoch-making work, "The Wealth of Nations," the first serious attempt to discuss Political Economy, was not published till 1776, and in his chapter on colonies he for the first time proposed the doctrine of removing restrictions and allowing to colonies free trade and free government. It is significant of the contentions of this article that Adam Smith's book was at once read and quoted in Parliament by the leaders of the Whigs, especial attention being given to it by the young William Pitt, who was described by an enthusiastic Whig as "not a chip of the old block but the old block itself."

With this preliminary statement we can take up the course of party relations. One of the first distinctively party acts of George's reign was the Stamp Act passed against the active opposition of the Whigs; and the downfall of the Grenville ministry and the accession of the Marquis of Rockingham, the Whig prime minister, marked by the repeal of this act in 1766. In the next year, however, the Rockingham ministry fell, and Townshend, the moving spirit in the succeeding administration, carried through the series of acts that led directly to the Boston Tea Party and its momentous results.

Finally when George III, who openly proclaimed himself a Tory, succeeded in becoming supreme in the government, he called into office, in 1770, Lord George North, who for twelve years was the king's tool in carrying out a policy which he disliked. It was only his "lazy good nature and Tory principles," which led him to defer to the king's judgment and advocate the doctrine, in a far different sense from the present meaning of the words, that "the king can do no wrong." From this day it was natural that the Whigs in opposition should oppose the government measures and should identify the cause of free government in America with that in England and that every New Whig should become an enthusiastic supporter of the American contentions. In fact George and the Tory party realized that if the American theory of taxation conditioned on representation prevailed it would be necessary to yield to the demand of the New Whigs for reform in the representation in England.

This fact explains some intricate points in the politics of the time. It shows for instance why we fought a war with England and then in securing a treaty of peace conspired with our enemy, England, to wrest more favorable terms from our ally, France. We fought a Tory England, but Lord North's ministry fell when the news of Yorktown came, and we made a treaty of peace with a whig England, and the Whigs were our friends. The Whigs in Parliament spoke of the American army as "our army," Charles Fox spoke of Washington's defeat as the "terrible news from Long Island," and Wraxall says that the famous buff and blue colors of the Whig party were adopted from the Continental uniform. Even the "Sons of Liberty" took their name from a phrase struck out by Colonel Barre, the comrade of Wolfe at Quebec, in the heat of a parliamentary debate.

Illustrations of this important point might be multiplied, but it may be better to take up more minutely the career of one man and show how the conflict of Whig and Tory politics affected the actual outcome of the struggle. Lord George Howe was the only British officer who was ever really loved by the Americans, and there is today in Westminster Abbey a statue erected to his memory by the people of Massachusetts. After his death at Ticonderoga in 1758 his mother issued an address to the electors of Nottingham asking that they elect her youngest son William to Parliament in his place. William Howe, known in American history as General Howe, considered himself as the successor of his brother and as the especial friend of the Americans. When war was threatened in 1774 he told his constituents that on principle the Americans were right and that if he were appointed to go out against them he would as a loyal Whig refuse. Of course this was a reckless statement, for an officer in the army can not choose whom he will fight. He was put in supreme command in America when General Gage was recalled, but was directed by his government to carry the olive branch in one hand. That he obeyed this command, which was to his own liking, even too literally, is easily established.

There is one almost unwritten chapter in American history which I would like to leave in oblivion, but candor demands its settlement. Our people were not as a whole enthusiastic over the war, in many sections a majority were opposed to it, those who favored it were too often half-hearted in their support. Had the men of America in 1776 enlisted and served in the same proportion in which the men of the Southern States did in 1861, when fighting for their "independence," Washington would have had at all times over 60,000 in his army. As a matter of fact there never were as many as 25,000 in active service at any one time, the average number was about 4,000, and at certain critical times he had not over 1,000. General Knox's official figures of 252,000 are confessedly inaccurate, and by including each separate short enlistment make up the total enlistment for the six years, sometimes counting the same man as often as five times. At the very time when Washington's men were starving and freezing at Valley Forge the country people were hauling provisions past the camp and selling them to the British in Philadelphia.

Much more might be said, but enough for a disagreeable subject. No careful historian today will deny that considering the lack of support given to Washington and his army, the Revolution could have been crushed in the first year, long before the French alliance was a possibility, had the English shown one-half the ability of the administration in the recent South African War. Among the causes assignable for this state of incompetence the political situation deserves more attention than it has hitherto been given.

No one has ever explained Howe's inexcusable carelessness in letting Washington escape after Long Island, no one can explain his foolish inactivity during the succeeding winter, except by the fact that Howe was a Whig, his sympathies were with the Americans, the Whigs had said repeatedly that the Americans could hold out against a good army and it seemed now that they were helping fulfill their own prophecy.

It is rarely stated in our American histories that Howe was investigated by a committee of Parliament after his evacuation of Philadelphia, that he was severely condemned for not assisting Burgoyne and for not capturing Washington's starving handful of men at Valley Forge, that Joseph Galloway, the noted American loyalist, who was a member of the first Continental Congress, openly accused him of being in league with a large section of Whigs to let the Revolution go by default and to give America its independence, and that immediately after his return to England he resumed his seat in Parliament and spoke and worked in opposition to the king and in behalf of the Americans.

The case of General Howe is typical and can be duplicated in the other departments of the government. The leading Tory ministers claimed that the rebellion would have failed but for the sympathy in the House of Commons, and this charge was made in the very House itself.

It would be a gross exaggeration to say that our Revolution was merely the result of a party quarrel in England, but the unfortunate party attitude of King George III. certainly was one of the most potent causes of trouble, and the progress of the war reacted most strongly on the party situation in England. When William Pitt, the younger, at the age of twenty-five took into his hands the premiership of England in December 1783, he did it as the representative of the English people, and the revolution which began in this country was completed in the English Parliament. Up to 1776 the history of America and England flowed in the same channel, Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Pitt are ours as much as England's, and it should always be remembered that just when the countries were in the act of separating the system of George III. was shaken off and shattered by the free people of the two great Anglo-Saxon powers, and the Whig statesmen of England could join with their party friends in America in welcoming a new self-governing people to the council of nations.--American Monthly Magazine.