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Take it away, Andrew. The thing that Americans assume about King George the third was that he was a tyrant. And we know that because he was mentioned as being unfit to be the ruler of a free people in the Declaration of Independence. The Common Sense pamphlet that was written by Tom Paine describes him as the royal brute of Britain. And of course, we also know that he was an absurd sort of camp but sinister and sadistic figure from Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit musical, Hamilton the American Musical. None of this is right.
None of this is true. He was not a tyrant. He was in fact a constitutional monarch. He believed in limited government, limited monarchy, never believed in the divine right of kings and so on and never vetoed an act of parliament in his life.
George the third was born in June 1738, the son of the Prince of Wales, Prince Frederick, and his mother, Princess Augusta. It was a very rural society, about 80% of people took their livings from agriculture. It was a very hierarchical society with a small aristocracy at the top and an awful lot of working people at the bottom of society. It was an old-fashioned, in a sense, society because this was before the Industrial Revolution.
And it was a country at war for much of its time for the next hundred years, primarily with France. George the third had a very wide education for the day. He had tutors who taught him much more widely and indeed deeply than the schoolboys of the day, even at the best public schools in Britain. One of the things that he was required to do by his tutor, the Earl of Bute, was to write essays about historical and constitutional issues and it was a very wide-ranging education.
And we can tell from these essays that he had a true belief in limited constitutional monarchy. He was totally opposed to the slave trade and to slavery. It was very remarkable that in the 1750s, when low country in the world had outlawed slavery, and an awful lot of them were practising slavery right the way across the globe, that the Prince of Wales should be writing essays, really holding the concept of slavery in execration, as he put it.
He said that the arguments for it was absurd. And this had a major effect on him later on because he didn't buy or sell a slave in his life, he never invested in the companies that did that, and ultimately he signed the legislation that abolished the slave trade. George III was a good-natured, charming, intelligent person. He was very much in love with his wife, which was extremely unusual in the Hanoverian family, which was otherwise an extremely dysfunctional group of kings. George III was a believing, pious, practising Anglican. He did believe that the Christian faith was something that needed to permeate every aspect of his life, and it did. And he felt that he had a close connection to the Almighty. He much preferred talking to bishops than talking to politicians.
He went to church every Sunday and enjoyed it. The Seven Years' War, which started actually here in America before the official outbreak in 1756, continued until 1763 and was fought by Britain and Prussia and the American colonies on one side versus pretty much the rest of Europe, Russia, Austria, France primarily. So it was a world war.
It's sometimes called by historians the First World War because it continued on several continents right the way through to the East Indies, and it was a tremendous victory for the British-led coalition, to the point that in the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the French were flung off the North American continent altogether. The war was tremendously expensive. It doubled the national debt in Britain. George III, he had a very conservative with a small c view of the national debt.
He thought it was the moral duty of the government to try to pay it down as much as he could. And so in an attempt, two years after the war, to try to get the Americans to help defray the expenses of it, or at least defray the expenses of troops that were stationed in North America, because every penny of the Stamp Act was going to be spent in North America. They tried to bring in this act of parliament which would raise taxes on printed paper. The Stamp Act was intended only to raise a very small amount of money, between 40 and 50 thousand pounds, which worked out as, between the 2.5 million Americans, as only about two shillings and sixpence per American per year. But it wasn't really the level of the Stamp Act so much as the principle of it, because for the last hundred years or so, the British had not imposed internal duties. There had been trading dues, of course, and they had been around since the time of Oliver Cromwell, but this was a departure and one that the Americans were not going to put up with.
It was also quite unfortunate that the people who were most hit, most heavily hit by the Stamp Act, namely solicitors, lawyers, journalists, were also, and always have been, and indeed are today, the most vocal people in society. America deserved independence by the 1760s and early 1770s. It was a country of 2.5 million people, it had 7% year on year growth, a really burgeoning economy, it had more bookshops in Philadelphia than in any other city of the empire, except for London.
It also had no external French threat, so the nearest French army was a thousand miles away in Haiti. So it was the right time for America to become self-governing, and at the same time the British government passed a proclamation saying that the 13 colonies could not expand over the Allegheny Mountains westwards. And so it essentially preserved the whole of the American continent west of the Alleghenies as one gigantic Native American reservation essentially. And this was something that a lot of the founding fathers who had shares in speculative land deals, especially in the Ohio River Valley, were not going to put up with. So these things all coming together, created by the mid to late 1760s, an intellectual movement in America that understood that the best thing for the country was to become a country and a self-governing one. The truly important factor in the creation of the American Revolution was not issues over taxation and representation, frankly both the South Carolinian and the Virginian delegates to the Stamp Act Congress were told not to accept representation if it were offered. But it was about sovereignty, it was about who ultimately was in control of the laws that were passed in America, and when American local legislatures could be vetoed by the London Parliament, that was something that went to the heart of whether or not America was going to become a sovereign nation. And you're listening to Andrew Roberts tell a story, heck I know a lot about history and it was revealing to me, and by the way we're still having the same arguments about sovereignty, about who decides and who pays, even here in this country with a distant power, at least as many people see it, called Washington D.C.
When we come back, more of this remarkable storytelling, Andrew Roberts telling the story of the last King of America, King George III, here on Our American Stories. Consistent. A community.
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Visit circle.com slash podcast. These days, the impact of climate change is a concern for everyone. It's a situation that demands urgent action. And the folks at Panasonic are making the well-being of the planet a top priority by launching the Panasonic Green Impact Initiative, a company commitment to achieve net zero in-house carbon emissions by the year 2030.
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Learn more about Panasonic Green Impact at Panasonic.com. This week on Leguizamo Does America, John Leguizamo visits Miami to find out how this city became a mecca for Cubans leaving their homeland. Since the Cuban Revolution, Cubans have been flocking to Miami any way they could.
Boats, planes, and rafts. Little Havana is filled with crazy amounts of Latinx everything, but the best part is the people. Leguizamo Does America, all new episode Sunday April 23rd at 10pm Eastern on MSNBC and streaming on Peacock. You won't put it down.
It's terrific writing and a real suspense yarn in some ways. When we last left off, Andrew Roberts was telling us about what kind of man King George was. He hated slavery. He was a constitutional monarch. And unlike popular perception, he wasn't a tyrant. But in order for us to gain our independence, he had to be painted as one.
Let's continue with the story. Although the American founding fathers quite rightly wanted to clothe themselves in the mantle of the great revolutions of 1642 against Charles I and 1688 against James II, that required trying to straight jacket George III into being a Stuart absolutist monarch, which he absolutely was not. And so instead they needed to try to turn him into a tyrant, which he also was not. We know what tyrants did in the late 18th century. One only had to look at Russia or Austria or Prussia, what the Spanish were doing in the Orleans, what the French were doing in Corsica to see what despotism looked like in the 18th century. And George III was doing none of that. He never arrested an American editor, closed an American newspaper, he didn't station armies in the American cities except for Boston after 1768.
He was not a tyrant in the 18th century meaning of the phrase, which was cruel or despotic. The Boston Tea Party was an attempt in December 1773 to keep the price of tea high for those Bostonian merchants, many of whom were also smugglers, to profit from. And the British government wanted to allow the dumping essentially of huge amounts of tea from the East India Company, which was going bankrupt at the time.
This would have been very good for American consumers of tea because they would pay much less for their tea. This wasn't good at all for the Bostonian merchants who had their men attack the ships that were bringing the tea into the harbour and threw 9,000 pounds in weight of tea, tons and tons of tea, into the harbour. So this encouraged the Lord North Government back in London to pass various tough acts called the Intolerable Acts in America, the Coercive Acts in Britain against the port of Boston and the province of Massachusetts Bay. And the King was told that by the Royal Governors that the other provinces would not stand by Massachusetts and it was one of many, many appallingly bad pieces of advice that he got from his men on the ground. It was always disastrous when the Royal Governors and other important people, just like General Sir Thomas Gage, the Commander in Chief of the British Army in America, told the King that the Americans would react meekly to the Coercive Acts. He couldn't have got it more wrong, in fact they reacted with fury and also in a unified way. Once the Declaration of Independence was published, famously on the 4th of July 1776, the reaction across the 13 colonies was immediate and on the 9th of July the King's statue in the Bowling Green in southern Manhattan was pulled down, melted down to create 44,000 lead bullets for the Continental Army. And right the way across the colonies his Royal Insignia was taken down and burnt, he was burnt in effigy, the names of various colleges and streets and even cities was changed to get rid of British monarchical nomenclature.
So it was a really very powerful and immediate response. The British people split on a number of different lines, on religious lines, the Anglicans being more in favour of the war, the dissenters against it, on class lines, it tended to be a much more middle class thing to be in favour of the war, the working classes didn't much like the idea. And also interestingly regional lines, some counties supported it, other counties didn't. In America some one third of the population were loyalists, they didn't want the war to break out at all, quite a lot of them actually raised arms against the Patriot cause and the Continental Army.
So it was an element of civil war as well which explains the atrocities, in all civil wars you get much worse atrocities than in normal state on state wars. In order to try to subdue the 13 colonies the British had to send an army which never exceeded 50,000 men and for most of the war was between 30 and 35,000 men which was nothing like enough for an enormous country of 1800 miles from top to toe. It was a force that had to be given one third of a ton of supplies per man and so that also was a tremendously difficult logistical problem to get that across the Atlantic, 3,000 miles of the Atlantic with the Royal Navy, especially when later on in the war these ships were being attacked.
And it's always very dangerous to fight against people who actually use their marksmanship to put food in their children's mouths and that was true of an awful lot of Americans. The actual marksmanship was something that the British Army was not prepared for, they were the American militiamen, minutemen and later Continental Army soldiers were an awful lot better than the British were expecting them to be. The British had a strategic plan, really the only workable strategic plan of the war from the British side, which was to send Sir William Howe up the Hudson Valley from New York with one force. At the same time Sir John Burgoyne came down from Canada to Albany with another and they were going to meet and thereby secure the Hudson Valley and cut off the New England colonies from the rest of the 13 colonies and that, if it had come off, might have won the war. But Sir William Howe veered off eastwards and captured Philadelphia and that led to Sir John Burgoyne being captured at Saratoga in October 1777. At the time of the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga the public opinion, which hitherto hadn't really mattered very much in British politics, suddenly became an extremely important aspect and it turned against the war.
The radical Whigs in Parliament openly sided with the Americans, they wore blue and buff clothes, which was the colour of the Continental Army officers and was a highly difficult moment for the whole of the British political set up. The government essentially was in very great danger of falling. And you're listening to Andrew Roberts tell a heck of a story and it's true it was our first civil war.
More from Andrew Roberts, the book The Last King of America, go to Amazon or the usual suspects and buy it, after these messages. Music. Music. Music. Music. Music.
Music. This week on Leguizamo Does America, John Leguizamo visits Miami to find out how this city became a Mecca for Cubans leaving their homeland. Since the Cuban revolution, Cubans have been flocking to Miami any way they could. Boats, planes and rafts. Little Havana is filled with crazy amounts of Latinx everything, but the best part is the people.
Leguizamo Does America, all new episode Sunday April 23rd at 10 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC and streaming on Peacock. Music. And we continue with Our American Stories in our final segment on the story of the last king of America, King George III. When we last left off, Britain was in crisis as public perception on the war began to turn and things were about to get worse for Britain. Here again is Andrew Roberts with the rest of the story.
Music. What happened then was that the French got involved in the war in February 1778. The French are always there when they need you. And in 1780 the Spaniards declared war and in 1780 also the Dutch. So the British were suddenly fighting a world war against these three major European powers which turned the whole of the American War of Independence into a colonial backwater whilst we fought for our very existence. There was one point in 1779 when a Franco-Spanish fleet with 30,000 men was about to land in Britain and invade Britain.
So instead of having 50,000 men in America we had to drop that down to 35,000 and just stay in the eastern seaboard cities that we'd already held by that stage. We were to capture Charleston in 1780 which in many ways was the greatest British victory of the war. But it didn't change the overall balance of forces because the war was being fought in Gibraltar and in the East Indies and the West Indies, Africa and so on. There were any number of reasons why the American War of Independence was lost by the British.
Some military historians, including me in fact, think that it couldn't have ever been won after the escape of George Washington from Manhattan. If the Battle of Bunker Hill hadn't been such an extremely expensive Pyrrhic victory for the British, if Valley Forge had gone differently and there were more desertions and the sublime, charismatic leadership of George Washington had either not been there or not been so impressive, then there was a chance of that rebellion being smothered in its cradle. However, by the time that he had got through the Valley Forge months it was pretty much, and especially when the French turned the whole thing into a world war, it's so much more difficult to fight on more than one front. There were also lots of other problems in that the British War Office hated the Admiralty and vice versa, lots of the generals all hated each other, the generals often hated the admirals and vice versa.
It was quite extraordinary the amount of internal bickering that went on, especially of course when it looked like it was going to be a losing war. Once the British were fighting a war not just on two fronts but on five or six fronts, the torrent was just too strong and George III took a long time to recognise that actually we were going to lose the 13 colonies, that they were going to become independent, and that the sooner the war ended the more likely it was that we weren't going to lose any more colonies, as it was we did lose some, but it was a question of drawing a line before the situation got even worse. The defeat was the most catastrophic strategic reverse for Britain between the loss of the Angevin lands in the 15th century and the fall of France in 1940. It was deeply humiliating for the King, it brought down the Lord North Government, it was expensive both in blood and treasure, and of course the Loyalists, over 80,000 of them had to flee the United States, and they got out with their lives, many of them, and escaped to Canada from where they helped build the second British Empire in India and Africa and elsewhere. It was also very fortunate that the slaves who had escaped from their masters, including those who belonged to George Washington, a couple of them, were also allowed off in the British ships from New York to Canada, and so were not forced to return to their servitude. But actually when one looks at the Germain clan, at the low level of recruitment, at the hatred, mutual jealousies and bickering between the departments and so on, and indeed the just sheer width of the Atlantic, none of these were George III's fault.
He can indeed slightly be faulted over the low recruitment actually because of some decisions that he supported, but this was the Lord North Ministry getting things wrong constantly and also the generals not even supporting the plan that they put their names to. So, you know, it's very often that King George III is blamed for losing the American War of Independence, but of the ten or so factors that did lose Britain that war, he was only really marginally involved in one of them. I think that the real genius of the American founding was that the founding fathers did something totally exceptional in history, because there are any number of other countries and peoples throughout history who have escaped oppression and set up their own country and founded their own sovereignty.
One thinks of the Israelites escaping from the Egyptians, the Spanish fighting the Dutch, the Austrians and the Italians, the Turks and the Greeks. In each case these were oppressive forces and the other people escaped from oppression. What America did was to demand its own freedom and independence and sovereignty from a power that was not oppressing it, from a king who was not a tyrant. In any way that you can use the term, you know, he was not cruel, he was not despotic, but he was somebody who had to go because America was ready for its own independence and that was proved to have been absolutely the right decision for America because a century later you were the most powerful nation in the world. I think that the takeaway message is that America's demand for autonomy was more important and more powerful than anything else, and certainly that George III's so-called tyranny has to be seen in that light. He was not a tyrant, the declaration was wrong when it said that he was unfit to be the ruler of three people because he was the ruler of Britain and we were a free people at the time. Article 2 of your constitution invests huge amounts of power in your president and I noticed last April the Harvard Law Review argued very convincingly that in fact the present American president, the imperial presidency as it has grown to become, is in fact much more powerful than George III was as King of England.
So unless you believe that the imperial presidency of today is a tyranny, then I don't think that you can continue to believe that George III was one. And the King had learnt a lot of the lessons really of the American War of Independence. So in the French Revolutionary and subsequently Napoleonic Wars, Britain was in a much better state, military. In fact there's nothing better for an army than to lose a war in time for the next one because people learn from the necessity of defeat far better than from anything else. So by the Napoleonic Wars we had people who were officers who were able to be chosen on their talents rather than how rich they were or where they came from in society. And we had one thing that George learned was how important it was to stick to the war. We didn't trust the French Royalists who, like the Loyalists in America, never really amounted to as much as was hoped for.
And so overall it was a better war for Britain to fight and not least of course it was against the French. The King was on the throne for longer than any other King of England. He was on the throne for nearly 60 years but the last 10 years of which was a regency because he had gone blind and deaf and he was also senile and he was mad. So the last decade of his life from 1810 to 1820 is a very sad and pathos-ridden one where he was in Windsor Castle and no one came to visit him.
He played the harpsichord to himself and couldn't even hear the music. Writing of Great Britain in the King's obituary in the Times it said, under the guidance of George III she held fast by the laws and religion of her ancestors and escaped the vortex of the French Revolution on the edge of which she stood. And in December 1768 John Wesley wrote, his whole conduct, both in private and in public ever since he began his reign, the uniform tenor of his behaviour, the general course both of his words and actions, has been worthy of an Englishman, worthy of a Christian and worthy of a King. And a special thanks on the production to Monty Montgomery and a special thanks to Andrew Roberts, the book The Last King of America, go to Amazon and The Usual Suspects and pick up a copy. And my goodness what a story about what we were really fighting about and for, which was our autonomy. It wasn't about money, it was about us deciding for ourselves who we were and who we would become.
In the end, the story of America, here on Our American Stories. The impact of climate change demands urgent action. And the folks at Panasonic are making the well-being of the planet a top priority by launching the Panasonic Green Impact Initiative, a company commitment to achieve net-zero in-house carbon emissions by the year 2030.
And that's just the beginning. Through this initiative, Panasonic is making the systemic changes necessary to combat the climate crisis, creating next-gen battery storage, leveraging renewable energy and driving EV solutions. Join Panasonic in helping to create a greener, more equitable future.
Learn more about Panasonic Green Impact at Panasonic.com. I'm Malcolm Gladwell. I live way out in the country. I drive everywhere.
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