King George III
King George III
Proclamation of Rebellion
First published August 23, 1775; excerpted from Documents of American History, 1958
"All our Officers, civil and military, are obliged to exert their utmost endeavours to suppress [the colonies'] rebellion, and to bring the traitors to justice, [and] all our subjects … are bound by law … to disclose and make known all traitorous conspiracies and attempts against us, our crown and dignity…. "
King George III, from the Proclamation of Rebellion
In February 1775, King George III (1738–1820) and Parliament declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion. Two months later the first shots of the Revolutionary War rang out in Lexington, Massachusetts. The Americans created the Continental Army, and preparations for war moved forward.
News of continued American resistance infuriated King George. Never before had any British king had to endure disobedience on this scale from his subjects, who were mere commoners. In August 1775, King George issued a Proclamation of Rebellion, which declared all the colonies to be in a state of rebellion. This was the same thing as an official declaration of war against America.
King George opened his proclamation by summarizing relations between Great Britain and America as he saw them. He stated that dangerous men had misled his American subjects into forgetting the obedience and loyalty they owed their king. He said that violent protests were preventing his officials in the colonies from carrying out their duties (collecting taxes, for example). George pointed out that matters had reached the point where rebels had taken up arms against British officials.
He said that such men were traitors, and he wanted both his loyal subjects and his soldiers in America to be quite clear on what their duty was under the circumstances. His soldiers were to stop any signs of rebellion, and his subjects were supposed to help them, in part by providing British soldiers with information about the traitors in their midst.
Things to remember while reading King George's Proclamation of Rebellion:
- At the time the Proclamation of Rebellion was issued, many Americans still clung to the belief that the king had America's best interests at heart. Loyalty to the British Crown was a deeply ingrained principle, one that was not easily shaken off. The colonists were not aware that King George went along willingly with oppressive measures like the Intolerable Acts of 1774. The Intolerable Acts closed the Port of Boston, gave the British-appointed governor of Massachusetts complete control of town meetings, ordered that British officials who committed major crimes in the colonies would be tried in Great Britain, and required that the colonists house British soldiers in dwellings belonging to private citizens. Americans may have thought King George was their friend, but in reality he was pressuring his advisers to declare his subjects rebels and traitors. On August 23, King George's Proclamation of Rebellion was ready.
- In 1774, the colonies had formed a Continental Congress as a way of voicing their objections to British oppression in a united way (see chapter 2). On July 8, 1775, only six weeks before King George's Proclamation of Rebellion was passed, the Continental Congress passed the Olive Branch Petition (see p. 127) and sent it to London. The petition repeated the colonies' complaints against British oppression, but it also expressed the colonists' loyalty to King George and their desire that harmony be restored. Two pieces of news reached the colonies as Americans waited for an answer to the Olive Branch Petition: (1) King George had issued a Proclamation of Rebellion and (2) King George had refused to even look at the Olive Branch Petition. The king refused because the petition came from the Continental Congress, and he said the Congress was an illegal body.
A Proclamation by the King for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition
Whereas many of our subjects in divers parts of our Colonies and Plantations in North America, misled by dangerous and ill designing men, and forgetting the allegiance which they owe to the power that has protected and supported them; after various disorderly acts committed in disturbance of the publick peace, to the obstruction of lawful commerce, and to the oppression of our loyal subjects carrying onthe same; have at length proceeded to open and avowed rebellion, by arraying themselves in a hostile manner, to withstand the execution of the law, and traitorously preparing, ordering and levying war against us: And whereas there is reason to apprehend that such rebellion hath been much promoted and encouraged by the traitorous correspondence, counsels and comfort of divers wicked and desperate persons within this realm: To the end therefore, that none of our subjects may neglect or violate their duty through ignorance thereof, or through any doubt of the protection which the law will afford to their loyalty and zeal, we have thought fit, by and with the advice of our Privy Council, to issue our Royal Proclamation, hereby declaring, that not only all our Officers, civil and military, are obliged to exert their utmost endeavours to suppress such rebellion, and tobring the traitors to justice, but that all our subjects of this Realm, and the dominions thereunto belonging, are bound by law to be aiding and assisting in the suppression of such rebellion, and to disclose and make known all traitorous conspiracies and attempts against us, our crown and dignity; and we do accordingly strictly charge and command all our Officers, as well civil as military, and all others our obedient and loyal subjects, to use their utmost endeavours to withstand and suppress such rebellion, and to disclose and make known all treasons and traitorous conspiracies which they shall know to be against us, our crown and dignity; and for that purpose, that they transmit to one of our principal Secretaries of State, or other proper officer, due and full information of all persons who shall be found carrying on correspondence with, or in any manner or degree aiding or abetting the persons now in open arms and rebellion against our Government, within any of our Colonies and Plantations in North America, in order to bring to condign punishment the authors, perpetrators, and abetters of such traitorous designs.
Given at our Court at St. James's the twenty-third day of August, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, in the fifteenth year of our reign.
God save the King. (Commager, p. 96)
What happened next …
Still unwilling to cut all ties with King George, on December 6, 1775, the Continental Congress severed relations with Parliament. On December 22, 1775, King George followed up his Proclamation of Rebellion with the American Prohibition Act. It outlawed all trade between Great Britain and the colonies and ordered the seizure of all ships loaded with American goods. The worst part of the Act was its statement that any American sailors captured on the ships could be forced to serve on British warships and fight against their own countrymen. To Americans, this was outrageous and plainly illegal. The American Prohibition Act was a tremendous blow to Americans' belief in English law and the monarchy. Americans began to question their loyalty to King George.
Soon after the king issued the Prohibition Act, British-turned-American writer Thomas Paine (1737–1809) published Common Sense (see p. 97). Paine's pamphlet did much to earn King George his reputation—at least in America—as a "royal brute," a reputation he holds to this day.
Did you know …
- King George ruled Great Britain from 1760 to 1820, a very long reign extending through very turbulent times. People who are interested in history still argue about him. They wonder: Was he a stupid man who blindly allowed his advisers to talk him into the loss of the American colonies? Was he an evil man, as some Sons of Liberty such as Thomas Paine said? Or was he insane?
- Elizabeth II (1926–), queen of England since 1952, has an official web site that includes a biography of King George III (www.royal.gov.uk/history/george.htm). The biography presents the point of view that while King George opposed American independence, it was his advisers, with the support of Parliament, who created the policies that led to the American Revolution. Therefore, the responsibility was theirs: "George's direct responsibility for the loss of the colonies is not great."
- King George struggled with mental problems that led many to think he was insane. Modern medical experts say he probably suffered from a rare, hereditary blood disorder called porphyria (por-FEAR-ee-uh). It can result in brain injury. A 1994 movie, The Madness of King George, explores this subject. Actor Nigel Hawthorne, in the role of George III, received an Academy Award nomination.
Where to Learn More
Commager, Henry Steele. Documents of American History. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1958.
Green, Robert. King George III. New York: Franklin Watts, 1997.
Hibbert, Christopher. George III: A Personal History. New York: Basic Books, 1999.
"Historic Royal Profiles: George III." The British Monarchy: The Official Web Site. [Online] www.royal.gov.uk/history/george.htm (accessed on April 3, 2000).
Lloyd, Alan. The King Who Lost America: A Portrait of the Life and Times of George III. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971.
Meyeroff, Stephen. The Call for Independence: The Story of the American Revolution and Its Causes. Cherry Hill, NJ: Oak Tree Publishers, 1996.]
Plumb, J. H. "George III" in Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Edited by Mark M. Boatner III. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1994.
George III, Benevolent Monarch or "Royal Brute"?
The young George III (1738–1820) was described by British historian J.H. Plumb as "a clod of a boy whom no one could teach…. Had he been born indifferent circumstances it is unlikely that he could have earned a living except as an unskilled laborer." But by an accident of birth, in 1760 he became king of Great Britain and Ireland following the death of his grandfather, George II (1683–1760). (George II's son had died in 1751, leaving the king's first-born grandson, George III, next in line for the throne.) Within twenty-three years, George III lost a large part of the British Empire—the American colonies.
Whether he was bright or not is debatable, but historians agree that George III was a man of good morals, a hard worker, and thrifty. He knew what was expected of him as a king and he performed his duties as best he could. It was expected that he would marry for political reasons, not for love, and he did so in 1761 when he chose a German princess, Charlotte Sophia (1744–1818), to be his wife. George had fallen in love at twenty-one with thirteen-year-old Lady Sarah Lennox, a great granddaughter of King Charles II (1630–1685), but he gave her up out of duty. George and Charlotte Sophia produced fifteen children.
George's handling of the war with America (1775–83) made him unpopular with his subjects. They believed he was letting the war drag on too long with little visible success for the British side. Even before the war ended, George struggled with mental problems that were kept secret from his subjects. He began to suffer from physical ailments and was also troubled by the behavior of his two oldest sons, who carelessly spent great quantities of the thrifty king's money. As George's sufferings increased, so did his popularity with a sympathetic British public. But his popularity fell again when a 1793 war with Holland caused rising prices at home. In 1811, the king's favorite child, Princess Amelia, died. By that time George was totally blind and deaf, and his grief at Amelia's death destroyed him. His son, George IV (1762–1830), began to rule in his place, and when King George III died in 1820, he had been nearly forgotten by his subjects.
King George III's reputation among his English subjects rose and fell, but they did not see him as a tyrant or a brute. If some blamed him for losing the American colonies, the fact that his son proved to be one of England's most hated kings did much to restore the good reputation of the father.
It was King George's American subjects who turned him into a hateful figure. Thomas Paine called him a "royal brute" in Common Sense. Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) listed George's many failures in The Declaration of Independence, referring to George's "history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States." Today, King George III is generally regarded as a man stubbornly opposed to American independence right up until the end, but not directly responsible for the tax policies that were supported by Parliament and which led to the war.