June 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, Farmer George!

George III.jpg

His Majesty George III was born this day in 1738. Of course his reputation in America is forever poisoned owing to his stubborn, ham-fisted and incomprehensive treatment of the Colonials, but just keep in mind that these things flowed in both directions - the Brit attitude on a wide variety of matters including trade, taxation, representative government and military service was as alien to the Americans as was the American attitude on these subjects to the Brits, and it would have taken a monarch of far deeper understanding, patience and foresight than Ol' George ever had to successfully and peacefully navigate around them.

For all that, George was IMHO an excellent king. He was intelligent and keenly mindful of his duty to his subjects. He was an enthusiastic supporter of science, exploration and the arts. He presided over the rise of the British middle class. And not only did he face down the Jacobin swine of Revolutionary France, he then went on to take out Napoleon, never giving up even though Britain at times was fighting virtually alone. It's a real pity that his later years were so marred by mental illness and his lout of an eldest son. He deserved much better than that.

UPDATE: Speaking of which, I assume you've all seen The Madness of King George? One of my favorites. Not only is the cast, headed up by the great Nigel Hawthorne, superb, but the movie is extremely sympathetic as well. I particularly like the treatment of my all-time-favorite prime minister Billy Pitt, as well as that of those arch-toads George IV and Charles James Fox.

Posted by Robert at June 4, 2007 09:42 AM | TrackBack

One wonders what might have happened if Edmund Burke had been prime minister in the 1770s; if he could have reconciled with the Americans it could have caused a lot of things to be different -- maybe no French revolution, maybe no Napoleon, and so forth. I think eventually America would have been independent -- the notion, for instance, that a British king could draw a "do not cross" line down the middle of the Appalachians and expect it to be obeyed is pretty silly. Eventually, I think, the U.S. would have become independent, but probably on terms that would have been better for Britain. It would be an interesting alternative history. One wonders whether slavery would have been abolished in the U.S. sooner, or whether the South would have rebelled from Britain, or whether Britain would have ignored the slave trade and left it in place, with all that southern cotton money pouring into Parliament.

Posted by: The Colossus at June 4, 2007 10:00 AM

And don't forget Churchill's musings about the possibility of America eventually becoming the new center of British power. Imagine if the allegiance had stayed intact and the Crown had shifted to, say, Boston.

I smell an alt-history book in here somewhere.....

Posted by: Robbo the LB at June 4, 2007 10:18 AM

It is interesting to speculate if the American Colonies had been granted representation in Parliment (to blunt the "taxation w/out respresentation" charge, but I think that would have been quite a stretch. Recall from the Declaration of Independance, the clause citing what the Colonists considered the unlawful extenison of Parliment's authority (through the Stamp Act?) - I think American independance was a foregone conclusion.

Posted by: kmr at June 4, 2007 10:58 AM

I think it was less ham handedness on the part of the king, and more ham handedness on the part of the Tories in Parliment; a more reasonable tax policy coupled with relaxed import/export regulations would have gone far to mitigate the colonists' economic arguments. The colonies would probably have become independent anyway, but still part of the Commonwealth and instead of one big country there'd be lots of smaller ones.

Posted by: rbj at June 4, 2007 12:39 PM

I envision an alt-history in which Robert E. Lee is fighting Major-general the Earl of Cardigan in the Peninsular Campaign (the Light Brigade charges to its death at Seven Pines), while the semi-independent duchy of New England, under its hereditary ruler, Duke Charles Francis Adams, considers whether to remain loyal to the crown or to run the blockade. What will Colonial Party Prime Minister Lincoln do? On either side, the Tories and Whigs are agitating for his downfall in Parliament; the 100 seats Lincoln's party holds(who has deftly used his party's crucial bloc of votes to position himself in the middle of British political system) were enough to get him appointed by Queen Victoria, who has never approved of the rough backwoodsman -- but will he be able to survive? And will General McClellan ever be able to put down the revolt in Ireland against the wily condotierre who goes by the name of William Tecumseh Sherman?

Posted by: The Colossus at June 4, 2007 03:30 PM

I would encourage you to read an interesting alt-history book called The Two Georges exploring the world in which the Crown came to an accommodation with the Revolutionaries.

Also, George the 3rd makes a delightful appearance in Susannah Clarke's wonderful Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a book I cannot praise enough.

Posted by: Taleena at June 4, 2007 04:48 PM