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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

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George III and His System

The Character of the New King.—The third George rudely broke the German tradition of his family. He resented the imputation that he was a foreigner and on all occasions made a display of his British sympathies. To the draft of his first speech to Parliament, he added the popular phrase: “Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Briton.” Macaulay, the English historian, certainly of no liking for high royal prerogative, said of George: “The young king was a born Englishman. All his tastes and habits, good and bad, were English. No portion of his subjects had anything to reproach him with.... His age, his appearance, and all that was known of his character conciliated public favor. He was in the bloom of youth; his person and address were pleasing; scandal imputed to him no vice; and flattery might without glaring absurdity ascribe to him many princely virtues.”

Nevertheless George III had been spoiled by his mother, his tutors, and his courtiers. Under their influence he developed high and mighty notions about the sacredness of royal authority and his duty to check the pretensions of Parliament and the ministers dependent upon it. His mother had dinned into his ears the slogan: “George, be king!” Lord Bute, his teacher and adviser, had told him that his honor required him to take an active part in the shaping of public policy and the making of laws. Thus educated, he surrounded himself with courtiers who encouraged him in the determination to rule as well as reign, to subdue all parties, and to place himself at the head of the nation and empire.

George III
From an old print
George III

Political Parties and George III.—The state of the political parties favored the plans of the king to restore some of the ancient luster of the crown. The Whigs, who were composed mainly of the smaller freeholders, merchants, inhabitants of towns, and Protestant non-conformists, had grown haughty and overbearing through long continuance in power and had as a consequence raised up many enemies in their own ranks. Their opponents, the Tories, had by this time given up all hope of restoring to the throne the direct Stuart line; but they still cherished their old notions about divine right. With the accession of George III the coveted opportunity came to them to rally around the throne again. George received his Tory friends with open arms, gave them offices, and bought them seats in the House of Commons.

The British Parliamentary System.—The peculiarities of the British Parliament at the time made smooth the way for the king and his allies with their designs for controlling the entire government. In the first place, the House of Lords was composed mainly of hereditary nobles whose number the king could increase by the appointment of his favorites, as of old. Though the members of the House of Commons were elected by popular vote, they did not speak for the mass of English people. Great towns like Leeds, Manchester, and Birmingham, for example, had no representatives at all. While there were about eight million inhabitants in Great Britain, there were in 1768 only about 160,000 voters; that is to say, only about one in every ten adult males had a voice in the government. Many boroughs returned one or more members to the Commons although they had merely a handful of voters or in some instances no voters at all. Furthermore, these tiny boroughs were often controlled by lords who openly sold the right of representation to the highest bidder. The “rotten-boroughs,” as they were called by reformers, were a public scandal, but George III readily made use of them to get his friends into the House of Commons.

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