George III.—The Story of How America Was Lost
G EORGE II. died in October 1759 A.D., and was succeeded by his grandson George III., whose father, the Prince of Wales, had died some years before.
George III. had been born in England, and seemed more of an Englishman than either George I. or George II. For that reason, and because he was young and handsome, the people were glad when he came to the throne. But he proved himself to be an unwise King, and it was during his reign that Britain suffered a great loss—the loss of all the American colonies except Canada.
The wars which Britain had been fighting all over the world had cost a great deal of money. When Pitt saw a thing needed to be done he did not stop to ask how much it would cost—he did it, and afterwards the country had to find ways and means of paying. War always costs a great deal, and the country had been fighting so much that it was now deeply in debt. The King's ministers, therefore, had to find some new way of raising money. It seemed to them that, as the war in America had been for the benefit of the colonies, the colonists ought to pay some of the cost. This being so, King George decided to tax the Americans.
You know what a tax means. If a certain thing costs one shilling a pound, and the Government said, "We will put a tax of twopence a pound on this thing," then it would cost one shilling and twopence, and the extra twopence would go to Government to help to pay the expenses of the country. For it requires money to keep up a country just as much as to keep up a house.
You also know that the King could not make the people pay taxes without the consent of Parliament. That was a right for which the people and Parliament had fought over and over again, and which they had won at last. And if Parliament consented to a tax, it was really the people who consented, as the members of Parliament were chosen by the people.
Now the people of America sent no members to the British Parliament. When King George tried to make them pay taxes, they at once said, "No, that is not just. It is against the laws of Britain. If we are to pay taxes we must be allowed to send members to Parliament as England and Scotland do. If we are to pay taxes we must have a share in making the laws and saying how the money is to be spent."
This was quite reasonable, but King George was not reasonable. He said, "No."
The Americans were very angry at this, and they made up their minds to do without the things which the King wanted to tax. This was very hard for them, especially as one of the things taxed was tea. You can imagine how difficult it would be to do without tea.
While these things were happening, the great Pitt had been ill. When he was well again, and heard what George III. and his foolish ministers had been doing, he was very angry. He said the Americans were quite right, and he talked so fiercely that all the taxes were taken off again, except the one on tea. George insisted on keeping that on. He was very angry with both Pitt and the Americans. He called them rebels, and Pitt the "trumpet of rebellion."
But the Americans would not yield even to one tax. There were meetings all over the States and the young men banded together under the name of "The Sons of Liberty." They swore to do anything rather than use taxed tea.
At last ships arrived in Boston harbour laden with tea. The Americans knew that if once that tea got ashore it would be very difficult to keep the people from buying it. They determined that it should not be landed.
While some of the wise people were talking and advising each other as to what should be done, about twenty young men dressed themselves as Red Indians. They painted their faces brown, stuck feathers in their hair, and put on clothes such as Red Indians wore.
Red Indians are the natives of America and, although they have nearly died out now, in those days it was quite common to see them even in the towns.
With wild war-whoops these make-believe Red Indians ran to the harbour. They sprang on board the tea ships, they seized the chests, opened them with their hatchets, and poured the tea into the water. Chest after chest, chest after chest was burst open, and the tea poured over the ship's side, till three hundred and forty-two chests had been emptied, and the harbour was black with tea leaves.
Many an honest merchant looked sadly on, many a thrifty housewife sighed to see the waste, but no one stopped the work. It was the greatest tea-making that had ever been seen, and for long after it was called the "Boston Tea-Party."
When King George heard about this tea-party he was very angry. To punish the people of Boston he forbade any ships to go there at all, so that the trade of the town was ruined, and the people became quite poor. He sent soldiers to frighten them into obedience, and did many other things in order to punish the rebels.
But the Americans would not bear such treatment, and they talked of war. King George seemed to be quite pleased at the idea of fighting the Americans. "We will soon bring them to their senses," he said; "they will only behave like lions as long as we behave like lambs. I will show them that I mean to be firm, and they will soon be meek enough." But the Americans were not meek at all. They made ready to fight.
Soon twenty thousand colonists were in arms, and George Washington, a young soldier, who had already shown his bravery and skill in fighting against the French, was their leader. The war began in the year 1775 A.D., and it was quite as dreadful as a civil war. The colonists looked upon Britain as their mother-country, they talked of it as "home," and now for want of a little kindly feeling and understanding between them, mother and children were fighting bitterly.
As time went on, the Americans became more and more determined not to give in. On the 4th of July 1776 A.D., they very solemnly made their Declaration of Independence. "We, the representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, solemnly publish and declare that these United States are, and of right ought to be, Free and Independent States." This means that the Americans felt that they were doing right and not wrong in fighting against the mother-country. They felt that they ought to be free, and they declared that they were free and independent. Independent means standing alone.
While the war was being carried on in the States, at home Pitt, the great war minister, who was now called Lord Chatham, was struggling for peace. He had worked very hard to make Britain great, and to make the colonies great. Now, he saw that all his work was to be ruined by civil war, and he tried to stop it. "You cannot conquer America," he said. "They are of our own blood. If I were an American, as I am an Englishman, I would never lay down my arms—never, never, never."
But the King and his friends would not listen to Pitt, and the war went on. Then a worse thing happened. France joined America against Britain. Britain, by driving the French out of America, had given the Americans peace. Now, Britain's old enemy had joined with her own people against her. That was the worst blow of all. It frightened the Parliament, and some members wanted to acknowledge the freedom of America.
Old and ill although he was when Pitt heard of it, he rose from his bed, and once more went to speak in the House. His voice was weak and feeble as he spoke. "I am glad," he said, "that I am still alive and able to lift up my voice against breaking up the empire."
Pitt had wanted to give the Americans what they asked for, but now he wanted to fight with France. France, he felt, had no right in the quarrel. He would not yield to French threats what had been refused to America alone.
But Pitt was old and feeble, the excitement of speaking was too much for the great statesman. He fell senseless to the ground, and was carried home to die.
Then not only France but Spain joined with America, and at last the bitter end came. Britain was obliged to give way, and, in 1782 A.D., after a war which had lasted nearly eight years, the United States were acknowledged to be a free and independent country, and Britain lost all her possessions in North America except Canada.