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King George III responsible for ‘civil war’

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On this day (Nov. 25) in 1779, America’s last king, George William Frederick (George III), convened Parliament with a speech in which he berated the Americans for what he called the “unprovoked war” (the War for American Independence) and solicited continued financial and popular support for what was increasingly the failing policy of trying to crush the colonial revolt in America.

Especially after the humiliating Oct. 17, 1777, British defeat in the Battle of Saratoga – after ancient enemy France declared war against Britain in the summer of 1778, and after Spain declared war against Britannia in June 1779 – it was apparent to an increasingly number in England (mostly Whigs) that George III’s policy of subduing the American revolt was a failure and had led the county into yet another world-wide conflict with long-time adversaries France and Spain.

After late 1779, Britain was not only fighting against 13 relatively disunited American colonies, but was confronted with fighting France and Spain. This turn of events forced Britain to change drastically its war aims and strategy. Before 1779, Britain could focus solely on suppressing the colonial revolt. After 1779, Britain had to bolster homeland defense against a possible, but as it turned out not probable, France-Spanish invasion of England.

Britain’s American policy changed from one of destroying completely George Washington’s ragtag army and crushing the Patriot Movement to one of capturing a few American cities and using the occupation of port cities as bargaining chips in the negotiations leading up to the peace treaty ending hostilities.

However, in his royal address on this day, the Tory Monarch was seemingly rejecting the sound advice of many politicians to grant America its independence and concentrate on fighting European foes. By 1780, England greatly had reduced armed forces in America and brought them home to defend the mother country and moved others, mainly naval forces, to the Caribbean to protect valuable colonies there.

Britain’s change in war aims and strategy made, in retrospect, almost inevitable that the struggling 13 mainland American colonies could and, indeed, would gain their independence from “tyrannical Great Britain.”

George III’s refusal to be flexible and change his initial policy of all-out war in America to one that would take into consideration changing geopolitical circumstances in Europe was due in part to the bad advice being given him by his closest advisers, especially Lord John Stuart Bute, to the acquiescence of his overly pliable Oxford-educated Prime Minister Lord Frederick North, and to the king’s innate stubbornness and unassertiveness.

During the “unpleasantness in America” (the War for American Independence), the hardworking, but somewhat insecure George III, was increasingly unpopular for being the Monarch who was “losing” the American colonies. However, this unpopularity was short-lived since he later achieved notable success and popularity in rallying his country to oppose Revolutionary France and defeat Napoleonic France.

The political battles of the late 1770s and 1780s in England between Tories (supporters of the Monarch, Lord North and their prosecution of the war in America) and Whigs (who criticized George III and his overly pliant prime minister for their failing military strategy in America, for their opposing American independence, and for their exercising excessive Monarchical and Ministerial authority) has led many historians to consider the War for American Independence as a civil war, which saw Tories and Whigs battling politically in Britain, and Tories (Loyalists) and Whigs (Patriots) in America battling militarily and politically.

• Crystal Lake resident Joseph C. Morton is professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University. Email him at

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