September 16, 2003

by Joe Sobran

     When I was a schoolboy we were taught that the 
American Revolution had occurred because our ancestors 
were fed up with the tyranny of King George III. They 
particularly resented being taxed by a government in 
which they had no vote, and they adopted the slogan "No 
taxation without representation." The slightest tax 
increase drove them to fury.

     King George was pretty unpopular in England too. 
What galled the English was that they were taxed to pay 
for the French and Indian War in America, which was 
fought to protect the Americans. In A HISTORY OF THE 
AMERICAN PEOPLE, a marvelously readable book, Paul 
Johnson notes that in 1764, the costs of the recent war 
actually fell 50 times as heavily on the English as on 
the American colonists. The average Englishman was paying 
25 shillings a year in taxes to the Crown; the average 
American, a mere sixpence.

     Our ancestors fought a war to throw off the 
tyrannous yoke of a king who was taxing them in pennies. 
Times have certainly changed. Actually, it's Americans 
who have changed. Of course sixpence in those days was 
equivalent to several dollars today, but that is only 
evidence of the way our own government has debased the 
currency over time.

     By modern standards, George III wasn't much of a 
tyrant. A rather pitiful excuse for a tyrant, really. He 
falls far short not only of Saddam Hussein, but of our 
own recent presidents.

     In person, George III seems to have been a cheerful, 
affable gentleman. There is the famous story of how he 
teased the historian Edward Gibbon about his monumental 
history of Rome's decline and fall: "Scribble, scribble, 
scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?"

     George actually had a deep respect for learning. He 
gave scholars access to his vast royal library and liked 
to chat with them. One of these was Dr. Samuel Johnson, 
the great lexicographer.

     On one occasion, the king told his librarian to 
notify him the next time Dr. Johnson came to the library, 
so that he could meet him. This was done, and the 
resulting interview is recorded by Johnson's biographer, 
James Boswell.

     Told that the king was coming, Johnson stood 
respectfully. "His Majesty approached him, and at once 
was courteously easy." The king asked Johnson's opinions 
about various other libraries, and they conversed on this 
subject for a while. Boswell writes,

     "His Majesty enquired if he was then writing any 
thing. He answered, he was not, for he had pretty well 
told the world what he knew, and must now read to acquire 
more knowledge. The King, as it should seem with a view 
to urge him to rely on his own stores as an original 
writer, and to continue his labours, then said 'I do not 
think you borrow much from any body.' Johnson said, he 
thought he had already done his part as a writer. 'I 
should have thought so too, (said the King,) if you had 
not written so well.' -- Johnson observed to me, upon 
this, that 'No man could have paid a handsomer 
compliment; and it was fit for a King to pay. It was 
decisive.' When asked by another friend, at Sir Joshua 
Reynolds's, whether he made any reply to this high 
compliment, he answered, 'No, Sir. When the King had said 
it, it was to be so. It was not for me to bandy 
civilities with my Sovereign.' Perhaps no man who had 
spent his whole life in courts could have shewn a more 
nice and dignified sense of true politeness, than Johnson 
did in this instance."

     Johnson later added that "they may talk of the King 
as they will; but he is the finest gentleman I have ever 

     If we hadn't learned long ago that George III was a 
dreadful ogre, we might get the mistaken impression that 
he was a man of qualities -- gracious, tactful, 
considerate, and quick-witted. Not that his personal 
demeanor can excuse wrongs he did in his capacity as 
ruler, but a glimpse of his human side is bound to make 
you wonder if American revolutionary propaganda is 
entirely just to him. Are we really so much better off 
under the sort of men who rule America today?


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