King George III's Twitter War

Image from Journal of the American Revolution

By John Knight - Posted at the Journal of the American Revolution:

In 1775 London was the largest, most prosperous and economically important city in the world. [1]Though it was Britain’s capital, politically and economically it remained aloof from the rest of the Kingdom. Uniquely governed by an independent Corporation, it had declared itself a “commune” as early as 1191 and held a constitutional position of importance only one place below the Sovereign himself[2] It remained outside the authority of both the King and Parliament and elected its officials and Lord Mayor from a small group of medieval guilds arranged in strict precedence from the “Mercers” at the top to “Cloth Workers” at the bottom.[3] It openly espoused free trade, even when both King and Parliament did not, and steadfastly refused to allow any soldiers to be billeted within its walls. In short, London taxed itself, governed itself and judged itself, and woe betide any monarch who interfered with its ancient rights and privileges.

It was inevitable therefore that this mercantile, cosmopolitan, city would find itself frequently at odds with its proud and obstinate King. Even before the outbreak of hostilities, the corporation was unfailingly antagonistic towards George III and the “American Policy” of his Prime Minster Lord North. For the first twenty years of his reign, it was the centre of opposition to the court and regularly produced “remonstrance’s” or grievances that it expected the King to respond to without delay. Fascinatingly George did so in a way so personal and free from etiquette that contemporary study exposes not just a city and monarch with conflicting views on America almost to the point of treason, but reveals too, much about the personality of the man who brought Britain and America to Civil War.

In an age when communications travelled slowly, “remonstrances” or petitions were the most direct and efficient way that bodies or individuals could air a concern to their king. There was no guarantee, however, that the monarch would reply or even see them. In this crucial regard, the City of London possessed one unique advantage over every other institution in that it insisted on its ancient right to present grievances to the King as he “sat on the throne.” This practice was more than mere civic vanity or empty convention, for a sovereign who received a London remonstrance did so in person, rather than through an aristocratic third-party, many of whom were known to water down petitions or in extreme cases to not present them at all.