“The author of a new biography shines a humane light on the monarch despised by the colonists”
Since 2015, Queen Elizabeth II has released more than 100,000 pages of documents in the Royal Archives relating to King George III. They reveal a startlingly new picture of the last king of America—one about as far removed as possible from the description of George in the Declaration of Independence: “A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
We can now see, for example, George’s fervent denunciation of slavery in an essay he wrote as Prince of Wales in the late 1750s, after reading Charles de Montesquieu’s classic enlightenment text, The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Indeed, George’s comments go even further than Montesquieu’s own opposition to the practice.
“The pretexts used by the Spaniards for enslaving the New World were extremely curious,” George notes; “the propagation of the Christian religion was the first reason, the next was the [Indigenous] Americans differing from them in colour, manners and customs, all of which are too absurd to take the trouble of refuting.” As for the European practice of enslaving Africans, he wrote, “the very reasons urged for it will be perhaps sufficient to make us hold such practice in execration.”
George never owned slaves himself, and he gave his assent to the legislation that abolished the slave trade in England in 1807.
By contrast, no fewer than 41 of the 56 signatories to the Declaration of Independence were slave owners.