“The Men Who Lost America”

That’s the title of a new book by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, offering an account of the American Revolution from the perspective of Britain’s leaders. In an interview, he claims many will be surprised by his portrait of King George III:

The reader will indeed find many attractive qualities in George III.  He was the first British monarch to have a real interest in science.  He was the greatest collector of art since Charles I.  He knew more about the navy than any king since James II.  He was an intensely religious man who spent long hours with his family in devotion.  He disapproved of the sexual immorality which so common among his contemporaries and he was faithful to his wife unlike George I and George II.

George III has long been the subject of revisionist historians in Britain.   It has almost gone too far.  My portrayal is more nuanced.  George III was not a tyrant who was responsible for the policies that led to the American Revolution.  He had little to do with colonial policy.  However, after the Boston Tea Party, he became the leading war hawk and may actually have helped to perpetuate the war by several years.  He wanted to continue after Yorktown.  It was revelation to me that he felt so passionately that Britain would cease to be a great power if it lost America.

The reasons O’Shaughnessy believes the British lost to the upstart Americans:

They initially believed that resistance would be largely confined to Massachusetts.  They greatly underestimate the ability of ordinary citizens to be able to confront a professional army.  However, their greatest error was in assuming that the majority of Americans supported Britain.  Their views while mistaken were defensible since were encouraged in their beliefs by loyalist Americans.  This was indeed a civil war and a foreign war in which it was difficult to interpret popular opinion when the situation was fluid and when many did not openly express their sympathies.  The contempt for citizen soldiers was held most strongly by officers who had served in America during the French and Indian War.  It may have been partly a product of imperial and social superiority but it was also a more modern vice of professional elitism and the belief that regular citizens could not be trained to the standards of those who had made the army a lifelong career.

(Video: An interview with O’Shaughnessy)