George III and the 76p Stamps

The Royal Mail is kindly reminding us why the American Patriots signed the Declaration of Independence.  It costs 76p to send a letter from the the mainland Britain Empire to America.  And who is on a 76p stamp?  None other than King George III.

King George III, of course, is remembered as the man who introduced the “stamp tax”, a kind of consumption tax (or sales tax, or VAT) that affected all printed matter. 

The Stamp Act of 1765, as we all should have learned in American history class, was the passed without consent and it led to the phrase “no taxation without representation”, and eventually to the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Old wood carving of Americans burning a copy of the stamp act
“Die Americaner wiedersetzen sich der Stempel-Acte” by D. Chodowiecki

What we sometimes forget is that George III wasn’t responsible for the Stamp Act.  Parliament was, under another George, Prime Minister George Grenville.

The Stamp Act was repealed a year later, when Charles Rockingham was Prime Minister, and when George III, of course, was still king.

George III was featured in a group of stamps featuring the House of Hanover.  Alternatively, George IV is also on a 76p stamp.  (These have both sold out at the Aberystwyth post office.)

‘Now, it may be that no one in the Royal Mail knows much history’ quips the Daily Telegraph,  ‘but the blurb that goes with the stamp specifically refers to the “loss of the American Colonies.”’

Apparently, the writer continues, it is merely a coincidence that King George landed on the American stamp, as he was next in “succession.”  However, the Telegraph points out that they missed the 68p stamp, which is sent “harmlessly to Europe.”

King George III fought against the United States in two wars, it is true, but he lost both times.  Was America, however, his only enemy? How “harmless” would it have been to send him to Europe?

The article compares sending King George III to America to sending “Cromwell to Ireland, the Duke of  Wellington to France, and Marx to Eastern Europe.”

I won’t comment on the Marx quip, although I’m sure other people will.

But should George III really have been on the 68p stamp?  Who was king when the Duke of Wellington beat Napoleon?  And George III wasn’t too popular with the Irish either.  Despite their apparent animosity for Cromwell, the Irish chose to have a Republic.  Could it be that they aren’t too big on a few of the old monarchs? (Hint, the Irish rebelled against George III.)

During the American Revolution, King George III was also the enemy of Spain, France, the Netherlands and potentially most of Europe.  George III was hated in much of Europe, while most Americans don’t hold a grudge that long.

Half of Europe still sees the British as the bad guys of, if not the Napoleonic Wars, then the French Revolutionary Wars.  In the run up to the war of 1812, Britain bullied a lot of the neutral powers.  The “U. States” was not the only country to have our seamen impressed.  Washington D.C. wasn’t the only city destroyed.

In Ireland and France George III’s is often seen as anti-Catholic.  Though the British government allowed religious freedom in recently conquered territories like Malta, George III opposed “Catholics Emancipation” in the British Isles.

The Royal Mail was right not to send George III to Europe.  By sending the Hapless Hanoverian to Europe, they’d upset all of Napoleon’s fans and remind them of defeat after humiliating defeat.

But were they doing the right thing in sending the stamp to the Americas?  Do they remember that Britain also fought Haiti’s founding fathers, men like Tousaint L’Ouverture and Dessallines?

The British used the French Revolutionary Wars, and the resulting slave revolt in Haiti, as an excuse to occupy the island of Santo Dominigo.  Although Some British newspapers at the time tried to claim that the British were there liberating the slaves, official records show the opposite story.

The British lost about fifty thousand men trying to put down the slave revolt. Their allies were the plantation owners of the Ancien Régime, who were fighting against the new republic.  (for more on this, see The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Penguin History)

George III’s government was fighting for the “Security” of that colony and the empire – against the Haitians – because his governors feared a similar revolt in Jamaica.  They also fought because, after losing their colonies on the American mainland, the Brits no longer had a viable market for the slave trade.

Eventually, Britain banned the slave trade in 1807, still under George III.   The same year, The United States of America and Denmark also banned the slave trade.   That didn’t end slavery, but many saw it as the first step.

As George lost most of the profitable slaveholding possessions, and as he lost Britains slave markets, his successors were able to finally abolish slavery in the 1830s.  Had George III won all his wars, this might not have been possible.