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Good King George and the Dragon 1775

Samuel Adams was an unhappy man. He moved among the other delegates to Congress like a lonely, silent shadow, keeping his thoughts to himself. He dared not open his mouth for fear of saying too much.

Months had passed since the Battle of Bunker Hill. Colonial troops had made an unsuccessful attempt to drive the British from Canada. Congress had organized the Committee of Secret Correspondence to find out what help to expect from European countries in their war with England. In December of 1775, Congress had ordered the building of an American navy. Yet, in spite of all these warlike activities, Samuel Adams and other radicals did not dare speak openly about independence.

It was not fear of England that kept them silent. They were already marked men and knew they would all probably hang if they fell into British hands. They were afraid the cause of freedom might be harmed if they spoke out too soon. They knew that most Americans were not yet ready to break away from the British Empire.

One of the most serious obstacles to independence was the people’s feeling about King George. The colonists not only remained loyal to him, but believed him to be innocent of any wrongdoing.

The radicals themselves were largely to blame. They had always been careful not to say anything critical about the king. They had believed that they could more effectively stir up public opinion against Parliament if they also proved their loyalty by praising King George at the same time. Now they did not dare to speak out against the king for fear of offending the people. The false picture of a saintly king had to be destroyed before the people would be willing to fight for independence, but Samuel Adams and other radical leaders did not know how to go about it.


Fortunately, Thomas Paine did the job for them by telling the truth about the king, as he saw it, in his famous pamphlet Common Sense. Paine had come from England two years before and had settled in Philadelphia. He found the Americans to be a very confused people. They did not seem to know what they were fighting for. He believed the colonies would never win their fight for liberty so long as they kept searching for it within the British Empire. England would not change, he warned. She would continue to use the colonies for her own benefit. What Americans needed was free trade in world markets and that they could never enjoy under the British flag.

Paine urged writers and colonial leaders to give the people something worth fighting for. The only worthy cause for America was independence, he said. There had been too much confusion, too much delay. The time had come to act. The decision had to be made now. Americans had to decide whether they would face bullets and cold steel in a war of independence, or give up all thought of freedom and remain slaves of the British Crown.

What amazed Paine most of all was that Americans believed in a fairy-tale king. Paine explained that he had worked for the British government in England and knew how it operated. He said it was nonsense to believe that there was any difference between the king and his ministers, or between the king and Parliament. The truth, he said, was that the king and Parliament were working together to crush the spirit of freedom in America. The king, far from being the innocent victim of his wicked ministers, was their absolute master. He could hire and fire them at will. He was the supreme power, “the Royal Brute of Great Britain,” who had caused all the trouble. It was therefore ridiculous for Americans to expect good King George to go out and slay the dragon for them. He himself was the dragon. America could not set an example for the whole world by freeing itself from the rule of kings.

“The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind,” he wrote. “’Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; but of all ages to the end of time.”

Common Sense was important because it brought the question of independence out into the open. It was also the first public attack against the king. Tens of thousands of copies of the pamphlet were sold throughout the colonies and its great success prompted other writers and political leaders to attack the king. They went too far. They blamed the king for everything. They pictured him as an evil man who could no longer fool them by hiding behind the skirts of his ministers. He was a monster, a “Royal criminal.”

King George was, of course, neither an angel nor a devil. He was a rather average man, an extremely stubborn one, who firmly believed that no power on earth could stand against the might of the British Empire. His great pride had been wounded by the rough treatment of his troops at Lexington and Bunker Hill. Nothing could satisfy him now but a smashing victory that would bring the colonies to their knees.

England struck back at the colonies in a number of ways. She closed the New England fisheries, stopped all trade between the colonies and the mother country, withdrew her protection and ordered her navy to capture all American ships at sea. These unfriendly acts proved to many Americans that the king was really as evil as Common Sense made him out to be.


In England there were many people who sympathized with the Americans. They believed Americans were fighting for the liberty of all Englishmen. They were afraid that if the Americans were defeated, King George would gain in power even over his subjects at home and the cause of liberty would suffer on both sides of the Atlantic. Most Englishmen agreed that it was probably necessary to crush the rebellion, but fighting Americans was something not many of them cared to do. A number of British officers resigned from the army rather than take part in the unpopular war.

The king’s government found it so difficult to recruit men for the army in England that it hired professional soldiers from several small German states. Most of these soldiers came from a state called Hesse-Kassel and came to be known in America as Hessians. The hiring of Hessians did more to arouse Americans and to destroy their faith in a saintly King George than had Paine’s Common Sense, or anything England had done before. The colonists were shocked at the thought that King George would send hired butchers against his own subjects in America. One patriot wrote that any man who was foolish enough to still talk of making peace with the British “ought to be pelted with stones, by the children, when he walks the streets . . .”

Slowly, the American people were beginning to favour independence.

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