43. George III, A.D. 1760—1785
After George II. reigned his grandson, George III., the son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, who had died before his father. The Princess of Wales was a good woman, who tried to bring up her children well; and George III. was a dutiful son to her, and a good, faithful man—always caring more to do right than for anything else. He had been born in England, and did not feel as if Hanover were his home, as his father and grandfather had done, but loved England, and English people, and ways. When he was at Windsor, he used to ride or walk about like a country squire, and he had a ruddy, hearty face and manner, that made him sometimes be called Farmer George; and he had an odd way of saying "What? what?" when he was spoken to, which made him be laughed at; but he was as good and true as any man who ever lived: and when he thought a thing was right, he was as firm as a rock in holding to it. He married a German princess named Charlotte, and they did their utmost to make all those about them good. They had a very large family—no less than fourteen children—and some old people still remember what a beautiful sight it was when, after church on Sunday, the king and queen and their children used to walk up and down the stately terrace at Windsor Castle, with a band playing, and everyone who was respectably dressed allowed to come in and look at them.
Just after George III. came to the crown, a great war broke out in the English colonies in America. A new tax had been made. A tax means the money that has to be given to the Government of a country to pay the judges and their officers, the soldiers and sailors, to keep up ships and buy weapons, and do all that is wanted to protect us and keep us in order. Taxes are sometimes made by calling on everybody to pay money in proportion to what they have—say threepence for every hundred pounds; sometimes they are made by putting what is called a duty on something that is bought and sold—making it sell for more than its natural price—so that the Government gets the money above the right cost. This is generally done with things that people could live without, and had better not buy too much of—such as spirits, tobacco, and hair powder. And as tea was still a new thing in England, which only fine ladies drank, it was thought useless, and there was a heavy duty laid upon it when the king wanted money. Now, the Americans got their tea straight from China, and thought it was unfair that they should pay tax on it. So, though they used it much more than the English then did, they gave it up, threw whole ship-loads of it into the harbor at Boston, and resisted the soldiers. A gentleman named George Washington took the command, and they declared they would fight for freedom from the mother country. The French were beginning to think freedom was a fine thing, and at first a few French gentlemen came over to fight among the Americans, and then the king Louis XVI., quarreled with George III., and helped them openly.
There was a very clever man among the Americans named Benjamin Franklin, a printer by trade, but who made very curious discoveries. One of them was that lightning comes from the strange power men call electricity, and that there are some substances which it will run along, so that it came be brought down to the ground without doing any mischief—especially metallic wires. He made sure of it by flying a kite, with such an iron wire up to the clouds when there was a thunder-storm. The lightning was attracted by the wire, ran down the wet string of the kite, and only glanced off when it came to a silk ribbon —because electricity will not go along silk. After this, such wires were fastened to buildings, and carried down into the ground, to convey away the force of the lightning. Perhaps you have seen them on the tops of churches or tall buildings; they are called conductors. Franklin was a plain-spoken, homely dressing man; and when he was sent to Paris on the affairs of the Americans, all the great ladies and gentlemen went into raptures about his beautiful simplicity, and began to imitate him, in a very affected, ridiculous way.
In the meantime, the war went on between America and England, year after year; and the Americans became trained soldiers and got the better, so that George III. was advised to give up his rights over them. Old Lord Chatham, his grandfather's minister, who had long been too sick and feeble to undertake any public business, thought it so bad for the country to give anything up, that he came down to the House of Lords to make a speech against doing so; but he was not strong enough for the exertion, and had only just done speaking when he fainted away, and his son, William Pitt, was called out of the House of Commons to help carry him away to his coach. He was taken home, and died in a few day's time.
The war went on, but when it had lasted seven years, the English felt that peace must be made; and so George III. gave up his rights to all that country that is called the United States of America. The United States set up a Government of their own, which has gone on ever since, without a king, but with a President who is freshly chosen every four years, and for whom every citizen has a vote.
As if to make up for what was lost in the West, the English were winning a great deal in the East Indies, chiefly from a great prince called Tipoo Sahib, who was very powerful, and at one time took a number of English officers prisoners and drove them to his city of Seringapatam, chained together in pairs, and kept them half starved in a prison, where several died; but he was defeated and killed. They were set free by their countrymen, after nearly two years of grievous hardship.