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Did George III read the American Declaration of Independence?

There is no actual evidence that the king ever read the declaration, says historian Andrew Roberts…

A 1779 cartoon showing the United States as a horse, unseating its rider, George III
Published: July 2, 2022 at 6:10 am
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Although King George III was the principal target of the Declaration of Independence, he was never formally sent a copy and there is no actual evidence that he ever read it. It is possible that he did see it, since it was reprinted verbatim in a large number of newspapers and journals, and he was an avid reader on current affairs, yet no mention of it is made in his very extensive correspondence. Of course he would not have publicly responded to the declaration, as that would have recognised (and thus legitimised) the Continental Congress that issued it, but the question remains about whether he even read it privately.

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The king’s virtually daily correspondence with his prime minister, Lord North, refers to many other aspects of the American crisis after the news arrived in the London papers, six weeks after the pronouncement was printed by the congress on 4 July. Yet there is no mention of the declaration, and its 28 ad hominem charges made against the king, even in the course of refuting them.

The British barrister John Lind wrote a 132-page response to the declaration entitled Answer to the Declaration of Congress, in which he exposed its manifold inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

And Thomas Hutchinson, the loyalist former governor of Massachusetts, published his Strictures Upon the Declaration of the Congress at Philadelphia anonymously in October 1776. There is no evidence to suggest the king read those either. It is most likely that he did indeed read reports of the declaration, but considered the charges of such a histrionic wartime propaganda document unworthy of any kind of response, or even mention to Lord North.

Answered by Andrew Roberts, historian and author of George III (Allen Lane, 2021)

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This Q&A first appeared in the March 2022 issue of BBC History Magazine

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