GEORGE WASHINGTON VS. KING GEORGE III The War of the Georges 1789: London and New York It hurts to be on the wrong side of history. Winners, like George Washington, have great cities named for them and spiky monuments built in their honor. Losers, like King George III, are the butt of jokes. They lose the respect of their people. They lose power. They can even lose their minds. In the summer of 1788, nearly seven years after he lost his American colonies, fifty-year-old King George III started acting very strangely. He did not, as some insisted, mistake an oak tree for the king of Prussia. But he did talk for hours on end to no one in particular, pausing only for the occasional breath. He stopped sleeping. He barked orders at people who were long dead or completely imaginary. "I am going to be mad," he reportedly told one of his sons, then sobbed. Physicians from across England were summoned to the palace. Leeches were attached to the king's forehead. His scalp was shaved and blistered. He was placed in a straitjacket, his legs tied to his bedposts. Parliament discussed replacing King George with his oldest son, the prince of Wales. Few were enthusiastic about this idea besides the prince of Wales. After several months of treatments, the king improved--probably despite his doctors' efforts, not because of them--and he was pronounced cured in March 1789, at least for a while. Parliament stopped discussing the possibility of pushing him off the throne. Balls were held in his honor. Queen Charlotte issued a "Prayer of Thanksgiving upon the King's Recovery." Even the French ambassador celebrated, despite France's long tradition of going to war against English kings. George Washington, however, had other things on his mind. He had just been elected the first-ever president of the United States. "I was summoned by my Country," he said in his inaugural address, given on April 30, 1789, "whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love." The country now summoning Washington was America. The voices he now loved were American. But his first country had been England. His first loyalty had been to King George's grandfather, George II. Long before George Washington was an American citizen, he was an English subject. No wonder George III fell apart. One of his own had turned against him. Virginia: 1732-1775 In the winter of 1732, King George II probably hadn't heard that a new George had just been born in Virginia, one of England's colonies on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Like most kings, George II was a busy man. He ruled over a growing empire that reached from England to America, India, and Africa. He shared his power with a parliament, an assembly of lawmakers who were elected by the English people. He also had nine children of his own, including an especially troublesome eldest son. But George II didn't need to know little George Washington personally to know that the baby was English. The baby's parents, Mary and Augustine Washington, were English, too, and so were their neighbors along the Potomac River. The colonists up in Massachusetts were English. The colonists down in Georgia were English. America was just another place where English people lived. That's what the king thought. That's what most people in America thought. Little George Washington grew up sitting on English chairs and eating off English plates. He pulled English-made pants over his lanky legs. He would have been educated in England, too, as his older brothers were, if his father hadn't died young. When Washington was in his early twenties, he served as an officer in the army of King George II. England and its longtime enemy France were at war, battling each other in Europe and in North America, where France had colonies of its own. In America, the conflict came to be called the French and Indian War. In Europe, it's known as the Seven Years' War. No matter its name, the war ended with an English victory. The young American colonel won fame on both sides of the Atlantic for his bravery. By now, King George II knew the name George Washington. So did his grandson, King George III, who took the throne after his grandfather's death in 1769. (His father, the troublemaking eldest child of George II, had died earlier, much to the relief of many.) Washington resigned from the army after five years and married a wealthy widow, Martha Custis. He inherited land and slaves, and he grew richer and richer. His property stretched far into the American wilderness. He was elected to the Virginia Assembly, where he mostly kept his mouth shut during political debates. But he was tall and strong, and heads turned whenever he walked into a room. As the years passed quickly for George Washington, something inside him was slowly changing. The more he thought about his king and the English parliament, the less he respected them. Their taxes were unfair. Their laws were unjust. They were keeping the best western lands for themselves. The more Washington saw of the vast North American continent, the less attached he felt to a small island in a distant corner of the North Atlantic. By 1775, George Washington realized that he wasn't English, not anymore, and neither was anyone else in America. Philadelphia and London: June 1775 On June 19, 1775, the Continental Congress asked George Washington to be general and commander in chief of the army of the United Colonies. He said yes because he believed that independence was worth the fight, but he wasn't happy about leading that fight. Representatives from the thirteen colonies had come to Philadelphia, the biggest city in North America, to discuss the future of America. Battles between the colonists and English soldiers had broken out around Boston, fueled by long-simmering disputes over taxes and civil liberties. More battles were coming. America needed its own military leader. Only one man, the Continental Congress decided, was right for the job. Washington wasn't so sure. "I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honored with," he told his fellow congressmen. No one likes a braggart, not now and certainly not back then, when it was considered very rude and very crude to boast about your achievements. Gentlemen in the late 1700s, especially gentlemen from fine old Virginia families like the Washingtons, spoke modestly about themselves if they spoke about themselves at all. George Washington, however, wasn't being modest for the sake of modesty. He wasn't just pretending to be humble. He was telling the truth. The job was way too big for him. It was probably too big for anybody. In fact, as jobs go, it was nearly impossible. Take another look at the title: general and commander in chief of the army of the United Colonies. It sounds like a powerful position, until you realize two unhappy facts: The colonies were deeply divided, not united, and there was no army, not yet anyway. Some of the delegates at the Continental Congress, especially those from Massachusetts and Virginia, were pushing hard for independence from England. Some of the delegates, especially those from the middle colonies of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, were pushing hard against independence. Some of the delegates, unsure of what they believed, just felt pushed. The opinions of everyday colonists were just as divided. The army that General Washington was supposed to lead was puny, undisciplined, and badly equipped. Compared to the thousands of well-trained, well-equipped soldiers King George already had in the colonies, the American forces were almost a joke. Over in London, though, the king wasn't laughing. The thirty-seven-year-old monarch took his royal duties very seriously. He took himself very seriously. Besides, his feelings were hurt. How could his sons and daughters in America not see that their king was kind and loving? That his intentions were good? Didn't they realize George III was doing God's work here on earth? Of course--yes, of course--the king knew there were sharp disagreements about the taxes the colonists owed their mother country. He was aware that some colonists were unhappy that they had no representatives in England's parliament. Up in New England, obviously, tempers had flared out of control. The king knew all that. He was not a stupid man, despite what some people said. But it was wrong, King George III believed, dead wrong, for some hotheaded farmers in tiny Massachusetts villages like Lexington and Concord to shoot and kill English soldiers. These soldiers were good and honorable men. They were peacekeepers, protecting the life and property of the colonies. They were patriots, not villains. Surely the colonies would come to their senses eventually. Cooler heads will soon prevail, George III assured himself. Unfortunately for the king, George Washington, despite his cool and controlled appearance, was firmly on the side of the hotheads. Writing to a friend, he reasoned that America could either fight for its freedom or be forever enslaved by England. "Can a virtuous Man hesitate in his choice?" This virtuous Man didn't. Still, the forty-three-year-old's military skills were rusty, to put it mildly. Nearly twenty years had passed since he was a colonel in the king's army, the same army he was now supposed to defeat. Back then he had commanded only a small band of soldiers. He had always been a leader, but he had never been a general. Before he left Philadelphia to meet his troops in Boston, America's new commander in chief bought five horses and a carriage, and designed a uniform for himself. He also stocked up on a few books about military strategy. In London, George III called the troublemakers in the colonies "unhappy and deluded." George Washington and his irksome army, His Majesty was certain, would be swiftly and soundly defeated by England's mighty military. But just to be on the safe side, George III asked Parliament to ship more troops to America. New Jersey and London: December 1776 Victory and defeat are flip sides of the same coin. The celebrated year of 1776, which started out so well for George Washington, was ending badly for the Americans. For that, King George III gave thanks. In Boston, eight months earlier, George Washington had a short-lived opportunity to question his initial doubts. Maybe he was a military genius. Maybe the English weren't so tough. Maybe the fight would be short and sweet, a triumph for America! On the morning of March 5, English troops had woken up to find hundreds of cannons staring right back at them. During the night, American soldiers had lugged heavy artillery up a bluff above the English encampment on Boston's harbor. It was a bold and daring move, and it worked like a charm. Less than two weeks later, the British departed Boston without firing another shot. Then, in July 1776, the Continental Congress, in Philadelphia, declared America a new nation, free and fully independent of England and King George III. The Declaration of Independence was read aloud to the American army, who cheered loudly and whooped it up, perhaps a little too much. One band of soldiers sliced the head off a statue of George III, then paraded the severed body part around lower Manhattan. George Washington told them simmer down. By the autumn of 1776, though, no one in the American army was celebrating. Thousands of soldiers had been killed in a series of losing battles in and around New York City. Thousands more had deserted, leaving Washington desperate for more men. Some New Yorkers were even joining the British army, certain that the American cause was doomed. That must have felt like a kick in the teeth for Washington. Before his troops, he appeared calm and confident. Privately, America's general was getting more and more gloomy. As he wrote his cousin Lund Washington on December 17, 1776, "I wish to Heaven it was in my power to give you a more favorable Acct of our situation," but unless a new wave of soldiers joined the army immediately, "the game will be pretty well up." Washington's woes pleased George III, although the king didn't gloat. That would be in very poor taste, and England's king wanted to be known for his forgiving heart, not his grudges. George III was a deeply religious man, a devout Christian. He served his country as both its monarch and as head of its church, the Church of England, which also had many followers in America. In the last weeks of 1776, he asked his fellow believers to join him in a prayer for his "unhappy deluded Subjects"--a favorite phrase of his--"in America, now in open rebellion against His Crown": [G]rant us . . . not only strength and courage to withstand them, but charity to forgive and pity them, to show a willingness to receive them again as friends and brethren, upon just and reasonable terms and to treat them with mercy and kindness. George Washington was a member of the Church of England. He had been baptized into the church as a baby. He and Martha were married by a minister of the faith, and he often attended Church of England services. But in the last days of 1776, he wasn't looking for mercy or kindness from George III and his brethren. At least, not until he made one more surprise attack. On Christmas night, Washington led 2,400 American soldiers across an ice-choked Delaware River to raid a camp of British troops in New Jersey. The strike was daring, maybe even desperate, but it succeeded. Only two Americans died in combat, while hundreds of their opponents were taken captive. A valuable trove of British muskets, bayonets, and cannons was now in the grateful hands of the weapon-starved American army. In those last days of 1776, three new facts came to light: * King George III's prayers hadn't been answered. * General George Washington's worst fears hadn't been realized. * The Revolutionary War was far from over. Chesapeake Bay and England: November 1781 George Washington was forty-nine years old in the fall of 1781. He had been general and commander in chief for six grueling years. He never had enough soldiers. He never had enough ammunition. He was tired. He was homesick. He was getting old, for heaven's sake. King George III had his own passel of problems. The drawn-out American war had become unpopular in Parliament and throughout his kingdom. It was expensive, maybe wrongheaded, too. Maybe the American colonies should be an independent nation. Maybe England would be better off without its rebellious American colonies. George III strongly disagreed, but even a king can't ignore the wishes of his people forever. George Washington and his troops might be unhappy and deluded, but they weren't giving up. The war had begun in New England, then headed south. For a time, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania saw the heaviest fighting. Later, the Carolinas and Virginia had their bloody turns. Excerpted from The Good Fight: The Feuds of the Founding Fathers (and How They Shaped the Nation) by Anne Quirk All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.