"Blows must decide"

King George III
How a Revolution Saved an Empire

Op-Ed Contributor
How a Revolution Saved an Empire
Published: July 5, 2007
On hearing the news of the British defeat in Yorktown, Va., in October 1781, the prime minister of Britain is reported to have exclaimed, “Oh, God, it’s all over.”


AS Lord Cornwallis’s defeated army marched out of Yorktown, Va., in October 1781, its band is said to have played a tune called “The World Turned Upside Down.” It seemed appropriate: Cornwallis, King George III and his ministers were convinced that this defeat and the withdrawal of British troops from the 13 colonies would result not only in anarchy in America but also in the collapse of the entire British Empire.
During the cruel years of the war, George III had followed a hopelessly flawed strategy and had failed to commit adequate resources to the mission. He had never understood the character or nature of the American people and he had greatly underestimated their determination to throw off the yoke of British rule. The War of Independence had never just been about “taxation without representation.” It had been about the freedom for Americans to develop their own society in the way that they wished.

Americans still spoke the same language and had the same respect for God as the English, but they no longer thought the same way. They wanted to engage in free trade and expand their empire to the West. The radical element of New England led by men like Samuel Adams and James Otis, in particular, had had enough of kings and bishops, the corruptions of the legal system, the vice admiralty courts and the British Navy’s press gangs. It was fortunate for the world that the American Revolution succeeded — for under British rule America would never have become the great country, the force in the world for good, that it ultimately became.

George III was oblivious to the changed mindset in the colonies, and through a combination of hubris and a conviction that as the leader of the world’s premier military power he could bear no challenge to his authority, he had determined in 1775 to teach a sharp lesson to the radicals in North America: “Blows must decide.”

On hearing the news of the defeat at Yorktown, Lord North, the prime minister and architect of the war, is reported to have thrown his arms in the air exclaimed, “Oh, God, it’s all over.” In fact, for Britain it was just beginning. The nation was on the threshold of the industrial revolution; some rising politicians, like William Pitt (the younger one), could see beyond the end of the war and plan for Britain’s rapid political and economic recovery.

Comments: By a retired British Army general. 2nd to the last paragraph applies lesson to the Iraq war (dubious comparison in my mind), but still a good read!

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