'King of Great Britain' in Declaration of Independence [metonym?]

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easychen

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi,

Here's a quote from the Declaration of Independence:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations,...

I wonder if King of Great Britain here was a metonymy for Great Britain, or exactly referred to the person (king George)?

Could you help me with that?

Many thanks.
 
  • easychen

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you Mike!

    The reason I raised the question is that most Chinese editions refer it to Great Britain (the country).
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I think that perhaps "the King of Great Britain" could be a metonymy for the reign of George III, or for his management of the Colonies, but it's certainly not a metonymy for all of Great Britain​.
     

    easychen

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I think that perhaps "the King of Great Britain" could be a metonymy for the reign of George III, or for his management of the Colonies, but it's certainly not a metonymy for all of Great Britain​.
    Since he led the country, George Ⅲ represented the country. But yes, I believe the censure was focused on the person and his government.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    In the Declaration of Independence, the colonists were deliberately registering their complaints against the king in person, for two reasons at least.

    First, if they complained against the government, that is, the king's ministers, this would amount only to a demand for a change of policy or at most a change of government (a new adminstration, with new ministers): it would not amount to a juridical claim of independence.

    Secondly, the head of the British state was in fact the king and under the unwritten British constitution every governmental act was in theory an act of the king's. At that time, the king did in reality still exercise some political power and was to a degree personally responsible for the policy towards the American colonies (whereas today, the Queen may express a view privately to her ministers, but does not influence policy).

    Another reason may have been a deliberate intention to demonstrate defiance, or at least the pride of a separate nation.
     
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    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    The reference to the present King of Great Britain indicates that it is a reference to the king as an individual. If it were a reference to the king as representative of British monarchy and power, it would not have pointed directly to the <current> king whose specific actions the drafters of the Declaration of Independence were complaining about.
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Another reason may have been a deliberate intention to demonstrate defiance, or at least the pride of a separate nation.
    This is really a significant understatement.
    The signers of the Declaration knew that they were putting their lives at risk. Benjamin Franklin said, 'We must all hang together, or we shall assuredly all hang separately'.

    In other words, they knew that declaring independence was treason against the British Crown. With that knowledge in mind, they deliberately cast their declaration in a form which was the most offensive possible (in the legal sense).

    In fact, each of the explicit accusations they made against the king in person was a treasonable offence in itself. Under English law, the mere fact of making any such statement constituted the crime of lèse majesté, which is classified as treason.

    Lèse majesté is an old legal term in Norman French, meaning 'injured majesty'. Any statement which suggests the monarch has done wrong, or was not entitled to do what he did, tends to reduce his greatness (injure his majesty): in other words, merely making such a statement is enough to weaken the king's position. To do that is treason and the penalty is (or was then) death.

    As mentioned, the signers of the Declaration did this with open eyes, knowing that if they failed they would die.
    A number of the defeated Jacobites who had taken part in the rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie thirty years earlier had been convicted of treason and had been hung, drawn and quartered.
     
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    JustKate

    Senior Member
    Very nice explanation, Wandle. I'll just add that those advocating for independence did indeed dislike King George personally and blamed him for the actions of his government (as well as blaming the government and its representatives)...and from what I've read, he took the rebellion personally, too.
     
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    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    I recall from the play 1776 - and before you laugh, that play was extremely well-researched - that there was language in the original document that referred to Parliament as well, but it was removed because the rebels' complaint was specifically with King George.
     
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