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Prelude to Disaster

George III and the Origins of the American Revolution, 1751–1763

Series:

John L. Bullion

Prelude to Disaster is the most comprehensive account of the fateful decision to tax American colonists. Unlike other studies, it emphasizes the central role of the young George III in the process. Central to this examination are George’s principles of statecraft and government, his thoughts on pre- and post-war empires, his assessments of future relations with Britain’s great antagonist France, his personality and its development before and after his accession to the throne, his friendship with the earl of Bute, and his attitudes toward domestic policies and politicians, especially George Grenville.

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Chapter 7. Taxing Beer

Extract

← 96 | 97 →

· 7 ·

TAXING BEER

Not long after George became king, Newcastle finalized the Treasury’s deal with the City’s bankers. He learned how much the government would have to pay annually in interest to fund a £12,000,000 loan: £484,000. The duke and his colleagues in turn informed the City how they planned to raise that sum, an excise tax of an additional three shillings on each barrel of strong beer, to be paid by the brewer within two weeks of production. Officials at the Treasury estimated this would yield £509,084 per annum. That would cover the interest on the twelve million with a little to spare for the Sinking Fund.1

When enacted, this would not be the first tax on beer in 1760. In February, Parliament had approved a levy of an additional three pence on each bushel of malt. What happened when this was proposed—the private agreement among the large brewers about their responses to it, their informal communication of them to Newcastle, the growing public awareness of the brewers’ discussions within the trade and with the Treasury, and the spreading suspicion in London that the brewers had collaborated with officials in determining what would be taxed and at which rate—all shaped reactions at Westminster and Whitehall and in London’s pubs to Newcastle’s proposed excise on beer in the fall of 1760. Some discussion of them is necessary. ← 97 | 98 →

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