George Grenville, the Prime Minister Who Started the American Revolution

October 14, 1712–November 13, 1770

George Grenville was the Prime Minister of Great Britain and was responsible for implementing policies that caused the American Revolution.

George Grenville, Prime Minister, Portrait
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George Grenville Biography

George Grenville was a British statesman and politician who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1763 to 1765. Grenville played an important role in developing legislation that was directed at the American Colonies for the purpose of raising revenue for the British Treasury, specifically the Sugar Act of 1764, the Currency Act of 1764, and the Stamp Act of 1765. The acts were intended to regulate the use of currency in the colonies and to raise revenue to help pay for the standing army in North America that was established after the French and Indian War. However, American political leaders, including James Otis of Massachusetts and Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island, accused Grenville and Parliament of levying taxes on the colonies without representation. The situation escalated with the passage of the Stamp Act, which caused the Stamp Act Crisis in America. During the crisis, effigies of Lord Bute and Grenville were often paraded, hung, and burned during public demonstrations. Grenville’s policies were criticized in Parliament by leaders such as Isaac Barré. Grenville also damaged Great Britain’s relations with European nations and made many political enemies, all of which contributed to his dismissal by King George III on July 10, 1765. Grenville was replaced by Charles Watson-Wentworth, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham.

Quick Facts About George Grenville

  • Date of Birth: George Grenville was born on October 14, 1712.
  • Parents: Grenville’s father was Richard Grenville. His mother was Hester Temple.
  • Education: He attended Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford.
  • Date of Death: George Grenville died on November 13, 1770.
  • Known For: Grenville is known for passing the Grenville Acts, which caused the American Revolution.
Stamp Act in Boston, Illustration
This illustration depicts angry colonists reading the Stamp Act. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

George Grenville and the Beginning of the American Revolution

Prime Minister of England

Grenville succeeded John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute, as Prime Minister of Great Britain on April 16, 1763. Bute resigned from the position due to opposition to his policies and growing unpopularity. One of Bute’s controversial decisions regarding the American Colonies was the establishment of a standing army of 10,000 troops in North America after the French and Indian War. As Prime Minister, Grenville ended up overhauling the financial system of the colonies by completely altering the relationship between the colonies and Britain through a series of ill-fated reforms. Each of his reforms, which were achieved through a series of bills passed by Parliament and approved by King George III, were, in fact, direct causes of the American Revolution.

Pontiac’s Rebellion and the Proclamation of 1763

Soon after Grenville took office, Pontiac’s Rebellion started in the Great Lakes Region of North America. It was a loosely-planned uprising of Native American Indian tribes who were upset over the provisions of the 1763 Treaty of Paris and the treatment they received from British officials in North America. Indian warriors attacked British forts and settlements throughout the region. In an effort to end the uprising, King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763 which reserved the territory as hunting grounds for the tribes. However, it also restricted the westward expansion of the colonies. The threat of another uprising by the Indians and the need to enforce the Proclamation of 1763 justified the need for a standing army, even though Americans disagreed. However, in order to pay for the army, Grenville needed to find ways to raise money to cover the costs.

King George III. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Grenville Ends Salutary Neglect and Reforms Customs

Grenville and the Lords of the Treasury looked at different ways to raise money to help pay for the army in North America. It was decided the best option was to raise money from the American Colonies. To do that, Grenville ended the long-standing policy of Salutary Neglect and directed British customs officials to start enforcing the Navigation Acts — especially the Molasses Act of 1733 — on American merchants.

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In order to enforce the Navigation Acts, Grenville overhauled the British customs service. In order to force customs commissioners to collect taxes, he required them to live in the colonies. Before that, a customs commissioner usually lived in England and paid someone else to live in the colonies and perform the duties of the job. Grenville also authorized the Royal Navy to help enforce the Navigation Acts. The Vice-Admiralty courts were also given jurisdiction over court cases that dealt with smuggling and violations of the Navigation Acts.

Grenville Introduces the Sugar Act of 1764

Grenville introduced his budget to Parliament on March 9, 1764, which included new and revised taxes related to the Molasses Act. Those provisions were collected together into one bill, known as the Sugar Act. It was passed by the House of Commons and House of Lords and received Royal Assent from King George III on April 5, 1764. The Sugar Act was the first revenue act passed by Parliament for the purpose of raising money from the American Colonies. As far as the colonists were concerned, it was the first law from Parliament that levied “taxation without representation.”

During the speech that introduced the Sugar Act, Grenville also hinted at another law that would be needed in order to raise enough money — a stamp tax.

Grenville Takes Control of Colonial Currency

The next step in Grenville’s financial plan was to eliminate paper money that was used in some of the American Colonies. Parliament passed the Currency Act on April 19, 1764. Under the provisions of the act, Parliament essentially took control of currency in Colonial America on September 1, 1764. Parliament had already abolished paper money in New England and the Currency Act extended the policy to the rest of the colonies.

The bill was created to force American merchants to pay British merchants with specie — gold and silver — instead of paper money, which fluctuated in value. The main problem with the Currency Act was it required debts to be paid with gold and silver, which was in short supply in the colonies.

Americans Respond to the Sugar Act and Currency Act

Americans protested the Sugar Act, primarily through economic and political means, and often those protests included arguments against being forced to pay with gold and silver. 

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During this time, Samuel Adams rose to prominence and joined with James Otis as a leader in Massachusetts against British policies.

The passage and enforcement of the Sugar Act contributed to the growth of an ideological movement in Colonial America that help fuel the American Revolution. The ideas behind the slogan “no taxation without representation” were key arguments against Grenville’s taxation policies in regard to the American Colonies.

Samuel Adams, Painting, Copley
Samuel Adams. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Grenville Orchestrates the Stamp Act

Following on the heels of the Sugar Act and Currency Act, Grenville started working on the Stamp Act. The bill was drafted by Thomas Whately, and both Whately and Grenville discussed it with some of the agents for the colonies, including Benjamin Franklin, Jarod Ingersoll of Connecticut, and William Knox of Georgia. Despite objections to the act, the agents were unable to present an alternative, so Grenville moved ahead with the Stamp Act, which was introduced to the House of Commons on February 6, 1765. During that session, Isaac Barré criticized the bill and referred to the Americans who were speaking out against taxation as “sons of liberty.” Despite Barré’s protest, the bill passed both Houses of Parliament. It received Royal Assent on March 22 and was scheduled to take effect on November 1, 1765.

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The Stamp Act required all legal documents and many printed materials, including newspapers pamphlets, and playing cards, to be printed on paper that was embossed with a special stamp. Americans would have to buy the stamped paper from designated Stamp Distributors — and would have to buy it with gold and silver — per the requirements of the Currency Act.

The Stamp Act Crisis

Americans found out in April the Stamp Act passed, and almost immediately started to speak out against it. Many Americans felt it was possible to convince Parliament to repeal the act before it went into effect on November 1. 

As with the Sugar Act, Americans protested with political and economic means. Virginia passed the Stamp Act Resolves, and several other colonies followed suit, including Massachusetts and New Jersey. Massachusetts sent a circular letter that called for an intercolonial conference, which was held in New York in October.

However, opposition to the Stamp Act turned violent and carried out into the streets. Those protests — the Stamp Act Riots — often included mobs that burned effigies of Bute and Grenville. Some of them targeted British officials, including Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts. Others targeted the Stamp Agents, who were often threatened with violence and forced to publicly resign. The riots and public demonstrations were usually carried out by groups that eventually referred to themselves as the “Sons of Liberty.”

Stamp Act, Tarring and Feathering a Stamp Agent
This illustration depicts colonists tarring and feathering a Stamp Agent. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

In October, the Stamp Act Congress met in New York and produced the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” that asserted Parliament did not have the authority to tax the colonies.

During the Stamp Act Crisis, the ideals of the American Revolution were formed and came to the forefront of the Patriot Cause. The crisis also brought several Patriot leaders to the forefront, including Patrick Henry and Christopher Gadsden.

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The Quartering Act of 1765

One final controversial act that was passed under the Grenville Ministry had nothing to do directly with fiscal reform, but it did deal with helping to defray the cost of the army. On March 24, 1765, Parliament passed the Quartering Act of 1765, which required a colonial legislature to provide money to cover the cost of basic needs, such as bedding, cooking utensils, firewood, beer or cider, and candles for troops that were stationed in its colony. 

At the time, the only colony troops were stationed in was New York. After the Stamp Act was passed, the New York Sons of Liberty, led by Isaac Sears, John Lamb, and Alexander McDougall, formed and organized resistance to British policy. Not only did the Sons of Liberty antagonize the Redcoats, but some of them were also members of the New York Assembly. At first, the New York Assembly refused to provide the money needed for the expenses, which upset the soldiers and British officials.

Over time, the presence of troops in New York raised tensions between the citizens of the city and the Redcoats. In 1770, it led to the Battle of Golden Hill, an incident where British troops attacked New Yorkers in the streets of the city. It took place in January — roughly six weeks before the Boston Massacre.

The End of the Grenville Ministry

In the spring of 1765, King George III was sick and could not perform his duties. Grenville introduced the Regency Bill, which specified a member of the Royal Family should act in the King’s place if he was incapacitated for a lengthy amount of time. Despite the good intentions, King George III was upset. Further complicating matters was the fact the silk weavers in Britain were rioting and protesting against domestic policies. King George III simply had enough of Grenville and decided to replace him. On July 13, 1765, in the midst of the Stamp Act Crisis, Charles Watson-Wentworth, the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham, took the office.

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George Grenville Facts

Early Life

  • George Grenville was born on born October 14, 1711, in Buckinghamshire, England.
  • Grenville’s father was Richard Grenville, a member of Parliament, and his mother was Hester Temple.

Education

  • George Grenville was educated at Eton, Christ College, Oxford, and the Inner Temple.
  • Grenville trained to be a lawyer and joined the London Bar in 1735.
  • He practiced law until 1741 when he was elected to Parliament.

Early Political Career

  • George Grenville was a member of the Whig Party.
  • Grenville aligned himself with political opponents of Prime Minister Roberg Walpole, including William Pitt. Grenville and his allies, which included his brother Richard, were called the “Boy Patriots” and became the Cobhamite Faction.
Robert Walpole, Painting
Robert Walpole. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Pelham Ministry

  • In 1744, George Grenville was made a Lord of the Admiralty in the administration of Henry Pelham.
  • Grenville worked with his brother, Richard, and William Pitt.
  • In June 1747, he became one of the Lords of the Treasury.

Family Connection with William Pitt

  • In 1754, George Grenville’s sister, Hester, married William Pitt, further strengthening their ties.

Newcastle Ministry

  • George Grenville became the Treasurer of the Navy and a Privy Councilor in 1754.
  • Grenville, Pitt, and others were dismissed from their offices in 1755 after they opposed a treaty with Russia.
  • Afterward, he allied himself with John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute, and followers of Frederick, Prince of Wales. The group was known as the “Leicester House Set.”

Pitt-Cavendish Ministry

  • In 1756, Pitt formed a ministry with William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire.
  • George Grenville was returned to the office of Treasurer of the Navy.
  • However, Grenville wanted another position — Paymaster of Forces — and was upset he was passed over. It was the beginning of a political rift between Pitt and Grenville.
  • As a result of the rift, Grenville moved closer to the Prince of Wales — the future King George III, and the Prince’s advisor, Lord Bute.

Leader of the House of Commons

  • In 1761, George Grenville became the leader of the House of Commons.
  • Grenville was an advocate of ending the Seven Years’ War.

Bute Ministry

  • In 1762, George Grenville joined the Bute Ministry as the Secretary of State for the Northern Department.
  • Bute started to negotiate peace with France, without consulting the cabinet. Grenville and other members of the cabinet were upset.
  • Bute demoted Grenville to First Lord of the Admiralty over the dispute.
  • After the Treaty of Paris was signed, Bute implemented the Cider Tax in Britain. The tax was unpopular and led to riots — but was also supported by Grenville.
  • On April 16, 1763, Bute asked Grenville to take over as the First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer — which is considered to be the position of Prime Minister by most historians.

The Wilkes Controversy

  • During Bute’s administration, John Wilkes started a newspaper called “The North Briton” that was critical of Bute’s policies.
  • On April 23, 1763, King George III endorsed peace with France in a speech he gave to Parliament.
  • Wilkes was critical of the speech in issue number 45 of “The North Briton.”
  • King George III was insulted and Wilkes was charged with seditious libel.
  • Wilkes argued he was protected from the charge because he was a member of Parliament. 
  • In Parliament, there was a debate over the issue. George Grenville wanted Wilkes arrested, but William Pitt argued against it. A judge agreed with Grenville.
  • Wilkes and 48 others were arrested by order of Grenville.
  • Many people in Britain — and the American Colonies — supported Wilkes.
  • The slogan “Wilkes, Liberty, and Number 45” became popular.
  • The incident hurt Grenville’s credibility with the public and his popularity in Parliament.

Implementation of the Grenville Acts

  • After the Wilkes Affair, George Grenville turned his attention to overhauling the colonial fiscal system to help pay for the standing army in North America.
  • Grenville reformed the customs office, ordered enforcement of the Navigation Acts, and ended Salutary Neglect.
  • He levied taxes on the American Colonies — without the consent of colonial legislatures — with the Sugar Act and Stamp Act.
  • Grenville took control of the monetary system in the colonies by abolishing paper money and other forms of currency that were popular in America.
  • He also oversaw the passage of the first Quartering Act, which required colonial legislatures to help pay for housing, food, and supplies for British troops.
  • Americans protested the acts through political and public protests, including the Stamp Act Congress.
  • The Grenville Acts led to the Sugar Act Crisis, the Stamp Act Crisis, the formation of the Sons of Liberty, and organized resistance to British policies in the American Colonies.
  • Ultimately, the Grenville Acts led directly to the American Revolution.
Stephen Hopkins, Illustration
Stephen Hopkins was a leader in the opposition to the Sugar Act. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Replaced by Rockingham

  • In 1765, King George III replaced Grenville as Prime Minister with Charles Watson-Wentworth, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham.
  • King George III famously said of Grenville, “His opinions are seldom formed from any other motives than such as may be expected to originate in the mind of a clerk in a counting house…When he has wearied me for two hours he looks at his watch to see if he may not tire me for one hour more.”

Later Years of George Grenville

  • George Grenville continued to serve in Parliament, but never again held office in any administration.
  • Grenville voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act.
  • He died in London on October 13, 1770.

Terms and Definitions Related to George Grenville

The Leicester House Set

The Leicester House Set — also known as the Leicester House Faction — was a group of Whig politicians who were political allies of Frederick, the Prince of Wales. They were known for their opposition to the policies of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, who was the dominant figure in British politics at the time — and the architect of Salutary Neglect. The group was named after Leicester House in London, where they met. It included notable figures such as George Grenville, William Wyndham, John Percival, and George Bubb Doddington.

Cobhamite Faction

The Cobhamite faction was a political group that emerged in Britain during the breakdown of the two-party system. Led by Lord Cobham, the group consisted of members of the Whig party who opposed the policies of Prime Minister Robert Walpole. The Cobhamites worked closely with the Tory opposition and were known for their strong opposition to Walpole’s government. They were also known for their support of the War of Jenkins’ Ear and for their opposition to the Pelham government in the 1750s. George Grenville and William Pitt were both prominent members of the group.

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Seditious Libel

Seditious libel is a crime that involves the publication of material that is critical of the government, with the intent of creating discord and potentially inciting rebellion. In the 18th century, it was a common charge against writers and publishers — like John Wilkes — who were seen as undermining the authority of the government. It was considered a serious offense, and those convicted of seditious libel could face severe penalties, including imprisonment, fines, and even execution.

Frequently Asked Questions About George Grenville

What did George Grenville do as Privy Councilor?

George Grenville was a member of the Privy Council of King George II. A Privy Councilor was a member of the Privy Council, which was a group of advisors to the British monarch. In the 18th century, the Privy Council was one of the most important bodies in the British government and played a central role in the political life of the empire, including the Americal Colonies. Privy Councilors were appointed by the monarch and were typically senior members of the government, such as cabinet ministers or high-ranking officials. They were responsible for providing advice and counsel to the monarch on a wide range of issues, including policy decisions, legislation, and diplomatic matters. Privy Councilors were also involved in the administration of justice, and many of them served as judges or magistrates.

What were the Grenville Acts?

The Grenville Acts are generally considered to be the following — ending Salutary Neglect, the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), and the Quartering Act (1765). The Proclamation of 1763 was also issued during Grenville’s tenure as Prime Minister. All of those actions are direct causes of the American Revolution.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title George Grenville, the Prime Minister Who Started the American Revolution
  • Coverage October 14, 1712–November 13, 1770
  • Author
  • Keywords George Grenville, Prime Minister of Great Britain, Salutary Neglect, Molasses Act, Sugar Act, Currency Act, Stamp Act, Quartering Act of 1765, Proclamation of 1763, King George III, William Pitt, American Revolution, Grenville Acts
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date January 29, 2023
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 19, 2023

George Grenville, the Prime Minister Who Started the American Revolution is Part of the Following on AHC

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