The Proclamation Line

A major matter of concern to British ministers at the end of the Seven Years War was establishing peaceful relations with Native Americans. With colonials intent on pushing settlements ever further westward, the prospects for such a resolution must have seemed quite remote in 1763, especially when news of Pontiac's Rebellion reached London that summer. Putting a check on colonial expansion, or at least slowing its pace so that it could be managed in a much more diplomatic (and peaceful) manner, therefore became a top priority for imperial officials.

The policy they hit upon became the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which established the western boundary of British settlement along a line—later known as the "Proclamation Line"—notionally drawn north to south along the Appalachian mountains. Because "it is just and reasonable, and essential to our Interest, and the Security of our Colonies, that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians with whom We are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed," no purchase or grant of any lands beyond the line would be authorized "for the present." The proclamation did not erase the claims of colonies such as Virginia and Pennsylvania to western lands but it did place the administration of them in the hands of the British commander-in-chief in America. The Proclamation of 1763 also established the governments of Quebec, East Florida, West Florida, and Grenada, and provided grants of land for colonial soldiers who served in the Seven Years War, from 5,000 acres for field officers to 50 acres for "every Private man."

On the ground in the colonies, Sir William Johnson (ca. 1715-1774) and John Stuart (1718-1779), the two superintendents for Indian affairs, were responsible for enforcing the Proclamation. In this post, which reported directly to the commander-in-chief and the Secretaries of State, they were tasked with negotiating the actual new borders between individual colonies and neighboring tribes as well as removing unauthorized settlers. Both efforts proved unsuccessful. Colonials were hardly inclined to abide by an imaginary line drawn on a map 3,000 miles away. Consequently, thousands of settlers persisted on encroaching on Native lands, and land companies—such as the Ohio Company, the Mississippi Company, and the Susquehanna Company—continued to press for and receive grants of it from governors and the Privy Council. The 1768 treaties of Stanwix and Hard Labor did little to help matters, as confusion over terms that shifted the Proclamation Line further west only accelerated competition for newly-open lands between speculators and settlers from Virginia and Pennsylvania (a problem that led directly to Dunmore's War in 1774 to secure land in the Ohio country for Virginia). The Line was again renegotiated in 1771 and by 1776, when the United States declared independence and expressly repudiated the Line, hundreds of Americans claimed almost 500,000 acres in the territory.

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