The British king issued a royal decree in 1763 to manage Great Britain’s lands in North America. With its recent victory in the French and Indian War, Britain had acquired a vast territory from France. The Proclamation of 1763 drew a line along the Appalachian Mountains and prohibited British colonists from settling west of it. The proclamation was intended partly to help Britain control its new lands, but it was especially notable for acknowledging the rights of the American Indians who already occupied the territory. The law became a cornerstone of Native American law in the United States and in Canada.
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Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
The treaty that ended the French and Indian War made Britain the ruler of Canada and of the land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River. Settlers from Britain’s eastern colonies flooded into the Ohio River valley, invading American Indian lands. In response, the Ottawa leader Pontiac united the Indian tribes in resistance against the British. They attacked and captured a number of British settlements in what became known as Pontiac’s War.
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The conflict on the frontier led George III, the king of Great Britain, to issue a royal proclamation on October 7, 1763. The proclamation organized four new British territories in America: Quebec, East and West Florida, and Grenada (in the West Indies). But it also created a vast British-administered American Indian reservation west of the Appalachians. It forbade settlement on that territory, ordered any settlers already there to withdraw, and strictly limited future settlement. For the first time in the history of European colonization in the Americas, the proclamation formalized the concept of American Indian land titles, or ownership. It prohibited the colonists from disturbing any land claimed by a tribe unless the Indians had willingly given up ownership by selling the land or signing a treaty.
The proclamation acknowledged that “great frauds and abuses have been committed in purchasing lands of the Indians.” In an effort to prevent such abuses, the proclamation stated that from then on “no private person” could buy land reserved for American Indians. It required that future land purchases be made only by government officials in a public meeting.
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The colonists strongly objected to the Proclamation of 1763. They resented that the British government was restricting their settlements and taking control of the west out of their hands. Colonial anger over the proclamation helped spark the 12-year crisis that led to the American Revolution. In the short term, the proclamation did little to stem the tide of westward expansion. Many pioneers simply ignored the proclamation as they continued to push westward, leading to decades of warfare with American Indians.
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