Upon review of the many factors leading to the American Revolution, one must look at the year of 1763 as a clear dividing line. In 1763 the French and Indian War ended and the Royal Proclamation of 1763 was decreed leading to many changes on the American continent.
Before 1763 the American colonies virtually accepted all British crown rule and legislation. Surely there were grumblings or discontent over certain policies, but colonists generally agreed that the British acted with the colonies’ best interests in mind.
This relationship dramatically changed in the events following the Treaty of Paris in February 1763 that concluded the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War in Europe).
The terms of the Treaty of Paris granted Britain huge amounts of new territory in the Americas. All French territory east of the Mississippi River was granted to Britain, while all territory west of the river and the crucial port city of New Orleans was granted to Spain. Britain also gained the Spanish territory of Florida in the Treaty.
American colonists and land speculators were hungry to settle this new territory won in the war. The British however were less enthused about the prospect of potential further confrontations on the frontier.
Accordingly, in October 1763 King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 halting the westward expansion of American colonists.
The colonies were furious and the proclamation would be the first of a long list of grievances that would eventually lead to the American Revolution.
What is the Proclamation of 1763?
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 issued by King George III was a royal order that served multiple purposes in the American colonies.
Firstly, the proclamation ordered the creation of four new distinct provinces in the Americas to organize the new territory gained. These provinces were Quebec, West Florida, East Florida, and the Caribbean islands of Grenada.
Importantly, it also created a vast territory of so-called “Indian Reserve” which was reserved for the Native American tribes already occupying the lands. The land designating the Indian Reserve was marked in the east along the Appalachian mountains or the Eastern Continental Divide.1
The Proclamation of 1763 also forbade British colonists from settling the lands outside of the newly-established provinces or current existing colonies. Any colonist currently living in the Indian Reserve was required to vacate and move to an established colony. British authorities considered it treasonous to disregard the decree.
This meant that all of the Indian Reserve was off limits to settlement. The Indian Reserve was the territory adjacent to the existing American colonies and thus the land most coveted for settlement.
The King’s proclamation also granted all men who served in the French and Indian War a minimum 50 acres of land in the existing, organized colonies. Royal governors could issue these land grants at their discretion.
The Proclamation of 1763 was also a watershed moment for the rights of the Native Americans. It is the first official document that arguably recognizes titles and rights of land for natives as Governors could not transfer their land to private companies or individuals.
Significance of the Proclamation of 1763 – The British Perspective
The significance Proclamation of 1763 from the British perspective shows that the proclamation was only meant as a temporary order and for the colonists’ benefit. Temporarily preventing westward expansion would help prevent warfare on the frontier as well as encourage settlement in other areas of the British colonies like Florida.
From the British perspective, the Proclamation of 1763 was a logical and sound policy decision. The new territory needed governance and the British split the territory as they saw fit.
In order to pacify the Native Americans, the proclamation specifically created an Indian Reserve. Following the French and Indian War, the natives of the Midwest region lost their primary ally in the French.
The natives were wary of the American colonists’ encroachment on their lands and did not trust the British to stem the flow of settlers. Pontiac’s Rebellion of 1763 resulted from this fear and the native acknowledgement of the British/American threat.
The British government was saddled with enormous debts from the Seven Years’ War and did not want to get dragged into unending conflicts in the Midwest with the native tribes. They thus ordered the Royal Proclamation of 1763 to potentially prevent future costly wars. In addition, friendly relations with natives could help the British take further control and maintain the lucrative French fur trade.2
Not only would the proclamation save the British money through war prevention, it also encouraged colonial populations to grow in their newfound territories. The provinces of Quebec and the Floridas had majority French and Spanish populations.
Encouraging American colonists to settle these lands could help prevent future wars with France and Spain and bring the territories further under British rule.
The British economic policy of mercantilism also played a large role in this policy. The most valuable British colonies were those with direct access to the ocean. Thus the raw materials from the Americas could be shipped back to Britain and turned into finished goods.
Farmers in the Midwest needed to send goods down the Mississippi River to make it to global markets. The Spanish controlled the port of New Orleans and the British foresaw impending conflicts should Spain gain unfettered access to the midwestern goods.
Finally, the British never intended for the Proclamation of 1763 to be permanent. Once settlement stabilized the British planned to alter the proclamation line and adjust it westward as necessary.
Significance of the Proclamation of 1763 – The American Perspective
The significance of the Proclamation of 1763 from the American perspective shows that the colonists felt betrayed by the proclamation and dismayed over the end of the period known as Salutary Neglect. In addition, colonists who fought in the French and Indian War were promised lands on the Indian Reserve that they could not access.
Thousands of American colonists had fought in the French and Indian War for the British. In return for their service, the British promised lands on the frontier as an incentive to join the militias. A vast majority of this land was to be in the frontier once incorporated following the conclusion of the war.
George Washington himself received 20,000 acres for his service in the Ohio River valley — now part of the Indian Reserve. Many of his soldiers suffered a similar fate where they received land but could not settle it until the British lifted the proclamation.
These soldiers felt betrayed that after fighting against the French and Indians, the monarchy would prioritize rewarding their former enemies over its own colonists.
Soldiers weren’t the only ones with grievances. Many of the colonists’ landed gentry, especially in Virginia, were major stakeholders in companies that speculated on land in the territory west of the Continental Divide.3
Without the ability to obtain land grants and land titles from colonial Governors, these companies suffered greatly from the proclamation. Many investors lost large amounts of money even as the proclamation failed to stem the flow of ordinary colonists westward.
Resentment over the British “meddling” in colonial affairs was something that colonists from all socioeconomic backgrounds could relate to. In order to enforce the Proclamation of 1763, the British stationed nearly 10,000 troops along the frontier. The colonies needed to foot the bill for these additional costs.
The stationing of the permanent troops led many colonists to believe that the British meddling in colonial affairs would continue. Though just a line, many colonists felt as if the monarchy was stifling its growth and preventing westward expansion.
The Proclamation and the American Revolution
Historians debate just how much of an effect the Proclamation of 1763 had on the American Revolution. Some believe that it had very little effect.
In fact, the rigid line along the Continental Divide limiting westward expansion lasted only five years. By 1768 the Treaties of Fort Stanwix and Hard Labor had already moved the dividing line further westward into the Indian Reserve in an attempt to quell the insatiable colonial thirst for more land.
Other historians believe that the Proclamation of 1763 was just the first of many grievances that sparked the American Revolution. It was the first blow and an ideological shift between Britain and the colonies about self-governance and what authority the monarchy and Parliament had over colonial affairs.
Colonial fears about further British meddling proved to be true with the subsequent taxes levied upon the colonies. The Sugar Act of 1764 and Stamp Act of 1765, along with several others, were deeply unpopular.4
Widespread resentment over further British legislation, especially the Intolerable Acts of 1774, would inevitably lead to the outbreak of the American Revolution.
Ironically, once the United States proved victorious, the new nation found itself in a similarly difficult position of trying to curb wars on the frontier caused by westward expansion.
The United States passed the first of the Nonintercourse Acts in 1790 authorizing the federal government to control westward expansion. The Supreme Court case of Johnson vs M’Intosh delivered a ruling that only the federal government could purchase native lands.
Despite the similar land regulations in the decades afterwards, the Proclamation of 1763 played a significant role in the social unrest in the lead up to the American Revolution.
To learn more about US history, check out this timeline of the history of the United States.
1) Sweet, Julie Anne. “1763: What a Difference a Year Makes.” Reviews in American History, vol. 34, no. 3, 2006, pp. 276–80. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30031528.
2) Humphreys, R. A. “Lord Shelburne and the Proclamation of 1763.” The English Historical Review, vol. 49, no. 194, 1934, pp. 241–64. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/553250.
3) Eugene M. Del Papa. “The Royal Proclamation of 1763: Its Effect upon Virginia Land Companies.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 83, no. 4, 1975, pp. 406–11. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4247979.
4) Oaks, Robert F. “The Impact of British Western Policy on the Coming of the American Revolution in Pennsylvania.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 101, no. 2, 1977, pp. 171–89. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20091146.