Segment from Mission Accomplished

Proclaiming Peace, Creating War?

Reporter Cathy Corman discusses the Royal Proclamation of 1763 with historian Colin Calloway, discovering how an attempt to end one war ultimately started another.

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PETER: The Seven Years’ War, also known as the French and Indian War, holds a special place in the annals of messy, confusing American conflicts. Much of the war was fought in North America between the British and the French for control of the continent. The Indians were pulled in on both sides, though, for the most part, they were allied with the French.

ED: When the war finally ended, the British struggled to devise a solution that would make peace between the embattled British colonists and Indian neighbors. But unfortunately, the solution wound up causing more problems than it solved. Cathy Corman tells this story.

CATHY CORMAN: At the end of the Seven Years’ War, it was clear to the British, who had won, that making peace would be as, if not more, difficult than making war.

COLIN CALLOWAY: Should this be a punitive peace that would destroy the French as a rival to the British? Or would that simply spur the French on to seek revenge? Was Canada really worth keeping, when all that it seemed to produce was snow and beaver pelts?

CATHY CORMAN: This is Colin Calloway, professor of history and Native American studies at Dartmouth College. He says that the British realized that the heart of the problem was land, specifically Indian land along the colonies’ Western boundary. And so the British included an important provision in the peace, known as the Proclamation of 1763.

COLIN CALLOWAY: Sp the Proclamation of 1763 essentially says that the Appalachian Mountains will be a barrier between British settlement in the East and Indian country in the West. And that means that British traders will not operate in Indian country without a license, and that British settlers are not allowed to go into Indian country and trespass on Indian land.

CATHY CORMAN: This was a great idea in theory. Keep British colonists off the Indian land so cooler heads would prevail. But the Proclamation, Calloway says, actually proved to be the peace’s undoing. The problem comes in two parts. First, taxes. After the Seven Years’ War, the British found themselves buried under a pile of war-related debt. Their solution? Raise taxes on colonists.

COLIN CALLOWAY: And I think we all know where that went.


COLIN CALLOWAY: That’s not the real problem. The real problem is that the people who are really affected and upset by this Proclamation are not individual settlers, but they are members of the colonial elite, if you like, who have invested in Western land.

CATHY CORMAN: Like oil today, land was the hot commodity in 18th century North America. The Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, loved land as much as liberty. George Washington, a real estate mogul in his time. He wasn’t about to let the King of England prevent him and his friends from profiting on acreage west of the Appalachians. Here’s Washington in a letter he wrote to a fellow speculator in 1767.

MALE SPEAKER: I can never look upon the Proclamation in any other light than as a temporary expedient to quiet the minds of the Indians. But it must fall, of course, in a few years, especially when those Indians consent to our occupying those lands.

CATHY CORMAN: Taxes and land. Tensions boiled over in 1776 and resulted in the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War. The Americans won and declared peace in 1783. They met with the British in Paris and hammered out a treaty of peace. End of story? Not by a long shot.

COLIN CALLOWAY: There are no Indians in Paris when the peace is made. The Treaty of Paris doesn’t really even mention Indians. So what’s happening here is that you have European powers, or European-American powers transferring Indian land, Indian homelands, back and forth like some big board game.

CATHY CORMAN: Up until this point, European powers had always recognized Indians as key players deserving a seat at the table and a slice of the pie, just as the British had with the Royal Proclamation of 1763. But now, for the first time in the history of Indian diplomacy, the spoils simply went to the victors.

COLIN CALLOWAY: At first, the Indians are shell-shocked. And the news of the peace of Paris comes like a bombshell. Indians are thunderstruck. Joseph Brant says, this is unbelievable.

CATHY CORMAN: Joseph Brant was a Mohawk leader who spoke English fluently, wore a blue suit, and had visited London several times. He was so astonished to be left out of the peace that he wrote the British governor in Quebec, begging for clarification.

MALE SPEAKER: I’m now sent on behalf of all the King’s Indian allies to know whether they are included in the treaty with the Americans, and whether those lands which the Great Being above has pointed out for our ancestors and their descendants is secure to them, or whether the blood of their grandchildren is to be mingled with their bones.

CATHY CORMAN: Both sides felt legally entitled to the land. There was no peaceful way forward. So did they fight?

COLIN CALLOWAY: Yeah, they fight. And the Americans are not open to negotiate. The Americans really cannot negotiate. All they have is land. They have no money. They’re trying to build a government. They’re about trying to build a nation. The Indians have no choice if they’re going to survive but to try and defend that land.

CATHY CORMAN: And so, you wind up with more war.

COLIN CALLOWAY: So you wind up more war.

CATHY CORMAN: Shawnees, Mohawks, Miamis, Ojibwes, Pottawatomies, Ottawas, Delawares, and Wyandottes. They all banded together into a confederacy. They killed 900 of 1,400 American soldiers in three hours in 1791, essentially decimating the first American army.

But disease and a newly rebuilt American army took their toll. The Indians surrendered in 1794, and the next year, ceded most of what is now Ohio to the American government. With the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the British set up a boundary that tried to recognize competing rights and interests. In their attempt to end one war, they unknowingly set up a conflict. One that led to three more decades of bloody battle.

PETER: Cathy Corman teaches history and makes radio in Boston. We’ll post links to further reading on the Proclamation of 1763 at our website,

ED: It’s time for a quick break. When we get back, James K, Polk. A man on a mission.

AMY GREENBERG: James K. Polk believed God had put him on the Earth to bring territory under American control. He worked 16 hour days every day to win this war.

PETER: You’re listening to BackStory. We’ll be back in a minute.