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HOW ENGLISH CANADIAN AND FRENCH CANADIAN RELATIONS were AFFECTED BY THE ROYAL PROCLAMATION
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 retains its significance today as a fundamental document in the history of Canada and First Nations. It is one of the outstanding legacies of the struggle for North American territories characterized predominantly by competition between French and British colonists. As this struggle unfolded, the First Nations were on the receiving end as the indigenous populations of the land under contention. The struggle created the impression that First Nations were helpless, dependent victims of greater powers.
The Proclamation also had far-reaching effects on English-Canadian and French Canadian relations. The Proclamation had profound effects on the territories as well as the adjoining waters that constituted what later on came to be referred to as Atlantic Canada. It redrew the political geography of a vast area within North America. Moreover, it redefined political relations among people of different political convictions in Canada. For instance, in Labrador, the Proclamation gave Newfoundland naval governors an excellent opportunity to defuse tensions between the Inuit and European fishermen.
The Proclamation was essentially an attempt by King George III of England at preventing Colonial America from expanding beyond the Appalachian Mountains. The British colonists had just defeated French colonists in the French and Indian War and did not want to get involved in a conflict with the Native peoples, who posed a serious threat to the future of British colonial settlement. The aim of this paper is to investigate how English Canadian and French Canadian relations where affected by the Royal Proclamation. The proposed thesis is that the Royal Proclamation increased chances of coexistence among the British colonists and French Canadians as well as the Native peoples of Canada. In this expansionist agenda, the Native peoples were at a disadvantaged position because of their culture and way of life were threatened by British and French colonists. However, by incorporating their demands in the Royal Proclamation, the King drew attention to the importance of respecting their rights. This greatly contributed to subsequent efforts to ensure that their cultural identity existed side by side with that of French and British settlers.
The French and Indian War ended in 1763. This event was celebrated a lot in the colonies simply because it led to the removal of several ominous barriers as well as the opening up of many opportunists for the colonists. Although the French had been defeated in the hands of British colonists, they were convinced that they had put the latter in a collision path with the Native peoples or the “Indians”. To “dodge the bullet”, the king was advised to come up with the Royal Proclamation in which the Native peoples’ rights to own the land in which they lived was formally recognized for the very first time.
Today, the Proclamation has come to be recognized as the basis of all land claims being made by the indigenous peoples of Canada. Although it may not be well known by Canadians, the document is still in effect 250 years since its enactment. It forms the foundation of relations between the Crown and First Nations. Its provisions are used as a basis for highlighting Aboriginal affairs. In the absence of the Royal Proclamation, it would be impossible for any territorial treaties or land claims to be made. It would also be extremely difficult for ministries of Aboriginal affairs to succeed in moving forward with their agenda of fighting for the rights of the Aboriginal people.
Although King George III claimed a large section of the North American territory, he went on to reserve parts of the territory to First Nations as their hunting grounds. The King went on to say that in case any Indian felt the need to dispose of his land, it could only be purchased for the Crown. The Proclamation even specified that the sale of the land could only be made at some public meeting or at an assembly of the said Indians to be held exclusively for the purpose of disposing of the land. By putting in place this clause, Crown officials conferred upon themselves the legal obligations in regards to the process of safeguarding the land ownership rights of the Native peoples of Canada. Today, these legal obligations are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Moreover, the Proclamation heralded a new phase of the process of making treaties in Canada. The territorial treaties that have been signed-in Canada since the Proclamation provide further details regarding the ways in which land transfers involving First Nations could be conducted. The various options outlined in subsequent treaties include one-off payments, annuity payments, and a combination of reserves. These treaties also guaranteed fishing, hunting, and gathering rights to the Native peoples. Consequently, since the Proclamation was enacted, the Native peoples have continued to demand their rights in the context of all off-reserve Crown lands. This has greatly contributed to the preservation of First Nations’ cultural identity.
The French colonists were unhappy about the Royal Proclamation. When the French ceded the contested territory to Crown officials, the first thing in their mind was the great western frontier that became available to them. However, their celebration was dampened by the new scenario that unfolded with the coming into force of the Royal Proclamation. The Proclamation completely closed off the western frontier to any further colonial expansion. The King and his Crown officials had presented the Proclamation as a way of arraying fears among the Indians that they would be driven from their lands following the British war victory against the French. However, many people in the colonies felt that the objective was to restrict their operations in the Atlantic seaboard where they could easily be regulated by Crown officials. There was an element of truth in this argument. Nevertheless, a strong resentment emerged from colonial merchants who felt that their prize was being taken away from them through the protection of land ownership rights of Native Canadians. The Proclamation stated that all lands located to the west of all rivers that flowed into the Atlantic Ocean were off-limits to all colonists.
The Proclamation also established four colonies: Québec, Grenada, West Florida, and East Florida. These facts were clearly outlined although most of the provisions of the Proclamation addressed the issue of Indian lands and Indians. It stated that henceforth, the Indian peoples would be under the direct protection of the King of England. All the British settlers and merchants who had acquired lands in the Indian Territory were required to abandon it. It also provided a list of activities that were prohibited in this territory. At the same time, it created a framework for the enactment of new laws. Furthermore, the Proclamation indicted some unnamed persons for engaging in fraudulent practices in the acquisition of lands from the Canadian Indians.
During the war, most of the Indians were allied to the French colonists. This is simply because they regarded the French as more trustworthy and less hostile compared to their English counterparts. The French were now departing and the Indians’ priority issue was to defend themselves from the English settlers. Relations between the English settlers and the Indians were so poor that very few settlers publicly argued that the Native peoples had any rights to lands. By deciding to side with the Indians in the Proclamation, the King greatly increased chances of peaceful coexistence between the English settlers and the Native peoples. The English parliament understood that relations between the colonialists and the Indians were not at their best. It also understood that some enforcement mechanism was required for the colonists to respect the new boundary.
It was extremely expensive to establish and man posts along the length of the proclamation line defined by the Royal Proclamation. The British ministry argued that the outposts were meant for colonial defense and as such their maintenance costs should be met by the colonies. However, from the point of view of American settlers, the British parliament was in effect imposing a tax on colonies even for a matter in which the interests of the colonists were not being protected.
The Royal Proclamation redefined the political geography of Canada. In the process, it greatly impacted upon English-Canadian relations. The governor used the Proclamation as well as additional instructions from Crown officials in London in administering the newly created province of Québec. In this province, the Catholic Church lost its privileged status when the Proclamation came into force. For this same reason, the French civil law in this new colony also ended. There was an expectation that many British soldiers would settle in Québec and ultimately lead to the assimilation of the French Canadian population. In the meantime, the Proclamation was adopted as the de facto constitution of Canada. It continued to be used until the Québec Act was enacted in 1774.
Since the day the civil administration was entrenched in the newly acquired colonies, a number of difficulties occurred. British merchants and settlers were getting used o the representative government of the day and they were becoming very frustrated by policies that prohibited from venturing into Aboriginal lands. Consequently, they demanded the replacement of the Québec civil code with the English common law as stipulated in the Royal Proclamation. They felt that this was the best way of protecting the business interests and rights of British settlers. They also agitated for the formation of a House of Assembly in which French-speaking Catholic Canadians would be excluded.
If the demands of the English colonists had been met, 50,000 French Canadians would have been excluded from the representative government by 500 new inhabitants. Attempts to replace the civil code turned out to be chaotic. The system of government being used by the French Canadians had proven to be efficient and inexpensive while the new system did not show any signs of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Consequently, the Paris customary law ended up forming the basis of laws in Québec. This shows the tradeoffs introduced by the Proclamation and the positive impact that they had on both English Canadian and French Canadian relations.
When Crown officials drafted the Royal Proclamation, they were careful to ensure that their objective of promoting the long-term interests of the British Empire in North America was not clouded by the narrow economic interests of British merchants and settlers in the newly created colonies. The ability to maintain this focus was imperative in the quest for British dominance in the newly acquired territories. Nevertheless, some provisions were discriminatory to the French, thereby leading to the frosting of English-French relations. For example, in the oath of the Proclamation, all officeholders were required to formally accept all the provisions of the Protestant faith. No Catholic faithful could in good conscience accept these articles. This simple provision created a situation where no French Canadian was legally able to occupy any position of authority.
The persistence of the accusations leveled against the Imperial authorities by British merchants led to a change of administrative leadership. The new leaders of the new territories quickly realized that any attempts to meet the merchants’ demands would worse the chaotic situation that was already unfolding in the newly acquired colonies. The efforts would also lead to an increase in the hostile attitudes of French Canadians. This dilemma paved the way for more debate. Without dialogue, the situation may have precipitated into a full-blown armed conflict. If this happened, Canada may not have become the successful first world country that it is today.
In the meantime, elsewhere in the new colonies, the British colonists were endeavoring to promote “tolerant”, “positive” and “generous” treatment of Native peoples. These efforts continued to be part of a build-up towards the definitive stages of the colonial project in Canada. In this project, the image of “white settler innocence” continued to be promoted by the colonists. The impact of these efforts continues to be felt today. It consists in myths that fail to hide evidence of oppression and inequalities but rather contribute to the existing mythologies of the Canadian identity.
The Proclamation greatly changed the course of nation-building in Canada. It changed the existing representations of the Canadian Aboriginal people. It also influenced the policies that administrators came up with to manage the new colonies’ diverse populations. By the late-1700s, the presence of colonists in Canada was increasingly being established through settlement as opposed to resource extraction. The colonial policies that were introduced in Canada following the enactment of the Royal Proclamation are today credited with establishing a foundation of the Canadian characteristic of unwavering tolerance. In the absence of the Proclamation, no framework emphasizing the need for Canadian governments to treat Aboriginal people as self-governing and autonomous would exist. However, the Proclamation was designed as some form of the cultural policy imposed by colonists on Québec, the French colony that had been conquered by the British. The intention was to culturally assimilate French to the British way of life. To succeed in this mission, British colonists were keen on ensuring that French Canadians in this colony not only learned the English language but also adopted the British legal system.
Crown officials hoped that by blocking westward movement, the colonists would instead choose to move into Québec in huge numbers thereby submerging the French-speaking population living there. This objective of cultural assimilation was also being promoted through the move by the Proclamation to establish the English law as well as representative institutions within the colony as part of a campaign to reduce the growing influence of Roman Catholicism. Those who drafted the Proclamation envisioned a situation where emigration would diminish the importance of the French population, thereby paving the way for it to be swallowed by a growing wave of Protestantism.
Although the Royal Proclamation seemed to have played different groups against each other in the pursuit of the British colonial interests, it paradoxically led to the promotion of the land rights of the most disadvantaged group: the Native peoples. It was paradoxical for the British colonists to promote the rights of Native peoples with the core objective of assimilating another European cultural group: the French. The colonists were confident that the Aboriginal peoples’ rights were not being protected in a manner that posed a threat to the British colonial project. Rather, the recognition of the land rights of Native peoples was part of a strategy aimed at flexibly managing the British colonial project in difficult and dangerous political times.
The Proclamation put the British merchants and colonists in a situation where they had to engage with French Canadians. There was growing discontent with the British colonial administration particularly in the southern colonies that soon afterward became the United States. In such a situation, the British colonists were more predisposed to engage the French Canadians in ensuring that they did not lose out on all fronts. After all, French Canadians by far outnumbered the British colonists and the assimilation policy had failed to work. It had failed to work because the number of immigrants moving into the new colonies was smaller than the British colonial administration had expected. The best option for the British was to secure Québec’s loyalty, and particularly the highly powerful Catholic clergy. This is an indication that English-Canadian and French-Canadian relations had improved in the long run following the enactment of the Royal Proclamation.
In light of the new circumstances, the British colonial administration had to look for new ways of managing cultural differences. One of them was the enactment of the Québec Act of 1774. This Act recognized the dominant position of the French Language and the Roman Catholic Church in Québec. Moreover, a flexible colonial policy was introduced. This policy recognized and empowered some cultural groups in the interest of facilitating control over other groups. By guaranteeing the dominant positions of these two symbols of French culture, the British colonial administration had made a big step towards improving its relations with French Canadians. These improvements have contributed immensely to the rise of Canada as a politically stable nation that it has become today.
The Proclamation brought about numerous changes that defined relations in the relatively new territory of what is today known as Canada. In this process, the colonial representations and lives of Native peoples were altered. This transformation, which continued to take place during the 18th and 19th centuries, may be traced back to the Royal Proclamation. The Proclamation promoted the idea of colonization through settlement as opposed to resource extraction. The colonial administrators had demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice economic interests in a dangerous political time to address issues affecting Native peoples and French Canadians. Although the primary objective was to promote colonial interests, it ended up bringing different cultural groups closer to a consensus on important issues of nation-building. In the process of promoting settlement rather than resource extraction, the Native peoples played a central role. In fact, the participation of the Aboriginal people in this process greatly contributed to a change in racial attitudes.
As settlements increased, both the British traders and French Canadian inhabitants lobbied for their respective positions. This pursuit of competing interests ultimately provided the impetus for the incorporation of provisions that took care of all cultural groups in Canada. This was a big step towards the realization of socio-economic, political, and cultural harmony. Although the increasing settlement by colonial traders ultimately infringed upon the land rights of the Aboriginal people, the Proclamation provided a basis through which these people could initiate land claims through a legal process.
Many people may argue that the true intention of the Royal Proclamation was to dispossess the Native peoples, but in a manner that did not cause a stir. This is true because, in the long run, colonial settlements ended up pushing the Native peoples to the periphery. As settlements increased, the Native peoples started living predominantly in the southernmost areas of Lower and Upper Canada (now Québec and Ontario). Many of the Natives who had chosen to remain in Québec and Ontario had retreated towards the north in order to stay away from the encroaching settlement. Those who had chosen to remain were increasingly being isolated on land reserves. In some areas, natives were being “given” land that mainly took the form of local reserves that were not surveyed. These “gifts” did not solve their land problems because white settlers would often choose to squat at will.
Over time, territorial boundaries started taking an institutionalized form. This led to the hardening of racial and cultural boundaries across Canada. Moreover, white men had started intermarrying with Native women particularly during the fur trade. However, the intermarriages became less common during the early 19th century following the institutionalization of the migration of white women as wives. As settlement increased, the native peoples started being confined in an increasingly restricted role. This continued marginalization of the native peoples continues even in the present day. In their land claims today, the Native peoples often point out to the Royal Proclamation as a legal document that defines all the lands that rightfully belonged to them but have since been taken away by encroaching white settlers.
The Royal Proclamation was part of a shrewd attempt by British colonists to escape the “trap” that had been set for them by the defeated French Canadians. In this trap, the French Canadians had played the British colonists against the Native peoples by creating the impression that they were senseless land grabbers who did not respect the Native peoples’ cultural heritage and land rights. Under such circumstances, Crown officials had to look for a way of appeasing the Native peoples, much to the chagrin of the French Canadians.
Other than acting as a crucial tool in the political machinations of the day, the Royal Proclamation charted a path towards better English-Canadian and French-Canadian relations. It created a framework for colonization through settlement rather than through resource exploitation. The Crown officials’ strategy of protecting the interests of British merchants and settlers paradoxically led to the improvement of circumstances for French Canadians. Failure by the Proclamation to spur settlements aimed at assimilating French Canadians created a scenario where the British colonial officials had to reach a compromise that culminated in the Québec Act of 1774. More importantly, the Proclamation legally recognized the land rights of the Aboriginal people. This demonstrates that the Royal Proclamation greatly increased chances of coexistence among the British and French colonists as well as the Native peoples of Canada.
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