World Civilizations

AMERICA: A Narrative History

From Empire to Independence
Chapter Five



In the British politics of the day nearly everybody called himself a Whig, even King George. Whig had been the name given to those who opposed James II, led the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and secured the Protestant Hanoverian succession in 1714. The Whigs were the champions of liberty and parliamentary supremacy, but with the passage of time Whiggism had drifted into complacency. The dominant group of landholding Whig families was concerned mostly with the pursuit of personal place and advantage and with local questions rather than great issues of statecraft. In the absence of party organization, parliamentary politics hinged factions bound together by persona loyalties, family connections, and local intersts, and on the pursuit of royal patronage.

In the administration of government, an inner "cabinet" of the king's ministers had been supplanting the unwieldy Privy Council as the center of power since the Hanoverian succexsion. The kings still had the prerogative of naming their ministers. They used it to form coalitions of men who controlled enough factions in the House of Commons to command majorities for the government's measures, though the king's ministers were still technically responsible to the king rather than to parliamentary majorities. George II resolved to take a more active role in the process than the first two Georges, who had abandoned initiative to the great Whig families--George I in part because he barely slpoke English.

Throughout the 1760s the king turned first to one and then to another leader, ministries came and went, and the government fell into instability just as the new problems of empire required creative solutions. Ministries rose and fell because somebody offended the king or because somebody's friend failed to get a job. Colonial policy remained marginal to the chief concerns of British politics. Teh result was inconsistency and vacillation followed by stubborn inflexibility.


No sooner was peace arranged in 1763 than events thrust the problem of the western lands upon the government in an acute form. The Indians of Ohio region, skeptical that their French friends were helpless and fully expecting the reentry of English settlers, grew restless and receptive to the warnings of Pontiac, chief of the Ottowas. In May 1763 Pontiac's effort to seize Fort Detroit was betrayed and failed, but the western tribes joined his campaign to reopen frontier warfare and within a few months wiped out every Biritsh post in the Ohio region except Detroit and Fort Pitt. A relief force lifted the siege of Fort Pitt and Pontiac abandoned the attack on Detroit, but the outlying settlements suffered heavy losses before British forces could stop the attacks. Pontiac himself did not agree to peace until 1766.

THE PROCLAMATION OF 1763 To keep the peace and to keep earlier promises to the Delawares and Shawnees, the ministers in London postponed further settlement. The immediate need was to stop Pontiac's warriors and reassure the Indians. There were influential fur traders, moreover, who preferred to keep the wilderness as a game preserve. The pressure for expansion into Indian-held territory might ultimately prove irresistible--British and American speculators were already dazzled by the prospects--but there would be no harm in a pause while things settled down and an new policy evolved. The king's ministers therefore brought forward, and the king signed, the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The order drew a Proclamamation Line along the crest of the Appalachians beyond which settlers were forbidden to go and colonial govenors were forbidden to authorize surveys or issue land grants. It also established the new British colonies of Quebec and East and West Florida, the last two consisting mainly of small settlements at St. Augustine and St. Marks, respectively, now peopled mainly by British garrisons.

The line did not long remain intact. In 1768 the chief royal agents for Indian affairs north and south negotiated two treaties (Fort Stanwix and Hard Labor) by which the Iroquois and Cherokees gave up their claims to lands in the Ohio region--a strip in western New York, a large area of southwestern Pennsylvania, and between the Ohio and Tennnessee Rivers farther south. In 1770, by the Treaty of Lochaber, the Cherokees agreed to move the line below the Ohio River still farther westerward. Land speculators, including Benjamin Franklin and a number of British investors, soon formed a syndicate and sought a vast domain covering most of present West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, where they proposed to establish the colony of Vandalia. The Board of Trade lent its support, but the formalities were not completed before Vandalia vanished in the revolutionary crisis.

SETTLERS PUSH WEST Regardless of the formalities, hardy settlers pushed on over the Appalachian ridges; by 1770 the town of Pittsburgh had twenty log houses, and a small village had appeared on the site of Wheeling. In 1769 another colony was settled on the Watauga River by immigrants from soutwestern Virginia, soon joined by settlers from North Carolina. The Watauga colony turned out to be within the limits of North Carolina, but so far removed from other settlements that it became virtually a separate republic under the Watauga Compact of 1772; North Carolina took it into the new district of Washington in 1776.

Another opening came south of the Ohio River into the dark and bloody ground of Kentucky, which had been something of a neutral hunting preseve shared by the northern and southern tribes. The Shawnees, who lived north of the Ohio, still claimed rights there despite the Iroquois and Cherokee concessions. In 1774 conflicts on the northwestern frontier of Virginia erupted into full-scale battles that forced the Shawnees to surrender their claims. Judge Richard Hendeson of North Carolina formed a plan to settle the area. He organized the Transylvania Company in 1774, and in 1775 bought from the Chrokees a dubious title to the land between the Kentucky and Cumberland Rivers. Next he sent out a band of men under the most famous frontiersman of all, Daniel Boone, to cut the Wilderness Road from the upper Holston River via the Cumberland Gap in southwestern Virginia on up to the Kentucky River. Along this road settlers moved up to Boonesborough, and Henderson set about organizing a government for his colony of Transylvania. But his claim was weak. Transylvania sent a delegation ot the Continental Congress, which refused to receive it, and in 1776 Virginia responded to a petition from the Harrodsburg settlers and organized much of present Kentucky into a county of Virginia.


World Civilizations

RESEARCH: Ralph'sWorld Civilizations
Page created by Thomas Pearcy, Ph.D. and Mary Dickson.
We welcome your comments. Please contact Steve Hoge, Editor.
Last revised June 5, 1997.
Copyright (c) 1996. W. W. Norton Publishing. All Rights Reserved