Indian Country

Canada had had an Indian Problem. In exactly that sense Great Britain had one from the moment when Quebec surrendered. The universal uprising, and especially the attempt of the Western tribes to assert their independence, confronted the ministry with the entire Indian Problem in a condition of crisis before the peace treaty was signed. It responded with one of the ad hoc expedients which governments make up as they go. Quickly redrawing its plans for organizing the conquest, it issued what is known as the Proclamation of 1763. Twelve years later the man who had precipitated one world war at the Great Meadows assumed command of an American army at Cambridge Common and another one began. The Proclamation hastened the maturing of the American consciousness. It increased the momentum and accelerated the velocity of Independence. It set conditions and focused energies that would determine the territorial shape of the United States.

It was intended as a temporary makeshift but it hardened into permanence. It was intended to make the settlement of the Western lands an orderly economic and political process. (To all governments Western settlement always seemed susceptible to orderly direction but the people who made the settlements could never follow the blueprints.) It created the first Indian Country, a domain reserved to Indians as their own, where they were assured protection from white exploitation and chicanery. From then on there would always ·be an Indian Country, a legal fiction, till Oklahoma became a state in 1907.

Besides setting up governments for East and West Florida, the Proclamation erected one solid abutment for Independence to rest on in the kind of government it organized for Quebec. More directly to the point, however, it set aside the area south of Canada, west of the mountains, and east of the Mississippi for “the several nations of Indians who live under our protection,” who “should not be molested or disturbed in the possession of such parts of our dominions and territories as, not having been ceded or purchased by us are reserved to them . . . as their hunting grounds.” It forbade surveys, ownership, and settlement in this area. It prohibited private treaty or purchase. And it commanded everyone who had settled in the area to get out forthwith.