Military history

CHAPTER 59

An Urgent Search for Order GRENVILLE AND HALIFAX CONFRONT THE NEED FOR REVENUE AND CONTROL

SUMMER-AUTUMN 1763

LIKE AN ELEVATION benchmark from which a surveyor begins his loop and to which he must return at its end, the ministers’ planning for America started, and in time would conclude, with the British army. By the end of the summer few Americans and no Englishmen doubted that the redcoats were the colonies’ best bulwark against Indian attacks. This in turn seemed to validate a decision taken at Whitehall near the end of 1762, seven months before anyone in Britain had heard of Pontiac, to maintain a large peacetime garrison in America. But Bute’s ministry had decided to keep troops in the colonies for reasons that had less to do with the empire than with other—and at the time, seemingly more pressing— concerns. In late 1762 the prospect of demobilization posed devastating problems in parliamentary politics, and a permanent American army seemed to offer the only reasonable solution.

The army had expanded enormously during the war, ending with approximately 100,000 men under arms in 115 regiments.1 To maintain such a force permanently was inconceivable financially, ideologically, and politically. With peace in the offing, virtually everyone from the duke of Newcastle to otherwise mute Tory squires on the Commons backbenches demanded severe reductions in the army and navy and rigid economy in government spending. A government that chose not to reduce the armed forces would be handing the opposition a club with which to beat it senseless. Yet to return the army to its prewar level of 49 regiments and 35,000 men was impossible, for two reasons.

First came the strategic necessity of securing the new empire. Peace was clearly going to leave Britain in possession of overseas territories, and alien populations, that would need to be policed internally and defended against foreign aggression. No one thought that seventy or eighty thousand former French subjects in Canada would long remain docile unless a substantial armed force remained to remind them of Britain’s power. Nor did any minister seriously propose leaving the west to the Indians. In December 1762, no one knew what hell French traders and former officers might try to raise among their old clients and friends. The sensibleness of those fears seemed only to be confirmed in the following fall when it became clear how nearly simultaneous the attacks on the western posts had been, suggesting the obvious conclusion that French agents coordinated them all, in a great conspiracy to retain Louisiana and Illinois and regain control of the pays d’en haut. Immediate withdrawal from either Canada or the west was so unthinkable that, in formulating policy, no one even asked whether British forces should remain in America. The only real questions concerned how many battalions should be left, where they should be stationed, and how long they should stay. Factors other than imperial policy, however, would decree that the American garrison should be a permanent one.

The second, more significant, reason that the ministers decided in favor of a large peacetime force for the colonies was a matter of practicality and parliamentary management—which made it, of course, the most pressing concern of all. To demobilize the army to prewar levels would force hundreds of colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors (not to mention hordes of captains and subalterns) into retirement on half pay. If the welfare of fifty thousand suddenly unemployed enlisted men caused the government little concern, the fate of fifteen hundred officers had the opposite effect, for the excellent reason that many of them either sat in Parliament or were the sons and brothers and nephews and cousins of men who did. No prudent minister, and certainly no patriot king, could let so many deserving gentlemen go unrewarded. But how could they be provided for in a financially responsible way? America held the answer, and the king himself found it.2

Like his grandfather and great-grandfather before him, George III took a keen interest in the army. He was determined to preserve it at levels of strength and readiness higher than those at which it had entered the Seven Years’ War, and he dedicated considerable ingenuity to finding a way to do so while holding costs down to a politically manageable level. After careful thought and much labored calculation (sums never having been his strong suit), the king concluded that it would in fact be possible to maintain more than eighty regiments on active duty and still make “the expence . . . some hundred pounds cheaper than the establishment [had been] ... in 1749.”3

Two conditions had to be met in order to perform this improbable feat. First, every regiment would have to be reduced to a single battalion of five hundred men. The political advantages of more than halving the number of enlisted men on active service while maintaining nearly three-quarters of the army’s current regiments—and therefore almost three-quarters of its officers—could hardly be missed. The king of course understood that perfectly, but his real interest in keeping so many understrength battalions on active service was to render Britain more secure in the event of war. British patriotism could be relied upon to fill the ranks with recruits, as it had since 1756; but only his new-modeled army would insure enough trained officers and sergeants to lead them.

Second, a double obstacle had to be surmounted: finance, since keeping up eighty permanent regiments would necessarily cost more than the forty-nine regiments of 1749; and ideology, for Tories and opposition Whigs alike were sure to raise the traditional objections against enlarging the peacetime establishment. George’s solution showed his genius in full flower, for it leveled both barriers with one deft stroke. It was simply this: there would be no expansion of the number of troops stationed in Britain. Twenty of the new battalions would be stationed in the American colonies (including the West Indies) and twelve would be added to the Irish establishment. Parliament would pay for these new garrisons only in 1763. Thereafter taxes on the colonies would support the troops stationed there, and the Irish Parliament would bear the expense of that island’s new defenders.4

It was imperative that the colonies, not Parliament, pay for the American regiments. The furor over the cider excise, which contributed to Bute’s departure from political life in April 1763, left no doubt about British ratepayers’ enthusiasm for tax increases. Grenville knew that one of the biggest fights that awaited his government when the Commons reconvened in mid-November would come when the opposition moved to revise or repeal the cider tax. Faced with the responsibility for servicing a national debt that had practically doubled during the war and now approximated £146,000,000 sterling, the government literally could not afford to surrender any source of revenue. Grenville thought he might be able to modify the operation of the cider tax, but if the opposition wanted more than symbolic concessions and could assemble a majority in favor of repeal, the government would be overthrown on what amounted to a noconfidence vote. Given the drained state of the Treasury and the government’s tenuous hold on its majority in the Commons, the minimum of £225,000 a year it would cost to keep twenty battalions in the colonies could not be added to the budget. But virtually everyone agreed that the Americans could comfortably bear such an expense, which worked out to substantially less than two shillings per capita, per annum.5

No British politician who had been awake for the past six years would have denied that the colonies benefited handsomely from the war. Army and navy expenditures in the colonies from 1756 through 1762 amounted to over six million pounds sterling, in addition to parliamentary reimbursements in excess of a million pounds paid directly to the colonial governments. This influx of credit and specie had enabled the Americans to double the volume of their imports from Britain during the conflict. Everybody knew, of course, that the colonists paid for their own governments and militia establishments. Yet they also knew that the colonists contributed to the support of the empire only by paying customs revenues on their trade, and the customs receipts barely covered the costs of collection. Moreover, the regiments were being stationed in America to protect Americans. Justice, no less than economic realism, decreed that the colonies should contribute modestly from their prosperity to relieve the burdens under which the metropolis now groaned.6

In fact Parliament had already taken a step toward enhancing collections from the colonial customs in the Revenue Act of 1762. This measure aimed at reducing the volume of smuggling by authorizing naval officers to assist customs officials, and by offering them incentives to do so energetically. In a way more or less typical of Bute’s ministry, this measure had been passed only to be forgotten. In May 1763, however, Grenville revived it when he committed the Treasury to improving customs collections in the colonies and asked that the Privy Council direct the implementation of the act. The resulting Order in Council of June 1 foretold Grenville’s determination to implant teeth in a system that colonial smugglers and corrupt, absentee customs officers had effectively defanged. In early July the Southern secretary put the colonial governors on notice that His Majesty expected the customs to be collected according to law and assigned forty-four Royal Navy vessels to aid in enforcement. Late that month, Grenville ordered all absentee customsmen to resume their posts in the colonies. Anyone who had not left Britain by August 31 would be dismissed from the service.7

Thus the push to collect revenues from colonial sources began, in a general way, during the summer of 1763. In September, however, when the ministers turned their full attention to reform, raising revenues in the colonies became a matter of first priority. If they understood nothing else about America, the ministers knew that an army engaged in suppressing an Indian rebellion would cost the Treasury more than an army tucked up in forts and barracks. They also knew that there were two ways to raise a colonial revenue. George Grenville decided to try both.

The most obvious, least troublesome means was merely to make the colonists pay what they already owed. That this would be Grenville’s first priority was evident in his disposition to end the lackadaisical, corrupt collection of customs duties. It became unmistakable in an order he signed on October 4, directing that enforcement measures in American ports be carried out as strictly as in Britain, and recommending that the Admiralty establish a uniform system of vice-admiralty courts in the colonies, in order to make the seizure and sale of smuggled cargoes as efficient there as at home. 8

The second way to raise a colonial revenue was to impose new taxes. This would be trickier to manage than the suppression of smuggling: whereas tightening up on customs enforcement could be accomplished by executive action, to create a new tax, or to adjust an old one, required the House of Commons to pass the necessary legislation—and Grenville was by no means certain of his majority. Moreover, he knew that American colonists would react at least as unfavorably to new taxes as British cider producers. Any political issue as potentially explosive as taxation had to be approached cautiously, and only after thorough study. Accordingly, late in August, Grenville ordered a subordinate to investigate how revenues might be enhanced by adjusting the rate of an existing tax on molasses imported to the mainland from the West Indies. In early September he asked two other assistants to draft a bill for Parliament’s consideration, by which the colonists could be taxed directly through revenue stamps—a small levy of the sort that Englishmen paid, almost unwittingly, whenever they undertook legal processes or bought newspapers, playing cards, and other mundane items.9

Grenville had no intention of immediately introducing his revenue measures when the House of Commons began its winter session on November 15. He knew very well what challenges lay ahead, and he understood that two impending struggles—the opposition’s efforts to modify or repeal the cider tax, and the inevitable brouhaha over John Wilkes—would make it clear whether his ministry had the parliamentary majority and the royal support needed to enact colonial reforms. By spring either his ministry would have gone down to defeat, or the dust would have settled enough to allow him and his colleagues to proceed with vigor. In the meantime Grenville would be content to defer action on the revenue measures and allow his subordinates to refine proposals and draft the necessary legislation. More immediate concerns growing out of the war and the Indian rebellion, however, would not wait, and could at any rate be handled by executive action. To those urgent matters the new secretary of state for the South, Lord Halifax, turned his attention.

In a cabinet meeting on September 16, Halifax presented his plan for organizing the American conquests into four new colonies and a vast interior Indian preserve. The scheme he proposed, to be implemented by royal proclamation, incorporated suggestions from two drafts that dated from early 1763: one prepared at Egremont’s request by a former governor of Georgia named Henry Ellis, and the other written mainly by John Pownall on behalf of the Board of Trade. The cabinet had discussed both plans back in July, suggested modifications, and directed the board to combine them into a single document. The board proceeded in a characteristically leisurely way until August, when news of Pontiac’s Rebellion moved Pownall to urge the cabinet to issue the proclamation immediately and reassure the Indians that Britain had no designs on their lands. At that moment, of course, the intricate tasks of ministerial reorganization had to be addressed; but once Halifax presented the scheme on September 16, things moved quickly. By October 4 the earl of Hillsborough, the board’s new president, had touched up the draft, run the document by the attorney general for legal amendments, and returned it to Halifax. Three days later, after the Privy Council gave its pro forma approval, the king officially promulgated it. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 marked Britain’s first effort to impose institutional form on the conquests, and the Grenville ministry’s first attempt to outline a policy for the empire. Under the circumstances it was probably better than nothing. But that did not make it a good start for the organization of the postwar empire. 10

Essentially the ministry attacked the problem of organizing the conquests at the margins, deferring the central issues for later consideration. The map of the proclamation’s new civil governments made this peripheral approach clear. North of New England and New York the French settlements along the St. Lawrence, as high as the Montréal district, became the new province of Québec. To the south and west of Georgia the proclamation erected two new provinces: East Florida, consisting of the peninsula from the Atlantic to the Apalachicola River; and West Florida, from the Apalachicola to the Mississippi between 31° north latitude and the Gulf of Mexico. All three colonies were to operate under English law and to be organized as soon as possible according to the familiar model of royal provinces elsewhere, with appointed governors and elected assemblies.11

Everything else—from the Great Lakes basin to Florida, and from the Mississippi to the western slope of the Appalachians—was reserved for the use of the Indians. No colonial governments were to grant lands in this zone, no surveyors were to operate there, and no negotiations were to be undertaken for purchase of Indian titles within it except by the Crown’s designated representatives. Whites were forbidden to settle beyond the Appalachian ridge, and all those presently living there were “forthwith to remove themselves.” Although the proclamation decreed that “the trade with the said [western] Indians shall be free and open to all our subjects whatever,” it would not be unregulated. Traders could pass beyond the mountains only with “a license for carrying on such trade, from the Governor or commander in chief of any of our colonies respectively where such person shall reside.” The proclamation established no civil government for this vast inland realm. The only Crown representatives within it would be the commanders of whatever interior forts the king might choose to maintain and whatever representatives the two Indian superintendents would station there. Since British military officers could enforce the law over civilians only at the direction of civil magistrates, the proclamation required the commanders to arrest all fugitives from justice who fled to the Indian country, “and to send them under a proper guard to the colony where the crime was committed of which they shall stand accused, in order to take their trial for the same.”

Halifax wanted to impose order on the chaotic interior of North America and intended the proclamation only as the start of a lengthy process. Yet the document’s improvised, impermanent character promised anything but a satisfactory beginning. The proclamation remained vague on too many critical points. It did not make it clear, for example, how the commandant of a fort in (say) the Illinois Country was supposed to know that a white man who appeared among the local Indians was a fugitive from justice in Pennsylvania—or how he would transport the suspect to Philadelphia to stand trial. Nor was it evident how the commanders of western posts were supposed to deal with the local French and métis inhabitants, whom the diplomats at Paris had rendered British subjects with a few deft strokes of the quill. Were they to remove themselves forthwith to Québec, which their ancestors had left two or three generations earlier? Suppose one of them murdered an Indian: how, where, and by whom would he or she be tried?

If these were not headaches enough, there was the difficulty of the French already living in Québec. The Treaty of Paris had guaranteed them security in their property and the right to practice their Catholic faith unmolested. But the proclamation stipulated that the new colonies were to be organized “agreeable to the laws of England,” and those laws forbade Catholics from voting and holding civil office. Halifax and his colleagues wanted the new colonies to attract English-speaking Protestant colonists, who preferred to settle where they enjoyed the protections of the common law and the right to tax themselves according to British tradition. But in 1763 Québec had only a handful of Anglophone inhabitants. Did His Majesty’s government actually intend to constitute a few hundred carpetbagging Anglo-Americans as the body politic of Québec and permanently disfranchise eighty thousand Québecois? Those Québecois had long experience with, and implicit faith in, a legal system based on Roman law traditions; did His Majesty’s ministers really intend to substitute wholesale a common law that the French neither understood nor trusted?

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The problems of dealing with Anglo-American colonists beyond the Appalachians would be no easier to solve than any of those affecting the French. A boundary inscribed along the Appalachian crest did nothing to divide existing enclaves of white settlement—some of which were completely legitimate—from Indian hunting grounds. How was the army supposed to deal with settlers who refused to leave? Or with the white hunters who ranged across the mountains in search of game, but who were uninterested in settlement? If white interlopers refused to leave voluntarily, were the Indians entitled to deal with them according to Indian notions of justice? In what amounted to a state of nature, the Indians had as good a theoretical claim to jurisdiction as anyone else, and more real ability to exercise it. But even supposing that all trans-Appalachian whites could somehow be peaceably expelled, no proclamation could contravene the social forces that had propelled them westward in the first place. And that raised the related issue of land speculation. The proclamation forbade colonial governments to make land grants beyond the Appalachian crest, but it could not extinguish the claims of those colonies like Virginia and Connecticut, whose patents extended to the Pacific. Indeed, in a typically contradictory way, it opened a loophole that would allow them to apply for exemptions.

For among its several provisions, the proclamation also announced the king’s generous intention to grant lands to “such reduced officers as have served in North America during the late war, and to such private soldiers as have been or shall be disbanded in America, and are actually residing there and shall personally apply for the same” to any colonial governor. The amounts of land stipulated—five thousand acres for field officers, three thousand for captains, two thousand for subalterns and staff officers, two hundred for sergeants and corporals, and fifty for privates —added up to substantial amounts, more than enough to whet the appetite of speculators willing to buy up the warrants of men who wanted the rewards of their service but did not intend personally to take up land in the wilderness. Halifax intended that these grants should be made only within the bounds of the three new provinces or, in the case of the preexisting ones, within the limits of the Proclamation Line; and that they should go to veterans of the regular army. But the language of the passage was vague enough to admit the possibility that grants would be possible anywhere within the limits of the colonies and open to provincials as well as regulars. Given the enormous numbers of men who had served as provincials and the expansive patents of colonies like Virginia and Connecticut, provinces full of enthusiastic speculators, these provisions promised to create vast complications for a king whose stated wish was only “to testify our royal sense and approbation of the conduct and bravery of the officers and soldiers of our armies, and to reward the same.”12

Thus the issue of western land speculation lay like a trip wire ahead, waiting to trigger an explosion that could injure not grubby squatters and half-savage hunters, but elite figures: gentlemen whose political connections extended into the Privy Council itself. Partnerships of investors like the Ohio Company could hardly be expected to abandon their plans to profit from the west, and it was absolutely predictable that their shareholders in Britain (including, for example, the duke of Bedford) would seek to have the limits on western settlement lifted. The proclamation’s own provisions, in short, guaranteed that the line prohibiting settlement in the American west would be politicized—in Britain. If there was no way to predict the outcome of the struggles that would ensue, it did not take a prophet to foresee that so long as the line remained in place the stakes resting on its removal would rise; and that ministers committed to limiting white settlement would sooner or later be called to account.

These problems, while unforeseen, were hardly unforeseeable. Halifax, who proposed the document that would create so many difficulties for himself and his successors, was not only intelligent, conscientious, and politically sophisticated, but thoroughly versed in American affairs. Why the proclamation reads as it does cannot, therefore, be explained by the usual factors of ignorance, unconcern, and sloth. Rather the proclamation’s problematic elements arose from the earnest, urgent desire of Halifax and his colleagues to restore peace and create order in America, especially in relations with the Indians. Because Halifax, particularly, understood the proclamation as a first step toward placing Indian relations on a firm foundation, immediately after its promulgation he began to concentrate on reforming the Indian trade. The provisions of this plan reveal more of how he intended to restructure relations between the colonies, the Indians, and the metropolis.

By October 19, Halifax had sketched the outlines of an Indian program, which he turned over to the Board of Trade to elaborate and refine. Although the board would work on a draft all winter and the ministry would approve it only in early July, the outlines were clear enough from the beginning. The essence of the plan was to exclude both the colonial governments and the commander in chief from participating in Indian affairs, and to turn their management over entirely to the northern and southern superintendents. Trade would be carried on at specified locations, either in forts (in the northern department) or in designated Indian towns (in the southern department), where representatives of the superintendents would insure fair treatment for the Indians, provide necessary services, and adjudicate disputes. The expense of operating this system would be covered entirely by taxes on the Indian trade. Like the revenue measures Grenville was preparing, these reforms would have to be enacted by Parliament, so planning proceeded on the assumption that they would be introduced after the ministry was sure of its majority, and of the king’s support.13

Halifax’s organizational measures and Grenville’s plans for raising revenue had evolved into a definable colonial policy in the fall of 1763. But no theory, no vision of empire, dictated that policy’s shape. Rather its pattern arose from the Seven Years’ War, which had created the problems the ministers were trying to solve and taught them the lessons that directed their attentions and limited their choices. The war had left behind in North America a large, dispersed army, no longer particularly effective, but voracious of funds nonetheless; a powerful (although no longer viceregal) commander in chief, whose misguided intervention in Indian affairs had precipitated a costly, embarrassing insurrection; and a set of troublesome commitments in the Easton Treaty of 1758, by which the British had promised to withdraw from the west and promote a vigorous trade among the region’s tribes. In light of these legacies, Halifax’s prohibition of western settlement under the Proclamation of 1763, the recall of Amherst as commander in chief, and the approval of a plan to give the Indian superintendents untrammeled authority over the Indian trade made perfect sense.14

The lessons of the war, similarly, directed Grenville’s attention to revenue measures that would leave as little as possible to the discretion of American assemblies—legislatures that had demonstrated the quality of their commitment to the empire when they eagerly opened their hands to Parliament’s subsidies in 1758, after years of tightfisted refusal to contribute to the common cause. The lessons of the war encouraged Grenville to concentrate on the elimination of smuggling, which he (like Pitt) believed had prolonged the conflict and which now denied income to his Treasury, even as the smugglers remained openly contemptuous of British authority. And the lessons of the war, finally, encouraged both Grenville and Halifax to conceive of the great new empire in strategic terms, as an entity to be directed from Whitehall according to British policy aims. To allow the colonies to return to their old, slovenly, parochial ways would in effect permit the colonists to define the relationship of the Indians to the empire, allowing Americans to benefit from Britain’s protection without contributing anything in return. All that, inevitably, would invite disasters like the current insurrection to recur, give the designing French carte blanche to stir up more revolts, and hamstring imperial officers when they tried to restore order and security. And those, surely, were outcomes that no responsible minister could tolerate.

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