Sunday, February 10, 2013

250 Years Ago ... The Treaty of Paris*

On February 10, 1763 the Mississippi River became, in the eyes of the world, an international boundary line. On that date the Treaty of Paris, which formalized the peace between France and Great Britain, was signed.  The Seven Years War (known in the British North American colonies as the French and Indian War) was over.  Britain had won.


Under the terms of the treaty, France formally ceded to Britain all of its possession east of the Mississippi River, except for New Orleans.  Although France had previously ceded to Spain all of its land west of the Mississippi, as well as New Orleans, under the Treaty of Fontainbleau, that fact had not yet been made public and Spain had made no move to take control of her new possession. 

Article VII of the treaty (a full copy of which is here) makes the middle of the Mississippi River the boundary line and ensures free navigation of the river to those on both sides:

VII. In order to re-establish peace on solid and durable foundations, and to remove for ever all subject of dispute with regard to the limits of the British and French territories on the continent of America; it is agreed, that, for the future, the confines between the dominions of his Britannick Majesty and those of his Most Christian Majesty, in that part of the world, shall be fixed irrevocably by a line drawn along the middle of the River Mississippi, from its source to the river Iberville, and from thence, by a line drawn along the middle of this river, and the lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain to the sea; and for this purpose, the Most Christian King cedes in full right, and guaranties to his Britannick Majesty the river and port of the Mobile, and every thing which he possesses, or ought to possess, on the left side of the river Mississippi, except the town of New Orleans and the island in which it is situated, which shall remain to France, provided that the navigation of the river Mississippi shall be equally free, as well to the subjects of Great Britain as to those of France, in its whole breadth and length, from its source to the sea, and expressly that part which is between the said island of New Orleans and the right bank of that river, as well as the passage both in and out of its mouth: It is farther stipulated, that the vessels belonging to the subjects of either nation shall not be stopped, visited, or subjected to the payment of any duty whatsoever. The stipulations inserted in the IVth article, in favour of the inhabitants of Canada shall also take place with regard to the inhabitants of the countries ceded by this article. 
Imagine yourself as a third generation French North American, suddenly finding yourself abandoned by your monarch and country and now under the jurisdiction of the enemy.  Think of the trauma.  And the uncertainty.  Britain was a Protestant country with a significant anti-Catholic faction - Catholics were seen as threats to the stability of Britain after the Jacobite rebellions.  France was a Catholic country and the French subjects in North America were (to greater and lesser degrees) practicing Catholics.  If they stayed on, would they be persecuted?  And if they wanted to leave - how are a defeated people to effect an orderly evacuation?   The French army was leaving but it would be more difficult for other French to just pick up and move in an orderly fashion.  

Note the last sentence of Article VII, which was intended by the French monarch to assure his former subjects in the Illinois Country that the rules that would apply to the cession of Canada would apply to them too.  Article IV provides in part:

IV.  .... His Britannick Majesty, on his side, agrees to grant the liberty of the Catholick religion to the inhabitants of Canada: he will, in consequence, give the most precise and most effectual orders, that his new Roman Catholic subjects may profess the worship of their religion according to the rites of the Romish church, as far as the laws of Great Britain permit. His Britannick Majesty farther agrees, that the French inhabitants, or others who had been subjects of the Most Christian King in Canada, may retire with all safety and freedom wherever they shall think proper, and may sell their estates, provided it be to the subjects of his Britannick Majesty, and bring away their effects as well as their persons, without being restrained in their emigration, under any pretence whatsoever, except that of debts or of criminal prosecutions: The term limited for this emigration shall be fixed to the space of eighteen months, to be computed from the day of the exchange of the ratification of the present treaty.
In short, if the inhabitants of the Illinois Country decided to stay put, they could still practice their religion within the laws of Great Britain (which at the time prohibited Catholics from holding governmental or judicial appointments).   

According to Wikipedia:
Article IV has also been cited as the basis for Quebec often having its unique set of laws that are different from the rest of Canada. There was a general constitutional principle in the United Kingdom to allow colonies taken through conquest to continue their own laws. This was limited by royal perogative, and the monarch could still choose to change the accepted laws in a conquered colony. However, the treaty eliminated this power because by a different constitutional principle, terms of a treaty were considered paramount. In practice, Roman Catholics could become jurors in inferior courts in Quebec and argue based on principles of French law. However, the judge was British and his opinion on French law could be limited or hostile. If the case was appealed to a superior court, neither French law nor Roman Catholic jurors were allowed.

The Illinois Country inhabitants were also free to liquidate their possessions and leave, as long as they sold their estates to British subjects.  And for an eighteen month period they were guaranteed that no one would restrain them from leaving. 

The clock was running for the people of the Illinois Country. 



*Part of my continuing blog series leading up to the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis in February 2014.