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King George III Proclaims Royal Ownership

America grew. Immigrants flowed into the New World, forming the 13 original colonies. People spilled over the Appalachian Mountains to settle into new territory. The buying and selling of land based on the metes-and-bounds survey system, which had been practiced in the American colonies for more than 150 years, was about to change.

On October 7, 1763 came a harsh reminder of the legal reality behind American property. By royal proclamation, King George III declared it, …to be our Royal will and Pleasure…. that no Governor or commander in chief in any of our Colonies or Plantations in America do presume for the present, and until our further pleasure be known, to grant warrants of Survey, or pass Patents for any lands beyond the Heads or Sources of any of the Rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the west and North West. (Linklater 2002, 47) In effect, a line had been drawn along the watershed of the Appalachians beyond which land could not be measured and owned, and everyone who already settled west of it was commanded “forthwith {to} remove themselves from such settlement.”

George III had the right to order it because legally (by British law, not Native American culture) all land in British America was his. Full in the path of the property seekers was planted the King’s feudal authority. the colonists felt driven to weave their anger together into a single declaration of opposition to rule from England. In the autumn of 1774 when delegates of the discontented colonies convened in Philadelphia as members of the First Continental Congress to articulate their grievances, it was not by chance that the first resolution they agreed to was “that they are entitled to life, liberty, and property.” Property meant land and, in particular, land beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Hence the declaration of the first paragraph of the Virginia Constitution: That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights…namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. (Constitution of the State of Virginia, Article I, Bill of Rights) Entitlement of property was a subject on which the humblest colonial mule driver was at one with the grandest plantation farmer. Tariffs, taxation without representation, and the prevention of settlement in what is called the Northwest Territory was all the colonists could take. On July 4, 1776 America declared her independence from England.

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