Inheriting Empire: Royal proclamations, parliamentary legislation, and imperial integration in British North America and India, 1760-1793

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University of New Brunswick


This work is a connected history examining British sovereignty in the ceded provinces of Canada and Bengal as being heavily inherited from prior French and South Asian imperial polities. It analyzes both the connected legacies and divergencies of inherited sovereignties as they relate to British Crown–Indigenous relations, the emergence of American Revolutionary ideology, the constitutional development of the Canadian settler-state, and the evolution of British rule in India. Britain’s military and diplomatic success in the Seven Years’ War (1754/6–1763) expanded British global imperial dominion considerably. In North America, French sovereignty in Canada and its adjacent interior spaces was transferred to Britain via the Articles of Capitulation of Montreal (1760) and the Treaty of Paris (1763), first of which required the protection of Indigenous lands and the maintenance of French property in the ceded territories. In India, meanwhile, the British East India Company’s major victories at Plassey (1757) and Buxar (1764) resulted in the Company’s receipt of the diwani, or imperial revenue, of Bengal in the Treaty of Allahabad (1765), making the Company the de facto sovereign of that province and the inheritor of much of the Mughal emperor’s diplomatic and king-making powers. Prior scholarship has interpreted these cessions and treaties primarily as transfers of territory and property. However, an analysis of the correspondence and preparatory documentation behind the development of postwar imperial policies and expressed via royal proclamations, orders-in-council, governors’ instructions, and Acts of Parliament reveals imperial authorities’ understanding of such agreements as transfers of sovereign relations between peoples, by which the Crown was legally bound to honour the customary rights of and its own inherited responsibilities toward conquered and non-subject protected populations. While such additions to the constitution of empire drew opposition from commercial interests and settler subjects who charged the Ministry with corruption and arbitrary government—charges that have persisted into modern historiography—this work highlights the significance of postwar British imperial policy as an imperial domestication of inherited sovereignties in Canada and India, exposing the defined period as critically important to our understanding of the development of the imperial constitution by highlighting the significance of international relations to processes of constitution making vis-à-vis the incorporation of non-British settler populations and non-European conquered and non-conquered protected peoples into the empire.