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Treaty of Paris: Primary Documents in American History
On September 3, 1783, the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the Revolutionary War. This guide provides access to digital materials at the Library of Congress, links to external websites, and a print bibliography.
The Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the United States, recognized American independence, and established borders for the new nation. After the British defeat at Yorktown, peace talks in Paris began in April 1782 between Richard Oswald representing Great Britain and the American Peace Commissioners Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams. The American negotiators were joined by Henry Laurens two days before the preliminary articles of peace were signed on November 30, 1782. The Treaty of Paris, formally ending the war, was not signed until September 3, 1783. The Continental Congress, which was temporarily situated in Annapolis, Maryland, at the time, ratified the Treaty of Paris on January 14, 1784.
The Treaty of Paris, signed in Paris by representatives of King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the United States of America on September 3, 1783, officially ended the American Revolutionary War. The treaty set the boundaries between the British Empire in North America and the United States of America, on lines “exceedingly generous” to the latter. Details included fishing rights and restoration of property and prisoners of war.
This treaty and the separate peace treaties between Great Britain and the nations that supported the American cause—France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic—are known collectively as the Peace of Paris. Only Article 1 of the treaty, which acknowledges the United States’ existence as a free, sovereign, and independent state, remains in force.
The Continental Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris
January 14, 1784
When did the Revolutionary War officially come to an end? On September 3, 1783, more than a year after the last shots were fired, a peace treaty was drawn up in Paris. Under the terms of the treaty, the United States was granted territory as far west as the Mississippi River.
After the Treaty of Paris was signed, it was sent to the Continental Congress. The United States had six months to ratify (approve) the document and return it to England. With the journey requiring approximately two months, the treaty needed to be on its way back to England by January. The valuable document almost did not arrive in time.
Peace negotiations began in Paris in April 1782 and continued through the summer. Representing the United States were Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and John Adams. Representing Great Britain were David Hartley and Richard Oswald. The treaty was drafted on November 30, 1782, and signed at the Hôtel dark (at present 56 Rue Jacob) in Paris on September 3, 1783, by Adams, Franklin, Jay, and Hartley.
Regarding the American treaty, the key episodes came in September 1782, when French Foreign Minister Vergennes proposed a solution, which was strongly opposed by his ally, the United States. France was exhausted by the war, and everyone wanted peace except for Spain, which insisted on continuing the war until it could capture Gibraltar from the British. Vergennes came up with a deal that Spain would accept, instead of Gibraltar. The United States would gain its independence, but it would be confined to the area east of the Appalachian Mountains. Britain would keep the area north of the Ohio River, which was part of the Province of Quebec. In the area south of that would be set up an independent Indian barrier state, under Spanish control.
Nevertheless, the Americans realized that they could get a better deal directly from London. John Jay promptly told the British that he was willing to negotiate directly with them and thus bypass France and Spain. British Prime Minister Lord Shelburne agreed. In charge of the British negotiations (some of which took place in his study at Lansdowne House, now a bar in the Lansdowne Club), Shelburne now saw a chance to split the United States from France and to make the new country a valuable economic partner. The western terms were that the United States would gain all of the area east of the Mississippi River, north of Florida, and south of Canada. The northern boundary would be almost the same as they are today.
The United States would gain fishing rights off Nova Scotian coasts and agreed to allow British merchants and Loyalists to try to recover their property. The treaty was a highly favorable treaty for the United States and deliberately so from the British point of view. Shelburne foresaw highly profitable two-way trade between Britain and the rapidly-growing United States, which indeed came to pass.
Great Britain also signed separate agreements with France and Spain, and (provisionally) with the Netherlands. In the treaty with Spain, the territories of East and West Florida were ceded to Spain (without a clear northern boundary, which resulted in a territorial dispute resolved by the Treaty of Madrid in 1795). Spain also received the island of Menorca, but the Bahama Islands, Grenada, and Montserrat, which had been captured by the French and Spanish, were returned to Britain.
The treaty with France was mostly about exchanges of captured territory (France’s only net gains were the island of Tobago and Senegal in Africa), but it also reinforced earlier treaties, guaranteeing fishing rights off Newfoundland. Dutch possessions in the East Indies, captured in 1781, were returned by Britain to the Netherlands in exchange for trading privileges in the Dutch East Indies by a treaty, which was not finalized until 1784.
The United States Congress of the Confederation ratified the Treaty of Paris on January 14, 1784, in Annapolis, Maryland, in the Old Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House, which made Annapolis the first peacetime capital of the new United States. Copies were sent back to Europe for ratification by the other parties involved, the first reaching France in March 1784. British ratification occurred on April 9, 1784, and the ratified versions were exchanged in Paris on May 12, 1784.
On this day, Congress beats deadline to end Revolutionary War
On January 14, 1784, the Continental Congress barely met a deadline to ratify the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the Revolutionary War.
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay, and Henry Laurens represented the Americans at the treaty conference in France, while Richard Oswald and David Hartley negotiated for the British. (Thomas Jefferson also was picked for the United States’ delegation, but travel problems prevented his attendance.)
Among the important treaty agreements, in addition to the war’s formal conclusion, were boundary provisions, fishing rights, a rights guarantee for loyalists, and the withdrawal of British troops from the United States’ recognized territories.
The Continental Congress approved preliminary articles of peace on April 15, 1783, four days after it ordered a cease-fire in the war. Congress then sent the document back to Paris for the official treaty signing. On September 5, 1783, Franklin, Adams, and Jay signed the final treaty for the Americans, and Hartley signed for Great Britain.
The signed treaty still needed to be ratified under the Articles of Confederation within six months of its signing date. Given that the treaty document needed to be sent from France to Maryland (where the Congress was meeting at Annapolis) and back to Europe, there was a brief window for at least nine states represented at the Congress to ratify the treaty.
And that presented a problem since travel logistics within the United States and the Articles’ inability to force a quorum made it difficult for the Continental Congress to assemble enough delegates to conduct business. An unusually harsh winter also made travel to Maryland even more difficult.
As late as January 12, 1784, only seven states were represented at Annapolis. Jefferson had urged Congress to ratify the treaty with just seven states and notify the British, but two delegates from Connecticut (including Roger Sherman) arrived, followed by South Carolina’s Richard Beresford (who was rousted from his sickbed in Philadelphia). Two days later, Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris unanimously.
The document was technically ratified, at least by the Americans, within the six-month window, but it still needed to get to London and Paris. Two couriers left by ship later in January 1794 with versions intended for Franklin and King George III. In March 1784, the British accepted the Americans’ explanation that winter weather delayed the documents’ arrival in Europe. King George III ratified the treaty in April 1784, officially ending the war.
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