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Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens and William Temple Franklin in Benjamin West’s 1783-1784 painting. The British commissioners refused to pose, and the painting was never finished.

On This Day: Treaty of Paris Signed, Ending Revolutionary War

September 03, 2011 06:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
On Sept. 3, 1783, American and British representatives signed the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the Revolutionary War and establishing American independence from Britain.

British, Americans Sign Treaty of Paris

On Oct. 19, 1781, British Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, effectively ending the British campaign in the Revolutionary War. News of the battle prompted the overthrow of the British cabinet, which was replaced by a government opposed to continuing the war.

The new government, led by William Petty Fitzmaurice, Earl of Shelburne, sought to end the expensive war in America, as well as its conflicts with American ally France, French ally Spain, and the Netherlands. It was eager to establish a friendly relationship with the United States to provide future trade opportunities.

On March 5, 1782, Britain began negotiations with the Americans and French separately and secretly. Negotiations with the American delegation of John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Henry Laurens were held up by British refusal to recognize American independence, continuing until October 1782 with little progress.
Britain eventually relented and signed a preliminary agreement on Nov. 30 that acknowledged American independence. It also handed over land extending to the Mississippi River and fishing rights off Newfoundland. The U.S. agreed to repay debts to Britain and end the seizure of Loyalists’ property.

Franklin disclosed the Anglo-American agreement to France, which agreed to reach peace with Britain and convinced Spain to do the same. On Sept. 3, a day after agreeing to a peace treaty with the Dutch, Britain signed three peace treaties collectively known as the Peace of Paris: two with the French and Spanish in Versailles and one with the Americans at the Hôtel d’York in Paris.

Jay, Adams and Franklin signed the Treaty of Paris along with British delegate David Hartley. It contained 10 articles, the first of which guaranteed American independence. “His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States … to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof,” it reads.

The American Congress unanimously ratified the treaty on Jan. 14, 1784.

Background: The American Revolution

British settlement in America began in 1607 at Jamestown, Va., and continued up and down the east coast over the next century. Britain ruled over 13 colonies in America and would gain control of France’s colonies in 1763 after winning the French and Indian War, solidifying its North American empire.

However, colonists in the 13 Colonies, particularly in Massachusetts and Virginia, were growing resentful of British rule, and there were violent conflicts between British troops and American patriots. In 1774, representatives from each colony—including Jay, Franklin and Adams—met in Philadelphia to form the Continental Congress.

The first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired on April 19, 1775, at Lexington and Concord. A year later, the Continental Congress wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence.

The American militias were poorly trained and lightly armed; Franklin traveled to Paris and secured arms and supplies from France, though France remained neutral. The Americans won the Battle of Saratoga in September and October 1777, which demonstrated that Britain could be defeated.

In February 1778, France agreed to increase military support. The French support turned the war in the Americans’ favor and proved to be a decisive factor in their eventual victory.

Later Developments: The War of 1812

Fewer than 20 years after the Treaty of Paris, Britain and the United States would be at war again in the War of 1812. It  was caused by the two countries’ differing relationships with France; Britain was at war with Napoleon and objected to continuing trade between France and the United States. It imposed trade restrictions on the United States and conscripted U.S. sailors into the Royal Navy.

President James Madison declared war on the British in June 1812 and over the next two and a half years there would be fighting in North America and at sea. The U.S. won important battles at sea, but British troops succeeded in overwhelming Washington, D.C., and burning down the White House.

The two countries signed a peace treaty, the Treaty of Ghent, on Christmas Eve 1814. They agreed to “status quo ante bellum,” restoring pre-war relations. However, it would be another two weeks before news of the peace reached New Orleans, where American troops under Gen. Andrew Jackson defeated British troops in the Battle of New Orleans.

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