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Treaty of Paris -- September 3rd, 1783  -- By: Stanley L. Klos The Definitive Treaty of Peace between his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America."

Treaty of Paris
September 3rd, 1783
By: Stanley L. Klos

  Courtesy of: National Archives and Records Administration

Treaty of Paris: Signed by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay


In an effort to minimize the importance of France in guaranteeing U.S. Independence, David Hartley the British Commissioner agreed to the American suggestion to negotiate a separate treaty without France or Spain. On the morning of September 3rd, 1783 Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay, met privately with John Hartley in his rooms at the Hotel de York and signed a treaty entitled, "The Definitive Treaty of Peace between his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America." The Treaty was immediately dispatched to the United States Congress as Article Ten required ratification and the exchange of originals within six months.

Click Here to see the table that served for the signing of the Treaty of Paris which, formally established American Independence from Great Britain.  

Elias Boudinot, under whose term the treaty was initially signed by the commissioners, never have the opportunity to sign this document as it arrived in America after Thomas Mifflin had been elected President of the United States.  Most historians credit Elias Boudinot with the Presidential signing of the Definitive Treaty of Peace but it was actually Thomas Mifflin who ratified the document with King George III in 1784.  Other then this little known fact, the treaty was substantially negotiated and completed in its final form under Boudinot’s term.

On the fall of Lord North's ministry in March 1782, Franklin sent a letter to his friend, Lord Shelburne, expressing a hope that peace might soon be made. When the letter reached London, the new ministry, in which Shelburne was then Secretary of State for home and colonies, had already been formed. Secretary Shelburne, with the approval of the cabinet, replied by dispatching to Paris an agent to talk with Franklin informally to determine the terms upon which the Americans would make peace. The person chosen for this purpose was Richard Oswald, a Scottish merchant of frank disposition and open-minded views.

In April there were several conversations between Oswald and Franklin.  The most noteworthy point Franklin made was that in order to make a durable peace the nations must remove all occasions for future quarrel.  The line of frontier between New York and Canada was populated by a lawless set of men, who in time of peace would be likely to breed trouble between their respective governments.  Franklin articulated that it would be wise for England to cede Canada to the United States. A similar reasoning was also used for Nova Scotia in their initial meetings. Fraanklin furthered reasoned that by ceding these lands to the United States, it would be possible from their sale, to indemnify the Americans for all losses of private property during the war, and also to make reparation to the Tories whose estates had been confiscated. By pursuing such a policy, England, which had made war on America unjustly, and had wantonly done it great injuries, would achieve not merely peace, but reconciliation with America, and reconciliation, said Franklin, is "a sweet word."  

This was an exceptionally bold tone for Franklin to take but he knew that almost every member of the Whig ministry had publicly articulated the opinion that the war against America was unjust and wanton.  Benjamin Franklin who was a shrewd hand at a bargain masterfully set his terms sky high. Oswald, surprisingly, seemed to have been convinced by Franklin's reasoning, and expressed neither surprise nor reluctance at the idea of ceding Canada. The main points of this meeting were noted upon a sheet of paper, which Franklin permitted Oswald to take to London and show to Lord Shelburne, first writing upon it an express “declaration” of its informal character.

On receiving this memorandum, Shelburne did not show it to the cabinet, but returned it to Franklin without any immediate answer, after keeping it only one night. Oswald was presently sent back to Paris empowered as commissioner to negotiate with Franklin.  Oswald carried Shelburne's answer to the memorandum that desired the cession of Canada addressing Franklin’s three main points. The message was terse:

1. By way of reparation.  -- Answer:  No reparation can be heard of.
2. To prevent future wars.  -- Answer:  It is to be hoped that some more friendly method will be found.
3. As a fund of indemnification to loyalists.  -- Answer: No independence to be acknowledged without their being taken care of.

Shelburne added that “the Americans would be expected to make some compensation for the surrender of Charleston, Savannah, and the City of New York, still held by British troops.” 

From this it appears that Shelburne, as well as Franklin, knew how to begin by asking more than he was likely to get. England was no more likely to listen to a proposal for ceding Canada than the Americans were to listen to the suggestion of compensating the British for surrendering New York. But there can be little doubt that the bold stand thus taken by Franklin at the outset, together with the influence he exerted over Oswald, contributed materially to the dazzling success of the American negotiations. 

With the formal appointment of a British Commissioner the negotiations of the initiative passed almost entirely out of Benjamin Franklin’s hands as his colleagues, John Jay and John Adams took over the talks with Great Britain. The form that the treaty took was mainly the work of Jay and Adams.  The services of Franklin were chiefly valuable at the beginning, and again, to some extent, at the end.  

There were two grave difficulties in making a treaty. The first was that France was really hostile to the American claims. She sought to see the country between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi divided between England and Spain.  France had hoped that England would have the region north of the Ohio, and the region south of it to remain an Indian territory under the protectorate of Spain.  French were willing to concede a narrow strip on the western slope of the Alleghenies, over which the United States would be permitted to excise protectorship. In other words, France wished to confine the United States to the east of the Alleghenies and prevent their expansion westward into what would be later known as the Louisiana Purchase. France also sought to exclude the United States from all share in the fisheries, in order to prevent the new nation from becoming a great naval power. France was an ally only up to a certain point and this antagonism of interests made joint negotiations extremely difficult.

The second difficulty was the unwillingness of the British government to acknowledge the independence of the United States as a condition that must precede all negotiation. The Americans remained firm upon this point, as they had insisted on it ever since the Staten Island conference in 1776.  England was determined, however, to withhold the recognition long enough so they could utilize it as a bargaining chip in the treaty negotiations. This difficulty was enhanced by the fact that, if this point were conceded to the Americans, it would transfer the conduct of the treaty from the colonial secretary, Shelburne, to the Foreign Secretary Charles James Fox. These two British politicians not only differed widely in their views of the situation, but were personally bitter enemies.  

Presently Fox heard of the private memorandum that Shelburne had received from Franklin but had not shown to the cabinet.  Fox concluded, quite wrongly, that Shelburne was playing a secret part for purposes of his own. Accordingly, Secretary Fox made up his mind to utilize all the political means necessary to get the American negotiations transferred to his own department.  In the cabinet meeting, on the last day of June, Secretary Fox moved that the independence of the United States should be unconditionally acknowledged by Great Britain.  This way, he argued, England could treat the United States as a foreign power. The motion was lost, and Fox prepared to resign his office. As fate would have it the very next day the death of Lord Rockingham broke up the ministry. Lord Shelburne now became Prime Minister and this coupled with two British Naval Victories simplified the problem of separating the French from the negotiations.  In April the French fleet under the command of Admiral De Grasse, who blocked the naval relief of Cornwallis at Yorktown a 9 months earlier, was annihilated by British Admiral Rodney in the West Indies.  In September this victory was followed by the total defeat of the combined French and Spanish forces at Gibraltar. This seriously altered Treaty negotiations with the United States as France and Spain were in no longer in a position to challenge Britain’s superior naval force.  

England, though stalemated in America, was victorious over France and Spain who were the U.S.’s most important allies. The acknowledged object, for which France had entered into alliance with the Americans, was to secure the independence of the United States.  With Victory at Yorktown and a war weary British public this point was now substantially gained by France. The chief object for which Spain had entered into alliance with France was to drive the English from Gibraltar, and this point was now decidedly lost. France had bound herself not to desist from the war until Spain should recover Gibraltar.  With the combined naval defeats there was now little hope of accomplishing this, except by some fortunate bargain in the treaty.

French Foreign Minister Vergennes now tried to satisfy Spain at the expense of the United States.  He sent a secret envoy under an assumed name to Prime Minister Shelburne seeking the development of a plan for dividing the Mississippi valley between England and Spain. This was discovered by John Jay, who counteracted it by sending a messenger of his own to Lord Shelburn.  The British Prime Minister instantly recognized that a rift had arisen between the allies.  

It now became strikingly clear that it would be and advantage to England and the United States to carry on their negotiations without the intervention of France.  England had always preferred to make concessions to the Americans rather than to the house of Bourbon while he United States wanted control of the Northwest Territory which was being blocked by France. By first detaching the United States from the alliance, Britain could proceed to cudgel France and Spain out of expanding their empires in America. There was an obstacle in the way of a separate negotiation. The chevalier Luzerne, the French minister at Philadelphia, had been busy with congress, and that body had sent instructions to its commissioners at Paris to be guided in all things by the wishes of the French court. Former President John Jay upon receiving these orders was adamant against including France into the negotiations.  After making a case to his fellow commissioners that the congressional directive should be ignored, John Adams side with former President John Jay despite Franklin’s insistence they remain bound to the resolution. Together the two commissioners overruled Benjamin Franklin and agreed to take all the responsibility of disregarding these instructions. The provisions of the treaty, so marvelously favorable to the Americans, were set by John Jay and John Adams in separate negotiations with England. 

In the arrangement of the provisions, Benjamin Franklin played an important part, especially in driving the British commissioners from their position with regard to the compensation of loyalists. After a long struggle upon this point, Franklin observed that, “if the loyalists were to be indemnified, it would be necessary also to reckon up the damage they had done in burning villages and shipping, and then strike a balance between the two accounts" and he grimly suggested that a special commission might be appointed for this purpose. It was now getting late in the autumn and Shelburne felt it to be a political necessity to bring the negotiation to an end before the assembling of parliament. At the prospect of endless discussion, which Franklin's special commission proposal involved, the British commissioners gave way and accepted the American terms. It was now up to Franklin to lay the matter before French Foreign Minister in such a manner to avoid a fracture of the cordial relations between America and France. It was a delicate matter for in dealing separately with the English government, the Americans laid them open to the charge of having committed a breach of diplomatic courtesy and complete disregard to the direct orders of The President of the United States and Congress Assembled.  Benjamin Franklin managed the disclosure of the Treaty to the French with entire success.  

On the part of the Americans the treaty of 1783 is still hailed as one of the most brilliant triumphs in the whole history of modern diplomacy. Had the affair been managed by men of everyday ability, the greatest results of the war would probably have been lost. The new republic would have been cooped up between the Atlantic and the Alleghenies.  A national westward expansion would have been impossible without further warfare with England.  Most importantly, the formation of a Federal Republic with no opportunity for territorial expansion would have muted many of the voices who formed the constitutional convention in 1787. 

To the grand triumph the wide-ranging talents of Franklin, Adams, and Jay equally contributed to the accomplishments of the treaty. To John Jay is due the credit of detecting and baffling the sinister designs of France and persuading John Adams to contradict the orders of the President and Congress. Without the tact of Franklin, however, this probably could not have been accomplished without offending France who could have easily vetoed the Treaty with by rattling her military saber.  The United States now had her Independence from a treaty that begins “In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.” Perhaps the three men who this author admires most were indeed on the case of “The Definitive Treaty of Peace between his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America.”

Treaty of Paris -- September 3rd, 1783  -- By: Stanley L. Klos The Definitive Treaty of Peace between his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America."


In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.

It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts of the most serene and most potent Prince George the Third , by the grace of God, king of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, defender of the faith, duke of Brunswick and Lunebourg, arch-treasurer and prince elector of the Holy Roman Empire etc., and of the United States of America, to forget all past misunderstandings and differences that have unhappily interrupted the good correspondence and friendship which they mutually wish to restore, and to establish such a beneficial and satisfactory intercourse , between the two countries upon the ground of reciprocal advantages and mutual convenience as may promote and secure to both perpetual peace and harmony; and having for this desirable end already laid the foundation of peace and reconciliation by the Provisional Articles signed at Paris on the 30th of November 1782 by the commissioners empowered on each part, which articles were agreed to be inserted in and constitute the Treaty of Peace proposed to be concluded between the Crown of Great Britain and the said United States, but which treaty was not to be concluded until terms of peace should be agreed upon between Great Britain and France and his Britannic Majesty should be ready to conclude such treaty accordingly; and the treaty between Great Britain and France having since been concluded, his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, in order to carry into full effect the Provisional Articles above mentioned, according to the tenor thereof, have constituted and appointed, that is to say his Britannic Majesty on his part, David Hartley , Esqr., member of the Parliament of Great Britain, and the said United States on their part, John Adams , Esqr., late a commissioner of the United States of America at the court of Versailles, late delegate in Congress from the state of Massachusetts, and chief justice of the said state, and minister plenipotentiary of the said United States to their high mightinesses the States General of the United Netherlands; Benjamin Franklin , Esqr., late delegate in Congress from the state of Pennsylvania, president of the convention of the said state, and minister plenipotentiary from the United States of America at the court of Versailles; John Jay , Esqr., late president of Congress and chief justice of the state of New York, and minister plenipotentiary from the said United States at the court of Madrid; to be plenipotentiaries for the concluding and signing the present definitive treaty; who after having reciprocally communicated their respective full powers have agreed upon and confirmed the following articles.

Article 1:

His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, 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.

Article 2:

And that all disputes which might arise in future on the subject of the boundaries of the said United States may be prevented, it is hereby agreed and declared, that the following are and shall be their boundaries, viz.; from the northwest angle of Nova Scotia, viz., that nagle which is formed by a line drawn due north from the source of St. Croix River to the highlands; along the said highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the river St. Lawrence, from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwesternmost head of Connecticut River; thence down along the middle of that river to the forty-fifth degree of north latitude; from thence by a line due west on said latitude until it strikes the river Iroquois or Cataraquy; thence along the middle of said river into Lake Ontario; through the middle of said lake until it strikes the communication by water between that lake and Lake Erie; thence along the middle of said communication into Lake Erie, through the middle of said lake until it arrives at the water communication between that lake and Lake Huron; thence along the middle of said water communication into Lake Huron, thence through the middle of said lake to the water communication between that lake and Lake Superior; thence through Lake Superior northward of the Isles Royal and Phelipeaux to the Long Lake; thence through the middle of said Long Lake and the water communication between it and the Lake of the Woods, to the said Lake of the Woods; thence through the said lake to the most northwesternmost point thereof, and from thence on a due west course to the river Mississippi; thence by a line to be drawn along the middle of the said river Mississippi until it shall intersect the northernmost part of the thirty-first degree of north latitude, South, by a line to be drawn due east from the determination of the line last mentioned in the latitude of thirty-one degrees of the equator, to the middle of the river Apalachicola or Catahouche; thence along the middle thereof to its junction with the Flint River, thence straight to the head of Saint Mary's River; and thence down along the middle of Saint Mary's River to the Atlantic Ocean; east, by a line to be drawn along the middle of the river Saint Croix, from its mouth in the Bay of Fundy to its source, and from its source directly north to the aforesaid highlands which divide the rivers that fall into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the river Saint Lawrence; comprehending all islands within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States, and lying between lines to be drawn due east from the points where the aforesaid boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one part and East Florida on the other shall, respectively, touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean, excepting such islands as now are or heretofore have been within the limits of the said province of Nova Scotia.

Article 3:

It is agreed that the people of the United States shall continue to enjoy unmolested the right to take fish of every kind on the Grand Bank and on all the other banks of Newfoundland, also in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and at all other places in the sea, where the inhabitants of both countries used at any time heretofore to fish. And also that the inhabitants of the United States shall have liberty to take fish of every kind on such part of the coast of Newfoundland as British fishermen shall use, (but not to dry or cure the same on that island) and also on the coasts, bays and creeks of all other of his Brittanic Majesty's dominions in America; and that the American fishermen shall have liberty to dry and cure fish in any of the unsettled bays, harbors, and creeks of Nova Scotia, Magdalen Islands, and Labrador, so long as the same shall remain unsettled, but so soon as the same or either of them shall be settled, it shall not be lawful for the said fishermen to dry or cure fish at such settlement without a previous agreement for that purpose with the inhabitants, proprietors, or possessors of the ground.

Article 4:

It is agreed that creditors on either side shall meet with no lawful impediment to the recovery of the full value in sterling money of all bona fide debts heretofore contracted.

Article 5:

It is agreed that Congress shall earnestly recommend it to the legislatures of the respective states to provide for the restitution of all estates, rights, and properties, which have been confiscated belonging to real British subjects; and also of the estates, rights, and properties of persons resident in districts in the possession on his Majesty's arms and who have not borne arms against the said United States. And that persons of any other decription shall have free liberty to go to any part or parts of any of the thirteen United States and therein to remain twelve months unmolested in their endeavors to obtain the restitution of such of their estates, rights, and properties as may have been confiscated; and that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several states a reconsideration and revision of all acts or laws regarding the premises, so as to render the said laws or acts perfectly consistent not only with justice and equity but with that spirit of conciliation which on the return of the blessings of peace should universally prevail. And that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several states that the estates, rights, and properties, of such last mentioned persons shall be restored to them, they refunding to any persons who may be now in possession the bona fide price (where any has been given) which such persons may have paid on purchasing any of the said lands, rights, or properties since the confiscation.

And it is agreed that all persons who have any interest in confiscated lands, either by debts, marriage settlements, or otherwise, shall meet with no lawful impediment in the prosecution of their just rights.

Article 6:

That there shall be no future confiscations made nor any prosecutions commenced against any person or persons for, or by reason of, the part which he or they may have taken in the present war, and that no person shall on that account suffer any future loss or damage, either in his person, liberty, or property; and that those who may be in confinement on such charges at the time of the ratification of the treaty in America shall be immediately set at liberty, and the prosecutions so commenced be discontinued.

Article 7:

There shall be a firm and perpetual peace between his Brittanic Majesty and the said states, and between the subjects of the one and the citizens of the other, wherefore all hostilities both by sea and land shall from henceforth cease. All prisoners on both sides shall be set at liberty, and his Brittanic Majesty shall with all convenient speed, and without causing any destruction, or carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American inhabitants, withdraw all his armies, garrisons, and fleets from the said United States, and from every post, place, and harbor within the same; leaving in all fortifications, the American artilery that may be therein; and shall also order and cause all archives, records, deeds, and papers belonging to any of the said states, or their citizens, which in the course of the war may have fallen into the hands of his officers, to be forthwith restored and delivered to the proper states and persons to whom they belong.

Article 8:

The navigation of the river Mississippi, from its source to the ocean, shall forever remain free and open to the subjects of Great Britain and the citizens of the United States.

Article 9:

In case it should so happen that any place or territory belonging to Great Britain or to the United States should have been conquered by the arms of either from the other before the arrival of the said Provisional Articles in America, it is agreed that the same shall be restored without difficulty and without requiring any compensation.

Article 10:

The solemn ratifications of the present treaty expedited in good and due form shall be exchanged between the contracting parties in the space of six months or sooner, if possible, to be computed from the day of the signatures of the present treaty. In witness whereof we the undersigned, their ministers plenipotentiary, have in their name and in virtue of our full powers, signed with our hands the present definitive treaty and caused the seals of our arms to be affixed thereto.

Done at Paris, this third day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.


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