- Identify the main terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783)
The Treaty of Paris
The British defeat at Yorktown made the outcome of the war all but certain. In light of the American victory, the Parliament of Great Britain voted to end further military operations against the rebels and to begin peace negotiations. Support for the war effort had come to an end, and British military forces began to evacuate the former American colonies in 1782. When hostilities ended, Washington resigned as commander in chief and returned to his Virginia home.
In April 1782, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay had begun informal peace negotiations in Paris. Officials from Great Britain and the United States finalized the treaty in 1783, signing the Treaty of Paris in September of that year. The treaty recognized the independence of the United States; placed the western, eastern, northern, and southern boundaries of the nation at the Mississippi River, the Atlantic Ocean, Canada, and Florida, respectively; and gave New Englanders fishing rights in the waters off Newfoundland. Under the terms of the treaty, individual states were encouraged to refrain from persecuting Loyalists and to return their confiscated property.
For the British, the American Revolution was but one of several conflicts taxing the resources of the British military in 1783. Not only were the American colonists in revolt, aided by Britain’s long-standing enemy, France, but there were conflicts with the Spanish and Dutch and a separate issue with the French as well. Diplomatic negotiations known as the Peace of Paris saw the signing of several treaties that put these conflicts to rest, at least for the moment.
The Treaty of Paris, 1783, was the treaty that dealt specifically with the American Revolution. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay led the negotiations and signed the treaty for the United States. David Hartley, a member of the British Parliament, signed as the representative of King George III. The treaty laid out the terms for peace between the United States and Great Britain in ten straightforward articles. The French had hoped to keep the Americans from signing a separate treaty with the British. Keeping the British occupied with a war against their own colonies was to the French advantage, as it tied up financial and military resources that the British might use in a conflict with France. However, the American negotiators realized that prolonging the war was not in the best interests of their fledgling nation: it drained them financially and cost lives. With this in mind, the Americans made their separate peace.
The Treaty of Paris
In Article I, Britain promised to recognize sovereignty of the United States, listing each of the former colonies by name: New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. All British claims to the United States were relinquished.
The borders of the United States as recognized by Great Britain were established. The intention was particularly to define the borders between the United States and those North American colonies still loyal to Britain in Canada. This treaty did not deal with the issue of Florida, which was settled between Great Britain and Spain in a separate treaty.
Article III covered fishing rights, particularly the rights to fish the Grand Banks off of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In 1783, they were important to the economy of Canada and New England as well as Europe.
Before the Revolution, colonial merchants and planters were heavily involved with British banking houses and merchants. This article guaranteed the rights of people in both countries to collect their debts. Although the right to collect debts was recognized, collecting international debts in 1783 was not always easy or even possible.
Article V was concerned with the rights of British subjects and Loyalists. With Article V, the United States promised that Congress would make an effort to encourage the various state legislatures to protect the property rights of British subjects and Loyalists who had their property seized during the war. It is worth noting that while this article promised that Congress would encourage the legislatures to respect the property rights of Loyalists, nowhere in the article does it actually guarantee that those property rights would be respected. In other words, Congress was bound by this treaty to bring the matter to the attention of the various legislatures, but the legislatures, in turn, were free to do as they pleased.
This article continues with the issue of Loyalists who remained in the United States. With this article, the United States essentially promised to protect Loyalists from further harassment, either by having property seized or being charged with crimes. Further, any Loyalist who was imprisoned at the time of the ratification of the treaty would be immediately released.
Article VII promised a tidy end to the war. The British were to remove their troops and property from the United States as soon as they could without any theft, including that of enslaved people that “belonged” to the American enslavers. All prisoners on both sides were to be released, and any documents or records of importance to Americans that were in British hands were to be returned.
Article VIII promised that both Americans and British subjects would always be allowed to travel the full length of the Mississippi River, “…from its source to the ocean…” In 1783, the end of the Mississippi where it pours into the Gulf of Mexico was well-known. However, the actual source was not, to Americans and Europeans alike. Not until 1806 would it be known that there definitely was no Northwest Passage, and not until 1832 would the area of the headwaters of the Mississippi River be discovered and explored by non-Indians.
Article IX promised that if any American territory fell into British hands, or British territory fell into American hands during the Revolution, the territory would be returned to its proper owner without any difficulties.
A ratification deadline of six months from the date of signing was specified with this article.
Although the Treaty of Paris promised the best intentions of both sides, in the end, it was just a piece of paper. It signaled the end of the war and the beginning of a new period of peace between the United States and Great Britain, but the articles of the Treaty, particularly those that required the obedience of the states, were not always followed. In addition, the British were slow in some cases to actually move out of the areas they were to vacate and the emotions that led to the persecution of Loyalists during the war did not instantly subside. While the treaty addressed several issues, it failed to mention Indian tribes which had fought on both sides and so had a stake in the outcome of the war. Even the most important provision of the treaty, that Britain would recognize the sovereignty of the United States, would be imperfectly applied, leading to increasing British abuse of American shipping. The perhaps inevitable conflict less than thirty years later was known as the War of 1812.
Watch this video for an overview of the negotiations involved in the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution.
You can view the transcript for “The Treaty of Paris, 1783” here (opens in new window).
Treaty of Paris (1783): Treaty signed by the United States and Britain ending the American Revolution