*** Revolutionary War Treaty of Paris 1783

American Revolutionary War: Treaty of Paris (1783)

Figure 1.--.

Gen. Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown ended the military phase of the Revolutionary War (October 1781). Britain had lost two entire field armies and was unwilling to continue the War. Just what the political settlement would be and the boundaries would be, however, was still unsettled. The western boundary in particular was at issue because they had never been clearly drawn even before the Revolution. The British at first wanted a settlement that would have provided a degree of autonomy, but left the colonies within the Empire. This could have prevented the colonists, but after the Revolutionary War was no longer acceptable. The British made a secret offer of autonomy to Benjamin Franklin in Paris (April 1782). Franklin rejected the British peace feelers insisting that Britain fully recognize American independence. Franklin also rejected the idea of a separate peace. America had not fought the British alone. The French and Spanish had joined America and the French in particular had played a major role in the War. The Continental Congress appointed John Adams and John Jay as peace commissioners to assist Franklin in the negotiations. In the end, a separatre peace was decided on because the British offered such generos terms tgo secure it. The Amerucan treaty with Britain was signed (September 3, 1783). Formal negotiations with all belligerent countries opened in Paris (September 27) anbd took longerr to conclude. The allies were presented by a fait accompli. Ansithout vthe mericans, their brgining power was weakened. The final treaty was very favorable to the Americans. They did not acquire Canada, but they got all the formerly British territory west to the Mississippi River. This proved to be a bone of contention after the War because the British were not anxious to turn over forts in the Northwest Territory.

Revolutionary War

The Revolutionary War was an astounding occurrence in a world sill dominated by kings. It established the first important republic since Rome in the middle of what at the time was a wilderness far from Europe. It was a war that the British could have easily avoided had King George and his advisors been willing to show the least flexibility. Many in Britain objected to the War and a minority of Americans wanted independence at the time the war began. It was also a war that the American colonists won by the slimmest of margins against the most powerful country in the world. The Americans succeeded in their struggle only because they were aided by a French king who was opposed to offering the same liberties to his people that the Americans were demanding from their king. The American Revolution is a struggle that has been somewhat lost as a result of the much greater scholarly interest in America on the Civil War. As a result, most American's view the war through simplistic primary school readings which obscure the tremendously complicated course of events that led to the War and creation of America. English scholars, perhaps because Britain lost the War, have given it almost no scholarly attention.

American Allies

France still stinging from the loss of its empire in the 7 Years War, declared war on Britain. The American victory at Saratoga (1777) and the surrender of an entire field army convinced King Louis XVI that the British could be defeated. The French not only provided large quantities of military supplied, but commited a French army and provided badly needed naval support. Spain joined the French, but played a lesser role. The Dutch did not declare war, but were armed neutrals.

British Political Situation

Lord North was appointed primeminister (1770) and led the Parlimentary faction which supported King George III's policies to use military force to control developments in America. From the beginning there was some sympathy for the colonists. As the War progressed the cost engendered increasing opisition within Parliament. A Parliamentary minority saw the American struggle as part of their opposition to the the crown's authority. The preliminary American demands were not for independence, but a sesire by the colnists for the Crown to accept the authority of the colonial legislatures. Parlimentary figures also complained that the King was using the War to expand his authority. Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown was a shock to Britain--especially Lord North and the King (October 1781). No one was more shocked than Lord North who exclaimed upon being informed, "Oh God, it's all over!" It in effect ended the military phase of the Revolutionary War . Britain had lost two entire field armies and Parliament was unwilling to continue the War. Britain had been fighting wars in Europe for cdnturies and had never loss a field army. Here the Americans of all people had forced two entire field armies to surrender. The Opposition was led by Charles James Fox who was strengthen by some of the Torry backbenchers. His first targets were Germain and the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty. They wanted resignations. Germain resigned (January 1782). The King, however, elevated him to a peerage in the House of Lords. North also submitted his resignation. He finally saw that The American war was lost and the King would have to recognize American independence. King George III was still unwilling to relent. He refused to accept both North's resignation or American independence. Fox increased the parlimentary pressure on Nord North. Fox orcestarated a series of parlimentary. They included both censure votes and and substantive resolutions. Most were narrowly defeated. An address to the throne to end the War and recogize colonies' independence was defeated by only one vote (February 22). A reworded resolution passed (February 27). A no confidence vote in Lord North narrowly failed (March 8). A second no confidence vote failed by an even more narrow margin (March 20). Finnaly Lord North resigned before the vote on another no confidence motion could be (March 20). Fox tried to hold the vote before North could resign. The King appointed Rockingham as his new primeminister. It was Rockingham began the peace negotiations, but he died during the summer. The King replaced him with the Earl of Shelburne who was primeminister when agreement was reached with the American commisioners in Paris. Sheburne approved very generous terms to the Americans. Lord North subsequently formed a parlimntary alliance with his former adversary Charles James Fox. The Fox-North coalition managed to ousted the Shelburne government and re-negotiatie the peace treaty with America to obtain better terms. Fox was appointed Foreign Secretary, but the provisions of the treaty with the Americans was unchanged. Britain sihned the Treaty of Paris (September 3 , 1783). King George III thoroughly disliked Fox and turned on North for forming a government with him. The King turned to William Pitt the Younger as his next prime minister (1784). Pitt throughly disliked North who he saw as responsible for dismantling the Empire.

British Peace Feelers

While the fighting ended at Yorktown, there were still British armies in North America and the Royal Navy still controlled the seas. Just what the political settlement would be and the location of the boundaries was still unsettled. The western boundary in particular was at issue because they had never been clearly drawn even before the Revolution. The British at first wanted a settlement that would have provided a degree of autonomy, but left the colonies within the Empire. This could have prevented the colonists, but after the Revolutionary War was no longer acceptable. After Parliament decided to stop using military force, the British government dispatched a diplomat authorized to negotiate with the American ambassador in Paris--Benjamin Franklin. But the question arose as to how to refer to Franklin. They addressed the credentials to the representative of the North American "colonies". Until this, THe British had not formally recognized Franklin as a legitimate refresentative of the colonists. Franklin refused to accept the British envoy's credentials because of te use of the term "colobies" The Americans of course maintained that they were no longer "colonies", but an independent state. When the British envoy returned to London, a debate occurred as to debate about whether a change in the credentials amounted to recognition of independence or just recognition of the formal name which the Americans wanted to use. That question was not answered, but Parliament agreed to change the credentials. Almost certainly some members of Parliament were prepared at this time to recognize American independence. The Lord Chancellor said at the time that he considered revising the instructions to essentially recognize independence. The British envoy made a secret offer of autonomy within the Empire to Franklin (April 1782). Franklin rejected the British peace feelers insisting that Britain fully recognize American independence. Franlkin also rejected the idea of a separate peace. America had not fought the British alone. The French and Spanish had joined America and the French in particular had played a major role in the War.

Preliminary Contacts

Franklin was cloesly following developments in Parliament and knew when Lord North's Government fell (March 1782) that the time had come to negotiate a peace. Franklin wrote to a rising star in Parliament and a personal friend--Lord Shelburne. The King had replaced Lord North with Rockingham. Shelburne had been appointed Secretary of State for home and colonies and thus was well placed to play an important role in the negotiatiions. Secretary Shelburne obtained approval of the cabinet and dispatched Richard Oswald as an agent to Paris to informally discuss possible terms with Franklin. Owwald was a Scottish merchant, a practical man that could be expected to deal openly and frankly with Franklin. The two men met several times (April 1782). Franklin was a sophisticated negotiator. He knew to ask for more than can reasonably be expected so that compromoses could be made without giving up important objectives. This is precisely what he did. He demanded Canada as well as Nova Scotia (which was a separate British colony at the time). He also demanded reprirations for the damge caused by the War. Franklin reasoned that ceeding Canada would remove the possibility if future conflict and generate moneny to compesate both the Americans and Loyalists (Torries) for losses experienced during the War. He said that Britain had unjustly made war on America and with the concession of Canada would both make peace and achieve reconciliation. Osborne was not sent to negotiate, but was apparently impressed with Franlklin's reasonomg. He duly reported Franlkin's conditions to Shelburnre. Secretary Shelburne did not discuss Franklin's conditions to the cabinent. He knew how to negotiate and on his own authority ordered Oswald back to Paris empowered to negotiate. Shelburne ordered to make three points: 1) No reparation, 2) No transfer of Canada, other ways can be found to prcent future wars, and 3) No independence without compensationg the loyalists. Shelburne insisted 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.�

French Goals

Peace Commissioners

Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin as its ambassador to France with the assinment of gaining French assistabce. Franklin permormed magniicently. He was one of the richest, most sophisticated man in the colonies and a scientist of international reputation, yet he projected himself as an American rustic. The French loved him. Soon every imaginable item appeared with his likeness--including chamber pots. His brilliant diplomacy and the American victory at Saratoga bought France into the War. Congress sent Adams and John Jay to assist Franklin as diplomatic representatives in Europe (1778). Fraklin and Adams did not get along. They could not even agree on opening the windows to their bedroom at night. Adams did not understand Fraklin's subtle diplomacy and did nothing, but irritate the French. He remained in Paris for a year, emersinging himself in European affairs. He prepared detailed reports to Congress, much more detailed than what Franklin sent. Finally Adams who was also minister plenipotentiary to the Netherlands went to the Dutch Republic and work on a badly needed loan. Jay traveled to Spain and helped bring Spain into the War. Congress on Adams's recommendation, Congress abolished the commission and named Benjamin Franklin as American diplomatic representative to France. He then returned home. While hime Adams playrd a major role in the Massachusetts constitutional convention. The resulting state constitution served as a model for those of many other states. After the Britih surrender at Yorktowm (October 1781), congress appointed Adams and Jap to assist Franklin negotiate a peace treaty with Britain. The three commissioners had full power to negotiate a peace treaty. Adams was also enpowered to negotiate a commercial agreement with Britain and to become the U.S. diplomatic representative once the peace treaty was concluded. In Paris Adams found, however, that the British were not yet willing to concede independence. So Adams went to the Netherlands and managed to secure a $2 million loan from Dutch bankers (July 1982). The Netherlands recognized U.S. independence (October 1982). Adams then negotiated a treaty of friendship and commerce. After obtaining the Dutch loan, Adams returned to Paris (July) He found that at last the British were willing to concede indepence. Progress in a treaty was, however, complicated by France whose views of the outcome and the future American Republic differeed greatly from the American goals. Of the three commissioners, Franklin who had negotiated the French treaty, was most wed to the French alliance and resisted a separate peace with Britain. France insisted on prior approval of any peace agreement the Americans negotiated with Britain. Jay urged and Adams agreed that they ignore its instructions from Congress and reach a peace agreement without French oversight.

Peace Conference

Formal negotiations with all beligerant countries opened in Paris (September 27). The Americans demanded the Britisg ceed Canada. Lord Shelburne was willing to accep American independence, but he was unprepared to agree to ceed Canada. .


he American and British persued 2 months of difficult negotiations followed. The preliminary Anglo-American articles they negotiated and signed were unchanged in the final treaty. (which went unchanged) were signed (November 30, 1782). Students of diplmacy commonly refer to the document that energed as the greatest triumph of American diplomacy.

Separate American negotiations

France's conception as to the outcome of the War differed so significantly from the American goals that a rift developed between the Americans and French negotiators. Here the American Commissuoners themselves were not in agreement. Franklin had been badly treated by the British in the months before the Revolution actually broke out. He was lionized by the French and was a major factor in achieving the French alliance. Thus he was the least willing ro split with the French. Adams and Jay had little invested in the French alliance ad were not al all enamored by France like Franklin. They were thus much more willing to negotiate separately if the British offered advantageous terms. I knpw less about the British decession-making process. Surely their long history of conflict with France provided the background in their decession to offer the Americans much of what they wanted to break them away from the French. David Hartley, the British Commissioner, thus agreed to negotiate a separate treaty without French or Spanish participation. After 2 months of tough beotiations, Franklin, Adams, and Jay in Hartley's rooms at the Hotel de York signed "The Definitive Treaty of Peace between his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America" (September 3, 1783). The Treaty was quickly forwarded to the United States Congress and British Government. Article 10 required ratification and the exchange of originals within 6 months. It took over 1 month for the docment to reach Congress.

French and Spanish negotiations

Final Document

France and Spain signed separate preliminary articles with Great Britain (January 20, 1783). The Dutch and British signed their treaty later (September 2, 1783). These preliminary agreements (except the Anglo-Dutch one, which was not ratified by both powers until later (June 1784) were signed as the final peace treay ending the War (September 3, 1783).


The British eventually accepted American independence and a western boundary to the Mississippi. American independence was a difficult step for King George III to accept. Other issues were also resilved, including cod fishing rights on the Newfoundland banks and pre-War debts owed British creditors. The Americans promised to pay restitution of property lost during the war by Americans loyal to the crown. The Treary also provided for the evacuation of British forces from the now independent United states.


Vermont proved to be a complication. They had not sent a representative to Congress and were in fact a 14th colony. Vermont had been de-facto independent since the declaration of independence of the Vermont Republic (January 1777). They were located far enough inland that the British except for the failed Burgoyne expedition did not threateb the colony. Vermont representatives negotiated with both the Continental Congress and the British government. Neither recignized its independence. The Americans and British proceeded in the Treaty to define boundaries of the United States that recognized Vermont as United States territory. Vermont continued, however, to be peacefully unrecognized for 5 years. The United States finally admitted Vermont into the Union as the first new state--the 14th state (1791).


The final treaty was very favorable to the Americans. They did not acquire Canada, but they got all the formerly British territory west to the Mississpi River. This proved to be a nobe of contention after the War because the British were not anxious ro turn over forts in the Northwest Territory.


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Created: 12:35 AM 10/8/2006
Last updated: 12:35 AM 10/8/2006