Treaty of Paris

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated


The agreement in 1783 between the United States and Great Britain known as the Treaty of Paris formally ended the struggle for American independence. The British "acknowledged" their former colonial subjects as "free, sovereign and independent." Both sides opted for political reconciliation and commercial cooperation rather than continuous hostilities and competition.

In October 1781 Continental troops forced General Charles Cornwallis to surrender his troops in the wake of the Battle of Yorktown. The British decline spurred by this defeat was exacerbated by other defeats to the French and the Spanish on other continents and compounded by accumulating debt. Subsequently, the political situation changed. In March 1782 King George III installed a new cabinet. Its leaders secretly negotiated with senior American diplomats authorized by the Continental Congress. Five men were commissioned. John Adams, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin (who, being pro-French, initially objected to the talks) conducted the bargaining; Henry Laurens was captured and held by the British; and Thomas Jefferson remained in America until after the deal was sealed. Jefferson was more inclined than the others toward the French perspective, so his absence facilitated an Anglo-American agreement.

On 30 November 1782 the peace treaty was initialed in Paris. It ended the Revolutionary War by February 1783. On 15 April 1783 the preliminary Articles of Peace were ratified by the United States. On 6 August 1783 Great Britain did the same. On 3 September 1783 the Definitive Treaty of Paris (merely adding procedural details) was signed by American and British representatives. On 14 January 1784 this treaty was ratified by the United States and went into formal effect. On 9 April 1784 Britain followed suit.

American and British diplomats sidetracked the ambitious French, although the Americans had explicitly promised in 1778 not to sign a separate treaty. Britain had an interest in making concessions to the United States; doing so positioned the Americans as a potential ally, which aroused the ire of the French. The separate British-U.S. arrangement minimized gains for the French and their Spanish allies. The British exchanged with them territories in the Caribbean, West Africa, and the Mediterranean but maintained their fortress of Gibraltar. The Anglo-Saxon powers totally overlooked the interests of indigenous and racial populations.

As a result of the Treaty of Paris, the British ceded—without compensation—vast territories they possessed to the United States, whose boundaries were set in the Great Lakes and along the Mississippi River and thirty-one degrees north latitude, although New Orleans was excluded. This transfer of sovereignty doubled the size of the original colonies, primarily at the expense of native tribes. The terms, however, compared poorly with American aspirations upon independence in 1776 and what the Continental Congress had stipulated in 1779. Canada remained British. The Mississippi River itself and its navigation did not become exclusively American. Spain regained Florida. The French continued to possess vast territories beyond the Mississippi until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. American diplomats secured much, but their ability to maneuver amid the conflict of their interests with those of the British, French, and Spanish was limited.

Both American and British sailors were authorized to navigate the Mississippi River. U.S. citizens retained their previous fishing rights to rich British waters such as the Grand Banks and all other banks of Newfoundland as well as the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Americans were also permitted to dry and cure their catch on unsettled beaches in Labrador and Nova Scotia.

The United States pledged that its Congress would "earnestly recommend" to state and local authorities the restoration of property confiscated from British Loyalists during the war, prohibit future expropriation, release the Loyalists from confinement, and halt their persecution. These commitments had a weak legal basis and were rarely observed. Both sides promised that creditors would recover their prewar debts, but implementation was imperfect.

See alsoCanada; Revolution: Diplomacy .


Brecher, Frank W. Securing American Independence: John Jay and the French Alliance. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.

Stockley, Andrew. Britain and France at the Birth of America: The European Powers and the Peace Negotiations of 1782–1783. Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter Press, 2001.

Itai Nartzizenfield Sneh