Ratification of the Treaty of Paris


Maryland State House domeMeasures had meanwhile been taken by the Congress and the British government to arrange a treaty of peace. The former appointed (September, 1782) four Commissioners for the purpose, that different States of the Union might be represented. These Commissioners were John Adams of Massachusetts, John Jay of New York, Dr. Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Henry Laurens of South Carolina, who were all in Europe at that time. The British government gave Mr. Oswald full power to treat for peace with these Commissioners. He had discussed the terms with Dr. Franklin, who assured him that independence, satisfactory boundaries, and a participation in the fisheries would be indispensable requisites in a treaty. In July the British Parliament had passed a bill to enable the king to acknowledge the independence of the United States, and all obstacles in the way of negotiation were removed. The American Commissioners first named were joined by Laurens at Paris, where the negotiations were carried on. There, on the 30th of November, a preliminary treaty of peace, on the basis of independence, was signed by the American Commissioners and Mr. Oswald without the knowledge of the French government. This was in violation of the spirit of the terms of alliance, by which it was understood (and the Commissioners had been so instructed) that no treaty should be signed by either party to the alliance without the knowledge of the other. Some of the Commissioners doubted the good faith of Vergennes, believing him to be swayed by Spanish influence; but he acted honorably throughout. Dr. Franklin, who never doubted him, removed the dissatisfaction in the mind of Vergennes, because of this affront, by a few soft words. In the meantime the States-General of Holland had acknowledged the independence of the United States by receiving John Adams as an ambassador from the Congress in April of that year; and on the 8th of October (1782) they concluded a treaty of amity and commerce with them. This was signed at the Hague by Mr. Adams and representatives of the Netherlands. It was not ratified until January, 1783.

Coincident with these preparations for a solid national existence, was the adoption of a device for a great seal-the symbol of sovereignty and authority- for the inchoate republic. A committee for the purpose was appointed on the afternoon of the 4th of July, 1776. That committee and others, from time to time, presented unsatisfactory devices. Finally, in the spring of 1782, Charles Thompson, the Secretary of Congress, gave to that body a device largely suggested to John Adams by Sir John Prestwich of England, which was made the basis of a design adopted on the 20th of June, 1782, and which is still the device of our great seal. It is composed of a spread-eagle, the emblem of strength, bearing on its breast an escutcheon with thirteen stripes alternate red and white. In his right talon he holds an olive-branch, emblem of peace, and in his left, thirteen arrows, emblems of the thirteen States, ready for war if it should be necessary. In his beak is a ribbon bearing the legend: E Pluribus Unum-"many in one" — many States making one nation. Over the head of the eagle is a golden light breaking through a cloud surrounding thirteen stars forming a constellation on a blue field. On the reverse is an unfinished pyramid, emblematic of the unfinished republic, the building of which is still going on. In the zenith is an All-seeing Eye surrounded by light, and over the eye the word Annuit Captis—"God favors the undertaking." On the base of the pyramid, in Roman numerals, the date 1776, and below the words: "Novus ordo seclorum—"a new series of ages." So the Americans showed their faith in the stability of the structure whose foundations they had laid. Only the side on which the eagle and escutcheon appear has ever been used, and that as a recumbent seal the size of the engraving here given.

With the joyful prospect of returning peace came many shadowing forebodings of evil in the near future for the poor soldiers, when the army should be disbanded and they be compelled to seek other employment for a livelihood among the desolations caused by war. Many of them were invalids; and for a long time neither officers nor private soldiers had received any pay, for the treasury was empty, and the prospect of a continuance of the poverty of the government had produced widespread discontent in the army. The officers had been promised half- pay for life; but would that promise be fulfilled? was a question that pressed upon the minds of many. Contemplating the evidently inherent weakness of the government, many were inclined to consider it a normal condition of the republican form and to sigh for a stronger one-like that of Great Britain. This feeling became so manifest in the army, that Colonel Nicola, a foreigner by birth and of weighty character, at the head of a Pennsylvania regiment, addressed a well-written letter to Washington in May, 1782, in which, professing to speak for the army, he urged the necessity of a monarchy to secure for the Americans an efficient government and the rights of the people. He proposed to Washington to accept the headship of such a government with the title of king, and assured him that the army would support him. Possibly a budding conspiracy to that end existed in the army, but it was crushed by the stern rebuke administered by the chief in a letter to Nicola. "If I am not deceived." Washington wrote, "in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable."

Excerpt from Benson J. Lossing, Our Country New York: 1877.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 3: Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)

STANDARD 1: The causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interests involved in forging the revolutionary movement, and the reasons for the American victory. 

Standard 1C: The student understands the factors affecting the course of the war and contributing to the American victory

7-12: Analyze the terms of the Treaty of Paris and how they affected U.S. relations with Native Americans and with European powers that held territories in North America. [Consider multiple perspectives] 

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: The United States in Congress assembled, to all who shall these presents greeting : Whereas in and by our commission, dated at Philadelphia, the fifteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-one, the Honorable John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and Thomas Jefferson ... with Richard Oswald ... did conclude and sign on the part of the United States of America and the crown of Great-Britain, articles in the words following ... Now know ye, that we the United States in Congress assembled, have ratified and confirmed ... the said articles ...
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: [Philadelphia : Printed by David C. Claypoole, 1783]
    NOTES: Preliminary Articles of Peace : November 30, 1782
    SOURCE: Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  2. DESCRIPTION: By the United States of America in Congress assembled. A proclamation, declaring the cessation of arms, as well by sea as by land, agreed upon between the United States of America and His Britannic Majesty, and enjoining the observance thereof.
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: Richmond : Printed by James Hayes, printer to the Commonwealth, [1783]
    SOURCE: Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  3. DESCRIPTION: By the United States in Congress assembled, a proclamation : Whereas definitive articles of peace and friendship, between the United States of America and His Britannic Majesty, were concluded and signed at Paris, on the 3rd day of September, 1783 ... we have thought proper by these presents, to notify the premises to all the good citizens of these United States ...
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: Annapolis : Printed by John Dunlap ..., [1784]
    NOTES: Paris Peace Treaty - Proclamation of January 14, 1784
    SOURCE: Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

See also: 

Selected Chronology

The Road to Peace: 1779-1784

1779, August: Congress set minimum terms for peace with Great Britain which include independence, boundaries to be set at the Mississippi, free navigation of the Mississippi, British evacuation, and certain fishing rights.

1779, September 27: Congress selects John Adams to negotiate peace and a treaty of commerce with England.

1779, November: Thomas Sim Lee takes office as the second Governor of Maryland, succeeding Thomas Johnson who, as a Congressman in 1775, nominated George Washington as Commander-in-Chief.

1780, July: Over five thousand French troops under the command of Comte de Rochambeau arrive in Rhode Island and begin preparations for the long march south to join Washington.

1780, December: After months of often bitter debate, the Maryland General Assembly agrees to confiscate the property of British citizens (known as "loyalists") in order to help defray the cost of war.

1781, March: Maryland ratifies the Articles of Confederation after successfully arguing that any western lands acquired by the peace treaty be administered by Congress. Lafayette and the American troops under his command encamp at Annapolis on their way south.

1781, June: Congress appoints a Peace Commission consisting of John Adams, John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and Thomas Jefferson. Peace demands are limited to independence and sovereignty, giving the Committee discretion on boundaries, fishing rights, and navigation of the Mississippi.

1781, September: The French fleet and "Vessels from all Parts" of Maryland transport troops, artillery, and supplies from Annapolis to Virginia, while a wagon train of provisions proceeds overland.

1781, October 17: The British, under General Cornwallis, surrender at Yorktown, near the mouth of the York River, in Virginia.

1781, November: A Marylander, John Hanson, is elected the first President of Congress under the recently ratified Articles of Confederation.

1782, March: Parliament advises King George III to make peace.

1782, April: Richard Oswald, one of the British negotiators, reaches Paris where he begins informal peace talks with Benjamin Franklin. The Dutch recognize American independence.

1782, September: A new British Ministry gives tacit recognition to the "13 United States" and formal negotiations for peace begin.

1782, October: John Jay delivers a draft of a treaty to Richard Oswald who is joined by a second British negotiator, Henry Strachey.

1782, November: William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, begins his first term as governor. Maryland and British barges clash near Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. One Maryland barge is blown up, killing its captain and a large number of his crew.

Contrary to Congressional instructions, France is excluded from the peace negotiations and on the 30th the preliminary articles of peace are signed in Parish by the American and British commissioners.

1782, December: King George III opens Parliament with a speech from the throne offering to declare the thirteen colonies "free and independent states, by an article to be inserted in the treaty of peace."

1783, January: Articles of peace between France and Britain; Britain and Spain are signed.

1783, February: Thomas Jefferson waits in Baltimore (January 30-February 24) for passage to France where Congress expects him to join the other commissioners negotiating peace. On February 14, he receives a copy of King George's speech from the throne of the previous December recognizing independence. He doubts the necessity of going to Paris, but his instructions are not rescinded by Congress until April 1.

1783, March: Captain Joshua Barney, a Marylander, arrives in Philadelphia from France with the provisional treaty of peace which he delivers to Congress.

1783, April: Congress declares an end to hostilities and agrees to the preliminary articles of peace. In Paris, British negotiator Richard Oswald is replaced by David Hartley, a friend of Franklin's. In Annapolis, the announcement of the armistice is met with public rejoicing and "the State House, a superb Building," is "beautifully and magnificently illuminated."

1783, May: Annapolis is offered to Congress as a permanent home.

1783, June: Congress adjourns to Princeton, New Jersey from Philadelphia, to avoid soldiers protesting non-payment of back pay.

1783, September 3: The definitive copy of the treaty of peace is signed by John Adams, John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, and David Hartley at the Hotel d'York and immediately dispatched to Congress. Article Ten required ratification and exchange of copies within six months.

1783, October: All furloughed officers and men of the Continental Army are discharged. Only a small force remains in arms awaiting the British evacuation of New York.

1783, November: Annapolis Mayor Jeremiah Townley Chase informs the town that, by resolution of October 23, Congress intends to make Annapolis its temporary home. William Paca begins his second term as Governor. On the twenty-second, John Thaxter, Jr., John Adams' private secretary, reaches Philadelphia, after over a month at sea, with an official copy of the definitive treaty which he delivers to the new president of Congress, Thomas Mifflin. At the State House in Annapolis, the Maryland Senate offers it chamber to Congress and moves upstairs. In New York, the British complete their evacuation.

1783, December: President Mifflin arrives in Annapolis on December 3 where he is given the Governor's official residence. A United States flag, especially made for the occasion by the noted cabinetmaker John Shaw, is hoisted for the first time. A Congressional committee, chaired by Thomas Jefferson, reports favorably on the treaty. Debate begins over whether seven or nine states are needed to ratify, with Jefferson strongly advocating nine.

On the 19th, George Washington arrives in Annapolis and is greeted at the edge of the city by General Horatio Gates, General William Smallwood, several distinguished citizens, and a thirteen canon salute. He lodges at George Mann's new and elegant tavern and attends festivities organized in his honor. At noon on the 23rd, he resigns his commission in the Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House, carefully following a program worked out by a committee that included Thomas Jefferson. After the ceremonies he leaves immediately for Mount Vernon to spend Christmas with his family.

1784, January 14: Congress, with nine states represented, ratifies the treaty of peace, known also as the Treaty of Paris. New Jersey and New Hampshire have one delegate present. New York and Georgia are unrepresented. Three copies are rushed by separate couriers to Paris.

1784, March: The first of the copies of the ratified treaty reaches France.

1784, April 9: King George III ratifies the treaty, five weeks after the deadline, but no one objects.

1784, May 12: Ratified copies of the Treaty of Paris are exchanged in Paris.

1784, June: Congress adjourns from Annapolis to Trenton, New Jersey, leaving government in the hands of a Committee of Thirteen States.

1784, August: The Committee of the Thirteen States adjourns to Trenton and Annapolis ceases to be the capital of the United States.

Additional Media Resources

Today in History: Treaty of Paris Ratified

Additional Instructional Resources

You Are There: A Revolutionary On-line Newspaper

Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan: Images of the American Revolution. From the National Archives.

Secondary Resources

Morris, Richard B. Peacemakers: the Great Powers and American Independence. New York : Harper & Row, 1965.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Maryland State House
State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Nancy Bramucci.


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