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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Timeline of U.S. Diplomatic History > 1775-1783

Treaty of Paris, 1783

The Treaty of Paris was signed by U.S. and British Representatives on September 3, 1783, ending the War of the American Revolution. Based on a1782 preliminary treaty, the agreement recognized U.S. independence and granted the U.S. significant western territory. The 1783 Treaty was one of a series of treaties signed at Paris in 1783 that also established peace between Great Britain and the allied nations of France, Spain, and the Netherlands.

The 1781 U.S. victory at the Battle of Yorktown made peace talks where British negotiators were willing to consider U.S. independence a possibility. Eighteenth-century British parliamentary governments tended to be unstable and depended on both a majority in the House of Commons and the good favor of the King. Thus, when news of Yorktown reached London, the parliamentary opposition succeeded in overthrowing the embattled government led by Frederick North, Lord North.

However, the new government, led by Charles Watson-Wentworth, Marquess of Rockingham, was not much more stable than the previous one. The strong personalities of its ministers led to internal conflicts between them and King George III. Rockingham died in July of 1782, and he was succeeded by William Petty Fitzmaurice, Earl of Shelburne. Lord Shelburne’s government wanted to seek peace, but hoped to avoid recognizing U.S. independence. However, the war had been expensive, and Britain faced a formidable alliance, fighting the combined forces of France, Spain, and the Netherlands, in addition to the rebellious colonists.

Shelburne and other British diplomats had pursued a strategy of trying to drive the alliance apart by entering negotiations for a separate peace with France’s allies. Although such efforts failed with the Netherlands, U.S. negotiators were receptive to the idea of separate negotiations, because they saw in such negotiations the clearest path to ensuring recognition of U.S. independence in a final peace settlement. The French Foreign Minister, Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes, approved of separate negotiations, though not of a separate peace.

In the meantime, Anglo-American negotiations had been stalled, owing to internal conflicts in the British government and British refusal to recognize U.S. independence as part of the peace settlement. In July of 1782, Lord Shelburne gave in on the issue of independence, hoping that a generous peace settlement with the United States would bring peace with France, the Netherlands, and Spain. However, John Jay objected to British refusal to acknowledge the United States as already independent during peace negotiations, so the negotiations halted until the fall.

Anglo-American negotiations entered their final stage in October and November of 1782. The United States succeeded in obtaining Newfoundland fishing rights, a western border that extended to the Mississippi with rights of navigation (which the Spanish government would later prevent) and, most importantly, British acknowledgement of U.S. independence along with the peaceful withdrawal of British forces. In return for these concessions, the agreement contained provisions requiring the U.S. to honor private debts and ensure an end to the seizure of Loyalist property. U.S. negotiators John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Henry Laurens signed a preliminary agreement with British representative Richard Oswald on November 30, 1782. The agreement would remain informal until the conclusion of a peace agreement between Britain and France.

West sketch

Franklin disclosed the Anglo-American agreement to Vergennes, who had objections to the manner in which it was obtained, but was willing to accept the agreement as a part of broader peace negotiations, and agreed to supply the United States with another loan that Franklin had requested. When Spanish forces failed to capture Gibraltar, Vergennes was able to persuade the Spanish government to agree to peace as well. Negotiators abandoned an earlier complicated plan to redistribute each others’ unconquered colonies to one which largely preserved existing Spanish and French territorial gains. In North America, Spain received Florida, which it had lost in the Seven Years’ War. Spanish, French, British, and American representatives signed a provisional peace treaty on January 20, 1783, proclaiming an end to hostilities. The formal agreement was signed at Paris on September 3, 1783. The U.S. Confederation Congress ratified the treaty on January 14.

Although the treaty secured U.S. independence, it left several border regions undefined or in dispute, and certain provisions also remained unenforced. These issues would be resolved over the years, though not always without controversy, by a series of U.S. agreements with Spain and Britain, including the Jay’s Treaty, the Treaty of San Lorenzo, the Convention of 1818, and the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842.

Despite the unresolved border issues, the U.S. benefited most among the treaty’s signatories, firmly securing recognition of its independence from European powers. Although Britain lost its American colonies, British global power continued to increase, driven by the economic growth of the early industrial revolution. For France, victory came at an enormous financial cost, and attempts to resolve the financial crisis would ultimately trigger the French Revolution.


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