On this day (Jan. 14) in 1784, the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, ratified the Treaty of Paris of 1783, which formally brought to a happy conclusion, especially for the war-weary, debt-ridden American patriots, the lengthy eight-year Revolutionary War against Great Britain.
The Continental Congress, in September 1779, had appointed John Adams as its sole negotiator. However, in 1781, partly in deference to French Foreign Minister Comte de Vergennes’s dislike of the argumentative Adams, Congress added the names of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson and Henry Laurens to the peace-negotiating team. However, only three members of the American delegation actually took part in the sometimes dilatory negotiations that led to the final peace treaty.
Because of the illness and subsequent death of his wife, Martha, in September 1782, Jefferson did not participate in the negotiations. Henry Laurens was captured by the British while traveling to France and was imprisoned in the Tower of London for 15 months. Happily, the South Carolinian was freed in time to reach Paris to sign the Preliminary Treaty in November 1782.
Each of the three participating American diplomats (Adams, Franklin and Jay) made positive contributions to what finally became the Definitive Treaty. The wily Dr. Franklin’s main contribution was to act as a mediator between the irascible Adams, the dour Jay, and the British negotiators, Richard Oswald and Henry Strachey, and then to convince the French Foreign Minister (Comte de Vergennes) that he should support the treaty even though France played no role in its drafting.
The Treaty of Alliance of 1778 with France had mandated joint Franco-American negotiations with the British: a provision that the Americans obviously violated in negotiating without French input.
Adams’ main contribution was his insistence that Americans retain their accustomed fishing “rights” in the north Atlantic and Jay’s main positive contribution was his insistence to exclude France from the peace negotiations.
In the treaty, Britain first and foremost formally recognized U.S. independence. The other major terms of the treaty included a clause stating that all debts owed citizens of both countries were to be honored; a clause pledging Congress “to earnestly recommend” to the states a full restoration of the rights and properties of loyalists; a clause granting Americans the “right” to fish in their accustomed areas off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland; a clause granting generous boundaries, which made the new American republic one of the largest countries in the Atlantic World; and, finally, a clause that specified that all hostilities were to cease, and that all British land and sea forces were to be evacuated “with all convenient speed.”
Adams, Franklin and Jay had negotiated a highly favorable peace treaty – a treaty that confirmed American independence and gave birth to the American republic.
• Crystal Lake resident Joseph C. Morton is professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University and author “The American Revolution” and “Shapers of the Great Debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.