THE TREATY OF PARIS 1783

Program written and presented by
Compatriot Thomas P. Shumaker

November 17, 1996

(Our chapter's first program)

It seems somehow appropriate that the first program of the Black Warrior Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution, should be a recollection of the Treaty that, for the very first time, recognized the existence of our Nation.

This was the TREATY OF PARIS, signed in a French hotel room on 3 September, 1783, that ended the bitter, bloody, eight-year struggle for independence. It was, indeed, a remarkable Treaty, and we will never again see such an accomplishment. In our modern times our communication capabilities; radio, satellites and television news coverage has taken away the importance of the local negotiator and reduced him to a figurehead or a messenger boy. There is little latitude allowed and all of the decisions are made in the home offices in Washington, most often by unidentified bureaucrats.

But at the time of the negotiation of the TREATY OF PARIS, it would take months for a 'Peace Commissioner' to ask for a specific instruction and to receive an answer. In those days, a typical, one-way 'Atlantic crossing would take six weeks with favorable winds. There were always the possibilities for adverse winds and, in those times of war, of falling into the hands of the enemy, which was the fate of one of the Peace Commissioners.

We need to keep two background realities in mind as we recall the negotiations of the Treaty of Paris. First was that although the French, the Spanish and the Dutch were our 'Allies,' they really did not want to see the "Americans" be TOO successful. We were, after all, rebels against our previous rulers and our success could well encourage similar rebellion in their own countries. Specific-ally they wanted us kept under control by inserting a 'Spanish' country east of the Mississippi River and by making that River our absolute western boundary.

And the Continental Congress, the Appointing Authority, gave stern directions to the Commissioners that they were to take their instructions from the French and to do NOTHING without clearing with all of the 'Allies.' If these instructions had been followed, they might still be negotiating!!

The war in which the American Colonists found themselves engaged with England, had expanded into a 'World War,' with not only the 'Americans' and the French, but also the Dutch and the Spanish. When there came the opportunity to discuss a peace treaty, the Continental Congress, still headquartered in Philadelphia, formally appointed five of its best leaders to represent the American Colonies at what it visualized would be a multi-national, simultaneous resolution of the conflict. The Colonies' representatives were:

While Franklin was already in Paris, the other Commissioners had to make the trip from Philadelphia, and their experiences give a vivid look at the difficulty of wind-driven sea travel of those days. Laurens, as we noted, was captured by a British warship and jailed in the Tower of London. Both Adams and Jay had miserable trips in dilapidated ships and finally arrived in Europe, Jay in Spain and Adams in the Netherlands.

Jay was insulted and ignored by the Spanish, who refused to recognize the existence of the "United States" and so declined to accept him in diplomatic status. He had a thoroughly bad time in Spain and he remembered it well while he worked on the treaty.

It was in October 1782 before the three commissioners could get together in Paris. At first they rubbed each other's fur the wrong way, with Jay believing that Franklin was under the thumb of the French. Adams was a jealous sort and he resented Franklin's popularity and his easy adaptation to French social activities. After the three egos had bounced off each other, they settled in to a remarkable teamwork, as they applied their abilities and intellect to do the best possible job for their country.

When you read the TREATY OF PARIS, you will note that it has ten "Articles," each of which sums up one item and what was agreed by both sides. The three American Commissioners, all good Yankee traders, made two quiet decisions. First, they would proceed to deal directly with England, ignoring Congress' instructions to follow the French lead. Second, they listed the items that they insisted upon, the non-negotiable" ones, and then added a number of additional items that could be used to argue and to trade.

For example, Article I was the heart of the whole war, that England recognized the 'States' to be "free, sovereign and independent." The other side had wanted the "Colonies" at least to remain in the British Commonwealth.

Article II was most remarkable of all. It set the boundaries of the new country, boundaries that are still in effect more than two hundred years later. In this one Article, all of the restrictions pressed by Spain and France, that would have hindered the growth of America were wiped out, and the way was paved for the addition of Spanish Florida and for the 'Louisiana Purchase,' which provided for a truly continental United States.

Article III appeared to be important only to the New England states, the right to fish off the Newfoundland Banks and, in those days before refrigeration, to use the nearest uninhabited coast to dry or cure the fish that had been caught. Today the fishing vessels are powered by diesel engines and have capability to freeze the fish or to pack them in ice. But in those days of sail and no cooling, the catch had to be quickly either packed down in salt or smoked and dried, as the only way to preserve them. John Adams, being a New Englander, understood the importance of this item both to the economy of his region and also as a training ground for sailors. It could easily have been considered a relatively minor local issue, one to be traded to the British for some point of obvious national interest. But the other Commissioners, Jay, Laurens and Franklin, realized its importance not only to the economic well-being of New England, but also to its morale, in this solid evidence that they had really won the war.

Articles IV, V and VI addressed a very personal and emotional set of problems, and that was how the new "United States" would handle those "Americans" who remained loyal to the King and had not supported the Revolution. There were thousands of these now unfortunates, many of whom had lost homes, farms and businesses either by confiscation by the rebels or by abandonment as they fled to areas controlled by the British. England demanded that these people be reimbursed for all their losses. She also demanded that any legitimate debts contracted prior to 1775 and still outstanding, would be honored by those party to the transactions.

This was a tough dilemma for the negotiators. Congress, the National Government, did not have the money to reimburse such losses, which would have been a large sum, and it had NO immediate prospects to raise money by taxation. The Commissioner's response was to go into an act that pointed out that these confiscation's of Loyalist property had been done by the 'States,' (the individual Colonies) and that the Federal Government could not force a State to obey a mandate to repay such losses. As a big favor to the English, the Commissioners agreed to include in the Treaty the promise that "Congress shall earnestly recommend it to the legislatures of the respective states, to provide for the restitution..." When the English continued to object, the Commissioners pulled out a list of American claims against both the Loyalists and the British and said if the Loyalists could claim damages, then so could the Americans. That took care of the matter.

Article VIII was another plus for the American Commissioners. They worked out an agreement that navigation on the Mississippi River should be unrestricted to the United States and England. This was a checkmate of both France and Spain, each of whom would have been better pleased to keep some control over a growing America.

The remaining Articles, VII, IX and X, are the housekeeping items that got the British troops out of America, straightened out any minor border complaints and set a time limit for ratification.

That it was a fair treaty was shown quickly as both the American Congress and the British Parliament were noisily dissatisfied. The English threw out the Prime Minister, Lord Shelburne, and wrangled bitterly over the 'over-enerous' terms. The American Congress, too, had to debate and complain.

But all the parties, Britain, the United States, France, Spain and the Netherlands, had enough of a long, expensive and disruptive world war and the Treaties needed to end the conflict were duly approved.

All Americans should remember the 1783 Peace Commissioners as men who could look back over what they had achieved, and say, very correctly, "IT WAS DUTY WELL DONE!!"

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