Thank Goodness for the Treaty of Paris

Can you imagine what it would be like today if the thirteen colonies had lost the Revolutionary War? There would be no United States, and we would be living under British rule. Sounds like the basis for a new Netflix original, right? Well, happily we don’t have to imagine that unfortunate outcome.

The Treaty of Paris Ended the American Revolution

On January 14th, we mark the 1784 ratification of the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the Revolutionary War and established the United States as a free and independent nation. Over the centuries, lots of documents were called the Treaty of Paris, but the one that ended the American Revolution is the Treaty of Paris of 1783. It was negotiated in Paris, France by American patriots and British representatives, then brought back to Annapolis to be ratified by the Continental Congress.

The Treaty Made our New Government Possible

When the Treaty was negotiated and signed across the Atlantic, the fledgling United States was represented in the process by Ben Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and John Adams. These statesmen actually negotiated a pretty good deal for the original thirteen states. It established American sovereignty and independence from the British monarchy, and provided for British military withdrawal. The document defined the borders of the new American nation – from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, and from what is now Canada to Spanish Florida. It also defined American and British use of the Mississippi River as well as fishing rights around Newfoundland. Finally, the Treaty pledged to release prisoners of war and to protect the civil rights of colonists who had remained loyal to the British.

Annapolis was the Capital of the United States

After the Treaty was signed in Paris, the Continental Congress had six months to ratify it, so delegates from the thirteen new States were called to the Maryland State House in Annapolis – our nation’s first peacetime capital. Winter travel was difficult, but delegates from nine of the thirteen original states arrived just in the nick of time for Congress to ratify the Treaty.

The Congress we’re talking about wasn’t the bicameral Congress we have today. Instead it was a one-house Congress of representatives from the original thirteen States organized under the Articles of Confederation. (Remember this from social studies class?). Under the Articles of Confederation, our new nation’s first federal government was pretty weak and couldn’t pay its war debts or its soldiers. Before long, the Articles of Confederation had to be replaced by today’s more durable Constitution of the United States.

When it first became clear that the Articles of Confederation weren’t quite working out, a national assembly known as the Annapolis Convention convened here to discuss interstate trade and commerce problems. Because the Maryland State House was under construction, the delegates met in Mann’s Tavern in Annapolis near what is now Conduit and Main Streets. Alexander Hamilton drafted the Annapolis Report to propose the next national convention in Philadelphia to overhaul the Articles of Confederation, arguing that the nation needed to revise the Articles before addressing its commerce issues. The ensuing convention in Philadelphia created our United States Constitution, finally adopted on September 17, 1787.

Visit the Old Senate Chamber Where History Happened

Today you can visit the very room in the Maryland State House in which Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris. Congress met in the Old Senate Chamber, now restored to look as it did when Congress met here from November 1783 to August 1784. In this same room in 1783, General George Washington resigned his Commission as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, an event that established the subordination of the American military to our civilian government.

Treaty of Paris

Original Treaty of Paris. Signers: Henry Laurens, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay.

Later this year, a planned private exhibit called the “Hall of the Presidents before Washington” is intended for opening elsewhere in Annapolis. The exhibit is a collection of documents and photographs describing fourteen patriots who served in presidential roles before George Washington was elected President. This same collection was previously on display in the historic Maryland Inn.

View the Original Documents

The original ratified Treaty of Paris is held in the National Archives in Washington, DC.  Upon the Treaty’s ratification, Congress printed thirteen copies, one for each state, of a proclamation to notify the citizenry that the Treaty was ratified and American independence was assured. Only a few of the original proclamations remain today.

The Maryland State Archives in Annapolis holds the original Maryland copy bearing the embossed seal of Congress and the signature of Thomas Mifflin, then president of Congress. The Maryland State Archives also holds the original printed proclamation by Maryland Governor William Paca informing Marylanders that the Treaty had been ratified.

The four-year period from the 1783 Treaty of Paris negotiations through the 1787 adoption of the new Constitution is referred to as the “Treaty of Paris Period.”  Annapolis played a dramatic role in American history during this era that transformed us from a people at war to a young nation operating under the enduring and adaptable Constitution of the United States of America.