Proclaiming Peace, January 14, 1784: Ratification of the Treaty of Paris

On January 14, 1784, the Treaty of Paris was ratified by the Congress of the United States, while they met in the Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House. The Treaty formally ended the Revolutionary War and established the United States as a free and independent nation.

The Treaty of Paris, signed in Paris by representatives of King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the United States of America on 3 September 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War. This treaty, along with the separate peace treaties between Great Britain and the nations that supported the American cause: France, Spain and the Dutch Republic, are known collectively as the Peace of Paris. Its territorial provisions were “exceedingly generous” to the United States in terms of enlarged boundaries.

Peace negotiations began in April of 1782 , and continued through the summer. Representing the United States were Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and John Adams.David Hartley and Richard Oswald represented Great Britain. The treaty was signed at the Hotel d’York (presently 56 Rue Jacob) in Paris on September 3, 1783 by Adams, Franklin, Jay, and Hartley. On the same day, Great Britain also signed separate agreements with France and Spain, and (provisionally) with the Netherlands. In the treaty with Spain, the territories of East and West Florida were ceded to Spain (without a clear northern boundary, resulting in a territorial dispute resolved by the Treaty of Madrid in 1795), as was the island of Minorca, while the Bahama Islands, Grenada, and Montserrat, captured by the French and Spanish, were returned to Britain. The treaty with France was mostly about exchanges of captured territory (France’s only net gains were the island of Tobago, and Senegal in Africa), but also reinforced earlier treaties, guaranteeing fishing rights off Newfoundland. Dutch possessions in the East Indies, captured in 1781, were returned by Britain to the Netherlands in exchange for trading privileges in the Dutch East Indies, by a treaty which was not finalized until 1784.

Congress’ assent was required for the Treaty to take effect, and delegates were called to convene at Annapolis, then serving as the nation’s capital, in November, 1783. The Treaty stipulated that Congress approve and return the document to England within six months of being signed. However, representatives from nine of the thirteen states were required to be present in order for Congress to proceed, and it was nearly six weeks until enough members assembled to hold a vote. Mindful of the nearly two months required to cross the Atlantic, Congress grew concerned that a sufficient number of delegates would not arrive in time, and in early January, 1784, began to consider voting on ratification with the delegates already present.

However, upon the arrival of Richard Beresford of South Carolina in Annapolis just a few days later, a quorum was reached, and Congress voted unanimously to ratify the Treaty. Congress then ordered “That a proclamation be immediately issued, notifying…the states of the union” that the Treaty had been signed.

The United States Congress of the Confederation ratified the Treaty of Paris on January 14, 1784. Copies were sent back to Europe for ratification by the other parties involved, the first reaching France in March 1784. British ratification occurred on April 9, 1784, and the ratified versions were exchanged in Paris on May 12, 1784. It was not for some time, though, that the Americans in the countryside received the news because of the lack of speedy communication.

John Dunlap, Congress’ official printer, printed the broadside seen here, which was “to notify… all the good citizens of these United States” that the Treaty had been ratified, and that American independence was assured. The proclamation was also to serve as official notice of the Treaty, a task of particular importance in an era when communication was limited. Of the thirteen copies Dunlap printed—one for each state—only a handful are known to survive today. This copy, held at the Maryland State Archives, bears the embossed seal of Congress and the signatures of Thomas Mifflin, president of Congress, and Charles Thompson, secretary. Several others are in the collections of the Library of Congress. Another copy in private hands sold at auction for over $300,000 in December, 2007.

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