The 1783 Treaty of Paris formally ended the American Revolution and established the United States as an independent and sovereign nation. In words reminiscent of those in the resolution presented by Richard Henry Lee to Congress in June 1776, and later included in the Declaration of Independence, Article I of the treaty stated that the king now acknowledged the new nation to be free.
Negotiations that led to the treaty began two years earlier, and were filled with behind-the-scenes dealings and suspicions; messages in secret code traveled across the Atlantic between the American peace commissioners and Congress. The U.S. peace commissioners included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay. Henry Laurens would have been the fourth, but he was caught en route to Paris with instructions and subsequently imprisoned in the Tower of London. The principal British commissioner was Richard Oswald, but a change in the British government in 1783 led to his recall and replacement by David Hartley.
Despite the fact that both sides sought peace, the process was slow. In part, this was because Congress felt bound by the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France, and initially directed the American negotiators to make no agreements without the knowledge of the king of France. Eventually, the ' Americans opened separate negotiations with the British, resulting in significant progress.
On November 30, 1782, preliminary articles of peace were signed. These articles, however, would only be effective when a similar treaty was signed between Britain and France. Fortunately, this occurred early in the next year, and on September 3, 1783, in the Hotel de York, now 56 Rue Jacob, the formal Treaty of Paris was signed--at least three copies of it. Two of the signed "original duplicate" copies are today in the holdings of the National Archives. One contains the signatures of Adams, Franklin, Jay, and Hartley horizontally, the other contains vertical signatures, and both are 10 pages long. The National Archives also holds an exchange copy that is 12 pages long and includes a skippet. It was signed by King George III at a later date.
The Definitive Treaty of Peace was organized into three sections: a preface, 10 articles, and finally the signatures. The preface stated the treaty's objective: both Great Britain and the United States wished "to forget all past misunderstandings and differences..." Each of the articles sought to resolve a specific issue:
Article 1: Recognized the 13 colonies as free and sovereign states;
Article 2: Established the boundaries between the United States and British North America;
Article 3: Granted fishing rights to United States fishermen in the Grand Banks, off the coast of Newfoundland and in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence;
Article 4: Recognized the debts to be paid to creditors on either side;
Article 5: Stated that the Congress of the Confederation will "earnestly recommend" to state legislatures to recognize the rightful owners of all confiscated lands and provide restitution to British loyalists;
Article 6: Stated that the United States would prevent future confiscations of the property of Loyalists;
Article 7: Stated that prisoners of war on both sides would be released and all property left by the British army in the United States unmolested (including slaves);
Article 8: Granted both Great Britain and the United States perpetual access to the Mississippi River;
Article 9: Stated that territories captured by Americans subsequent to the treaty would be returned without compensation;
Article 10: Declared that ratification of the treaty was to occur within six months from the signing.
This final article proved to be something of a challenge. One week after the signing, Adams, Franklin, and Jay prepared a 16-page letter and sent it with the treaty to Congress. …