Friday, January 10, 2014

The Treaty of Paris is Ratified

Washington’s resignation was far from the only significant event to occur while Congress was in session in the Old Senate Chamber. On January 14, 1784, the Treaty of Paris was ratified, officially ending the American Revolution and making the Maryland State House the first official peacetime capitol of the United States.

An excerpt from the Treaty of Paris, 1783. Image courtesy of International Treaties and Related Records, General Records of the United States Government, Record Group 11, National Archives.

Negotiations for peace began as early as April 1782, but it wasn't until September 3, 1783 that British and American delegates signed the final draft in France. In order for the treaty to officially take effect, it had to be ratified by Congress within six months. Congress immediately called its delegates to meet in Annapolis that November to approve the treaty.

According to the Articles of Confederation, nine states were required for the negotiations and ratifications of international treaties. Unfortunately, Congress was having an attendance problem. As the deadline quickly approached, delegates began to worry that they would be unable to reach the required state representation in time, and began to consider ratifying the treaty with only seven states.

At last, on January 14, 1784, delegates from nine states assembled in Annapolis. Secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson, wrote to Benjamin Franklin, “Congress immediately took up and ratified the definitive treaty with the unanimous consent not only of all the states represented but of every individual Member of Congress.”[1] The deadline was only 48 days away.[2]

The treaty itself was remarkably generous to the Americans. The new country was given expansive boundaries and generous fishing rights along with access to the Mississippi River. Though there was some slight discontent over Articles 4 and 5, which urged the return of confiscated loyalist property and the payment of pre-war debts, there was no great opposition due to the contract’s overall favoring of the United States.

The American delegation consisting of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and John Adams signed the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783. The British delegation famously refused to be depicted in the painting. American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Negotiations with Great Britain by Benjamin West, 1783. Image courtesy of Winterthur Museum and Garden, 1957.856.

Two copies of the treaty were rushed across the Atlantic by the first and fastest frigates available. Delegates and citizens alike used this opportunity to send many of their personal letters overseas. In fact, the same ship that carried a copy of the Treaty of Paris also included Molly Ridout’s famous letter to her mother![3]

Congress also required that each state receive a copy of the Treaty and formally announce its ratification. Thus, on January 22 of that year, Governor William Paca notified Marylanders and asked them “to observe and carry into effect, the said definitive articles, sincerely, strictly and completely.”[4]

Governor Paca's proclamation of the ratification of the Treaty of Paris. Image courtesy of the Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2731, 22 January 1784.

The ratification of the Treaty of Paris marked Britain’s official recognition of the United States as an independent nation. As the site of the event, the Maryland State House became the first peacetime capitol of the United States. Because of this, the National Park Service recognized the building’s importance to American history by designating it as a National Historic Landmark in 1961.[5]

To learn more about the Treaty of Paris and its ratification, please go to the Maryland State House website.

[1] Smith, Paul H., ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2000. Charles Thomson to Benjamin Franklin, 15 January 1784.
[2] Ibid. Thomas Jefferson to Edmund Pendleton, 18 January 1784.
[3] Molly Ridout to Anne Tasker Ogle, 16 January 1784, MSA SC 358-1-2.
[4] Maryland Gazette Collection, 22 January 1784, MSA SC 2731.
[5] Correspondence regarding the declaration of the Maryland State House as a National Historic Landmark, 1961, MSA S 42-340.

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