In 1783 the Treaty of Paris officially ended the American Revolution. Although fighting had ended in 1781, a number of issues needed to be resolved in order for the United States to enjoy its status as a sovereign nation. Both sides agreed to meet in Paris, which was seen as a neutral location and one where all diplomats would be treated with respect.
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay represented America. All three were experienced diplomats who had spent time Europe. David Hartley led the British delegation. The crown chose Hartley because he and Franklin were friends, and as a member of Parliament he had been an opponent of the war.
Although negotiations began with a spirit of cooperation, both parties were quickly at odds. Britain had never lost a colony, and was not accustomed to negotiating from a position of weakness. The crown feared revolt in other colonies if America received favorable treatment. Thus, Hartley offered The United States only limited autonomy, which the Americans immediately rejected. Franklin demanded that Britain relinquish all of North America, including Canada and the Oregon Territory. Eventually the two sides compromised with the United States having full independence, Canada remaining part of Britain, and Oregon’s status remaining undefined.
Other issues also required compromise and negotiation. At the insistence of the British, the treaty required all debts that Americans owed to British creditors be honored. Also, during the war the property of many loyalists had been confiscated. The treaty required this property, primarily land, to be returned. The treaty also called for slaves taken by British soldiers to be returned to their American owners. Other provisions gave Britain free access to the Mississippi River, and the United States fishing rights off the coast of Canada.
Neither side was happy with the final document. In fact, Hartley was so angered that he refused to pose for a customary portrait of the negotiations. This portrait, by Benjamin West, remains incomplete. Neither side fully enforced the treaty once it was ratified. Many Americans refused to pay British debts. In fact, some states passed laws prohibiting such payments. Britain violated the treaty in a variety of ways, such as by occupying American territory in the Great Lakes region and refusing to return confiscated slaves.
A final problem with the treaty involved Spain’s ownership of Florida and the Gulf Coast. The treaty recognized Spanish control, but it did not specify borders. This oversight would later cause conflict between Spain and the United States.
Future treaties such as the Jay Treaty (1794) and the Adams-Onis Treaty (1819) resolved many of the problems resulting from the Treaty of Paris. The treaty succeeded in its primary purpose, which was to secure the sovereignty of the United States. Perhaps its greatest failure was its inability to foster a spirit of friendship between the two nations. The United States and Britain remained bitter adversaries for many years. This lack of mutual respect played a key role in the War of 1812.