Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

On this day, Congress beats deadline to end Revolutionary War

January 14, 2020 by NCC Staff

 

On January 14, 1784, the Continental Congress barely met a deadline to ratify the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the Revolutionary War.

Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay, and Henry Laurens represented the Americans at the treaty conference in France, while Richard Oswald and David Hartley negotiated for the British. (Thomas Jefferson also was picked for the United States’ delegation, but travel problems prevented his attendance.)

Among the important treaty agreements, in addition to the war’s formal conclusion, were boundary provisions, fishing rights, a rights’ guarantee for loyalists, and the withdrawal of British troops from the United States’ recognized territories.

The Continental Congress approved preliminary articles of peace on April 15, 1783, four days after it ordered a cease fire in the war. Congress then sent the document back to Paris for the official treaty signing. On September 5, 1783, Franklin, Adams, and Jay signed the final treaty for the Americans, and Hartley signed for Great Britain.

The signed treaty still needed to be ratified under the Articles of Confederation within six months of its signing date. Given that the treaty document needed to be sent from France to Maryland (where the Congress was meeting at Annapolis) and back to Europe, there was a brief window for at least nine states represented at the Congress to ratify the treaty.

And that presented a problem, since travel logistics within the United States and the Articles’ inability to force a quorum made it difficult for the Continental Congress to assemble enough delegates to conduct business. An unusually harsh winter also made travel to Maryland even more difficult.

As late as January 12, 1784, only seven states were represented at Annapolis. Jefferson had urged the Congress to ratify the treaty with just seven states and notify the British, but two delegates from Connecticut (including Roger Sherman) arrived, followed by South Carolina’s Richard Beresford (who was rousted from his sick bed in Philadelphia). Two days later, Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris unanimously.

The document was technically ratified, at least by the Americans, within the six-month window, but it still needed to get to London and Paris. Two couriers left by ship later in January 1794 with versions intended for Franklin and King George III. In March 1784, the British accepted the Americans’ explanation that winter weather delayed the documents’ arrival in Europe. King George III ratified the treaty in April 1784, officially ending the war.

 

Sign up for our email newsletter