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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

The Treaty of Paris: America's Future on the Brink

Full Day Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, April 28, 2021 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2127
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The last page of the 1783 Treaty of Paris

Signed in November 1783, the Treaty of Paris was the formal agreement that ended the War for Independence and created the United States of America. It’s one of the most important founding documents in this country’s history. But it is also the least well-known and the most misunderstood.

Over many months of negotiation, three teams of delegates—from the United States, Great Britain, and France—had pushed and pulled to secure every advantage. The French delegation proposed confining the borders of the newly United States to the area east of the Appalachian Mountains and to allow Britain to keep possession of all land north of the Ohio River. But the U.S. delegation balked, cutting France out of subsequent negotiations and dealing directly with London.

Weakened by the war and desperate to restore trade with America, British leaders bent over backwards to give Benjamin Franklin and his fellow delegates most of what they wanted. When the ink was dry, the United States had secured rights to all land east of the Mississippi River that was north of Florida and south of Canada as well as important fishing rights, and the restoration of property and prisoners of war. As the Comte de Vergennes, the French foreign minister, bitterly observed, “The English buy peace rather than make it.”

Richard Bell, a professor of history at the University of Maryland, argues that the Treaty of Paris was a triumph for U.S. diplomacy that reset relations with Britain and set a new border with Spanish North America. Notably, however, the treaty also damaged the US-French alliance irreparably and left Native Americans, loyalists, and fugitives from American slavery to fend for themselves.

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