American independence, y'all.
When you hear those two words, a few images probably spring to mind. Fireworks displays. George Washington's smiling mug. Bill Pullman's speech in Independence Day. Rocket pops. Red-white-and-blue Jello-O salad.
And you probably even think of a few crucial documents. The Declaration of Independence. The Bill of Rights. The dang Constitution.
But the one document you're probably not thinking of—the Treaty of Paris of 1783—might just be the most important symbol of American independence of all: even more ultimately patriotic than a bald eagle eating an apple pie while watching Hamilton.
People don't think of the Treaty of Paris because it is, frankly, the least sexy of those all-important Founding Father-signed docs. The Declaration of Independence said, "Hey, we're going to be free whether you like it or not!" The Constitution said, "We're a country and here's what we believe in!" The Bill of Rights said, "Hey everybody: you guys get stuff like freedom of speech!"
But the Treaty of Paris said, meekly, "The USA is recognized as a country."
Bombastic? No. Full of catchy phrases like "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"? No. But insanely important on a massive geopolitical scale. Um: yes. For a couple of reasons.
Check it out:
The Treaty of Paris ended the U.S. war of independence. But what precisely did that peace mean? It's not like everyone threw down their muskets and said, "Good game, everybody." Nope. Everyone got together in a diplomatic fashion, addressed why the war was fought in the first place, and drafted a treaty.
The first and most important issue that the Treaty of Paris resolved was independence. The thirteen colonies were a brand spankin' new country, and everyone had to call it by its proper name.
Just as importantly, the treaty established some borders and dealt with logistics like (fun times) fishing rights and ownership of the Mississippi river. It also released prisoners of war, returned territories captured after the treaty was signed, reaffirmed the existence of debts from either side, and protected the property rights of Loyalists living in the U.S.A.
Does that sound bureaucratic? Yeah; that's the point.
Think of the Treaty of Paris as one of those slightly boring coming-of-age milestones. Everyone always goes on about first kisses, first parties, and first road trips…but they gloss over passing their Driver's Ed test, applying to colleges, and working their first shift at a summer job.
The Treaty of Paris is like one of those glossed-over milestones. It's not super-sexy, but it was an immense step in the formation of a young nation: it marks the first time that the U.S.A. had diplomatic relations with its one-time enemy and was recognize as a dang country.
Up above we discussed how the Treaty of Paris is an unsexily named, relatively mousy little bureaucratic document.
But if you've seen Batman Returns, you'll know that sometimes the mousiest of Selina Kyles can provoke the most explosive results. And that's exactly what the Treaty of Paris did: it ushered in the dang Age of Revolution.
Is that a sexy enough name for you?
What happened was this: Britain (who used to rule the colonies) recognized America as a country after they had the guts to say "enough is enough" and start a revolution. The Treaty of Paris was basically Britain saying, "Hey, we respect you. Want to be friends?"
Suddenly, the idea of a revolution wasn't a pipedream. It had precedent. If a bunch of colonist farmers in North America could do it, why couldn't other disgruntled groups of people?
After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, the proverbial dominoes began to topple. The world saw the French Revolution in 1789. It saw the Haitian Revolution in 1791. It saw the Latin American Wars of Independence between 1808 and 1831 (which formed Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and the Federal Republic of Central America) and the Greek War of Independence from 1821-1832.
And the Age of Revolution (seriously: cool name or coolest name?) didn't stop there.
A revolutionary wave now referred to as the Revolutions of 1830 (yeah; plural) saw upheavals in the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, and France. Then, in 1848—a year that gets the title of "The Year of Revolution"—there was major change happening in what we now know as Germany, Romania, and Austria, Hungary, Denmark, and Italy.
Yeah. That's a lot of dates and locations. But that gives you an idea of the sheer scale of revolutions that occurred as a result of the Treaty of Paris. This one little fishing-territories preoccupied diplomatic document brought about one of the most massive periods of global change the world has ever seen.
Check out the History Channel's take on the Treaty of Paris.
Or have a look at a digital version of the document itself. That can be handy to give some context on the treaty.
Here's a little more context, kind of combining the document itself with some commentary on it.
Sons of Liberty
Totally different from the Sons of Anarchy. The Founding Fathers had fewer tats.
Sure, it's called John Adams, but all the Founding Fathers make an appearance. Adams was a negotiator of the Treaty of Paris, and so it's the crux of one episode.
This is a six-part documentary on the whole Revolution, but if you just want the treaty, skip to the end.
The Encyclopedia Has A Little To Say
Just a short overview on the Treaty of Paris itself.
Short and Sweet
This is a quick history of the treaty.
Even Shorter And Sweeter
This is an even quicker history.
Come on, you know who this is. This portrait was done two years after the treaty was signed.
This portrait wasn't current for the time the Treaty of Paris was signed, but it's what Adams looked like.
Here's Ben Franklin's pal and England's diplomat.
A largely forgotten, but important Founder. Jay helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris and then the follow up of Jay's Treaty to get Britain to obey the provisions they'd already signed.
King George III
The king, dressed in a military uniform.
The Treaty Itself
This is page one of the Treaty, to give you an idea of how it looked. Check out the penmanship.