Study Guide

Treaty of Paris Analysis

By Joint effort of British-American diplomacy

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  • Rhetoric


    The Treaty of Paris is, in a sense, an argument about why the two nations shouldn't be at war. The intro includes this gem, imploring both sides:

    […] to forget all past misunderstandings and differences that have unhappily interrupted the good correspondence and friendship which they mutually wish to restore, and to establish such a beneficial and satisfactory intercourse, between the two countries upon the ground of reciprocal advantages and mutual convenience as may promote and secure to both perpetual peace and harmony.

    That's tugging on some 18th-century heartstrings.

    While reading, you get the sense that the treaty keeps trying to convince anyone reading that everything's cool now. The articles themselves, however, present solid arguments for why there was fighting to begin with—check out Article 1, which stipulates the independence of the United States—but the Treaty mentions that these issues have been solved, so it's all good.

  • Structure

    Your Standard Treaty

    Structurally, there's nothing at all unusual about the Treaty of Paris. It's just your standard treaty—almost as if the drafters Googled "how to write treaty" and copied off the first template that appeared in Images.

    You start with the introduction, which lets everyone know that both sides are really into peace and they want to make it happen.

    Next comes the individual articles, which state specific grievances. And there a whole bunch of different variations of these.

    Some are reasons for fighting, like Article 1, which grants independence. Others are about how the two countries will be buddy-buddy, like Article 2, which establishes borders, or Article 8, which gives both sides access to the Mississippi. Others address specific aspects of the fallout of the war, like Articles 5 and 6, which tell the newly-minted Americans to play nice with the Loyalists.

    How it Breaks Down


    In one corner, we have the King of England (and his surrogates). In the other corner, we have the representatives of some weird new country called the United States.

    But there isn't going to be a fight to the death. These guys were fighting, but now they want to know how they can all get along.

    Article 1: Independence

    The United States is a free and independent country now. Sorry, Britain. Make yourself a nice cup of tea and watch some Great British Bake-Off to make yourselves feel better.

    Article 2: Borders

    Okay, so the U.S. is independent—but how big is it?

    This article specifies that the northern border is pretty much what we know today on the east coast, the Mississippi River is the western border, and the northern border of Florida is the southern border.

    Article 3: Fishing

    Can the U.S. fish off the coast of Newfoundland? Yes. Yes it can. Salmon for everybody.

    Article 4: Debt

    Just because there was a war and now there's peace, that doesn't mean all debts are off. Everyone's got to act like a Lannister and pay up.

    Article 5: Loyalists

    Loyalists got a lot of their stuff taken away during the war. The U.S. should return that stuff as soon as possible.

    Article 6: Loyalists, Part II

    And there shouldn't be any future persecution of Loyalists after this is over. Be graceful winners, y'all.

    Article 7: Peace

    No more fighting (this should have been Article 1 or 2, if you ask us). Also, all prisoners and personal items should be returned to their rightful owners.

    Article 8: The Mighty Mississipp'

    Both sides get to use the Mississippi. Roommate rules.

    Article 9: Allowing For Slow Mail

    Look, it takes forever for news to travel in this era. It's entirely possible that there's still fighting. If any territory has changed hands between the Provisional Articles and now, it should be returned.

    Article 10: Ratification

    Both sides have six months to ratify the treaty.

  • Tone

    Being Nice, 18th-Century Style

    While the people negotiating the treaty didn't hate each other—Ben Franklin and David Hartley actually had a good bromance going on—there was a good deal of bad blood between the two sides at large.

    So this was a pretty huge moment historically. And they knew it at the time…even if Britain had no idea what kind of superpower America was going to turn into. (We're betting Ben Franklin was already planning to put a man on the moon.)

    The U.S. became the first place to successfully declare independence from a European power. Because history loves irony, they were only able to do that with the help of European powers—France especially—but it still counts. However, Britain saw an opportunity here (likely spurred on by the friendship between Hartley and Franklin) to turn an enemy into a friend.

    …or at least take a friend away from their longtime rival, France.

    With Britain and France ending up on the same side in both world wars, it's easy to forget that before that, those two countries fought like cats and dogs…if cats and dogs had access to cannons and came up with catchy national anthems.

    The tone, therefore, is surprisingly friendly for what really seems like it should be a bitter document.

  • Writing Style

    Treaties and How to Write Them

    The writing style is more or less exactly what you'd expect from a treaty at the time: a little bit stuffy, a little bit florid, and a lot bit written with a quill. The language is extremely formalized (although it's thankfully not as dense as other legal documents).

    Essentially, the treaty was designed to be readable by any gentleman, which at the time was narrowly defined as a landowning white guy with at least a bit of education.

    One reason this document is so excruciatingly formal by 21st-century standards is because of the listing of the titles. So. many. titles. This is so everyone knows precisely who is talking and to honor both sides. In victory or defeat, both sides were expected to conduct themselves as gentlemen, and that included some very proper respect-paying. The Americans weren't going to namedrop King Jerkbag III, no matter how satisfying that would have been.

    In the articles themselves, the language had to be precise—after all, since the purpose of a treaty is to end a war, the last thing they want is to start another one. Everything had to be 100% crystal clear…down to who got to fish where. (Yawn.)

    But the Treaty of Paris isn't a law. It's a framework for an agreement between two states. So you'll have language that suggests that one side is expected to make a good faith effort to talk to their legislative body about a law. (Whether or not it actually gets done is another thing entirely.)

    In fact, because treaties aren't laws, Britain ignored portions of Article 7, leaving behind soldiers at certain outposts, which required—you got it—another treaty.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Treaties often get nicknamed, but not in a fun, sassy way. (There is no Lil' Monster Treaty.) They usually just get tagged with the location where they're signed. That's why a treaty between Great Britain and the brand-spanking-new United States of America is called the Treaty of Paris.

    The negotiators met in France—a mutually agreeable, though hardly neutral country—and that was where the treaty was signed.

    The official title is "The Definitive Treaty of Peace 1783," which is both optimistic and kind of hilarious. Both countries were hoping that this would be the end of hostilities between them, hence that "definitive" part. The hope was that there would never be need for another.

    Which is great, but then why do you need the year? While some would suggest this is just to mark its place in time, doesn't it seem like a tacit admittance that there's going to be another one? Certainly Britain needed more than one with France. And in the next thirty years, they'd need two more with the United States.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity. (Intro.1)

    Politics was more of a religious matter back in the 18th century, and the idea of "separation of church and state" wasn't really a thing.

    Also, Britain was technically a theocracy, with the head of state—the King—being also the head of the state church -- the Church of England. Fun fact: Jefferson was the one who came up with that idea, and he wasn't the most popular person in Britain at the time.

    The next line is a lot more importance, as well as being considerably longer:

    It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts of the most serene and most potent Prince George the Third, by the grace of God, king of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, defender of the faith, duke of Brunswick and Lunebourg, arch-treasurer and prince elector of the Holy Roman Empire etc., and of the United States of America, to forget all past misunderstandings and differences that have unhappily interrupted the good correspondence and friendship which they mutually wish to restore, and to establish such a beneficial and satisfactory intercourse , between the two countries upon the ground of reciprocal advantages and mutual convenience as may promote and secure to both perpetual peace and harmony; and having for this desirable end already laid the foundation of peace and reconciliation by the Provisional Articles signed at Paris on the 30th of November 1782, by the commissioners empowered on each part, which articles were agreed to be inserted in and constitute the Treaty of Peace proposed to be concluded between the Crown of Great Britain and the said United States, but which treaty was not to be concluded until terms of peace should be agreed upon between Great Britain and France and his Britannic Majesty should be ready to conclude such treaty accordingly; and the treaty between Great Britain and France having since been concluded, his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, in order to carry into full effect the Provisional Articles above mentioned, according to the tenor thereof, have constituted and appointed, that is to say his Britannic Majesty on his part, David Hartley, Esqr., member of the Parliament of Great Britain, and the said United States on their part, John Adams, Esqr., late a commissioner of the United States of America at the court of Versailles, late delegate in Congress from the state of Massachusetts, and chief justice of the said state, and minister plenipotentiary of the said United States to their high mightinesses the States General of the United Netherlands; Benjamin Franklin, Esqr., late delegate in Congress from the state of Pennsylvania, president of the convention of the said state, and minister plenipotentiary from the United States of America at the court of Versailles; John Jay, Esqr., late president of Congress and chief justice of the state of New York, and minister plenipotentiary from the said United States at the court of Madrid; to be plenipotentiaries for the concluding and signing the present definitive treaty; who after having reciprocally communicated their respective full powers have agreed upon and confirmed the following articles. (Intro.2)

    Yeesh. That's one sentence.

    And it basically just goes into who the two sides are. They list out all of King George's titles in a more that puts him head-to-head with Daenerys Targaryen in the "Royal With Longest Name List" contest

    King George III is from the House of Hanover, which was a German noble house. That's right: a German was on the throne of England. Countries weren't thought of in the same way they are now, and, to the people at the time royal blood was way more important than nationality. (That explains why Hamilton briefly floated the idea of importing some monarchs from Europe to rule the United States.)

    But yeah; those titles. There's a lot more than merely "King of England." Essentially, those boil down to the idea that for much of history, Britain thought it ruled, well, pretty much everything. This includes their ancestral enemy, France. Needless to say, France disagreed, and this claim ended up dropped when France became a republic in 1801.

    So, to summarize, the opening lines basically mean the following. "Hey, we're all Christians here, and we're doing this with the blessing of our God. Over here, we have King George III and over here, we have representatives from the United States, which is a totally real country." It's important to know who a treaty is between before you hammer out specifics.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    The solemn ratifications of the present treaty expedited in good and due form shall be exchanged between the contracting parties in the space of six months or sooner, if possible, to be computed from the day of the signatures of the present treaty. In witness whereof we the undersigned, their ministers plenipotentiary, have in their name and in virtue of our full powers, signed with our hands the present definitive treaty and caused the seals of our arms to be affixed thereto. (10.1-2)

    This chunk o' text can be found in Article 10, which stipulates that the treaty has to be ratified. This is because treaties can't really exist in a vacuum. The representatives have the authority to negotiate them, but to actually make them law? That's the responsibility of lawmakers.

    The treaty gives a time limit because it's always a good idea to get war officially over with as soon as possible. A "kinda-sorta-maybe-it's-still-happening" war is good for exactly 0% of the population.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (8) Snow Line

    Nobody likes reading official language from the 18th century. Nobody. Not even 18th-century lawyers…and those are the people who drafted this dang thing.

    But as far as documents from the time go, the Treaty of Paris isn't so bad. The language is relatively easy to parse. Our tip? Read it out loud, go slow, and remember that every word needs to be there. (We also rewarded ourselves with a gummi bear after each successfully completed sentence, but you do you.)

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Historical and Political References

    The Titles of King George III: An explanation

    King of...
    Great Britain:
    This one should be pretty clear. The King of Great Britain is the King of Great Britain.
    Ireland: The kings of England have long claimed Ireland as a distinct country, as part of Great Britain.
    France: Edward III, in 1340, was from the French Plantagenet family. His uncle, who was king of France, died. Edward III was technically the closest male heir. So, technically, he was King of France. France, unsurprisingly, disagreed.
    Defender of the faith: That's the Church of England, also known as Anglicanism. This is the official state-run church of England.
    Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg: This was a duchy in the Holy Roman Empire (later Germany) that fell to the House of Hanover, which was King George III's noble house. Remember, he's German.
    Arch-treasurer of the Holy Roman Empire: This title was left over from the House of Hanover. It's not really all that important, except that it sounds cool. The Holy Roman Empire stopped existing in 1806. It was also neither holy, Roman, nor an Empire. Discuss amongst yourselves.

    The American Revolution

    The entire treaty is a reference to the war it ended.

    Biblical References

    The Trinity is referenced from the Bible, though not by that name. The most direct reference is Matthew 28:19.

    References to This Text

    Historical and Political References

    Haitian and French Revolutions

    Neither war specifically referenced the treaty, but the independence of the U.S. was something of an inspiration for both.

  • Trivia

    Ben Franklin invented swim fins. Seriously. Picture him wearing a pair. You're welcome. (Source)

    Ben Franklin coined the sayings "A penny saved is a penny earned," and "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Dude was pithy. (Source)

    Cornwallis surrendered in 1781, but the Treaty of Paris wasn't signed until 1783, and ratified in 1784. That's a lot of time for bad things to happen. (Source)

    France supplied up to 90% of the gunpowder used by the Patriots. Without them, the strongest thing Washington could use was harsh language. (Source)

    George Washington was untested when he was appointed Commander in Chief. He was about all the Patriots had, so it was pretty much like, "Hey, you with the wooden teeth. Go win a war." (Source)

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