Study Guide

Treaty of Paris Themes

By Joint effort of British-American diplomacy

  • Friendship

    Friendship might sound like a weird thing to bring up after a long and bitter war, but it's part of the goal of a treaty. Ending a war turns an enemy into an ally.

    Or, at least it does in theory. Some of the rhetoric is so over the top, it almost sounds like they're trolling each other.

    While the Treaty of Paris might not have transformed both countries into steadfast friends, the next couple hundred years did. Ultimately, the lesson stuck.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. If the goal of the Treaty of Paris was friendship, did it succeed? Or were other factors in the near century-and-a-half between the Revolution and World War I more important? Which ones?
    2. The Treaty of Paris is famous partially for being so generous to the United States. Was the goal of this generosity true friendship? Were there other goals? Was it unrelated?
    3. Was friendship a realistic goal for either side? A useful goal? Who had more to gain by it? Who had more to lose?
    4. Is the desire for friendship a genuine one, or is this the polite language of diplomacy? Could the British have seen the United States as a potential ally against European powers? Were they just trying to keep the U.S. from allying with France or Spain?

    Chew on This

    A sincere desire for friendship prompted the British generosity to the United States, and it paid dividends, producing a centuries-long alliance in the 20th and 21st centuries.

    The British were seething from defeat and wanted no friendship with the U.S., but knew that antagonizing them would push them into the welcoming arms of their enemy, France.

  • Politics

    People hate politics. It's up there with Mondays and that white crud you get at the corner of your mouth when you're really thirsty on the Things We All Despise list. The problem is, politics are important. Politics is just a word for how separate groups of people get along.

    And unfortunately, people tend to get along…badly.

    Usually, these groups define themselves by some convenient label, whether it's national origin, political party, religion, whether or not they like the Muppets, or nearly anything you can think of. The Treaty of Paris didn't create a division, but it acknowledged that one was there. It also allowed the sides to build on that, something Britain was keen to do.

    Questions About Politics

    1. Were the generous concessions given to the United States a political game or was the King's delegation out-negotiated by a crew of master diplomats? What did Britain think it had to gain out of friendship with an upstart country?
    2. How much did Britain's concessions have to do with the larger political situation at the time? Were they worried about the United States, or was it more about France, Spain, and the Netherlands?
    3. The treaty acknowledges the divisions in the new United States by mentioning the Loyalists. Were the protections recommended in the treaty a genuine attempt to help them or was this a political calculation? And what did the crown stand to gain?
    4. How does one country relate to one that hasn't existed yet? Is the treaty a good blueprint? A bad one? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The crown used the Treaty of Paris as an attempt to stop a larger international coalition rising against it in the form of France, Spain, the Netherlands, and the new United States.

    The crown used the Treaty of Paris as an attempt to make the United States recognize, once it inevitably failed, that it would be welcomed back into the fold.

  • Freedom and Tyranny

    The Patriots liked to frame their cause in the stark terms of freedom vs. tyranny. Why? It sounded good for recruiting. Seriously. What would you rather join, a group that was fighting for freedom against a tyrannical king? Or a couple guys who'd rather the king kinda left them alone?

    Whether or not it was actual tyranny is up for debate. Tyranny tends to be in the mind of the beholder. So while someone like Jefferson might look at the Stamp Act and see tyranny…and one of the many people Jefferson owned as slaves might look at Jefferson and think the same thing.

    The Treaty of Paris settled the matter by asserting the freedom of the United States from Great Britain, and pretty much any other king out there. That was a pretty new kind of freedom. Unless you were a time-traveling ancient Greek—then it was cool and familiar.

    Questions About Freedom and Tyranny

    1. Did the Treaty of Paris provide freedom from tyranny, or did it just replace one tyrant with another? How so?
    2. If King George was a tyrant, why was the treaty so generous? What did he have to gain through this various concessions?
    3. Was the Treaty of Paris truly about freedom and tyranny or was that merely the language used by the Founding Fathers? What would be more appropriate language?
    4. Other than independence, how did the Treaty of Paris address the concerns of the Patriots? Did it? Did it have the ability or scope to do so? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The Treaty of Paris threw off the shackles of tyranny and allowed the citizens of the United States the freedom to choose their leaders.

    The Treaty of Paris only succeeded in replacing a single tyrant in the person of King George, with a legion of them in the form of multiple layers of government.

  • Legitimacy

    One country recognizing another doesn't mean that two countries are at a party and realize they totally know each other from that war thing. It's one country openly acknowledging that another country is a real, legitimate country—not some place where a couple of weirdos who made a flag out of tinfoil live.

    For the United States, this was what the Revolutionary War was all about. Before this, the U.S. wasn't a country. It was a colony under the authority of the British Empire. Recognition by other countries came first, and then the Treaty of Paris forced Britain to do it. This speaks to legitimacy, and the treaty was what granted it.

    Questions About Legitimacy

    1. What determines if a country is legitimate or not? Recognition by other countries? Belief on the part of the inhabitants? A homogeneous population? The opposite?
    2. Was the United States a legitimate country before the Treaty of Paris? Why or why not?
    3. Did the Treaty of Paris make the United States a legitimate country? For European powers? How about for the various Native American nations?
    4. Who grants a country legitimacy? Is it an all-or-nothing proposition?

    Chew on This

    While the Treaty of Paris made the United States a real country in the eyes of the Europeans, it had little to no effect on the Native American powers.

    The United States, as a rebel power, needed legitimacy from Great Britain to truly be a country. In this one case, the Treaty of Paris was vital to the new country's standing.