The Continental Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris on January 14, 1784, officially establishing the United States as an independent and sovereign nation. The Continental Congress approved preliminary articles of peace on April 15, 1783. The treaty, signed in Paris on September 3, 1783, required Congress to return the ratified document to England within six months.
Although Congress was scheduled to convene at the Maryland State House in November, as late as January 12 only seven of the thirteen states were legally represented. Operating under the weak Articles of Confederation, Congress lacked the power to enforce attendance. With the journey to England requiring approximately two months, time was running short.
Delegates continued to trickle in. Connecticut representatives presented their credentials to Congress on January 13, leaving the convention one delegate shy of a quorum. Richard Beresford of South Carolina left his sickbed in Philadelphia for Annapolis, and, after his arrival, the vote was taken.
The Treaty of Paris granted the United States territory as far west as the Mississippi River, but reserved Canada to Great Britain. Fisheries in Newfoundland remained available to Americans and navigation of the Mississippi River was open to both parties. Congress promised to recommend states return confiscated loyalist property, but they had no power to enforce this demand. Creditors in both countries were free to pursue collection of debts.
- See the entry for the Treaty of Paris in the Library’s Primary Documents in American History Web guide series.
- Locate material relevant to the Continental Congress by searching the Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789, which includes The Continental Congress Broadside Collection. The Special Presentation To Form a More Perfect Union provides an introduction to this collection of documents from the revolutionary era.
- Examine the Journals of the Continental Congress contained in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. These documents provide valuable insight into government under the Articles of Confederation.
- The online exhibition Benjamin Franklin: In His Own Words contains a section on the Treaty of Paris.