Papers of John Adams, volume 15

Definitive Peace Treaty between the United States and Great Britain, [3 September 1783] Adams, John
Definitive Peace Treaty between the United States and Great Britain
[Paris, 3 September 1783]1

In the Name of the most Holy & undivided Trinity.

It having pleased the divine Providence to dispose the Hearts of the most Serene & most Potent Prince George the third, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France & Ireland Defender of the Faith, Duke of Brunswick & Lunebourg, Arch-Treasurer, and Prince Elector of the holy Roman Empire &ca: 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 & Harmony; and having for this desirable End already laid the Foundation of Peace & Reconciliation by the Provisional Articles signed at Paris on the 30th: of Novr: 1782 by the Commissioners empower’d on each Part, which Articles were agreed to be inserted in and to constitute the Treaty of Peace proposed to be concluded between 246the 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 & 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 & the United States of America, in order to carry into full Effect the Provisional Articles above mentioned, according to the Tenor thereof, have constituted & appointed, that is to say His Britannic Majesty on his Part, David Hartley Esqre: Member of the Parliament of Great Britain; and the said United States on their Part John Adams Esqre: 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 Esqre: late Delegate in Congress from the State of Pennsylvania, President of the Convention of the said State & Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States of America at the Court of Versailles; John Jay Esqre: late President of Congress, and Chief Justice of the State of New-York & Minister Plenipotentiary from the said United States at the Court of Madrid; to be the Plenipotentiaries for the concluding and signing the present Definitive Treaty; who after having reciprocally communicated their respective full Powers2 have agreed upon & confirmed the following Articles.3

Article 1st:

His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz. New-Hampshire Massachusetts Bay, Rhode-Island & Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina & Georgia, to be free sovereign & Independent States; that he Treats with them as such, and for himself his Heirs & Successors relinquishes all Claims to the Government Propriety and Territorial Rights of the same & every Part thereof.

Article 2d:

And that all Disputes which might arise in future on the Subject of the Boundaries of the said United States may be prevented, it is hereby agreed and declared, that the following are and shall be their Boundaries Viz:4 From the North West Angle of Nova Scotia, viz: that Angle which is formed by a Line drawn due North from the 247Source of St Croix River to the Highlands along the said High lands which divide those Rivers that empty themselves into the River St: Lawrence from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the Northwestern most Head of Connecticut River; Thence down along the Middle of that River to the forty fifth Degree of North Latitude; From thence by a Line due West on said Latitude until it strikes the River Iroquois or Cataraquy; Thence along the middle of said River into Lake Ontario; through the Middle of said Lake until it strikes the Communication by Water between that Lake & Lake Erie; Thence along the middle of said Communication into Lake Erie; through the middle of said Lake, untill it arrives at the Water Communication between that Lake & Lake Huron; Thence along the middle of said Water Communication into the Lake Huron, thence through the middle of said Lake to the Water-Communication between that Lake and Lake Superior thence through Lake Superior Northward of the Isles Royal & Phelipeaux to the Long Lake; Thence through the Middle of said Long Lake, and the Water Communication between it and the Lake of the Woods, to the said Lake of the Woods, Thence through the said Lake to the most Northwestern Point thereof, & from thence on a due West Course to the River Mississippi, Thence by a Line to be drawn along the middle of the said River Mississippi until it shall intersect the Northernmost Part of the thirty first Degree of North Latitude. South, by a Line to be drawn due East from the Determination of the Line last mentioned, in the Latitude of thirty one Degrees North of the Equator to the Middle of the River Apalachicola or Catahouchi: Thence along the middle thereof to its Junction with the Flint River; Thence strait to the Head of St Mary’s River, and thence down along the Middle of St Mary’s River to the Atlantic Ocean. East by a Line to be drawn along the Middle of the River St Croix, from its Mouth in the Bay of Funday to its Source, and from its Source directly North to the aforesaid Highlands, which divide the Rivers that fall into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the River St. Lawrence; comprehending all Islands within twenty Leagues of any Part of the Shores of the United States, & lying between Lines to be drawn due East from the Points where the aforesaid Boundaries between Nova Scotia one the one Part and East Florida on the other, shall respectively touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean, excepting such Islands as now are or heretofore have been within the Limits of the said Province of Nova Scotia.


Article. 3d:

It is agreed that the People of the United States shall continue to enjoy unmolested the Right to take Fish of every kind on the Grand Bank and on all the other Banks of Newfoundland, also in the Gulph of St: Lawrence and at all other Places in the Sea where the Inhabitants of both Countries used at any time heretofore to fish. And also that the Inhabitants of the United States shall have Liberty to take Fish of every kind on such Part of the Coast of Newfoundland as British Fishermen shall use, (but not to dry or cure the same on that Island) and also on the Coasts Bays & Creeks of all other of his Britannic Majestys Dominions in America, and that the American Fishermen shall have Liberty to dry & cure Fish in any of the unsettled Bays Harbours and Creeks of Nova-Scotia, Magdalen Islands, and Labrador, so long as the same shall remain unsettled, but so soon as the same or either of them shall be settled, it shall not be lawful for the sd: Fishermen to dry or cure Fish at such Settlement, without a previous Agreement for that purpose with the Inhabitants, Proprietors or Possessors of the Ground.

Article 4th:

It is agreed that Creditors on either Side shall meet with no Lawful Impediment to the Recovery of the full Value in Sterling Money of all bona fide Debts heretofore contracted.

Article 5th:

It is agreed that the Congress shall earnestly recommend it to the Legislatures of the respective States to provide for the Restitution of all Estates, Rights and Properties which have been confiscated belonging to real British Subjects; and also of the Estates Rights & Properties of Persons resident in Districts in the Possession of his Majesty’s Arms, and who have not borne Arms against the said United States. And that Persons of any other Description shall have free Liberty to go to any Part or Parts of any of the thirteen United States and therein to remain twelve Months unmolested in their Endeavours to obtain the Restitution of such of their Estates, Rights, and Properties as may have been confiscated. And that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several States, a Reconsideration and Revision of all Acts or Laws regarding the Premises, so as to render the said Laws or Acts perfectly consistent not only with Justice and Equity but with that Spirit of Conciliation which on the Return of the Blessings of Peace should universally prevail. 249And that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several States, that the Estates Rights & Property’s of such last mentioned Persons shall be restored to them, they refunding to any Persons who may be now in Possession the bona fide Price (where any has been given) which such Persons may have Paid on purchasing any of the said Lands, Rights or Properties, since the Confiscation.

And it is agreed that all Persons who have any Interest in confiscated Lands either by Debts, Marriage Settlements or otherwise, shall meet with no lawful Impediment in the Prosecution of their just Rights.

Article 6th:

That there shall be no future Confiscations made, nor any Prosecutions commenced against any Person or Persons for or by Reason of the Part which he or they may have taken in the present War and that no Person shall on that Account suffer any future Loss or Damage either in his Person Liberty or Property; and that those who may be in Confinement on such Charges at the Time of the Ratification of the Treaty in America shall be immediately set at Liberty, and the Prosecutions so commenc’d be discontinued.

Article 7th:

There shall be a firm & perpetual Peace between his Britannic Majesty and the said States & between the Subjects of the one, and the Citizens of the other, wherefore all Hostilities both by Sea & Land shall from hence forth cease: All Prisoners on both sides shall be set at Liberty, and his Britannic Majesty shall with all convenient Speed, and without causing any Destruction, or carrying away an Negroes or other Property of the American Inhabitants, withdraw all his Armies, Garrisons and Fleets from the said United States, and from every Port, Place and Harbour within the same; leaving in all Fortifications the American Artillery that may be therein. And shall also order & cause all Archives, Records, Deeds & Papers belonging to any of the said States or their Citizens, which in the Course of the War may have fallen into the Hands of his Officers, to be forthwith restored and deliver’d to the proper States & Persons to whom they belong.

Article 8th:

The Navigation of the River Mississippi, from its Source to the Ocean shall forever remain free and open to the Subjects of Great Britain and the Citizens of the United States.


Article 9th:

In Case it should so happen that any Place or Territory belonging to Great Britain or to the United States should have been conquer’d by the Arms of either from the other before the Arrival of the said Provisional Articles in America it is agreed that the same shall be restored without Difficulty and without requiring any Compensation

Article 10th:

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 Signature of the present Treaty. In witness whereof we the undersigned their Ministers Plenipotentiary have in their Name & 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.—5

Done at Paris, this third Day of September, In the Year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred & Eighty three.

[SEAL] D Hartley [SEAL] John Adams.
[SEAL] B Franklin
[SEAL] John Jay

MS (Adams Papers). For the nature of this document, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 3, above. LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 109. LbC-Tr (Adams Papers); APM Reel 103.


At eight o’clock on the morning of 3 Sept., the American peace commissioners— JA, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay—met their British counterpart David Hartley at Hartley’s residence, the Hôtel d’York, exchanged commissions, and put their signatures and seals to the definitive treaty (commissioners to David Hartley, 30 Aug., above; Boston Patriot, 22 Feb. 1812). In light of all the commissioners had been through—particularly the disappointment of their hopes for a more substantive definitive treaty—the signing was anticlimactic. JA made no entry in his Diary to mark the event, and JQA wrote only “Signature of the Definitive Treaty” (JQA, Diary , 1:190–191). The next day JA lamented in a letter to AA that the definitive treaty was “a Simple Repetition of the provisional Treaty. So We have negotiated here, these Six Months for nothing. We could do no better Situated as We were. To day We dined with Mr. Hartley and drank Tea with the Duchess of Manchester. Thus you see We are very good Friends, quite free, easy and Social” ( AFC , 5:233).

Many years later, in the Boston Patriot of 26 Feb. 1812, JA gave a fuller account of the circumstances surrounding the signing. After the formalities, he revealed, “we all went according to invitation, and Mr. Hartley with us, to Versailles, and joined all the ambassadors who had signed the other treaties, and dined amidst mutual congratulations, with the Comte de Vergennes.

“There appeared to us, however, a littleness, too much resembling low cunning, to become a great nation and a great monarch, in two instructions to Mr. Hartley. 1st. Not to accept the mediation of the two imperial courts. 2d. Not to sign the treaty at Versailles, with the other ambassadors, when the other treaties were signed.

“We were however, glad of the first, because it relieved us from the ungracious 251necessity of refusing the mediation; or, if we had accepted it, from the more disgraceful necessity of refusing or neglecting to make the ambassadors the usual presents—for we had no money to spare for the purchase of gold tobacco boxes, set with pictures and diamonds. As to the second, it excited no sensations in us, but a little ridicule. Mr. Hartley glossed these things over with ingenuity and good humor. We knew they were not his own projects, and received his apologies with equal good humor. Another thing however, gave us some uneasiness. Mr. Hartley told us that the king would send us presents of five hundred pounds each. This gave us pain: for to refuse it, would be considered as an affront to his majesty; and to accept it, without returning the compliment to the British minister or ministers, would have been a meanness of which we could not and would not be guilty; and we had no money to spare for such uses. So much was said against it, that we never saw the presents and heard no more about them.”

John Thaxter delivered the definitive treaty to Thomas Mifflin at Philadelphia on 22 Nov. 1783, along with the commissioners’ 10 Sept. letter to the president of Congress describing the negotiations, below (from John Thaxter, 19 Jan. 1784, below). Mifflin in turn laid the treaty and the letter before Congress at Annapolis on 13 Dec. 1783 ( JCC , 25:812). Congress finally ratified the treaty on 14 Jan. 1784 (same, 26:29). For more on the ratification, see letters of 14 Jan. from Elbridge Gerry, Arthur Lee, and Samuel Osgood to JA; and from the president of Congress to the commissioners, all below.


Copies of the commissioners’ [15 June 1781] commission and David Hartley’s [14 May 1783] commission were exchanged prior to the signing and are in the Adams Papers at 3 September. For the text of the American document, see vol. 11:371–374; and for the British document, see JA, D&A , 3:130–131.


The preamble to the definitive treaty is much different and far longer than the preamble to the preliminary treaty of [30 Nov. 1782] (vol. 14:103). For its evolution, compare the preliminary treaty with JA’s [1 Feb. 1783] “first Sketch of a Definitive Treaty” (same, p. 227–230) and the commissioners’ [ante 19 July] draft Anglo-American definitive treaty, also the work of JA, above.


In the preliminary treaty of [30 Nov. 1782], this sentence was at the end of Art. 1 (vol. 14:103). It was transferred to Art. 2 in the [ante 19 July 1783] draft Anglo-American definitive treaty, above, one of the few changes to find its way into the definitive treaty.


This is the only new article included in the definitive treaty. Its language appears in a slightly different form in both JA’s [1 Feb.] “first Sketch of a Definitive Treaty” (vol. 14:229) and the commissioners’ [ante 19 July] draft Anglo-American definitive treaty, above.

David Hartley to the American Peace Commissioners, 4 September 1783 Hartley, David American Peace Commissioners
David Hartley to the American Peace Commissioners
Gentlemen, Paris Septr. 4 1783.

It is with the sincerest Pleasure that I congratulate you on the happy Event which took Place Yesterday, viz, the Signature of the Definitive Treaty between our two Countries. I consider it as the auspicious Presage of returning Confidence and of the future Intercourse of all good offices between us; I doubt not that our two Countries will entertain the same Sentiments, and that they will behold with Satisfaction the Period, which terminates the Memory of their late unhappy Dissensions, and which leads to the renewal of all the antienties of Amity & Peace— I can assure you that his Britannic Majesty, and his confidential Servants, entertain the strongest 252 253 254Desire of a cordial good understanding with the United States of America. And that nothing may be wanting on our Parts to perfect the great Work of Pacification, I shall propose to you in a very short time, to renew the Discussion of those Points of Amity and Intercourse which have been lately suspended, to make way for the Signature of the Treaties, between all the late belligerent Powers which took Place Yesterday.1 We have now the fairest Prospects before us, and an unembarrassed Field for the Exercise of every beneficient disposition and for the Accomplishment of every object of reciprocal Advantage between us. Let us then join our hearts and hands together in one common cause, for the reunion of all our antient affections, and common Interests. I am Gentlemen, / With the greatest Respect / and consideration / Your most obedt. Servt.

(signed) D Hartley.

RC (PCC, No. 85, f. 416–417). LbC-Tr (Adams Papers); APM Reel 103.


That is, the negotiation of an Anglo-American commercial agreement. For the commissioners’ initial reaction to Hartley’s proposal that such negotiations be resumed, see their letter of 5 Sept., and notes 1 and 2, below; and for their revised position, after receiving Congress’ 1 May resolution regarding the negotiation of an Anglo-American commercial treaty, see the commissioners’ letter of 7 Sept., below.