What, you missed the anniversary of the Treaty of Paris? You shouldn't have.





It seems fitting that this fall we are celebrating perhaps the most important anniversary on the Revolutionary calendar. Two hundred and twenty five years ago, on September 3, 1783, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams went to the Hotel D’Yorke in Paris and signed the Treaty of Paris with the British diplomat, David Hartley. The document formally and finally ended eight years of warfare with Great Britain and established the United States of America as a nation.

The treaty also meant the end of the two years of menacing uncertainty that followed the American victory at Yorktown in 1781. Far from ending the war, Yorktown left the United States bankrupt and deeply divided about its future. The Continental Congress owed millions of dollars in back pay and pensions to George Washington’s soldiers. The congressmen could not persuade the 13 states of the shaky union to give them the power to raise so much as a penny in taxes. Meanwhile, inflation ravaged the millions of paper dollars issued by Congress until "not worth a Continental" became a wry synonym for worthlessness.

The Treaty of Paris rescued America from these embarrassments. On December 2, 1783, when news of the treaty reached Philadelphia, elation swept the city. The woes of the present receded and people began remembering the Revolution’s glory days. That unforgettable first week in July, 776, when Congress defiantly ratified Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence even though they knew a huge British fleet and army were about to attack New York. The wild excitement of the last week of that tumultuous year, when General Washington’s do or die victories at Trenton and Princeton rescued Philadelphia from capture by a seemingly unbeatable British army. The heroic patience of the suffering army at Valley Forge in the following year and its emergence from that ordeal on the highest imaginable point: Ben Franklin had negotiated an alliance with France!

To celebrate the Treaty of Paris, the Pennsylvania Assembly voted to erect a triumphal arch that spanned Market Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets. On it were thirteen paintings by Charles Willson Peale. Some honored General Washington and the alliance with France. Others hailed the future prosperity of the United States. The arch soon became the centerpiece of a boisterous celebration, with fireworks, oratory, parading soldiers and martial music.

On September 10, 2008, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts launched a visual celebration of the Treaty of Paris, in collaboration with the American Revolution Center. It is a veritable feast of historic paintings and fascinating artifacts that bring the Revolution to life in all its variety and drama. On September 12, Tom Fleming spoke on "The Mind and Heart of the Indispensable Man, George Washington." He was joined by Peter Lillbach, who has written a fascinating book, The Sacred Fire, about Washington’s religious faith.

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