We cite and celebrate July 4, 1776, as the birth of the United States of America because that is when the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.
However, a vital yet largely forgotten moment of American history happened January 14, 1784, or 237 years ago today.
On that day, the Continental Congress officially declared the sovereignty of the United States of American by ratifying the Paris Treaty. The treaty, negotiated on the American side by founding fathers Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay, formally ended the Revolutionary War with Great Britain and established the U.S. as an independent nation.
Franklin, of course, represents a key figure in American history not only for his statesmanship but also for his scientific discoveries, his inventions that included bifocal lenses, the Franklin stove, the lightning rod, and also for his extensive writings.
Adams, who went onto become the second U.S. president, also was a prolific writer whose diaries provided great insight into the events that led to the birth of the new nation.
Jay, an abolitionist, went on to become the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the second governor of New York. He was the only one of the three Americans who did not also sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
The trio’s work on the Treaty of Paris became somewhat jeopardized when the states nearly missed their deadline to sign, risking nullification of the agreement and perhaps giving the British the impetus to renegotiate with terms less beneficial to the United States.
The treaty’s timeline:
- Fighting in the Revolutionary War ended after British General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, in October 1781.
- In the spring of 1782, negotiations began between the Colonists and British to end the war formally. The British, however, refused to recognize the U.S. as an independent nation. Ultimately, the cost of the war compelled the British to relent, and they reached their agreement.
- On April 15, 1783, the Congress approved the agreement and signed it on September 3 of that year. All 13 states then needed to ratify it within six months. Scheduled to meet at the Maryland Statehouse that November, representatives of only seven of the 13 states showed up by January 13; a vote shy of the quorum needed to ratify. They achieved that quorum when an ailing representative from South Carolina crawled out of bed and cast his vote on January 14, 1784.
The terms of the treaty stretched U.S. territory to the Mississippi River while reserving Canada for Great Britain. Navigation of the Mississippi River remained open to both sides.
Ultimately, eight years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and more than four years before George Washington became its first president, the United States became an independent nation.