Treaty of Paris 1784 Ratification

President Thomas Mifflin

Ratified The Treaty of Paris

Fifth President of the United States 

in Congress Assembled

November 3, 1783 to November 2, 1784 

On November 22nd, 1783, John Thaxter, Jr., John Adams' private secretary, arrived in Philadelphia and presented the Treaty of Paris to President Thomas Mifflin for ratification consideration by the USCA in Annapolis.  Mifflin, concerned over the nine state quorum challenges wrote the Governors of the states from Philadelphia, on November 23, 1783 this circular letter.

"I have the honor to inform you, that Mr. [John] Thaxter, the private Secretary to Mr. [John] Adams, arrived here from France last evening; being dispatched, by our Minister at Paris [Benjamin Franklin], with a copy of the definitive treaty of peace between the United States of America and Great Britain; which was signed on the 3rd of September last. As I find by the last article of the treaty, it is stipulated that 'the ratifications thereof, expedited in good & 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; and as much of that time is elapsed, I think it proper to give your Excellency this information, to the end that the delegates of your State may be impressed with the necessity of their attending in Congress as soon as possible..."[80]

As feared by President Mifflin, the USCA failed to achieve a quorum in November and well into December only managing the lower limit of seven states on the 13th to convene the Annapolis Congress.  The Articles of Confederation, by constitutional requirement, mandated that nine states were needed to ratifying treaty and bind all the states so not vote was taken by the delegates.

On Saturday 20 December 1783 the USCA received Commander-in-Chief George Washington’s letter notifying the President of his arrival in Annapolis, Maryland, with the intention of "asking leave to resign the commission he has the honor of holding in their service, and desiring to know their pleasure in what manner it will be most proper to offer his resignation; whether in writing or at an audience."   Upon reading the letter, debate ensued over the constitutional issue of the resignation being approved by only a seven and not a nine state USCA quorum.  It was delegate James Monroe, from Virginia, who made the case that seven states were enough to receive the Commander-in-Chief and accept his resignation.  He argue that although the Articles require nine states to appoint a Commander-in-Chief, there was no stipulation that nine were needed to accept a resignation.  The Articles read:

The United States in Congress assembled shall never engage in a war, nor grant letters of marque or reprisal in time of peace, nor enter into any treaties or alliances, nor coin money, nor regulate the value thereof, nor ascertain the sums and expenses necessary for the defense and welfare of the United States, or any of them, nor emit bills, nor borrow money on the credit of the United States, nor appropriate money, nor agree upon the number of vessels of war, to be built or purchased, or the number of land or sea forces to be raised, nor appoint a commander in chief of the army or navy, unless nine States assent to the same: nor shall a question on any other point, except for adjourning from day to day be determined, unless by the votes of the majority of the United States in Congress assembled.[81]

The Delegates, after a lengthy debate, agreed and resolved that Washington "be admitted to a public audience, on Tuesday next, at twelve o'clock." [82]

George Washington's attendance in Congress set the stage for one of the most remarkable events of United States history.     George Washington's resignation as Commander-in-Chief would be the last great act of the Revolutionary War.  Historian David Ramsay wrote of Washington trek to new federal capital to submit his resignation:

In every town and village, through which the General passed, he was met by public and private demonstrations of gratitude and joy. When he arrived at Annapolis, he informed Congress of his intention to ask leave to resign the commission he had the honor to hold in their service, and desired to know their pleasure in what manner it would be most proper to be done. They resolved that it should be in a public audience.[83]

The event began on December 22nd when President Mifflin gave a dinner, of over two hundred covers, to the Commander-in-Chief.  Afterwards, a magnificent ball was given in his honor by the Maryland Assembly. Washington opened the ball with the charming Mrs. James MacCubbin, gallantly presenting her with an elegant fan. This occasion was graced by "the beauty and the chivalry" of the patriotic old colony.

The following day, the USCA convened and the gallery at the Maryland State Capitol building was filled with ladies and special guests of Congress. The governor, council, and legislature of Maryland, several officers, and the consul-general of France were on all on the floor. The members of Congress were seated and wore their hats to signify that they represented the government. The spectators stood with bare heads. General Washington entered and was conducted by Secretary Charles Thomson to a seat. When all was quiet, President Mifflin said: "The United States, in Congress assembled, is prepared to receive the communications of the Commander-in-Chief."  The USCA Journal reports:  

According to order, his Excellency the Commander in Chief was admitted to a pub­lic audience, and being seated, and silence ordered, the President, after a pause, informed him, that the United States in Congress assembled, were prepared to receive his communications; Whereupon, he arose and addressed Congress as follows:

'Mr. President: The great events on which my resignation depended, having at length taken place, I have now the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress, and of presenting myself before them, to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.

Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States, of becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task; which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.

The successful termination of the war has verified the most sanguine expectations; and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my countrymen, increases with every review of the momentous contest.

While I repeat my obligations to the army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge, in this place, the peculiar services and distinguished merits of the gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the war. It was impossible the choice of confidential officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me, sir, to recommend in particular, those who have continued in the service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress.

I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them to his holy keeping. Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life'

George Washington  then advanced and delivered to President of the United States his commission, with a copy of his address, and resumed his place. President Thomas Mifflin returned him the following answer:

Sir,  The United States in Congress assembled receive with emotions, too affecting for utterance, the solemn deposit resignation of the authorities under which you have led their troops with safety and triumph success through a long a perilous and a doubtful war. When called upon by your country to defend its invaded rights, you accepted the sacred charge, before they it had formed alliances, and whilst they were it was without funds or a government to support you. You have conducted the great military contest with wisdom and fortitude, through invariably regarding the fights of the civil government power through all disasters and changes. You have, by the love and confidence of your fellow-citizens, enabled them to display their martial genius, and transmit their fame to posterity. You have persevered, till these United States, aided by a magnanimous king and nation, have been enabled, under a just Providence, to close the war in freedom, safety and independence; on which happy event we sincerely join you in congratulations.

Having planted defended the standard of liberty in this new world: having taught an useful lesson a lesson useful to those who inflict and to those who feel oppression, you retire from the great theatre of action, loaded with the blessings of your fellow-citizens, but your fame the glory of your virtues will not terminate with your official life the glory of your many virtues will military command, it will continue to animate remotest  posterity ages and this last act will not be among the least conspicuous .  We feel with you our obligations to the army in general; and will particularly charge ourselves with the interests of those confidential officers, who have attended your person to this interesting affecting moment.

We join you in commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, beseeching him to dispose the hearts and minds of its citizens, to improve the opportunity afforded them, of becoming a happy and respectable nation. And for you we address to him our earnest prayers, that a life so beloved may be fostered with all his care; that your days may be happy, as they have been illustrious; and that he will finally give you that reward which this world cannot give.[84]

What made this action especially remarkable was that George Washington, at his pinnacle of his power and popularity, surrendered his commission to President Thomas Mifflin, who had conspired to replace him as Commander-in-Chief with Horatio Gates in 1777.[85]  Washington was now a private citizen. The next day he left Annapolis, and made all haste to return to his beloved Mount Vernon holding true to the example of Cincinnatus. [86]  Washington would serve as the first President of the Order of Cincinnatus.

Quorum challenges at Annapolis became more complex after Washington’s resignation.  The severe winter of 1783–1784, due to the volcanic eruption of Laki in Iceland, prevented delegates from five of the thirteen States from attending the USCA. The Treaty stipulated that the USCA was required to approve and return the document to England within six months of September 3, 1783. It was January 3rd, 1784, four months into the timeframe, and a ratified treaty would take 45 days to cross the Atlantic.  Time was now of the essence.

A quorum of seven States was present and one faction of the USCA argued these states could ratify the treaty because they were merely approving and not entering into a treaty. Furthermore, it was unlikely that the required delegates could reach Annapolis before the ratification deadline.  Thomas Jefferson led the delegates who insisted that a full nine states were required to ratify the treaty. Any less, Jefferson argued, would be chicanery and a "dishonorable prostitution" of the Great Seal of the United States.   Additionally, a seven state ratified Treaty would open the door to Great Britain declaring it null and void at later date when the King learned the USCA did not meet the constitutional nine state requirement.

Jefferson headed a committee of both factions and arrived at a compromise. The USCA would ratify with only seven states present if the vote was unanimous and this would not set a precedent for future decisions. The treaty would be forwarded to the US ministers in Europe who would be instructed to request a delay of three months. If Great Britain should insist on the meeting the deadline, then the Ministers should present the seven-state treaty ratification.  Shortly after the committee disbanded an eighth state arrived and was in favor of the Treaty’s ratification.  On January 13th, the convention needed one more delegate to gain the nine states necessary to ratify the treaty. The following day, South Carolina Representative Richard Beresford, who was ill, arrived in Maryland achieving a quorum. The vote was immediately taken upon on his arrival and on January 14, 1784 and the treaty passed unanimously.  The USCA resolved 

Unanimously, nine states being present, that the said definitive treaty be, and the same is hereby ratified by the United States in Congress assembled, in the form following  A Proclamation To all persons to whom these presents shall come greeting: Whereas definitive articles of peace and friendship between the United States of America and his Britannic majesty, were concluded and signed at Paris on the 3d day of September, 1783, by the plenipotentiaries of the said United States, and of his said Britannic Majesty, duly and respectively authorized for that purpose; which definitive articles are in the words following:

 ‘The Most Holy and Undivided Trinity ... Done at Paris, this third day of September, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three. (L. S.) D. Hartley, (L. S.) John Adams, (L. S.) B. Franklin, (L. S.) John Jay.’ 

In testimony whereof, we have caused the seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed. Witness his Excellency Thomas Mifflin, our President, this fourteenth day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty four and in the eighth year of the sovereignty and independence of the United States of America.
Resolved, that the said ratification be transmitted with all possible despatch, under the care of a faithful person, to our ministers in France, who have negotiated the treaty, to be exchanged.

Resolved, that Colonel Josiah Harmar be appointed to carry the said ratification.  [87]

Three copies were sent by separate couriers to ensure delivery.


United States, in Congress Assembled Treaty of Paris Proclamation[88]

King George III did not ratify the treaty for Great Britain until April 9, 1784 and his signature officially ended the American War for Independence. At the writing of this chapter I am pleased to report the Treaty Proclamation is currently displayed prominently at the National Archives in Washington D.C. with Mifflin's signature, as “Our President,” boldly penned just under the Great Seal of the United States and opposite of “In the name of the most Holy and Undivided Trinity.”(See above)

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