(Pictures above are of John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and William Temple Franklin signing the Treaty of Paris; a map of the US Boundaries as established by the Treaty of Paris. The story is that the blank area on the right of the signing portrait was where the British commissioners were supposed to be — both of them refused to pose for the artist, so the portrait was never finished.)
This week, we will talk about how John Jay used Prudence in making peace with Great Britain, ending the War of Independence.
John Jay was given another important mission in 1782. He was sent to Paris to make peace with Great Britain, and end the War of Independence. He would be working with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Together, they would have to negotiate a formal peace treat with Britain to end the war.
John was determined to make a durable, lasting peace with Britain. At their very first meeting with the British team, he told them the US goal was “to make such a peace as would be lasting — that it should not be in the interest of any party to violate it.” John didn’t want to leave potential conflicts between the United States and Great Britain that would cause the war to break out again.
One vitally important thing that they would have to agree on for the peace treaty was where the western border of the new United States would be. John proposed that the Mississippi river should be the western border. Oswald and Strachey, the British representatives, were astonished — they thought this was far too much territory for Britain to give up. They suggested the western border should be the crest of the Appalachian Mountains — or, if not that, then a straight north-south line at 84° West latitude — about where Weisgarber road is now.
John told them bluntly that if the British insisted on this line that “it was needless to talk of peace.” John went on to explain that he wasn’t making a threat. People from the United States had already started moving into the area between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi river — and many more would come in the next few years. These settlers would need to use the river for travel and for trade. If Britain tried to keep this area, it would be a source of conflict in the future — it would almost certainly lead to a new war. To truly make a lasting peace, Britain would have to give this area up.
It took many months of negotiating before the British were willing to accept this. John never wavered — he insisted that no other western boundary would work long term. Reluctantly, at long last the British agreed to the Mississippi boundary. The peace treaty was finally signed on September 3, 1783, ending the war.
- The boundary that the British suggested would have been just a line drawn on the map — no-one traveling west would be exactly sure where it was. The Mississippi river is something people would recognize when they saw it. Which of these do you think would make a better boundary?
- Benjamin Franklin thought Britain should also give Canada and the island of Bermuda to the United States. Was it prudent for John to focus on the Mississippi boundary, or should he have insisted on having Canada and Bermuda too?
- John wanted to make a lasting, durable peace with Britain, that would avoid another war in the future. Was it prudent of him to insist on the Mississippi as the western border of the United States?
Please share your answers to these questions, and your thoughts about Prudence, with our school community by using the form below.
© T.R. Booker, 2018