On September 3, 1783, a war that began in Lexington, Massachusetts, came to an end all the way in Paris, France. On that day, representatives of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris, in which the British recognized the independence of their former colonies.
The fighting with Britain had ended two years earlier, in October 1781, when General Charles Lord Cornwallis surrendered to American and French forces at Yorktown. The Continental Congress then sent Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay to Paris to negotiate the terms of a treaty. In France, they secured important gains for their new nation, winning enough new territory to double their size, secured fishing rights in Canada, and agreed to let British creditors attempt to collect debts.
Biographer David McCullough reflected on Adams’s contributions in Paris. “The treaty that he, Franklin, and Jay had made was as advantageous to their country as any in history. It would be said they had won the greatest victory in the annals of American diplomacy.” Adams, though, was exhausted, writing to his wife, “You may depend upon a good domestic husband for the remainder of my life, if it is the will of Heaven that I should once more meet you.”
Adams, of course, wasn’t quite done serving his nascent country in ways that would keep him from Braintree. While abroad, he missed the Constitutional Convention. But it created the office of vice president, a position he would be the first to hold. In 1796, he would be elected the second president of the United States, a nation whose independence and solid footing he had been instrumental in securing while in Europe.
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