Our Independence Day should be celebrated on September 3. That’s the day in 1783 that we actually secured our independence from Great Britain.
The fourth of July, on the other hand, is the day those revolutionaries, whom we grandly refer to as our “Founding Fathers,” published their Declaration of Independence, which stated, in effect, that we OUGHT to be free and independent of Great Britain. The English Parliament, for the most part, and the King of England did not agree. We had to fight five more years to get them to stop trying to discipline us (stop shooting at us) and then it took two more years to get them to actually sit down and sign a treaty.
The peace treaty between Great Britain and her unruly youngsters was signed in a hotel room in Paris. Remember, the French aided and abetted us in our insurrection, so they were pleased to cater the whole thing. I imagine the Hotel d’York servants wore smugly satisfied expressions as they walked into the treaty room with their silver trays of wine and hors d’oeuvres.
And yet, to their astonishment, the room may have been filled with the laughter because two of the men in the room were old friends.
Who was in that hotel room?
Benjamin Franklin, to whom Paris was a second home (he had a lot of friends there);
(A friend of B.F.)
John Adams, a rather conservative gentleman who disapproved of Paris and couldn’t wait to get back to sensible and God-fearing New England;
John Jay, a lawyer and arch-conservative from New York who would become the first Chief Justice of the United States and, of more immediate importance, negotiate a trade agreement with Great Britain favorable to the upstart and knuckle-cracking U.S.; and
David Hartley, the member of Parliament whom King George had sent to Paris to sign the treaty.
It is unlikely that Benjamin Franklin and either John Adams or John Jay were particularly good friends, as Ben was anything but a conservative, socially or politically. Also, we have no historical evidence to suggest that John Adams ever laughed. The laughter in the Hotel d’York that late summer day in Paris was that of Benjamin Franklin and David Hartley. They were both scientists and inventors and jolly good friends who had been corresponding for years. In fact, David was a liberal who had been against the war with the colonies from the beginning and King George knew it. The King’s thinking may have been along the lines of: “You like these ruffians so much, you sign the dang treaty.”
Although let it be said, that when John Adams went to talk to the king during the war, King George was very nice to John, expressing only his concern that we might not make it without a king. King George was a firm believer in the absolute necessity for kings. One must consider the source and make concessions. After all, he made a rather large concession when he allowed 13 mere colonies to walk away with fully half the continent of North America.
He did so with the Treaty of Paris, which states that “his Brittanic Majesty,” David Hartley and the aforementioned delegates from the United States “…have agreed upon and confirmed the following articles:
His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.”
Let us hope “every part thereof” refers to the other 37 states because if not, we need a new treaty.
I wonder what these guys did after they signed this rather noteworthy treaty? Ben and David probably partied, with friends, all night. John Adams would have returned to his sensible and inexpensive hotel room and locked the door. John Jay may have returned to his hotel room and worried and worked until late on his arguments in favor of ending slavery in the United States. King George probably went to bed with a headache.
And the next day, September 4, 1783, our first day as a free and independent nation? Well, let’s see.
Farmers got up before daylight as usual to milk the cows, then grab some breakfast and head into the fields.
Merchants and craftsmen got up almost as early to sweep out their shops and tidy up before unlocking their shop doors.
Businessmen and lawyers and our first congressmen groaned their way out of bed and gulped some tea before fumbling into their clothes and heading out for their offices.
Slaves prepared silently for another day, all their days indistinguishable from one another;
Women got the kids ready for school or hurried them after Daddy into the fields, then turned back to their kitchens, looms, wash pots and babies.
Dogs barked and went nosing around after Rabbits and mice.
George Washington rose to issue orders for the disbanding of the colonial army, and British troops began preparations to ship out. (We’re going home, lads; we’re going home.)
September 4, 1783, our first day as a free and independent nation, was a day like any other. We had work to do and we got up and went to it. That’s how you do it. That’s how you build a nation.
So, happy birthday to us on the fourth of July and on the fifth, get up and go to work. We aren’t finished yet.
If you are ever in Paris, stop by 56, rue Jacob and stand for a moment before the Hotel du Danube. In 1783, this hotel was called Hotel d’York. It is a small hotel on a side street and few, if any, of the people passing by are aware that the United States of America was born there.
The small plaque on the front of the hotel reads, in French:
IN THIS BUILDING
FORMERLY THE YORK HOTEL
ON SEPTEMBER 3rd, 1783
IN THE NAME OF THE KING OF ENGLAND,
JOHN JAY, JOHN ADAMS,
IN THE NAME OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
SIGNED THE DEFINITIVE TREATY OF PEACE
RECOGNIZING THE INDEPENDENCE
OF THE UNITED STATES