Document bears centuries of influence
On the night of Feb. 10, 1763, crowds gathered and fireworks lighted the skies of London, Paris, and Boston to celebrate of the signing of the Treaty of Paris and the end of the Seven Years’ War. Two hundred and fifty years later, Britain’s original copy of the treaty that reshaped North America made its first trans-Atlantic trip to Boston’s Old State House as part of the Bostonian Society’s exhibition, “1763: A Revolutionary Peace,” which closes Oct. 7.
To better grasp the document’s historical impact and its relevance to our time and city, the Globe spoke with Eliga Gould, professor and chairman of the history department at the University of New Hampshire and an expert on the American Revolution and Colonial history.
Q. What role did Boston play in this treaty and war? Why was the Old State House chosen as the site of the document’s 250th anniversary display?
A. The Old State House was the center of government for the colonies throughout the Colonial and revolutionary periods. It became a flashpoint in the events leading up to the American Revolution and eventually became the initial site of the new state government. Boston was an American center of the British war effort throughout the British and French wars. Since New England shared a border with French Canada, it was British America’s northern frontier. So it was a natural choice to hold this exhibition of great importance here.
Q. Where does this treaty rank in importance or significance with other great treaties?
A. It’s certainly one of the most important treaties, especially for us as Americans. It first laid out the borders of what became the United States. In American history, it could be considered a founding document.
Q. What are the lasting effects of the treaty?
A. Want to know why English is our first language and French and Spanish are secondary languages we study in school? A lot of it had to do with the Seven Years’ War. Culturally, it guaranteed that America would be an English-speaking country. Obviously there was French in Canada and Spanish in some southern territories, but since 1763, America has been predominantly English-speaking. It is also important for its removal of France from Canada because without that happening it’s hard to imagine the American Revolution.
Q. Are there any parallels between this time in history in 1763 and the current global and local geopolitical climate? Can we learn anything from this treaty that might be useful toward achieving peace elsewhere?
A. History never repeats itself in the same way. There are lessons here that American citizens would do well to heed. We need to realize that today the United States is in the position Britain was. Britain was probably the most powerful nation in Europe and the undisputed world leader in 1763. Slightly over 10 years later America rebelled and declared independence in 1776. It shows that even great nations should be careful of unintended consequences. Some people thought Britain’s enormous victories during the Seven Years’ War made the British think they were unbeatable and made them arrogant in their dealings with the colonists before the revolution.
Q. Looking at Syria and Russia or Israel and Palestine, what’s different about this day and age that makes reaching treaties or agreements so difficult?
A. There was a very different diplomatic landscape between France and Britain and even America and Britain. One thing that’s clear is that France and Britain were the two greatest monarchies and rivals when they signed the treaty. It’s hard to sign a treaty with a country that isn’t comparable.
Q. Who transcribed the treaty document; whose handwriting is on the physical copy?
A. I don’t actually know, but it’s an interesting question. When we think of a historical document, usually what we’re looking at is a secretary’s draft. Leaders would travel with secretaries, usually men, who had excellent handwriting. It would have been an important job to have, especially since these men would often have to translate as well.
Q. How was the document drafted? Was it a round-table discussion or international correspondence?
A. The real bargaining would take place at dinner or in a corner over drinks. You wouldn’t come to the table unless you knew terms you were going to agree to. There was a culture of diplomacy in Europe; if you read the treaty you see [several nations] working through things together.
Q. Where does this document go after it leaves Boston?
A. It’s going back to the UK.
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