IF YOU'VE BEEN biding your time between the independence bicentennial in 1976 and the 200th anniversary of the Constitution to be celebrated in 1989, you may not have focused on an important anniversary to be celebrated on Sept. 3 of this year. It is the bicentennial of the Treaty of Paris, America's first diplomatic victory as a nation.
Historians point out that declaring independence is not necessarily achieving it. The brave sentiments published on the Fourth of July, 1776, were validated by the nations of the world only when the peace treaty was signed seven years later in the French capital. Fortunately, our negotiators at the conference were of a star quality. Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, John Adams of Massachusetts, John Jay of New York and Henry Laurens of South Carolina achieved a settlement that did more than bring the War of Independence to an end and establish the American colonies as a free and separate nation. The agreement also established borders that doubled the size of the new nation and incorporated all or part of what is now Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. This land had never been conquered or occupied and was won at the bargaining table.
Celebrations of the bicentennial have been planned for Washington, Paris, London, Boston, Philadelphia and countless communities across the country. They include Smithsonian exhibitions, concerts, scholarly conferences, parades, speeches and even balloon rides. But on this anniversary we commemorate more than a political victory and the acquisition of territory. It is a reminder of our first effort, as a nation, in the world of international diplomacy. It is an occasion to reflect on our commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes, on the value of diplomacy over war and on our responsibility as a people to continue what Franklin called "the best of all works, the work of peace."