How to negotiate an exit

As Brexit talks rumble on, could Britain learn anything from Americans' attempts to extricate themselves from the British empire following the War of Independence? Tom Cutterham offers some suggestions...

A portrait of Benjamin Franklin. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
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Take your sharpest political thinkers…

…whether they like each other or not

Fought from 1775, the American War of Independence saw the United States secure a decisive victory on the battlefield over its British foes. Yet, as US diplomats assembled in Paris in 1782 to hammer out a peace treaty with Britain, they were to discover that negotiating independence from the British empire required a whole different skillset.

The United States’ diplomats in Paris represented a cross-section of the new nation’s elite – and some of its greatest political minds. Henry Laurens, a rice planter and slave trader from South Carolina, was the richest of them. John Jay, a lawyer from New York, had been both president of Congress and ambassador to Spain. The most senior negotiators, though, were John Adams and Benjamin Franklin – two of the most famous Americans in Europe.

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