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The Burlingame Treaty, also known as the Burlingame-Seward Treaty of 1868, was a landmark treaty between the United States and Qing China, amending the Treaty of Tientsin, one of the unequal treaties, to establish formal friendly relations between the two nations, with the United States granting China the status of most favored nation in trade. It was signed in Washington in 1868 and ratified in Beijing in 1869, the first fully equal treaty China had signed with a western power since the Second Opium War.
China and the United States concluded the Burlingame–Seward Treaty in 1868 to expand upon the Treaty of Tianjin of 1858. The new treaty established some basic principles that aimed to ease immigration restrictions, and represented a Chinese effort to limit foreign interference in internal Chinese affairs.
On June 14, 1861 Lincoln appointed Anson Burlingame as minister to the Qing Empire. Burlingame worked for a cooperative policy rather than the imperialistic policies of force which had been used during the First and Second Opium Wars and developed relations with the reform elements of the court.
The United States also wanted to gain access to profitable trading opportunities and foster the spread of Christianity in Asia, alongside the leading European nations, who also sought to gain inroads in China and Japan. As a part of the general effort to convince the Chinese to adopt a more Western approach to diplomacy and governance, the Western powers also encouraged the Chinese Government to send diplomatic missions abroad. Finally persuaded to do so, the Chinese requested that Burlingame accompany their representatives on a tour that included stops in the major capitals of Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin. Burlingame, originally a representative of the U.S. Government, gave up his post to assist the Chinese in their treaty negotiations with Seward.
While in Washington, Burlingame negotiated a treaty with Secretary of State William H. Seward, his former superior to revise and expand upon the points established in the Treaty of Tianjin of 1858. The first few articles of the new treaty protected commerce conducted in Chinese ports and cities, and established the right of China to appoint consuls to American port cities. The more groundbreaking articles included measures that promised the Chinese the right to free immigration and travel within the United States, and allowed for the protection of Chinese citizens in the United States in accordance with the most-favored-nation principle. Another article gave the citizens of the two nations reciprocal access to education and schooling when living in the other country. All of these articles served to reinforce the principle of equality between the two nations.
The final article of the Burlingame–Seward Treaty offered China some protection from external influence in internal matters. In this article the U.S. recognized that the decision to begin new construction projects or similar improvements belonged in the hands of the local government, not foreign powers or their representatives. This point was intended to safeguard against undue U.S. involvement in Chinese domestic affairs.
On November 16, 1867 he was appointed envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to head a Chinese diplomatic mission to the United States and the principal European nations. The mission, which included two Chinese ministers, an English and a French secretary, six students from Peking, and a considerable retinue, arrived in the United States in March 1868. Burlingame used his personal relations with the Republican administration to negotiate a relatively quick and favorable treaty. In a series of speeches across the country, he displayed eloquent oratory to advocate equal treatment of China and a welcoming stance toward Chinese immigrants. On July 28, 1868 it concluded at Washington, D.C., a series of articles, supplementary to the Reed Treaty of 1858, and later known as the Burlingame Treaty.
- Recognized China's right of eminent domain over all of its territory;
- Gave China the right to appoint consuls at ports in the United States, "who shall enjoy the same privileges and immunities as those enjoyed by the consuls of Great Britain and Russia";
- Provided that "citizens of the United States in China of every religious persuasion and Chinese subjects in the United States shall enjoy entire liberty of conscience and shall be exempt from all disability or persecution on account of their religious faith or worship in either country"; and
- Granted certain privileges to citizens of either country residing in the other, the privilege of naturalization, however, being specifically withheld.
Chinese immigration to the United States was initially encouraged. Opposition in Congress to Chinese immigration led President Rutherford B. Hayes to authorize James Burrill Angell to renegotiate the treaty in 1880. On November 17, 1880, the renegotiated treaty, called the Treaty Regulating Immigration from China (and more informally as the Angell Treaty of 1880), was passed. This would suspend, but not prohibit, Chinese immigration, while confirming the obligation of the United States to protect the rights of those immigrants already arrived.
Despite the reciprocal protections that the Treaty afforded Chinese in the United States and Americans in China, the Treaty ultimately reinforced U.S. trade interests with China under the principle of the most-favored-nation concept, and it ensured a steady flow of low-cost Chinese immigrant labor for U.S. firms. For these reasons, American industrial leaders initially celebrated the Treaty as a major advancement for American commercial interests.
However, the success of the treaty was short-lived. By the late 1870s, U.S. industrial leaders and politicians could no longer ignore the increasing anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, particularly in the western states; in fact, industrialists and politicians often promoted anti-Chinese activities. A new treaty signed in 1880 revised the Burlingame-Seward agreement, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 abrogated its free immigration clauses altogether.
- John Schrecker, ""For the Equality of Men – for the Equality of Nations": Anson Burlingame and China's First Embassy to the United States, 1868", Journal of American-East Asian Relations 17.1 (2010): 9–34.
- "Anson Burlingame". Columbia Encyclopedia.