Burlingame–Seward Treaty of 1868
SignedJuly 28, 1868[1]
LocationWashington, D.C.
Signatories China
United States
LanguageChinese, English

The Burlingame Treaty (Chinese: 中美天津條約續增條約), 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, to establish formal friendly relations between the two nations, with the United States granting China the status of most favored nation with regards to trade. It was signed in the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C. in 1868 and ratified in Peking in 1869. The most significant result of the treaty was that it effectively lifted any former restrictions in regards to emigration to the United States from China; with large-scale immigration to the United States beginning in earnest by Chinese immigrants.


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.[2]

On June 14, 1861, Lincoln appointed Anson Burlingame as minister to the Qing Empire. Burlingame was an experienced diplomat, having had a long record of faithful employment in the diplomatic service. Upon his arrival in China, he chose to establish a cooperative and friendly policy rather than an aggressive and uncompromising one and developed close and amiable relationships with the reform elements of the Qing court.

The United States also wished to gain access to profitable trading opportunities and foster the continued spread of Christianity in Asia via their missionaries, which was already initiated by Catholic missionaries who arrived in China starting in the 16th century. 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 Qing 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.[3]

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, Burlingame 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, two Western secretaries, 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.[4]


The treaty:


Anti-Chinese cartoon from The Wasp: Chinese immigrants, depicted as pigs, bursting through a gate labeled "Burlingham Treaty" and ravaging a field of crops representing industries while Uncle Sam and Columbia watch. A tattered scarecrow represents anti-Chinese labor leader Denis Kearney.

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.[5]

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.[6]

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 and violence 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.[7]

See also


  1. ^ "Burlingame Treaty". encyclopedia.com. Retrieved March 25, 2018.
  2. ^ "The Burlingame–Seward Treaty, 1868". Office of the Historian.
  3. ^ "The Burlingame–Seward Treaty, 1868". Office of the Historian.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Anson Burlingame". Columbia Encyclopedia.
  6. ^ "The Burlingame–Seward Treaty, 1868". Office of the Historian.
  7. ^ "The Burlingame–Seward Treaty, 1868". Office of the Historian.