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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal

1830-1860: Diplomacy of Westward Expansion

(This page currently under development)


Categories:
John Quincy Adams and the Amistad Case
Webster-Ashburton Treaty
Manifest Destiny I: The Annexation of Texas
Manifest Destiny II: Adding the Oregon Territory
Manifest Destiny III: Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Nicholas Trist, and the American Southwest
Cushing and Perry Open Asia


Webster-Ashburton Treaty

During Daniel Webster’s first term as Secretary of State (1841-1843), the primary foreign Photo of Daniel Websterpolicy issues involved Great Britain. These included the northeast borders of the United States, the involvement of American citizens in the Canadian rebellion of 1837, and the suppression of the international slave trade.  The Webster-Ashburton Treaty, signed August 9, 1842, resolved these frictions in Anglo-American relations. On April 4, 1842, British Foreign Secretary Lord Ashburton arrived in Washington at the head of a special mission to the United States. The first order of business was settling the border between the United States and Canada. Several disputes had arisen from differing interpretations of the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. When these differences led New Brunswick officials to arrest some Americans in disputed areas, Maine called out the militia and seized the territory in question, the so-called Aroostock war. The incident dramatized the need for a border settlement. Webster and Ashburton agreed on a division of disputed territory, giving 7,015 square miles to the United States and 5,012 to Great Britain; agreed on the boundary line through the Great Lakes to the Lake of the Woods; and agreed on provisions for open navigation in several bodies of water. The issue of the Oregon border was left to a later date.  After the suppression of the Canadian Rebellion of 1837, several participants fled to the United States where some American adventurers joined them. This band seized a Canadian island in the Niagara River and engaged a U.S. ship, the Caroline , to re-supply them. Canadian troops seized the Caroline in a New York port, killing one crewman in the process, and set the ship free to drift over Niagara Falls. Later, Alexander McLeod crossed into New York, bragging that he had participated in the seizure of the Caroline, and had killed the crewman. McLeod was arrested. Great Britain maintained that McLeod had acted as a member the British forces and that it would take responsibility for his actions. Should he be executed, it would mean war. The U.S. Government agreed that McLeod could not be tried for actions committed under orders of the British Government, but it was legally incapable of compelling the State of New York to release him.  New York would not back down and tried McLeod.  He was acquitted, but hard feelings remained. Webster and Ashburton agreed on the principles of international law involved and exchanged conciliatory statements.  The United States enacted a law allowing Federal judges to discharge any person proved to have acted under instruction of a foreign power. The United States and Canada later concluded an extradition treaty.  Secretary Webster would not agree to British inspection of U.S. ships suspected of carrying slaves, but did agree that U.S. warships would be maintained off the coast of Africa to search suspected slavers flying the American flag.  Unfortunately, the United States did not implement this agreement very vigorously until the Civil War began.  Webster and Ashburton also settled the case of the Creole, although it was not mentioned in the treaty.  The Creole was sailing to New Orleans with 135 slaves, when a mutiny resulted in the death of one of the owners.  The ship sailed to the Bahamas where the slaves were freed. Great Britain eventually paid $110,330 to the United States on the grounds that forcible seizure of a ship did not suspend the operation of U.S. law. Also, outside of the treaty, Great Britain agreed to end the impressment of American sailors.

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Cushing and Perry Open Asia

Commercial expansion in Asia involved diplomatic entreaties with two important nations, China and Japan.   The "China Market" was always a significant lure for American merchants who had engaged in trade with the declining empire since the 18th century. Following the conclusion of the First Opium War in 1842, Britain forced China to grant it special privileges, including exclusive British use of coastal ports. Not wanting to miss out on similar opportunities, President John Tyler asked Caleb Cushing of Massachusetts to undertake a mission to open Chinese ports also to American trade. In 1844, Cushing negotiated the Treaty of Wangxia. This agreement granted to AmeriJapanese Portrait of Perrycan merchants the same rights as Britain based upon the "most-favored nation" principle. Access to Japan, a nation mired in two centuries of seclusion, proved more difficult for the United States. Determined not to be rebuffed as past missions had been, Commodore Matthew C. Perry decided on a show of force. On July 14, 1853, Perry and his flotilla of what the Japanese termed "black ships" arrived off of Edo. Perry presented to representatives of the Japanese shogunate a letter from President Millard Filmore requesting the establishment of commercial relations. Masking an implied military threat, Perry announced that he would depart but come back the next year to receive a reply from the shogunate. Returning to Edo Bay the following February, Perry waited two weeks before disembarking his ship to a gracious reception by the Japanese. On March 31, the Commodore and his Japanese counterparts concluded the Treaty of Kanagawa, which guaranteed protection for shipwrecked sailors and opened two remote ports for trade and as sources of coal for American vessels.

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