Anson Burlingame

Anson Burlingame

[bur-lin-geym, -ling-geym]
Burlingame, Anson, 1820-70, American diplomat, b. New Berlin, N.Y. He became a lawyer in Boston and later (1855-61) a Congressman. Defeated for reelection, he was made (1861) minister to China. By his tact and understanding of Chinese opposition to the autocratic methods of foreigners in the treaty ports, he won a place as adviser to the Chinese government. In 1867, China sent him as head of a mission to visit foreign lands in order to secure information and sign treaties of amity. He visited Washington, London, and capitals on the Continent. One result was a treaty between China and the United States, supplementary to the 1858 treaty. This, usually called the Burlingame Treaty, was signed in 1868. It was a treaty of friendship based on Western principles of international law. One clause encouraged Chinese immigration—laborers were then much in demand in the West; later the heavy influx of Chinese under its provisions caused friction on the West Coast and led to the exclusion of Chinese immigrants (see Chinese exclusion).

See biography by F. W. Williams (1912, repr. 1972).

Anson Burlingame (November 14, 1820 - February 23, 1870) was an American lawyer, legislator, and diplomat, born in New Berlin, Chenango County, New York. In 1823 his parents (Joel Burlingame and Freelove Angell) took him to Ohio, and about ten years afterwards to Michigan. Between 1838 and 1841 he studied at the Detroit branch of the University of Michigan, and in 1846 graduated from Harvard Law School. On June 3, 1847 he married Jane Cornelia Livermore. They had sons Edward Livermore Burlingame (born 1848) and Walter Angell Burlingame (b. 1852), as well as a daughter Gertrude Burlingame (b. 1856).

Early career

He practiced law in Boston, and won a wide reputation by his speeches for the Free Soil Party in 1848. He was a member of the Massachusetts constitutional convention in 1853, of the state senate from 1853 to 1854, and of the United States House of Representatives from 1855 to 1861, being elected for the first term as a Know Nothing and afterwards as a member of the new Republican Party, which he helped to organize in Massachusetts.

Burlingame vs. Preston Brooks

On May 22, 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina viciously assaulted Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in the Senate chamber with his metal-tipped cane; three days previously, Sumner had delivered a vituperative oratory criticizing President Franklin Pierce and Southerners who sympathized with the pro-slavery violence in Kansas (Bleeding Kansas). In particular, Sumner acidly lambasted Brooks' uncle, Senator Andrew Butler, who was not in attendance when the speech was read, describing slavery as a harlot, comparing Butler with Don Quixote for embracing it, and mocking Butler for a physical handicap. Three days later, Brooks advanced upon Sumner while he worked at his desk in the Senate chamber and beat him into unconsciousness, ripping his desk from the floor in the process. Brooks continued to strike Sumner's prone and unconscious form until he snapped his heavy gutta percha cane in two. He received no official censure from his colleagues in the House of Representatives, and was indeed hailed as a hero in much of the South.

Shortly afterwards, Burlingame delivered what The New York Times referred to as "the most celebrated speech of his career: a scathing denunciation of Brooks' assault on Sumner, branding him as "the vilest sort of coward" on the floor of the Senate. In response, Brooks challenged Burlingame to a duel, stating he would gladly face him "in any Yankee mudsill of his choosing". Burlingame, a well-known marksman, eagerly accepted, choosing rifles as the weapons and the Navy Yards on the Canadian side of the US-Canada border in Niagara Falls, NY as the location (in order to contravene the US ban on dueling). Brooks, reportedly dismayed by both Burlingame's unexpectedly enthusiastic acceptance and his reputation as a crack shot, neglected to show up, instead citing unspecified risks to his safety if he was to cross "hostile country" (the Northern states) in order to reach Canada. Burlingame's solid defense of a fellow Bostonian colleague greatly raised his stature in his home state of Massachusetts.

Minister to China

On June 14, 1861 Abraham Lincoln appointed Burlingame as minister to China. 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. 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.

Burlingame's speeches did much to awaken interest in, and engender a more intelligent appreciation of, China's attitude toward the outside world.

Burlingame died suddenly at Saint Petersburg on the February 23 1870.

Burlingame, California and Burlingame, Kansas are both named after Anson Burlingame.


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