American Diplomacy in the Orient/Chapter II

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THE two most important factors in bringing the United States into contact with the countries of the Orient have been commerce and Christian missions. The influence of the latter will receive attention in a subsequent chapter. The extension of American com- merce into the Pacific Ocean was obstructed by the policy of exclusion which had been in operation for two centuries, and in the few ports where foreign intercourse was tolerated it was conducted under very adverse condi- tions. The cause of this state of affairs has been indi- cated in the preceding chapter, so far as China and Japan were concerned. Much the same conditions existed in the other countries, brought about by similar causes.

Several of the European nations had taken possession by force of various islands in that ocean, occupied by many millions of people, and had effected permanent lodgment on the continent in India and the Malay Peninsula. From these places it was possible to estab- lish a large trade with the enormous population of Asia ; but at the date of the independence of the United States and for many years thereafter the European gov- /ernments sought to reserve the trade of their colonies /and dependencies to themselves. Hence it was a serious ! undertaking for a new nation, with a novel form of


government and undeveloped resources, to enter into competition for its share of the commerce of the islands in and the countries bordering on the great ocean. But the hardy American mariners, who had been trained in the fisheries and the colonial trade, and had had their courage tested in the Revolutionary War by a contest with the greatest maritime power of the world, entered upon this competition with a spirit of enterprise rarely equaled.

In the first year after the treaty of peace and inde- pendence with Great Britain was signed, on the 30th of August, 1784, the American ship The Empress of China, of New York, commanded by Captain John Green, with Samuel Shaw as supercargo, bore the flag of the United States for the first time into the port of Canton, China. The record of the voyage and the reception of the vessel in China, as found in the pub- lished narrative and the report made to the govern- ment is full of interest. In a letter to the Secretary of State, transmitted to the Continental Congress, the supercargo communicates, " for the^ information of the fathers of the country," an account of "the respect with which their flag has been treated in that distant region, . . . and the attention of the Chinese attracted toward a people of whom they have hitherto had but very confused ideas ; and which seemed to place the Americans in a more conspicuous point of view than has commonly attended the introduction of other na- tions into that ancient and extensive empire." l

1 Samuel Shaw's Journal, with Memoir by Josiah Quincy, 1847 ; Report to Secretary Jay, 3 Diplomatic Correspondence of the U. S. 1783-1789, p. 761.


Nothing eventful occurred on the outward voyage till they met, in the Straits of Sun da, two French men-of- war, also bound for Canton, whose commander greeted them in the most affectionate manner, and under the convoy of " our good allies " the vessel safely traversed the unknown Chinese seas. 1 On its arrival at Macao and Canton the vessel was welcomed by salutes from the ships of all nations in those ports and by visits from the officers and the chiefs of all the European establish- ments, and " treated by them in all respects as a free and independent nation." The letter says: "The Chi- nese were very indulgent toward us, though our being the first American ship that had ever visited China, it was some time before they could fully comprehend the distinction between Englishmen and us. They styled us the new people ; and when by the map we conveyed to them an idea of the extent of our country, with its present and increasing population, they were highly pleased at the prospect of so considerable a market for the productions of theirs." It concludes : " To every lover of his country, as well as to those more immedi- ately concerned in commerce, it must be a pleasing reflection that a communication is thus happily opened between us and the eastern extreme of the globe."

Other vessels followed this venture into Chinese waters, and within a few years they were successfully sharing

1 The attentions of the French commodore were brought to the notice of the Continental Congress by Secretary Jay, and Mr. Jefferson, the minister in Paris, was instructed to convey the thanks of Congress to the French government for the valuable services of its navy. 3 Diplomatic Correspondence, 1783-1789, p. 767.


in the traffic. Gutzlaff, the German historian, writing^ of this period, says, " the Americans ploughed the wide ocean in every direction. The high principles they cherish, the excellent constitution under which they live, the industrious spirit which pervades the whole nation, imparted vigor and perseverance to the American mer- chant." As evidence of their daring, he cites the ship Alliance which sailed from Philadelphia in 1788. She was not furnished with any charts on board, but made her voyage to China solely with the assistance of a general map of the world, and never let go an anchor from the time she left Philadelphia till she reached Canton. Captain Krusen stern, of the Russian navy, who, under orders of Alexander I., made a voyage around the world in 1803 and spent much time in the North Pacific, speaks in high praise of the early Amer- ican mariners and merchants. "The spirit of com- merce," he says, " is perhaps nowhere greater than in America. Being skillful seamen, they man their ships 1 with a smaller crew, in which respect it appears almost impossible to excel them. Their vessels are, besides, so admirably constructed that they sail better than many ships of war. . . . The Americans avail themselves quickly of every advantage that is offered them in trade." 2 As indicating the state of intercommunication before the era of steam we note his statement of what was regarded as a remarkable evidence of speed and skill in navigation, that he met American captains in

1 2 Hist. China, Gutzlaff, 266.

2 2 Voyage Round the World, under Capt. A. J. von Krusenstern, translation, London, 1813, p. 332.


Canton who had made the voyage from thence to the United States and return in ten months.

At the time under consideration our vessels in the China trade did not always pursue a direct course be- tween the home port and Canton. Not infrequently they took on cargo and cleared for the east coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, the British or Portuguese stations in India, or the Dutch East Indies, where they bartered American goods for articles of those countries wanted in China, and reaching Canton, received in exchange teas, silks, and porcelains. In such voyages they were often exposed to danger from savage tribes or the pirates who infested the Pacific seas. The ves- sels engaged in this trade carried quite a formidable armament of cannon and small arms. Delano, who was one of the earliest voyagers to the Pacific, gives an account of the construction of a ship in Boston in 1789, the Massachusetts, " built expressly for the Canton trade." He says : " Our ship was pierced for thirty-six guns, but our armament was twenty six-pounders and musketry." He describes the outfitting of other vessels destined for Canton after a sealing voyage : " The Per- severance mounted twelve six-pound cannon, and the Pilgrim mounted six guns, from nine-pound carronades to four-pound fortified cannon, having all parts of their armament fitted in the best manner to correspond with their number of guns."

An enterprise which largely interested the early Amer-

1 47 North American Review, 414 ; Shaw's Reports, 3 Dip. Cor. 774, 777, 778 ; A Narrative of Voyages, etc., by A. Delano, Boston, 1817, pp. 21, 25, 33, 420 ; Harper's Magazine, October, 1898, p. 739.


ican traders was the China fur trade. Before their advent into these waters, the Chinese supply of furs, which were greatly in demand in that country, came through Europe. The Americans later almost entirely monopolized the fur trade. Their practice was to clear for the South Seas, where at that period the fur seals greatly abounded, slaughter the animals, load their ves- sels with the skins, take them to Canton and exchange them for tea and other Chinese commodities, which were carried to the United States and Europe. The other source of supply of sealskins was in the North Pacific.' The Russians had for many years a monopoly of that supply, but not being permitted to trade at Canton they were forced to carry the furs overland, via Siberia, to Kiakhta, and thence to Chinese markets. Within a few years after independence the American vessels were largely engaged in the traffic in seal and otter skins and other furs from the northwest coast of America to Canton, and it proved most profitable. The statistics of Canton show that in 1800 the American vessels engaged in the fur trade, in addition to large importa- tions of otter and other furs, brought 325,000 seal- skins; in 1801 the import of sealskins was 427,000; in 1802, 343,000; and it is stated that the tonnage employed in procuring skins for these periods was nearly one half of the whole tonnage in the China trade. 1

On the return from Canton of the pioneer vessel, a report of her voyage was made to John Jay, then secre-

1 A Statistical View, etc., of the United States, by Thomas Pitkin, New York, 1817, p. 249, and Appendix vii. ; 3 Chinese Repository, 557 ; Delano's Voyages, 306.


tary for foreign affairs of the Continental Congress, by Major Samuel Shaw, supercargo of the Empress of China, as already stated. Secretary Jay transmitted this report to Congress, and on June 23, 1785, he informed Major Shaw "that Congress feel a peculiar satisfaction in the successful issue of this first effort of the citizens of America to establish a direct trade with China, which does so much to honor its undertakers and conductors." Under date of January 20, 1786, Secre- tary Jay called the attention of Congress to the fact that American merchants were beginning to turn to the China and India trade, and that in the course of that year several vessels would probably be engaged in it, and he submitted to the consideration of Congress the propriety of appointing a consul and vice consul general for Canton and other ports in Asia.

Proihpt and favorable action on this recommendation was taken by Congress, in the election of Major Shaw as consul at Canton on January 27, and on the 30th of ( the same month Secretary Jay transmitted to him his jcommission. In his letter of transmittal he says, " Although neither salary nor perquisites are annexed to it, yet so distinguished a mark of the confidence and esteem of the United States will naturally give you a degree of weight and respectability which the highest personal merit cannot very soon obtain for a stranger in a foreign country." l The appointee was a man worthy of the honor. He had served with the rank of major of artillery on the staff of General Knox during the Eevolutionary War, and was held in high esteem

3 Dip. Cor. 766, 769 ; 3 Secret Journals of Congress, 605.


by the general and his brother officers. After the war he visited India and China, and on his return from that voyage entered the War Department, under General Knox, as a clerk, and was holding that position when appointed consul at Canton. Captain Delano, who knew him well both at home and in China, writes : " He was a man of fine talents and considerable cultiva- tion ; he placed so high a value upon the sentiments of honor that some of his friends thought it was carried to excess. He was candid, just, and generous, faithful to his friendships, an agreeable companion, and manly in all his intercourse." 1

Consul Shaw's first report, December 31, 1786, gives an account of the manner of conducting the trade at Canton. From it and from contemporaneous sources the following facts are obtained. Vessels arriving in Chinese waters to trade were required first to report at Macao, a Portuguese establishment, located on a penin- sula near the mouth of the river on which Canton is situated. The Portuguese in the middle of the six- teenth century secured the privilege of occupying the point of land, and built up a considerable settlement there with the right to control their own local affairs, under the supervision of a resident Chinese official. They were, however, not permitted to exercise sover- eignty over the territory, and were required to pay an- nually a ground-rent to the Chinese government. For- eign vessels, upon reporting to the native authorities at Macao, were granted permits to ascend the river to Whampoa, fourteen miles below Canton, where all of

1 Delano's Voyages, 21.


them were moored. At this point the supercargoes made the necessary arrangements with the customs officials for disposing of their cargoes, the first step being to pro- l cure ajiador, a person to become surety for the pay- ment of the government duties and fees. This person was a licensed Chinese merchant. It was also neces- sary to secure a linguist, a Chinese, who acted as ship's broker and interpreter in all transactions with the custom-house, which was in the city where no for- eigners were admitted, and he attended to the discharge and transportation of the cargo to Canton.

The trade or bartering of the merchandise brought by the ships was conducted by the co-hong, which con- sisted of a body of from ten to thirteen Chinese, called the hong merchants. These men ranked among the most wealthy and respectable inhabitants of Canton ; they paid largely for the privilege of entering the co- hong, and when admitted became permanent members of it ; they had extensive establishments and numerous and convenient warehouses ; and the co-hong was made the medium of all communication of the authorities of Canton and the imperial government with the foreign merchants and other foreigners. The cargoes were un- loaded at Whampoa into Chinese boats and taken to the landing outside the walls of Canton. Here the merchandise was transferred to the hong merchants, who agreed on the prices at which they would pur- chase, and fixed those of their own goods in return.

Notwithstanding the great power and advantage con- ferred upon the co-hong by this system, Consul Shaw reports to the Secretary of State that they " are a set


of as respectable men as are commonly found in other \ ports of the world. They are intelligent, exact account- ants, punctual to their engagements, and, though not worse for being well looked after, value themselves much upon maintaining a fair character. The concur- rent testimony of all the Europeans justifies this re- mark." Forty years later a well-known citizen of the United States, a junior partner in an American house at Canton in 1834, John M. Forbes, of Boston, spoke in the highest terms of the strict honor of the Chinese merchants, and said, "I never saw in any country such a high average of fair dealing as there."

Among other requirements of the trade was the em- ployment by every ship of a comprador, a person who { furnished the provisions, supplies, and other necessities, ( which must all come through him, and at prices fixed by him, which was a source of much imposition. While the hong merchants maintained a high reputation, the small dealers were reported to be crafty and dishonest, and the trade was greatly embarrassed by the prevail- ing bribery and smuggling. The regular salary of the hoppo, or collector of customs, was about $4000 per annum, though his income was reported to be not less than $100,000.

In the time of Consul Shaw and for many years thereafter no foreigner was allowed to remain on Chi- nese territory at or in the vicinity of Canton, but as soon as the exchange of commodities was over and the vessels ready to sail on their return voyage, the foreign merchants, supercargoes, and agents had to go to Macao and remain there for the rest of the year or till another



vessel arrived. Consul Shaw says that " on the whole, the situation of the Europeans is not enviable, . . . and it must be allowed that they dearly earn their money." / The American commerce with Canton, the only port ,in China with which any trade was permitted, soon as- sumed considerable proportions. The second year after the first vessel reached Canton, 1786, five American merchant ships arrived in port, and three years later, 1789, fifteen, which made the trade of the United States second only to that of Great Britain. In 1800 twenty- three American vessels visited Canton, and the value of their export cargoes was $2,500,000; and in 1801 thirty-four vessels with exports valued at $3,700,000. For the year 1805, the exports to the United States from Canton amounted to $5,300,000, and the imports to $5,100,000, and for the four years ending with 1807, the exports averaged annually $4,200,000, and the im- ports $4,100,000, and the average arrival of vessels was thirty-six. 2 The entire commerce of the United States at that period was comparatively small, and the trade with China constituted a very considerable part of it, and was relatively much greater then than at the present day; but the foregoing figures may give a somewhat exaggerated idea of the aggregate trade. No statistics are available in the Treasury Department

1 3 Dip. Cor. 781 ; 1 The Chinese, Davis, 34 ; 2 Chinese Repository, 301, 302 ; 1 Letters and Recollections of John M. Forbes, Boston, 1899, p. 86 ; 2 Remarks on China and the Chinese Trade, by R. B. Forbes, Boston, 1844. For account of Macao, An Historical Sketch of the Por- tuguese Settlements in China, by A. L. Jungstedt, Boston, 1836.

2 Statistical View of U. S., Pitkin, 246 ; 2 Hist. China, Gutzlaff, 270, and tables of appendix ; 2 Chinese Repository, 300.


of the commerce with China before 1821, and the fore- going figures are taken from the returns of the Canton custom-house. But we have seen that American ves- sels were at that early period engaged in an indirect trade, and in addition it is known that they were also carrying on a considerable traffic from Canton with Mexico, Peru, and Chili ; but if the large amount of smuggled goods is estimated, which do not appear in the returns, the relative proportions will not be mate- rially changed. One reason for the enterprise and suc- cess of the American trade in the East may be found j in its entire freedom from governmental restraint, while I that of the European countries was controlled by the monopolies of the various East India companies.

It is difficult to arrive at any accurate estimate of the profits of the Chinese trade, but a reading of the narra- tives of early voyages and of other contemporaneous ac- counts shows that it was usually large and that it was highly prized. Consul Shaw states that the privilege of private trade was allowed to English captains in the East India Company's service, and that in a vessel of eight hundred or one thousand tons this privilege was worth from $25,000 to $35,000 per voyage. Captain Krusenstern mentions in his voyages meeting in Can- ton an American vessel of less than one hundred tons which in a single voyage from the northwest coast of America, with a cargo of furs, realized $60,000 on an \ investment of $9000. Other voyages are given where 1 a capital of $40,000 yielded a return of $150,000; and \ one of $50,000 gave a gross return of $284,000. The ! merchants of the New England ports in the early part of


the last century reaped a rich harvest from this traffic. In Boston alone the foundation of large fortunes was laid in the Canton trade. A list of the names of its merchants having houses in that place will indicate this, among whom are found the well-known names of Perkins, Cabot, Sturgis, Forbes, Kussell, Gushing, and Coolidge. 1

The attention of the first Congress of the IJnited States assembled under the Constitution of 1787 was called to the importance of affording encouragement and protection to American commerce with China, and the second act passed by that body imposed a discrimi- nating duty on tea and other goods imported in vessels other than those owned by American citizens. The in- terest of our merchants in that trade is also shown by petitions to Congress from New York, Philadelphia, and other cities, "praying the protection and encourage- ment of the general government, either by prohibiting foreigners from interfering in the trade, or making a greater distinction than now exists between the duties imposed upon goods imported immediately from Asia and those brought by the way of Europe."

Consul Shaw died in 1794, while en route to the United States on a visit, and was buried at sea off the Cape of Good Hope. He was succeeded by Samuel Snow. The business which seemed most to occupy the latter 's attention, judging from the consular records in the Department of State, was obtaining the permission

1 3 Dip. Cor. 781 ; 25 N. A. Rev. 458, 464 ; Sturgis's Northwest Fur Trade, Hunt's Mag. xiv. 536, 537 ; Hist. Northwest Coast, Bancroft, 373, 376 ; 1 Forbes' s Recollections, chaps. 3 and 4.


of the Portuguese government for him to reside at Macao. As stated, all foreigners were prohibited from remaining at Canton, none could reside at Macao with- out the express permission of the Portuguese govern- ment, and it was necessary that it should be secured for the consul upon the application of the Secretary of State. It does not appear that the permit was ever received, but he continued his residence on sufferance. 1

Edward Carrington was consular agent in 1804, and for several years his chief occupation seems to have been to put forth ineffectual efforts to obtain the release of sailors taken from American ships in the ports of Macao and Canton by British warships and impressed into the naval service, a state of affairs, he remarks, " so humiliating to every friend of his coun- try." It appears that the far-away waters of China were no more exempt than those of the Atlantic from the high-handed violence and disregard of maritime rights by Great Britain which brought on the war of 1812. 2 And the effects of this war were likewise felt on the coast of China. The American trade was nearly suspended, only an average of six vessels arriving annu- ally during the war. The consul reports the exchange of prisoners in the port of Macao between an Ameri- can " private armed vessel " and a British warship, and at another time of the release by the commander of the Doris, and the receipt given by the consul, of the

1 1 U. S. Statutes at Large, chap. 2, p. 25 ; Annals of Congress, 1791-3, pp. 427, 431 ; Consular Archives, Department of State, 1802-3.

2 Consular Archives, 1804-6 ; H. Ex. Doc. 71, p. 4, 26th Cong. 2d Sess.; Delano's Voyages, 530.


passengers and crew of a Boston vessel, "altho," he writes the department, " I did not consider them prison- ers of war, they having been taken under the Chinese flag and in neutral waters."

This action of the Doris, in cruising off the port of Canton and seizing American ships in Chinese waters, gave great offense to the local authorities, who ordered the man-of-war to leave, saying that if the English and Americans " had any petty squabbles," they must settle them between themselves and not bring them to China. Upon a refusal of the Doris to depart, all trade with the British merchants was temporarily suspended. The American consul not only complained of the bad con- duct of the commander of the Doris, but he reports that it was " equaled by the pusillanimous conduct of the governor of Macao," who allowed that port to be made a base of operations for the British to prey upon American commerce. 1

After the war was over the commerce soon revived, and nothing occurred to disturb it until the event in 1821 known as the "Terranova affair," which attracted general attention on the part of foreigners. An Ital- ian sailor of the crew of an American vessel anchored in the river dropped or threw an earthen jar overboard, by which a Chinese woman in a boat was killed. It was contended that the deed was accidental. The authori- ties demanded his surrender for trial. The captain of the vessel stoutly refused to deliver him, but agreed to

his trial by the authorities on the ship, in order to insure I

1 1 The Chinese, Davis, 93 ; Williams's Hist. China, 105 ; Consular Ar- chives, 1812-15.


a fair decision. The ship was invaded and surrounded by Chinese forces, and there was no alternative but his surrender. It was followed by the mockery of a trial, he was executed, and his body was returned to the ship. While the dispute was pending the American trade was suspended. After the execution, the viceroy of Canton issued an edict, saying that as the Americans had " be- haved submissively, it is proper to open their trade in order to manifest our compassion. The Celestial Empire's kindness and favor to the weak is rich in an infinite degree ; but the nation's dignity sternly com- mands respect, and cannot, because people are foreigners, extend clemency. . . . Now it is written in the law when persons outside the pale of Chinese civilization shall commit crimes they too shall be punished accord- ing to law. I, therefore, ordered them to take the said foreigner and, according to law, strangle him, to dis- play luminously the laws of the Empire. In every sim- ilar case foreigners ought to give up murderers, and thus they will act becoming the tenderness and gra- cious kindness with which the Celestial Empire treats them." The government of the United States was severely criticised for taking no action in the matter. 1

After this event American affairs at Canton passed on without occurrences of moment, the trade being main- tained with satisfactory results. In the course of time the Chinese relaxed somewhat the strictness of the reg- ulations. In the narratives between 1830 and 1840 we find that foreign merchants had been permitted to

1 1 The Chinese, Davis, 105 ; Williams's Hist. China, 108 ; 2 Hist. China, Gutzlaff, 267; H. Ex. Doc. 71, pp. 9-52, 26th Cong. 2d Sess.


establish themselves on the bank of the river just out- side of the walls of Canton, and occupied substantial and commodious establishments of brick or granite, and the settlement was assuming a permanent foreign ehar- ^acter, with churches, newspapers and other adjuncts. In 1832, when the port was visited by Mr. Roberts, the American envoy en route to negotiate treaties with Siam and Muscat, he reports, besides the East India Company's establishment, nine British mercantile houses, seven American, one French, and one Dutch ; and one British and one American hotel. The style of living was quite luxurious, with an abundance of servants, but there was said to be lacking one essential element to make domes- tic enjoyment complete the Chinese forbade the pre- sence of foreign women. This prohibition, however, was removed soon after that date. The Chinese plenipo- tentiaries who negotiated the first treaty with Great Britain gave the emperor the following reason for this concession : " The barbarians are influenced by their women, and governed by natural affection. The pre- sence of females at the ports would therefore soften their natures, and give us less anxiety as to outbreaks. If they are settled at our ports with all that is dear to them, and with storehouses full of goods, they will be in our power and prove more manageable."

Notwithstanding the somewhat improved condition of the trade just indicated, the Americans, in common with all foreigners, labored under many embarrassments.

1 Embassy to Eastern Courts, by Edmund Roberts, New York, 1837, p. 130 ; 5 Chinese Repository, 426 ; 1 China during the War, etc., by Sir John F. Davis, London, 1852, p. 300 ; Delano's Voyages, 540.


Bribery and smuggling were conducted with the con- nivance of the authorities. No direct means were afforded the foreigners to communicate directly with the local or imperial authorities for redress of their grievances, as all intercourse with them was conducted through the hong merchants. The consuls were not recognized in any way by the authorities, nor were they even allowed to communicate with them. They affected to despise trade as unworthy of their exalted station. The consuls were looked upon as the mere chiefs of the mercantile houses, and possessed no power or jurisdiction over their citizens or subjects frequent- ing the ports other than such as the latter chose to concede to them. As late as 1839 the consul at Canton, in writing to the Secretary of State, called attention to some humiliating demands of the author- ities sought to be required of him. in the form of his correspondence, and says : " These trifles seem to show their determination never to permit a foreign nation to presume on an equality with their own." The arbitrary course frequently taken by the authorities of Canton against foreign shipping and merchants is explained by the fundamental maxims of Chinese intercourse with foreigners, some of which are as follows : " The bar- barians are like beasts, and not to be ruled on the same principles as natives. Were any one to attempt con- trolling them by the great maxims of reason, it would tend to nothing but confusion. The ancient kings well understood this, and accordingly ruled barbarians with misrule." The term " barbarian " was the usual epithet applied to all foreigners, much in the same


spirit in which the term was used by the ancient Greeks as including all who were outside of their civilization and culture. For instance, in an official report of a customs employee of Canton we find such expressions as the following : " The barbarian Marks, [a merchant] residing in the English devil factory; . . . the bar- barian Just, residing in the French devil factory." Twenty years later Lord Elgin, backed by a British fleet and army, in a dispatch informing his govern- ment that he had made the Chinese retract the word "barbarian" in an imperial decree, candidly says: "I confess that I very much doubt whether they have any other term which conveys to the Chinese population the idea of a foreigner." l

We have seen that the British and other European governments had made vain efforts, by imposing em- bassies sent to Peking, to establish political intercourse and secure greater facilities for trade. The govern- ment of the United States occupied a more favorable position with the Chinese authorities than those of Europe because of the fact that its intercourse had been marked by no violence or offensive disregard of the imperial policy or regulations, and that it had man- ifested no disposition to despoil the nations of the Pacific of their territory. But the Chinese government had shown such a deep-rooted prejudice against for- eigners and so determined a policy of exclusion that it seemed useless for the United States to attempt to open

1 Consular Archives, 1839 ; 1 The Chinese, Davis, 68 ; N. A. Review, 1860, p. 163. As to American consuls and their status, 5 Chinese Re- pository, 219 ; 6 Ib. 103.


up political relations, notwithstanding the great neces- sity felt by American merchants for better protection and freer commerce. But the trade with the Pacific countries had become so important and profitable, and was in such an unprotected condition, that the govern- ment found itself impelled to the adoption of measures for the improvement of its commercial relations with these countries.

The exposed condition of this commerce attracted general attention because of the murder of the crew and the plundering of the ship Friendship, of Salem, Mass., in 1831, by the natives of Sumatra. The melan- choly event was twice referred to by President Jackson in messages to Congress, and was the immediate cause of the dispatch of a special agent by the government, with two naval vessels, " for the purpose of examining, in the Indian Ocean, the means of extending the com- merce of the United States by commercial arrange- ments with the Powers whose dominions border on these seas." 1 Edmund Koberts, of New Hampshire, a large ship-owner, who had spent much time abroad engaged in mercantile pursuits, and who had visited the Eastern countries and become acquainted with the condition of affairs in that distant region, had, through Senator Woodbury, of his State, previously urged upon the government the propriety and timeliness of mea- sures for the enlargement and better protection of American commerce in the Pacific. The President was stirred to action by the unfortunate disaster to the

1 2 Messages and Papers of the Presidents, by J. D. Richardson, Wash- ington, 1896, pp. 551, 596 ; Treaties of the U. S., 1887, p. 1380.


Friendship, and Mr. Koberts was selected and dis- patched on his mission in the United States ship Pea- cock, accompanied by a naval schooner, in 1832. Trade had already been established with Siam and Muscat, but was conducted under embarrassing conditions. As early as the middle of the seventeenth century a liberal monarch of Siam had entered into relations with the English, Dutch, and French. Louis XIV. of France had sent imposing embassies to Siam and negotiated with the king treaties of amity and commerce ; 1 and when the United States attained independence its ad- venturous seamen profited by this established commer- cial intercourse, but the trade was subject to pecuniary extortions and vexatious impositions. It was deter- mined that the first efforts towards treaty negotiations should be with Muscat, Siam, and possibly Annam, leaving China and Japan to a later and more propitious time.

Clothed with full powers to negotiate treaties and bearing autograph letters from the President of the United States to the sovereigns of the countries named, Mr. Roberts passed the Cape of Good Hope and sailed first for Manila and Canton, and thence to the countries to which he was accredited. Upon his return to the United States he writes that the unprotected state of the trade from the Cape to the eastern coast of Japan was painfully impressed upon him. Not a single man- of-war was seen waving the national flag over its exten- sive commerce in that wide region ; the merchantmen

1 Relations de la France et du Royaume de Siam, Lanier, Versailles, 1883.


were totally unprotected. He cites the fact that in a single year one hundred and one American ships visited the ports of Java, and he looked hopefully forward to the time when the hardy sons of the ocean, while filling the coffers of their country, might enjoy the protection of their country's flag.

The treatment of the Peacock on the arrival of Mr. Roberts at Canton illustrates the spirit of the authori- ties at that single commercial port of China. As soon as the imperial commissioner was informed of her arrival off the port, he issued an edict, in which he stated that " having ascertained that the said cruiser is not a merchant-ship, nor a convoy, and that she has on board an unusual number of seamen, cannon, and weapons, she is not allowed, under any pretext, to anchor, and create disturbances. Wherefore, Let her be driven away. And let the hong merchants, on receiv- ing this order, act in obedience thereto, and enjoin it upon the said nation's tae-pan [captain] that he order and compel the said ship to depart and return home. He is not allowed to frame excuses, linger about, and create disturbances, and so involve offenses, that would be examined into and punished. Let the day fixed for her departure be reported. Haste ! Haste ! A special order." Mr. Roberts states that no notice was taken of this edict, and the ship remained for six weeks after it was issued. The inefficiency of the Chinese navy at that time was such that, he says, the Peacock alone could have destroyed the whole "imperial fleet," and have passed up to Canton and back with a leading wind, without receiving any material injury from the


forts, as their guns were firmly imbedded in stone and mortar, and could only be fired in one direction. 1

From Canton Mr. Roberts sailed to a port of Annam or Cochin-China, in order to communicate with the seat of government at Hue. He was met at the coast by officials of the government, and frequent parleys and correspondence ensued, which resulted in failure. Mr. Roberts records the spirit of these as follows : " The insulting formalities required as preliminaries to the treaty by the ministers from the capital of Cochin-China left me no alternative, save that of terminating a pro- tracted correspondence, singularly marked from its commencement to its termination by duplicity and pre- varication in the official servants of the emperor." The first obstacle encountered was in the effort to secure the transmission of a copy of President Jackson's letter to the emperor. The officials stated that " the President, being elected and promoted by the people, and not pos- sessing the actual title of king, it behooved him to write in a manner properly decorous and respectful ; on which account it was requisite for the translation to be exam- ined in order to expunge improper words." They also insisted upon seeing the original letter, which was sealed. Mr. Roberts refused to comply with these demands, the negotiation was broken off, and he sailed away.

During the conferences the officials raised some ques- tion as to the right of Mr. Roberts to communicate with the minister of state, because of his lower rank. When they asked him what were his titles, he replied that there was no order of nobility in the United States.

1 Roberts's Embassy, 431.


They insisted, however, that a person who held such an important position under his government as he must have titles, and they were desirous to know them in order to ascertain if they were equal in number to those of the minister of state. Mr. Roberts concluded to humor them. The principal deputy, having prepared his Chinese pencil and a half sheet of paper, sat down to write. Mr. Roberts remarked that it would require a whole sheet, which surprised them, as their minister's titles would not require a half sheet. He thus began : Edmund Roberts, a special envoy from the United States, and a citizen of Portsmouth, in the State of New Hampshire. He then proceeded to add to his titles the names of all the counties in the State. The scribe's paper was full, but it had taken much time owing to the difficulty of translating the names into Chinese, and many counties yet remained. It was his purpose, when the list of counties was exhausted, to proceed with the names of the towns, mountains, rivers, and lakes of New Hampshire. Fresh paper was obtained, but the official said that the list already exceeded the titles of the highest person in the empire. The scribe looked weary, and, as the ship was rolling, he complained of a head- ache. Further record of the titles was postponed till the next day, and no more objection was made on the score of the American envoy's rank. 1

Mr. Roberts met with a more favorable reception in! J>iam, where a fair degree of liberality towards foreign- 1 ers had prevailed for two centuries. Within twenty-/ two days all the formalities of reception, giving of/

1 Roberts's Embassy, chap. xiii.


presents, and exchange of visits required by the oriental customs had been complied with, and a treaty of amity and commerce signed. The treaty bears the date of March 20, 1833, and is the first diplomatic instrument ever executed by the United States with a ruling power of Asia. The preamble to the treaty states that " one original is written in Siamese, the other in English ; but as the Siamese are ignorant of English and the Ameri- cans of Siamese, a Portuguese and a Chinese translation are annexed, to serve as a testimony to the contents of the treaty. It is signed on the one part with the name of the Chan Phaya-Phra-klang, and sealed with the seal of the lotus flower (of glass); on the other part it is signed with the name of Edmund Roberts, and sealed with a seal containing an eagle and stars."

By the terms of the treaty the obstacles to trade and impositions upon it were in great measure removed, a barbarous penalty as to debts was abolished, fixed cus- toms and port charges were agreed upon, and the gen- eral results of it were to place American commerce with the country upon a more friendly footing. The pre- sents for the king on signing the treaty consisted of silks, elegant watches set in pearls, and silver filigree baskets with gold rims and enameled with birds and flowers, besides gifts to officials of the court. And be- fore his departure Mr. Roberts was informed that upon the exchange of the ratifications of the treaty the king would expect the following additional presents : Five pairs of stone statues of men and women, some of natu- ral and some of larger size, clothed in various costumes

1 Treaties of United States, 992.


of the United States ; ten pairs of vase lamps of the largest size, of plain glass ; one pair of swords, with gold hilt and scabbards, the latter of gold, not gilt,

shape of blade a little curved. 1

On the way from Siam to Muscat, to whose sultan Mr. Roberts bore a letter from the President, the Pea- cock touched at one of the ports of the Malayan Penin- sula. In exchange of civilities with the officials, the captain of the man-of-war made a present of some to- bacco to one of the Mohammedan princes, who expressed his thanks in a letter, from which, as illustrative of the style of correspondence of the place and period, the following extract, in translation, is made : " By the mercy of God : This friendly epistle is the dictate of a heart very white, and a face very clean, written under a sense of the greatest respect and most exalted love, permanent and unchangeable as the courses of the sun and moon ; that is from me a gentleman Tumbah Tuah of Bencoolen, Rajah, &c. Now may God the Holy and Almighty cause this to arrive before the face of his glorious excellency, Colonel Geisinger, the head man who commands in the American ship-of-war, which is now at anchor off Rat Island. Furthermore, after this, the object of this letter is to acknowledge the present of American tobacco sent to me. Wherefore I return praise to God and my expressions of gratitude

thus much ! " 2

The sultan of Muscat at that day ruled over a large - extenFloflerritory in "ffie "Indian Ocean, extending from \

1 Roberts's Embassy, 247, 314, 318.

2 Ibid. 429.


the Persian Gulf in Arabia to and including Zanzibar in Africa, and his resources were more than adequate to the wants of his government. His subjects were very enterprising, and carried on a traffic in their own vessels to the southern extremity of Africa, to India, Ceylon, Java, and Manila. His navy was the most formidable of any of the sovereigns of Asia, consisting of about eighty vessels, carrying from four to seventy- four guns. With these thriving people the American mercantile marine carried on a considerable trade. Dur- ing the eighteen months preceding Mr. Roberts' s visit thirty-two vessels of the United States had visited its chief port, while the entire navigation of Europe was confined to nine vessels for the same period. In order to protect and develop this trade Mr. Roberts was in- structed to effect a treaty of amity and commerce.

The sultan received the American envoy with every mark of consideration and friendship. Mr. Roberts ob- served a noted improvement in the court ceremonies over those of the countries farther to the east under Chinese influence. He says, " Here was to be seen no abasing, crawling, and crouching, and ' knocking head,' like a parcel of slaves ; but all was manly, and every one stood on his feet." The sultan was a humane and just ruler, and entertained liberal views as to commerce. No ob- stacles were interposed to a treaty, which was speedily concluded, granting trade without any vexatious condi- tions under a tariff of five per cent., with no port charges of any kind. When the usual provision was submitted by the envoy providing for the care of ship- wrecked American seamen at the expense of their own


government, the sultan insisted that this article should be amended so that he would protect, maintain, and return them at his own expense, as, he said, the stipula- / tion was contrary to the usage of the Arabs and to the rights of hospitality. Though the sultan's kingdom has long since been broken up, the convention still appears in the compilation of treaties of the United States, and in its fifth article will be seen this insertion, " for the sultan can never receive any remuneration whatever for rendering succor to the distressed."

To the letter of the President, the sultan replied in most expressive terms, the opening paragraph of which reads as follows : " In the name of God, amen. To the most high and mighty Andrew Jackson, President of the United States of America, whose name shines with so much splendor throughout the world. I pray most sincerely that on the receipt of this letter it may find his Highness, the President of the United States, in high health, and that his happiness may be constantly on the increase. On a most fortunate day and, at a happy hour, I had the honor to receive your Highness' s letter, every word of which is clear and distinct as the sun at noonday and every letter shone forth as bril- liantly as the stars in the heavens: your Highness's letter was received from your faithful and highly honorable representative and ambassador, Edmund Roberts, who made me supremely happy in explaining the object of his mission, and I have complied in every respect with the wishes of your honorable ambassador, in conclud- ing a treaty of friendship and commerce between our

1 Treaties of the United States, 745.


respective countries, which shall be faithfully observed by myself and my successors, as long as the world en- dures." 1

These treaties were submitted by the President to the Senate, and ratified by that body, and Mr. Roberts was sent out a second time in a man-of-war to exchange the ratifications. The ceremony attending the discharge of the duty in Siam was quite impressive. A procession was formed of the officers of the two naval vessels of the United States, which composed the expedition, headed by the envoy, and preceded by the ship's band, and in this pomp and display, the treaty was borne in a box by two officers to the bank of the river. An eye-wit- ness of the ceremony continues the narrative : " Mr. Roberts took the treaty in his hand, and, after holding it up above his head in token of respect, delivered it to a Siamese officer. He also held it above his head, and then, shaded by a royal white silk umbrella borne by a slave, passed it into the boat, where it was received upon an ornamented stand, and, after covering it with a cone of gilt paper, it was placed beneath the canopy. At this moment our band ceased, and that of the Siam- ese began to play. The boat shoved off, and we turned our steps homeward to the merry tune of Yankee Doodle." 2

From Siam the squadron went to Canton, where the vessels received a warning from the Chinese authorities,

1 Roberta's Embassy, 360, 430.

2 3 Presidents' Messages, 53. A Voyage round the World, including an Embassy to Muscat and Siam, by Dr. Ruschenberger, Philadelphia, 1838, p. 319.


similar to the one on the former visit, and to which no attention was given. An oriental plague had broken out in the vessels, and Mr. Roberts was one of its victims, dying at Macao, June 12, 1836. He had ac- quitted himself with great credit on his delicate and difficult mission. He had at all times sustained the honor and dignity of the country in his intercourse with the governments of the East, which had been accustomed only to abasement and servility on the part of foreigners ; but he also secured their good-will by a proper respect for established customs. He sacrificed his life for his country as truly as the soldier who dies upon the field of battle. His countrymen in recogni- tion of his services have erected a monument over his grave at Macao, and a memorial window adorns St. John's Church, Portsmouth, N. H., the place of his birth. He has the honor of being the pioneer in the oriental diplomacy of the United States. His service was the opening chapter in the political intercourse of j the nation with the peoples of Asia and the islands of the Pacific, which was destined to exercise a potent influence upon America and the world. Media:Example.ogg