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Burlingame, Anson (November 14, 1820 –  February 23, 1870)

Anson Burlingame was born in New Berlin, New York, the son of a Methodist lay minister. At the age of three, he moved with his parents to Ohio, then to Michigan when he was thirteen. After attending common schools as a child, Burlingame matriculated at the Detroit campus of the University of Michigan, graduating in 1841. He formed a law partnership in Boston with the son of George Briggs, a former governor of Massachusetts. In 1843, Burlingame entered Harvard Law School, graduating in 1846. The next year, he married Jane Livermore of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and they had three children.

Burlingame first associated politically with the Free Soil party, proving to be an effective orator for the Van Buren-Adams national ticket in 1848. In 1852, he was elected to the Massachusetts state senate. The following year he served as a delegate to the state constitutional convention. In 1854, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives on the American party ballot. During 1855-56, he changed his partisan affiliation again to help establish the new Republican party in Massachusetts. He was elected to two subsequent congressional terms as a Republican before being defeated in the 1860 campaign. The most notable incident of his congressional career was sparked by his chastisement of fellow-Congressman Preston Brooks for his caning of Senator Charles Sumner in 1856. In response, Brooks challenged Burlingame to a duel. Burlingame accepted and chose rifles as the weapons and the Navy Yard on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls as the site. Brooks, fearing it unsafe to pass through "the enemy’s country," declined, allowing Burlingame to be honored as a hero in the North.
After Burlingame’s electoral defeat in 1860, President Abraham Lincoln appointed him as the U.S. minister to Austria. The Austrian imperial government objected, however, because of Burlingame’s previous outspoken support of Sardinian and Hungarian independence. Burlingame was sent, instead, as the American minister to China, where he was able to earn the trust and respect of the Chinese government. He had urged them to send a diplomatic mission to meet with the Western powers, so when the Chinese government requested in November 1867 that he serve at the head of such a delegation, he resigned the ministership to do so.

Burlingame and the Chinese mission first visited the United States in March 1868. A treaty between the two nations was signed on July 28, and was known thereafter as the Burlingame Treaty. Among its terms, both nations agreed to respect the territorial sovereignty of the other, to protect the privileges and immunities of citizens of the other country who resided in the host country, to guarantee the practice of religious liberty, and to recognize the principle of free immigration. The immigration provision would provoke great controversy. Burlingame and the Chinese delegation then proceeded to meet with representatives of several European nations, England, France, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, and Prussia, negotiating treaties with all except France. Burlingame had just begun negotiations with the Russian government when he took ill with pneumonia. After only a few days, he died on February 23, 1870.

Sources consulted:

Cyclopedia of American Biography; Dictionary of American Biography; Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History


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