Admiral, I am certainly pleased with my new assignment,” enthusiastically remarked a young Lieutenant (junior grade) who had just received his first orders to the Asiatic Station. “You know things are so very interesting in China now.”
“Come, come, my boy,” replied the gray old retired sea-dog who had sailed China seas since away back, both in sail and steam, and both from ’round the Horn to doubling the African Cape. “Things have always been interesting in China!”
And it emphatically might be remarked, affairs in China will continue to be interesting for a long time to come—in that huge land mass with its teeming millions on the other side of the globe. Indeed, Captain John D. Henley, U. S. Navy, found affairs there intensely interesting, back in 1819, when he sailed the frigate Congress up the China Sea, anchoring in the Pearl River off Lintin Island, sixty miles below Canton— the first vessel of the United States Navy ever to visit Chinese waters.
That Far Eastern cruise of the Congress occurred just thirty-five years after salty old Captain John Green sailed the first American merchantman, the Empress of China, from New York into Chinese waters, back in 1784. Although that initial U. S. Naval voyage of the frigate Congress to China ante-dated by several decades the formal enunciation of the American policy which has since come to be generally known as the “Open Door,” be it said that deeply underlying the objective of that early voyage was the germ of the idea out of which that important segment of our foreign policy was evolved and refined. For, in essence, that naval voyage had as its primary mission the protection, extension, and achievement of equal opportunity for American trade in the land of the Flowery Kingdom. The protection of American trade in this particular instance contemplated offensive operations by our Navy against the pirates who had been especially active in Chinese waters.
Some impression of conditions which then obtained in that quarter of the globe may be gained from the following paragraph extracted from a letter, dated September 22, 1817, from Benjamin C. Wilcocks, American Consul at Canton, to the Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, relative to the pirating of the American merchantman Wabash:
The Ship Wabash, of Baltimore, anchored in Macao Roads, on the 22d of May last (1817), with a quantity of Opium and Seven thousand Dollars in Specie on board; her Commander, G. L. Gault, proceeded in person to this port (Canton), for the purpose of ascertaining the state of the markets; during his absence, on the night of the 26th of the same month, the Wabash was boarded by a boat manned with fifteen Chinese, who attacked her crew, murdered the Chief Mate and two seamen, whose bodies they threw into the sea, wounded the Second Mate and two Seamen, drove four of the crew overboard, two of whom were drowned, two swam on shore, plundered the Ship of all the Specie, thirty-five cases of Opium and many articles of less value, and then left her. The Second Mate died on the 28th, at the Hospital at Macao; the two wounded Seamen have since recovered.
At that period of history the age of fast steamships and the oceanic cable had not yet arrived. The sailing ship thus represented the only means of communication between America and the Far East. Accordingly, a whole year elapsed after the Wabash episode before American repercussion against such piratical attacks upon our shipping in that region manifested itself in Washington, one phase of which is reflected in an extract from a letter, dated May 13, 1818, from Congressman Smith, of Maryland, to the Secretary of the Navy:
There is a strong desire expressed in Philadelphia that Government should send a Frigate into the China Seas to cruize and shew herself to the Malays. It is thought that having such a Vessel of War there would tend to keep those people quiet, and to be considered as some security for our trade against Pirates against all nations .... we are the second trading people in the World, and ought to give respectability to our trade by shewing a Naval Force in every Sea. It would tend greatly to increase the knowledge of our Officers, and employ our Seamen usefully.
I submit the project to your consideration; if it should meet with your approbation, it might perhaps be necessary to prepare a memorial for the Insurance Offices.
Upon receipt of the above letter Secretary Crowninshield immediately referred the matter to President Monroe. And that both the President and the Navy Department viewed with favor the highly important subject of extending our naval protection to American flag shipping in Far Eastern seas is manifest in the following very prompt reply which the Secretary of the Navy addressed to Congressman Smith:
I have the honor to inform you that the suggestions contained in your letter of the 13th instant have been submitted to the consideration of the President of the United states, who fully accords in opinion with the views that you have taken on the subject, and in course of a little time instructions will be given to some of our Ships of War to pay a visit to those Seas.
Whereupon the wheels of the Navy Department were set in motion to prepare a vessel for the proposed cruise to the Orient, the Secretary of the Navy issuing the following directive, dated July 13, 1818, to Admiral John Rodgers, U. S. Navy, President of the Naval Board of Commissioners:
The President of the United States having designated the Frigate Congress to cruise in the Indian Seas, for the protection of our Commerce, I have to request that you will direct the necessary repairs and equipment of that Ship, at Norfolk, as speedily as shall be practicable.
Departing from Hampton Roads, on May 15, 1819, the Congress arrived in the Pearl River, South China, on November 3, 1819, thus marking the U. S. Navy’s initial participation in protecting American flag shipping interests in Chinese Waters. At that period the Open Door policy may be said to have reached only its embryonic stage of development, as no treaty of any description had ever been negotiated between the United States and China. Nor had England—who at that time occupied first place among all nations engaged in the China trade—been any more successful in effecting a trade treaty with the Chinese Empire. Over two decades were to elapse before the United States and China would reach a treaty agreement; moreover, as we shall later observe, our Navy played an outstanding role in the negotiations which finally produced that treaty between the two countries.
Reverting again to the Congress. Although an American consulate had been maintained at Canton for well over a quarter-century prior to that frigate’s visit to China, the Chinese Imperial Government traditionally had looked with decided disfavor upon the presence of any foreign men-of-war within their realm. Thus immediately upon his arrival, Captain Henley encountered the usual hostility from the bellicose Cantonese and other Kwangtung province officials, he being denied the very essential services of a compradore; he also was besieged by a veritable barrage of governmental manifestos and special edicts urging him “to turn about the Vessel and set off back again to your own Country—if you dare or presume to make pretexts in order to linger about, then positively most rigorous measures will be adopted and no indulgence shown. Yield implicit obedience to this, a Special Edict!”
Soon after his arrival, Captain Henley wrote to the American Consul at Canton, commenting upon the inhospitable reception experienced by him at the hands of the Chinese officials:
We have come into their waters, with every disposition to be friendly, and to conform, as far as may be practicable and consistent with our dignity, to their customs, and did not suppose for a moment that supplies, which are necessary not only for our comfort, but our existence, would be with-held.
The trade between the United States and China has become very extensive, and the President has thought proper at the request of a number of our Merchants, to send this Ship here for its protection. Relying upon the friendly intercourse which has always existed between the two Countries, I did not bring a store-ship with me, expecting to receive an abundant supply of such articles, as might be required. . . .
It is my wish, at this time, to avoid anything that might be prejudicial to the Merchants of the United States, as the amount of property now at Whampoa, belonging to them is very great, and a stoppage of trade—the usual proceeding on the part of the Chinese—would be severely felt by all, and ruinous to many. . . .
I request you to obtain, if possible, a Chop, or permission for me to proceed to Canton in my own boat. . . .
Promptly replying in a spirit of helpfulness and understanding, Consul Wilcocks wrote Captain Henley as follows:
Agreeably to your wish I shall make another application for a Chop to permit you to pass the Bocco Tigris in your boats. I am aware at the same time that the Chinese Government conceive such a permission inconsistent with the plan they have adopted of endeavouring to make the time of yourself and Officers so unpleasant as to prevent a frequent repetition of visits from Ships of War. I am of opinion that your presence at Canton will produce a good effect, and therefore hope that you will come up in the first American Vessel which arrives.
Frequent applications have been made to me by the Government, thro’ the Hong Merchants, to hasten the departure of the Congress. I do not think it necessary to trouble you with the transactions of these Chops, as I feel convinced that you alone are the proper judge of the place in which the Ship should be anchored, as well as the length of time she ought to remain in China.
A couple of days later Captain Henley embarked for Canton on board an incoming American merchantman. Upon his arrival at the Kwangtung capital Henley met Consul Wilcocks, who had duly arranged for an interview between the captain and Houqua, the senior Chinese Hong Merchant, on the subject of the frigate’s visit to China.
Houqua “appeared extremely anxious to know our business here,” wrote Henley to the Secretary of the Navy, “the time of our intended departure, etc. etc. notwithstanding he had been repeatedly told, by the Consul, and, at the same time, every assurance given him of the friendly disposition of the American Government, and that the protection of our immense trade was the only object that induced the President of the United States to send the Frigate Congress to China.”
After spending a few days in Canton, with numerous interviews with the Americans there, as well as the Chinese Hong Merchants, ably assisted therein by Consul Wilcocks, Captain Henley returned on board Congress, still riding to anchor off Lintin Island. Although he had succeeded in obtaining authority for the services of a compradore or ship’s provisioner, the Kwangtung officials still regarded the frigate as an unwelcome visitor.
In his letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Captain Henley warmly acknowledged the excellent spirit of cooperation displayed by Consul Wilcocks, “to whom we are indebted for his indefatigable perseverance, in endeavouring to obtain for us a friendly reception from the Chinese Government.”
It should also be stated that some of the American merchants resident in Canton at that time became somewhat disturbed over the presence of the Congress in those waters, apprehensive that the impulsive Chinese might resort to some unpleasant retaliatory measures against them, including the employment of one of their favorite weapons against foreigners, the boycott in all of its ramifications. In referring to this phase of the matter Captain Henley wrote the Navy Department:
I regret to say that our arrival here did in the first instance appear to excite some considerable alarm, even among the American Merchants residing at Canton, so much so that all with a few exceptions only were fearful of having anything to do with us, and to which circumstance I attribute our inhospitable reception in the first instance. These difficulties I however hope are now at an end.
Nevertheless, during his just over a year’s stay in Far Eastern waters, which included a couple of patrols by the Congress down the South China Sea, with calls at Manila, Captain Henley was never able entirely to dispel the spirit of hostility manifested by the Chinese officials towards the frigate’s presence, which continued right up to the very day of her homeward-bound departure, November 23, 1820. It may however, be significantly remarked that, during her cruise in those waters, no piratical attacks occurred against American shipping in that quarter.
Furthermore, over two decades later, when the time finally arrived for negotiating a treaty between the United States and the Chinese Empire, Captain Henley’s unsatisfactory experiences with the Chinese officials potently served as a basis for our Government’s obtaining—along with other treaty privileges—a proper recognition of the rights of vessels of the U. S. Navy when visiting Chinese waters.
As indicative of the state of mind existing in American business and shipping circles respecting the status of the China trade at that period, the following editorial appeared in a Washington, D. C., newspaper anent the expected early return of the Congress from her Far Eastern cruise:
As the Congress Frigate may be expected soon to arrive in one of our ports, we cannot fail then to learn a number of facts peculiarly important to the commercial interests of the Country.
The Congress has now been absent about two years, during which she has traversed a great portion of the Southern Ocean and the Chinese Seas; respecting which but little is known here of a nature that could be turned to advantage. Even in Europe, where the benefits of cultivating a commercial intercourse with the natives of the Indian Archipelago are better understood, it does not appear that the merchants there have availed themselves of this to any extent, although efforts seem to be now making, particularly in England, to turn it to greater account.
The inducements to engage in this traffic are not confined to the obtaining merely of those articles of luxury, utility or comfort, which we have been in the practice of importing from the East. There arises out of it considerations of greater magnitude, and which, if acted upon, would go far to relieve the difficulties now felt in consequence of the stagnation of foreign commerce.
An intercourse with the extensive population of that quarter of the globe, would be opening the door for the disposal of our manufactures among a people who, according to the accounts of all who have visited them, are disposed to cultivate a friendly understanding with trading nations, and have evinced a strong desire to obtain articles of their manufacture.
Particular attention is invited to the expression “would, be opening the door" as used in the last paragraph of the foregoing editorial; this was but an early American connotation of the policy which later was to emerge as the “Open Door” in our trade relations with China.
The industrial revolution which characterized those early nineteenth century days was spreading dynamically from England across the Atlantic to America. Leading American business men and captains of industry, with an eye for the future, thus were rapidly awakening to the realization that export trade in home manufactures and other products would come to exert an increasing influence upon the American economy; they foresaw that the then practically one-way traffic—imports, consisting mainly of so- called luxury items—from Asia would require countering by creating an expanding flow of American goods to the Orient. Obviously, to achieve equality of opportunity with the other Powers, this fast growing oriental trade would require a corresponding degree of progressive evolvement of the American doctrine of the Open Door, as opposed to any policy predicated upon the thesis of “spheres of influence.”
Meanwhile, close upon a full decade was to elapse between the departure of the Congress from China and the arrival there of the next U. S. Naval vessel, which was the sloop-of-war Vincennes, commanded by Captain William B. Finch, U. S. Navy. During that decade American trade with China had enjoyed a very substantial increase, notably in exportation of American textiles and other fabricated goods and products.
It was while the Vincennes was attached to the Pacific Squadron, operating down under the Southern Cross, that Captain Finch, then at Callao, Peru, received Navy Department orders, dated January 20, 1829, directing him to proceed home via the Cape of Good Hope, touching en route at the Society and Sandwich Islands, as well as making a call in Chinese waters in the interest of the American trade:
After leaving the Sandwich Islands, if the wind and weather should permit, it will be useful for you to visit the Port of Canton, where our Commerce is very valuable. As this will depend so much on the state of the winds and weather, it must be left to your own discretion. If you think that it will require more than two or three weeks, it will not be expedient for you to attempt it.
Anchoring the Vincennes in Macao Roads on January 3, 1830, Captain Finch on that date wrote the Secretary of the Navy:
I have the satisfaction to inform you of my arrival at this anchorage after a tedious and (for the latter part) rough passage of 39 days from Woahoa. . . .
I am happy to learn that the American trade and interest was never on a better footing at Canton than at this moment; nearly all of our Vessels have departed for Home; three or four only remain and they will all have sailed in the course of a week probably; some others may be expected here, and at Manila, which we left at Woahoa.
I cannot foresee anything to detain me here beyond a fortnight or so. . . .
As soon as the tardy and suspicious disposition of the Chinese will allow it, I design to make a visit to Canton; probably in the course of a week intercourse may be permitted.
As in the instance of the frigate Congress, Captain Finch’s arrival also brought forth some wordy “special edicts” from the Chinese officials, protesting against the visit of the Vincennes in their waters; the following extracts from one of those verbose documents portrays that, rhetorically speaking, the attitude of the Chinese authorities on the subject of visits of foreign men-of-war in their midst had undergone little if any change with the passing of a decade:
Kwo, acting Keun-Min Foo, &c, hereby strictly prohibits Compradores from clandestinely carrying provisions.
The Pilots have reported that, on the 9th day of the 12th month of the present year, Peen-Che (Finch’s) American Cruizer, having met with strong and adverse winds, anchored in the offing at the Nine Islands, waiting for a fair wind to enable her to set sail, and go away &c.
At the time I made a general Report according to the facts, and sent Despatches to the Civil and Military Officers, to guard and keep a strict watch and to urge her to make haste and set sail, not permitting her to linger about and create disturbances. This is on record.
It appears that when the said Nation’s Cruizers came to Canton, not being for the purpose of giving convoy to their Merchant Ships, heretofore the great Officers of Government have not permitted them to have Compradores.
Being really apprehensive that traitorous and designing natives will clandestinely afford supplies, and the Whampoa Compradores, making a pretext of having Licenses, and aiming at gain, will pretend to carry provisions to English, American, and Ships of other Foreign Nations, and secretly deliver them to the Cruizer; or that Fishing, and Tanka Boats, carrying Provisions and other things, will go alongside and keep up their supplies, by which a heavy offence will be incurred; it is proper to issue a strictly prohibitory Proclamation.
I therefore proclaim to the Military, and the People, to the Fishermen, and those in Tanka Boats, as well as to the Whampoa Compradores &c, for their full information: that if any designing Natives coveting gain, clandestinely carry provisions to the American nation’s Cruizer, or make a false pretext of loading provisions for delivery to the Ships of other Nations, and go to the American to keep up her supplies; immediately on apprehension, they will be severely punished. I will maintain the Laws immoval as a mountain. Positively no indulgence will be shewn. Let every one implicitly obey. Do not oppose. A special proclamation.
(Signed) Tau-Kwang 9th Year, 12th Month, 16th Day (January 10, 1830).
But Captain Finch paid little attention to the foregoing “Edict,” considering it more a matter of form of protestation on the part of the local Chinese authorities, than as an aggressive threat against his presence in their realm.
Shortly after his arrival at Lintin Island anchorage, Captain Finch duly contacted the American Consul at Canton; he likewise communicated with several of the American merchants there, informing them of the Vincennes’ arrival, and offering any services which might possibly be required in respect to American trade interests in China. Some pertinent extracts from a joint reply received a few days later by Captain Finch from the American business men domiciled at Canton are quoted:
We are fully aware of the kind intentions of the general Government in permitting the present visit of your Ship in these waters, and feel particularly obliged to you for the communication now under consideration, and for the interest it evinces for the protection of our trade. . .
We are decidedly of opinion that the fostering care of the general Government for the protection of commerce cannot be extended to one of more importance than the China trade, and that occasional visits of vessels of war will be attended with the most beneficial results.
As American trade affairs along the Canton bund at that time appeared to be in a satisfactory state, with no issues requiring the presence of the Vincennes in those waters, Captain Finch accordingly sailed out of the Pearl River, on January 22, for Manila en route home via the Cape of Good Hope, in continuation of that vessel’s epochal world girdling cruise. Thus, just as the frigate Congress on her memorable voyage to the Far East had registered a “first” in being the initial vessel of the U. S. Navy ever to visit Chinese waters, so also was the Vincennes on this voyage to achieve the record of being the first vessel of our Navy to circumnavigate the globe; her nautical achievement in this instance, moreover, brings to pertinent mention here of another famous ’round-the- world cruise, made over three-quarters of a century later by the U. S. Battleship Fleet, commanded by Admiral “Fighting Bob” Evans; similarly, also, a prime objective of that battleship cruise was the “showing of the Flag” in the interest of American trade and other national commitments in the Far East.
Over two years elapsed between the departure of the Vincennes and the arrival of the next American man-of-war in Chinese waters; indeed, during the year 1832, two vessels of our Navy called in those waters: one of them was the frigate Potomac, Commodore John Downes, U. S. Navy, which anchored off Macao, on May 18, for water and refreshments, en route home via the Pacific, after having accomplished her mission of revenging the attack by Malay pirates on the American merchantman Friendship, at Quallah Battoo, off the West coast of Sumatra; the other was the sloop-of-war Peacock, Captain David Geisinger, U. S. Navy, which also anchored off Macao, in November, 1832, having on board Mr. Edmund Roberts, who had been sent out as American Envoy to attempt negotiating commercial treaties with Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat. As another instance of our Navy’s traditional interest in American trade protection, it is here worthy of note that, in addition to his duties connected with the Roberts Mission, the Navy Department’s instructions to Captain Geisinger, as issued through his immediate superior, the Commander of the U. S. Squadron on the Coast of Brazil, contained the following paragraph specifically respecting the China trade:
He [Captain Geisinger in Peacock] is then to repair to Macao and communicate with Canton and render in that neighbourhood all necessary protection to the lawful commerce of American Citizens. In respect to its present condition and future prospects, required him to be very particular and full in his enquiries and reports, which you are required to forward to this Department.
Finding American commercial affairs in the Canton area progressing satisfactorily, with the Stars and Stripes flying serenely over the compound of the American Factory there, Captain Geisinger occupied himself principally with details connected with his forthcoming cruise to the southward, with the Roberts Mission on board; he thus sailed the Peacock out of the Pearl River estuary, on December 29, 1832, bound for Cochin- China.
The next visit of an American man-of- war to China occurred four years later, when the sloop Vincennes, Captain John H. Aulick, U. S. Navy, anchored in Lintin Roads, on January 2, 1836, after a voyage across the Pacific, this being that vessel’s second visit to Chinese waters. And as in the instance of her first visit to China (1830), her second visit also had as its primary objective the protection of American trade in that quarter. Some pertinent extracts from Secretary of the Navy Woodbury’s very comprehensive orders to Captain Aulick, as issued through the Commander, U. S. Pacific Squadron, read as follows:
She (Vincennes) must visit if practicable, without great delay or danger, the Feejee and Pelew Islands, enquiring for and taking on board any American whalermen, or Citizens on any of them, who are desirous to return to their native country; and touching at Macao in China, and Qualah Battoo on the West coast of Sumatra, for the protection of our commerce in those quarters. . . .
I wish him [Aulick] to be critical in his enquiries and reports as to the condition of our trade in those quarters, the advantages it enjoys compared with those acceded to other Nations, the general treatment of our citizens, and any other circumstances supposed to be beneficial either to the commerce of our Country and the security of those under its Flag, or to the Naval Establishment, whose welfare and reputation abroad are so justly dear and so fully confided to the gallant Officers of our Service.
Reading between the lines in the foregoing extracts from the Navy Department’s orders of over a century ago, to Captain Aulick, one discerns the unmistakably clear implication of Uncle Sam’s dynamic fostering of the steadily evolving policy of the Open Door and equality of opportunity respecting American trade with China. In those early days there was no Department of Commerce, and our Navy was thus called upon to make commercial reports upon trade conditions abroad, as well as appraising affairs in the diplomatic realm.
Other than the usual wordy bombardment by the local Cantonese officials against his anchoring at Lintin, Captain Aulick found American commercial affairs at Canton and Whampoa going along smoothly; issuing of their governmental “edicts” against the presence of foreign men-of-war had now come to be considered definitely as purely routine, and as possessing a nuisance value only. Captain Aulick therefore sailed for home, on January 24, 1836, via Singapore, on this the Vincennes’ second world-girdling cruise.
By way of chronological sequence mention should here be made of the visit to Chinese waters in 1836, of the sloop-of-war Peacock, Commodore Edmund P. Kennedy, U. S. Navy, accompanied by the U. S. Schooner Enterprise Commander A. S. Campbell, U. S. Navy. These two vessels had come to the Orient bearing the Roberts Mission on board, Mr. Edmund Roberts having returned to Cochin-China, in the Peacock, where he again failed to negotiate a treaty with that country. While there both of these vessels contracted cholera on board, and proceeded to Macao to hospitalize their patients, arriving at that old Portuguese outpost in May, 1836. Commander A. S. Campbell died there on June 3, and Mr. Edmund Roberts died on June 12, both being buried in the picturesque old British burial ground at Macao, their graves having been appropriately marked by tombstones which may be seen to this day. The visits of those two vessels there marked the first instance of two U. S. Naval vessels showing the Flag and calling in company in Chinese waters. They returned home via the Pacific.
The outbreak of the Opium War between England and China, in 1839, was destined to bring forth a new phase in the relations between China and the United States, thus marking a further important step in the evolution of our policy of the Open Door with the Celestial Empire. But before proceeding to the details of that phase of our subject, reference should first be made to the visit to China of the frigate Columbia, Commodore George C. Read, U. S. Navy, in company with the sloop-of-war John Adams, Captain Thomas W. Wyman, U. S. Navy, the latter of whom, incidentally, was a lieutenant on board the frigate Congress during her epochal cruise to China two decades before.
The Columbia and John Adams, coming via the Indian Ocean, arrived and anchored off Macao, in April, 1839, during the Anglo- Chinese opium conflict; and at which time some Americans of Canton were allegedly involved in the opium crisis, as well as allegedly assisting the British in their trade war with the Chinese. According to the Chinese Repository, which was then being published at Macao, Commodore Read expressed himself locally as follows on the subject:
The trade carried on under our Flag between Canton and Hong Kong appears to be pregnant with evil, and I regret to find that men who were considered prudent, are largely engaged in it. The————has come down laden with a cargo for an English Ship at Hong Kong, and her Master informs me, that two of the first American houses are about employing constantly two Ships to supply the British shipping with cargoes.
If any misunderstanding should grow out of this, our Countrymen will have themselves alone to blame for it, and cannot expect the aid of Men-of-war to assist them in doing wrong. . . .
No active display of armed force was required of the Columbia or the John Adams during those parlous times of their visit in Chinese waters. The following pertinent marine item is extracted from a Macao newspaper, dated August 6, 1839:
The U. S. Frigate Columbia, Commodore Read, and the U. S. Sloop-of-war John Adams, Captain Wyman, left the Chinese waters for the Sandwich Islands. These ships have suffered much from sickness during their stay here. No doubt it would be for the honor and farther interest of the United States, if their Government would keep a small Squadron constantly in these seas.
We come now to a most important event in the history of trade and diplomatic relations between the United States and China: the arrival in Chinese waters, in 1842, of the famous old frigate Constellation, flying the broad pennant of that able old sailorman- diplomat, Commodore Lawrence Kearney, U. S. Navy. Incident to the Anglo-Chinese Opium War which had been raging since 1839 in the Canton area, with its threatening and otherwise general dislocating effects upon American business interests there, our Government decided upon dispatching two U. S. Naval vessels to that disturbed quarter. Designated for this duty were the Constellation and the sloop-of-war Boston, under the command of Commodore Kearney. The following very professionally interesting extracts are quoted from the Navy Department’s operation orders to Commodore Kearney, dated November 2,1840:
Arriving at the scene of Naval operations on the coast of China, should you find a legal blockade established by the British force, it must be respected. If communication with the Country is open, you will communicate with the Consul and give all lawful and necessary assistance to the persons and interests of American Citizens, at the same time paying due respect to the laws, authorities and customs of the Chinese People and Government, which last you are aware has from time immemorial been governed by a peculiar system of Foreign and domestic policy different from all others.
With this you will be careful not to interfere, but on the contrary, will avail yourself of every opportunity, to impress on the Chinese people and Government, the friendly disposition of the United States, and their determination to encourage only such trade as may be recognized and sanctioned by the Imperial will; that it is the uniform policy of the Government, which you represent, never to interfere with the Laws or Rights of other Nations, and to preserve peace with all, by a just interchange of mutual good offices; that our Vessels-of-war visit that and other Countries to protect our Citizens from Pirates; and other unlawful interruptions, and not to uphold them in violating the laws and commercial regulations of any Nation whatever.
You will take occasion to impress upon the Chinese, and their authorities, that one great object of your visit, is to prevent and punish the smuggling of Opium, into China either by Americans or by other Nations under cover of the American Flag, should it be attempted.
Thus when the flagship Constellation, accompanied by the sloop Boston, Commander, J. C. Long, U. S. Navy, arrived and anchored in Macao Roads, on March 22, 1842, the beginning of a new era in Sino-American relations was ushered in—an era marked by unprecedented direct negotiations entered into by our Naval and Consular authorities with the Chinese governmental officials of the Canton area, and which finally was to lead to consummation of the first treaty between the two countries. Further evolution in our Open Door policy was again on the march.
At that particular period some Americans resident in that area had been charged by the Chinese with engaging in the illicit Opium trade. Being apprised of this upon his arrival, Commodore Kearney promptly made his position unmistakably clear on that subject by addressing the following forthright communication to the American Consulate in Canton, which later was widely published in the Canton press upon the request of our consular authorities there:
U. S. Ship Constellation,
Macao Roads, 31st March 1842.
The Hongkong Gazette, of the 24th instant, contains a shipping report in which is the name of an American vessel engaged in carrying Opium,— therefore, I beg you will cause to be made known with equal publicity, and also to the Chinese authorities by the translation of the same, that the Government of the United States does not sanction “the smuggling of Opium” on the coast under the American Flag in violation of the laws of China.
Difficulties arising therefrom in respect to the seizure of any vessel by the Chinese, the claimants certainly will not, under my instructions, find support or any interposition on my part, after the publication of this notice.
Your obedient servant,
(Signed) L. Kearney,
Commanding the U. S. East Indian Squadron. To the United States Consul or the Vice-Consul, Canton.
Furthermore, Commodore Kearney decided upon taking the Constellation up the Pearl River and anchoring her in Chinese inland waters, off Whampoa, in order that he might be in closer proximity to the Kwang- tung governmental authorities during his designed negotiations with them—another unprecedented act. The Constellation thus registered another “first” in her historic career by being the initial U. S. Naval vessel to pass above the Bocca Tigris forts. A colorful description by one on board the frigate during her unprecedented cruise up the River is recorded as follows:
On the 11th of April, a little before noon, we stepped into the barge from the Praya Grande; and in an hour or so we reached the Constellation, lying off in the Macao Roads, five or six miles from shore. Two pilots were already on board, and the men, keeping time to music, soon raised the anchor, and spread the sails to a fine breeze, which in a few hours carried us above Lintin Island.
Early next morning the Frigate was again under way, and about noon came to an anchor a mile or two above Wangtong, where a small party went on shore. . . . The Forts, like all others at the Bogue, are heaps of ruins, in some places hardly one stone being left upon another. . . .
At sunrise on the morning of the 13th, the Constellation moved over the Second Bar; and at 4 P.M. took up a good berth in the Southern Channel (sometimes called the Blenheim Passage) just below Dane’s Island. . . . The Constellation is, we believe, the first vessel from the Government of the United States, that ever anchored in the Chinese inner waters. . . . To avoid giving offense, and at the same time to afford opportunity to the Chinese to learn something of the character of the Squadron, and the object of its visit, no small degree of prudence was requisite. For several days neither men nor boats were allowed to leave the ship. At reasonable hours of the day, the boats of the Compradore were allowed to come alongside for provisions. There were also some visitors from the Merchant vessels at Whampoa. . . .
In the meantime, the American Vice-Consul at Canton, having had occasion to communicate with the Governor, announced the arrival of the two American ships-of-war. . . .
The narrator of the above description of the cruise up the river also gives an interesting account of the manner in which Commodore Kearney established direct contact with the Chinese governmental officials. He continues:
On the 22d, an armed boat, under the charge of a trusty officer, was dispatched for the first time to the Provincial City (Canton). She passed up through the barrier, close under the guns of the Forts, and by an immense flotilla of War boats and junks, without being hailed or in any way molested. Some little excitement was caused when the boat reached the landing-place, and the party stepped on shore in front of the Factories; but not the slightest disturbance was created. From this time one or more boats went almost daily to Canton. . . .
On the 27th, about noon, Mr. John G. Reynolds, First Lieutenant of Marines, arrived at the Consulate with a dispatch to the Governor. A messenger was immediately sent into the City, intimating that the bearer of the dispatch would wait its reception only till 4 o’clock, and that within that time he would deliver to an Officer from the Governor, either at the Consulate or at the Public Hall of the Hong Merchants.
At 3 o’clock P.M., the arrival of the Kwangchau hie, the Chief Military Officer in the Department, of the rank of Colonel, was announced as in waiting at the Hall.
Lieutenant Reynolds proceeded thither, and, on entering the Hall, the Officer rose from his seat, and came forward to receive him. The formalities of compliments, &.c. finished, the dispatch was presented and received in due form, and the two Officers took leave. Lieutenant Reynolds having gone in full-dress, attracted not a little attention. An immense throng was collected as he came out of the Hall and passed down the street, all preserving the most perfect silence and good order.
Two days after this, His Excellency the Governor, gave his reply, sending it direct to the Commodore on board ship, by the hand of an Officer of the rank of Captain. The whole of the subsequent correspondence was conducted in like manner.
And, one might add, the Marine having landed, the Commodore had the situation well in hand!
It was by consistently displaying just such tact, square-shooting, and keen diplomatic acumen that Commodore Kearney established for himself, both with the British and the Chinese, an enviable reputation for firmness, fairness, and forthrightness. Little wonder, then, that his cruise on the China Station was crowned with such distinguished success in settling amicably the existing differences between American business interests and the Chinese in that highly-charged area. Also notable was the marked impetus which he gave to the further development of our policy of the Open Door, as well as his memorable service in laying the ground-work for establishing the first Sino-American treaty. By his far-seeing view of the situation, supplemented by clear-headed action, he set the stage for gaining for the American Government all the rights of the most favored nation in our intercourse with the Chinese Empire.
In particular Commodore Kearney succeeded in getting Chinese commitment to grant the United States the same rights as were obtained by the British in their Treaty of Nanking with China; he moreover received from both the British and the Chinese a draft of the essential provisions of that treaty, which he promptly dispatched home, with his strong recommendation that our Government immediately undertake to negotiate a treaty with the Chinese Government upon the same terms as were granted the British at Nanking. What a shining example of sailorman-diplomacy at its best!
The following editorial remarks which appeared in the Macao press anent the departure for home of Commodore Kearney, bears significant tribute to his notable achievements in those waters:
The United States Frigate Constellation, Commodore Lawrence Kearney, left these waters for Manila of his return home, on April 21st, 1843, having remained on the Station. 13 months. During this time the Commodore has had more official intercourse with the Chinese officials than has ever before been held by American officers altogether, and this intercourse has been conducted on terms of entire equality. Commodore Kearney has, we believe, obtained the objects sought for in his coming here. . . .
The next important development in Sino- American affairs, and one in which the United States Navy was intimately associated, occurred on February 24, 1844, with the arrival in Macao Roads of the U.S.S. Brandywine, flying the flag of Commodore Foxhall A. Parker, U. S. Navy, and having on board the Honorable Caleb Cushing, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States to the Court of Peking, who came out formally to negotiate a treaty with China. This Treaty was finally negotiated and signed by Commissioner Cushing, on the part of the United States, and by Commissioner Kiying, for China, on July 3, 1844, at Wanghia, near Macao. On the following day Minister Cushing issued from the U. S. Legation at Macao the following public notice to “the Americans residing in China”:
The Minister of the United States has the pleasure to announce that yesterday, at Wanghia, he concluded and signed with the Imperial Commissioner Kiying, a treaty of peace, amity and commerce between the United States and China.
The terms of the Treaty, which will in due time be made public by the proper authorities, are such, he is happy to say, as he believes will confirm the good understanding which already exists between the two Governments, and if ratified, prove beneficial to the commerce and interests of the citizens and subjects of both countries.
The Minister of the United States congratulates his Countrymen on this event, and offers them, on this Anniversary of the Independence of their Country, his hearty wishes for their health and prosperity, and joins them in their aspirations for the continued peace, welfare and glory of the United States.
And that the efficient handiwork of that eminent old sailor and diplomat, Commodore Lawrence Kearney, U. S. Navy, was reflected in every paragraph of that Treaty is now conceded by all.
Comes now another important contribution by the United States Navy to this colorful cavalcade of Sino-American relations and the developing policy of the Open Door: the departure from China, on August 27,1844, of Minister Cushing, on board the U. S. Brig Perry, the Minister having with him the Treaty which he was conveying home for ratification by our Government. The following contemporary editorial appeared in a Macao paper:
His Excellency, the American Minister to China, Mr. Caleb Cushing, embarked on his return to the United States, on August 27, 1844, (just six months since he landed), in the U. S. Brig Perry, Commander Payne, direct for San Bias, from whence he will proceed through Mexico on his way to Washington.
So far as we can learn, and our opportunities for doing so have been many, the mission for Mr. Cushing in China has been a successful one—a good commencement to the diplomatic intercourse between the two Nations.
If the Treaty of Wanghia is ratified, and we doubt not that it will be by the High Contracting Powers, and its stipulations adhered to by the Citizens and Subjects of both Countries, we see no reason why there should not be “perpetual peace,” as the phrase is between them.
If the Citizens of the United States, (and indeed of all Western Nations) avail of their opportunities to acquaint the Chinese with whatever will inform them and make them better, the inhabitants of this Country will find no reason to regret the extension of their foreign intercourse, but rather desire a more extensive—because they find it more advantageous—intercourse with other Nations.
Another contemporary news item bearing upon this particular phase of our thesis was also published in the Macao press: “A notice, signed by ‘Foxhall A. Parker, Commanding U. S. Naval Forces East India Station,’ dated ‘U. S. Flagship Brandywine, Bocca Tigris, September 14, 1844,’ announces that the Treaty of Wanghia had been sanctioned in every particular and approved by the Emperor, was lately circulated among American residents in China.”
The culminating sequel to events connected with the Wanghia Treaty, and through which the “U. S. Naval angle” intriguingly continues to thread, began with the arrival in Chinese waters, in 1845, of the U.S.S. Columbus, flying the flag of Commodore James Biddle, U. S. Navy, bearer of that Treaty which had been duly ratified by the United States Government. The Commodore had been commissioned by our Government to exchange ratifications of the Treaty with the Chinese Commissioner, which ceremony took place in China on December 31, 1845. The following human interest description of that historical ceremony is quoted from a Hong Kong newspaper, dated January 8, 1846:
On the 31st December 1845, according to previous arrangement, the exchange of ratification of the American Treaty with China took place at Poonting, the place agreed upon between the Chinese and American Commissioners.
In consequence of Mr. Everett having been prevented by illness from accomplishing his proposed mission to China, the execution of the present grateful duty was entrusted to Commodore James Biddle, U. S. Navy, to whom the full powers conferred upon the principal Commissioner had been delegated. The Commodore is one of the oldest Commanders in the United States Navy, and fifteen years ago was a negotiator of a treaty with Turkey.
That gallant Officer, with his suite, arrived at Poonting shortly after the Chinese Commissioner, who received him with his wonted urbanity and self possession. After the compliments and ceremony usual on such occasions, the copies of the Treaty were produced and compared by the Interpreters, and Commodore Biddle taking the American copy in both hands, made a short and appropriate speech and delivered the Treaty to Kiying, who then handed him the Chinese copy signed by the Emperor.
The party thereafter partook of a repast served in the Chinese style, and separated about 8 o’clock, due honor having been done to toasts devoted to the Emperor of China and the President of the United States.
Thus was finally forged the first link in the chain of American Open Door policy in China, by which the United States obtained all rights of the most favored nation in her intercourse with the Chinese Empire, including all privileges resulting through opening up of the five Chinese “treaty ports” to foreigners. Over half a century later, in 1899, the master link was inserted in that chain under the able statesmanship of Secretary of State John Hay.
Yes, the old Admiral was right when he said, “Things have always been interesting in China!”