The Treaty of Wanghia, signed on July 3, 1844 and ratified unanimously by the U.S. Senate on January 16, 1845, marked the beginning of formal Sino-American diplomatic relations. During this period, “the leading powers of the Western hemisphere . . . turned their attention eastward, and sought, by diplomacy accompanied with suitable demonstrations of force, to open wide the gates which had so long been closed to the efforts of philanthrophy and the commerce of the globe.” Britain had been the first to strike. After defeating China in the First Opium War, the Celestial Empire opened five “treaty ports” to British trade in the Treaty of Nanking (1842). Though put off by the War’s narcotic rationale, the United States became interested when it was effectively excluded from magnificent new trading privileges.
President Tyler commissioned Caleb Cushing, a Massachusetts Congressman, to seek parity for American merchants. Here’s a copy of a $9,000 check Cushing received to defray his travel expenses:
The Treaty of Wanghia allowed American citizens to merchandize equally in the five treaty ports. When in China, they would enjoy the right of extraterritoriality (i.e., to be governed by and amenable to American laws). Americans could buy land and build churches, hospitals, and burial grounds in the five treaty ports. They would pay a fixed tariff, in no case being “subject to other or higher duties than are or shall be required of the people of any other nation whatever.” And there was the more comprehensive most-favored-nation clause: “if additional advantages or privileges, of whatever description, be conceded hereafter by China to any other nation, the United States, and the citizens thereof, shall be entitled thereupon, to a complete, equal, and impartial participation in the same.” No more Nankings.
After Cushing brought the Treaty home, President Tyler transmitted it to the Senate with a (gasp) favorable view toward ratification: