Anson Burlingame (1822-1870)

Anson Burlingame, Mai 1868

Brief account of his life and career from Harper’s Weekly, May 30, 1868, pages 344-346 (Illustrated Article)


He was born in New Berlin, New York, November 14, 1822. His father moved to the "Western Reserve", Ohio, when the son was quite small, and from there to the (then) Territory of Michigan. He entered the Detroit Academy and the branch University of Michigan at Detroit, and went through the regular course, making an impression by his oratorical powers. From there he entered the Harvard University Law School, under Justice Story; took the degree of L.L.B., and opened an office at the Old State House, Boston, the firm being Briggs & Burlingame, the Mr. Briggs being a son of the late Governor Briggs of Massachusetts.

During the political campaign of 1848 Mr. Burlingame entered upon political life, taking an active part in the Free Soil movement, and finally became a member of the Republican party. Shortly after he graduated from the Law School he was sent to the Massachusetts Legislature as Senator, and was Chairman of the Committee appointed to conduct Kossuth through New England, and was subsequently elected a member of the Constitutional Convention from the town of Northboro’, although he lived at Cambridge. Governor Boutwell, Charles Sumner, and R.H. Dana, Jun., were elected at the same time, according to the old English borough system. Mr. B., advancing rapidly, was sent to Congress in 1853 from Boston and Cambridge, and served six years as a member of the House of Representatives. He took part in the contest which resulted in the election of N.P. Banks as Speaker. When Charles Sumner was assaulted, Mr. B. got the floor, and made his celebrated denunciation of that infamous act in that never-to-be-forgotten speech. Smarting under the wrongs of Massachusetts, he threw down the glove to the pro-slavery men of the South, and declared himself ready to defend freedom of speech and the State he represented on any field they might be assailed. Preston S. Brooks, of South Carolina, sent a challenge. Mr. Burlingame accepted, and named the rifle. His father, a pioneer of the Daniel Boone type, though a stern old Puritan, had taught his son to be a "dead shot." The "fire-eater" Brooks was probably aware of this unpleasant fact, and failed to respond. During Mr. B.’s Congressional career he spoke but little, but always to the point, as the record will testify. During the exciting political campaigns of 1856 to 1860 he canvassed the whole country, speaking in almost every State, and addressed many literary societies on the great topics of the day. Mr. Lincoln, shortly after his inaugural, tendered him the mission to Austria. Austria refused to receive him, because he was instrumental in raising the mission to Sardinia from the second to the first class, thus recognizing that great idea of Count Cavour’s, "the unification of Italy." This act of Austria might have been questioned; but as the United States had a war at home to settle, it was thought better to transfer Mr. B. to China, and attend to Austria at a more convenient time.

In 1847 Mr. Burlingame married the daughter of Hon. Isaac Livermore, of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Mr. Burlingame’s career as Minister to China is well known. With Sir Frederick Bruce, Mr. Bertheny, now at Washington, Mr. Ballerzech, the former, and Mr. Vlangally, the present Russian Minister, he laid the foundations of the "co-operative policy" now adopted by the chief Treaty Powers, and sustained by their present representatives at Pekin. This policy substitutes fair diplomatic action for the old doctrine of force, guarantees the autonomy of China, and proposes co-operation on all material matters in this Empire. He made the draft of this co-operative policy, which received the assent of his colleagues as an authoritative history and exposition of it. He drew up an elaborate paper giving a construction of the different treaties upon a great number of hitherto doubtful points. This received the approval of his colleagues. He led the opposition to the "Concession Doctrine," under which it was proposed to take concessions of land at the different Treaty ports. This, if persisted in, would have led to the disruption of China. This view has been sustained by the Treaty Powers also. At the request of Mr. Burlingame Confederate pirates were excluded from Chinese waters. He was made referee in the Lay-Osborn difficulty; and he settled it to the satisfaction of England and China.

He induced the Chinese Government to employ an American geologist, Raphael Pompelly, who has demonstrated that the coal-mines of North China are of great extent and abound in coal of superior quality. Through the same enlightened influence, Wheaton’s "Elements of International Law" have been translated into Chinese by the Rev. W.A.P. Martin, D.D., published at the expense of the Imperial Government, and adapted as a national text-book. Mr. Burlingame proposed, some time since, that an American College should be established at Pekin, using for the purpose the "Indemnity Fund." Our Government has approved of this, but Congress has not yet acted. The Chinese, however, at the suggestion of Robert Hart, Inspector-General of the Imperial Maritime Customs, have opened a college, of which the venerable Seu-Ki-Ou, the eulogizer of Washington, is the Chinese, and Dr. Martin, the foreign, head.

The great cause of missions has found in Mr. Burlingame an ardent supporter, and has advanced, from the South far beyond the "Great Wall;" and now the good seed is planted in the broad plateau of Mongolia among the named tribes of that vast region. The first grant of a submarine telegraph connecting the Treaty ports from Canton to Tien-tsin, was made to Mr. Burlingame in 1865. Under the corporative policy the trade of China has advance from $82,000,00 to $300,000,000. Several hundred foreigners have been taken into the Chinese Civil service; and, under the direction of Mr. Hart, they are doing much to civilize China.

The greatest step, however, in the interests of civilization is the request of the Chinese to Mr. Burlingame to represent them at the Courts of all the Treaty Powers. Sir Rutherford Alcock said: "It is the greatest complement ever paid to any man, and Mr. Burlingame deserves it." Mr. Burlingame was on the point of visiting the thirteen Treaty ports and then returning to the United States. Prince Kung had invited him to a farewell banquet, and during the ceremonies said: "Will your Excellency represent us officially as well as non-officially at the Courts of the Treaty Powers?" Mr. Burlingame supposed it was a graceful Chinese compliment, said that he would represent them unofficially as a friend, and the conversation passed into other channels. He was very much surprised when Mr. Brown, the Chinese Secretary of the English Legation, called on him a few days after with a formal proposition from the Prince Regent Kung tendering him the mission. Mr. Burlingame, after very serious consideration and grave consultation with his friends, determined to accept it. He instantly communicated all the facts to his colleagues. They very kindly approved and rejoiced at this progressive step taken by China. Prince Kung came in solemn state to the United States Legation and presented the Imperial decree, which bears date November 26, 1867, and is written on heavy yellow parchment, wrapped in yellow brocade satin, the Imperial color, and encased in a yellow box. He has given him the title of Embassador, and clothed him with the most ample powers.