He writes the previous Ambassador to inquire as to the requirements of a Minister in Canton
American trade with China began as early as 1784, and American merchants imported such fine Chinese products as furniture, porcelain, silks and tea. China bought furs, sandalwood, and ginseng from the U.S., but American interest in Chinese products outstripped the Chinese appetite for these American exports. That meant an imbalance of trade,...
American trade with China began as early as 1784, and American merchants imported such fine Chinese products as furniture, porcelain, silks and tea. China bought furs, sandalwood, and ginseng from the U.S., but American interest in Chinese products outstripped the Chinese appetite for these American exports. That meant an imbalance of trade, one that the U.S. shared with the British and other Western powers. The British had already discovered a great market in southern China for smuggled opium, and American traders soon also turned to opium to supplement their exports to China. Beyond the health problems related to opium addiction, the increasing opium trade with the Western powers meant that for the first time, China imported more goods than it exported. China objected, which led to the First Opium War between Great Britain and China, from 1839 to 1842. After defeating the Chinese, the British were in a position to make a large number of demands from the weak Government of China, in the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of Nanjing.
Not to be outdone, in 1844 U.S. negotiators concluded a similar treaty with the Chinese, called the Treaty of Wangxia, which was the first formal treaty signed between the United States and China. It replicated many of the key terms of the Treaty of Nanjing, the Chinese readily agreeing to do this in an effort to keep all foreigners on the same footing. Most importantly, the treaty established five treaty ports as open for Chinese-Western trade (Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai). These treaty ports became key crossroads for Western and Chinese culture, as they were the first locations where foreigners and foreign trading operations could own land in China.
Relations with China were not developed and still taking form. Trade was insubstantial. Caleb Cushing served as Ambassador of the US to the Qing Empire China for a few months. No Ambassador was present in 1845, and the Alexander Everett took the position in 1846 for a subsequent 6 months. John W. Davis took over in 1848, after another extended vacancy and served there from 1848-1850, the first Minister to serve there more than a year. Davis left in 1850 and Webster looked for another Minister to represent the US in China. To better understand what would be required for the Ministerial expenses for a position still taking form, he wrote to Davis. He would need the expenses to appropriate the funds.
Letter signed, Department of State, Washington, January 21, 1851, to John W. Davis. “Dear Sir, I will thank you to inform me what sum in your opinion would be sufficient to enable a Minister of the United States to live respectably yet economically at Canton.”
The verso of the letter contains a note from a family member stating that Davis had passed away and sending this as a memento to an inquirer.
Davis’s response was prompt and detailed and is published in the papers of the State Department.
The next Ambassador to China would not take his position until 1858, Humphrey Marshall of Kentucky, who would serve only 6 months.
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