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Amended the Treaty of Tientsin of 1858


A preliminary amendment specified American merchants bringing goods into one port in China and then to another would only pay customs duties once”.

This preliminary amendment of February 22 1864 was Ratified and Signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

The  only document ever signed by Lincoln dealing with China


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. (

“Treaty of peace, amity, and commerce, between the United States of America and the Chinese Empire”

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.  

In the 1850s, the U.S. and the European powers grew increasingly dissatisfied with both the terms of their treaties with China, and the Qing Government’s failure to adhere to them. The British forced the issue by attacking the Chinese port cities of Guangzhou and Tianjin in the Second Opium War (1857–1858). Under the most-favored-nation clause, all of the foreign powers operating in China were permitted to seek the same concessions of China that Great Britain achieved by force. As a result, France, Russia, and the United States all signed treaties with China at Tianjin in quick succession in 1858.

"Treaty of Tien-tsin"

These treaties granted the Western powers a number of rights and privileges. The number of treaty ports increased, with new ports opened to Western trade along the Chinese coast, on the islands of Taiwan and Hainan, and along the Yangtze River in the interior. With the opening of the Yangtze River, foreigners also gained full access to the interior, and were free to travel and conduct business or missions anywhere in China. British (and therefore, French, American and Russian) diplomats were permitted to establish legations and live in Beijing. The agreements reached at Tianjin also set a new, low tariff for imported goods, giving foreign traders an important advantage. While the British and French used military power to convince China to accept the new treaty agreements, U.S. diplomat John Ward sought, and finally achieved through diplomatic negotiations, an exchange of treaty ratifications in 1859.

On June 14, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Anson Burlingame as minister to China, and in 1862 the first U.S. Legation was established in Beijing. Burlingame developed relations with the reform elements of the Chinese court, and substituted a "cooperative policy...for the old doctrine of violence, one of fair diplomatic action," and agreed that the U.S. would not interfere in the internal affairs of China.

On April 7, 1863, Burlingame and the Chinese government agreed that subject to U.S. ratification, Article 21 of the Treaty of Tianjin was modified

“American merchants bringing goods into one port in China and then to another would only pay customs duties once”.

On January 23, 1864, President Lincoln transmitted “to the Senate a copy of a dispatch of the 12th. of April, last, addressed by Anson Burlingame, Esquire, the Minister of the United States to China, to the Secretary of State, relative to a modification of the 21st. article of the Treaty between the United States and China of the 18th. of June 1858, a printed copy of which is also herewith transmitted. These papers are submitted to the consideration of the Senate with a view to their advice and consent being given to the modification of the said Twenty-first article as explained in the said dispatch and its accompaniments.” The Senate advised and consented to this modification by resolution of February 4, 1864; and it was accepted, ratified, and confirmed by the President, February 22, 1864.

Document signed, Washington, February 22, 1864, being President Lincoln’s original order to amend the Chinese/American Treaty of Tianjin, the second treaty between the two countries. “I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to affix the Seal of United States to my ratification of the exchange copy of a modification of the Twenty-first Article of the Treaty between the United States and China of the 18th of June, 1858, dated this day, and signed by me, and for so doing this shall be his warrant.”


     This is two-fold a unique document in the history of relations between the United States and China. A search of public sale records going back over 40 years fails to turn any other treaty ratification between these two countries having reached the market, nor can we find any other document signed by Lincoln connected with China. The closest thing has been Burlingame’s appointment as ambassador.