Angell Treaty of 1880

The Law: Agreement allowing the United States to regulate, limit, or suspend immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States

Date: Signed on November 17, 1880

Significance: By placing restrictions on the number of Chinese workers permitted to immigrate to the United States, the Angell Treaty marked a turning point in the U.S.-Chinese relationship on immigration issues that paved the way for the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which suspended Chinese immigration for ten years.

In 1880, James Burrill Angell, president of the University of Michigan, was nominated as minister to China by U.S. president Rutherford B. Hayes. Angell was confirmed by the Senate on April 9, 1880. Angell’s first task was to negotiate changes to the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 that would reduce the number of Chinese immigrants moving into the western United States. Angell and fellow members of the treaty commission to China, John F. Swift and William Henry Trescot, traveled to Peking (now Beijing), China, in June, 1880, to seek an agreement.

Using the argument that Chinese laborers did not readily assimilate into American culture, Angell and his colleagues negotiated a treaty to regulate and limit the immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States but not to prohibit it outright. The resulting AngellTreaty was signed on November 17, 1880, and proclaimed U.S. law on October 5, 1881. This treaty ended free Chinese immigration to the United States and separated U.S. trade interests from the immigration issue. It also provided an avenue for anti-Chinese lobbyists to push for an exclusion law. Most of the protections that the treaty secured for Chinese immigrants were reversed by passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Alvin K. Benson

Further Reading

Lee, Erika. At America’s Gates: Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

McClain, Charles J. In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle Against Discrimination in Nineteenth-Century America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

See also: Anti-Chinese movement; Burlingame Treaty of 1868; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese Exclusion Cases; Chinese immigrants; Page Law of 1875; Taiwanese immigrants.

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