Rush-Bagot Treaty: History & Significance

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

The Rush-Bagot Treaty significantly eased tensions between Britain and the United States. Explore the history and significance of this landmark diplomatic agreement as well as begin to recognize and understand cyclical patterns or themes in history. Updated: 09/15/2021

Cyclical Patterns in History

When studying history, it is important to identify reoccurring themes. Many historians have identified these as 'cyclical patterns' in history, or events that transpire over time with similar overtones or outcomes. Some useful examples of this include the Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817 and the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922. These events are separated by over 100 years, but both had a similar objective in outcome: to ease war tensions and encourage diplomacy. While this lesson will focus solely on the Rush-Bagot Treaty, please continue to look for cyclical patterns in order to achieve a better understanding of the past!

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: The Oregon Trail: Westward Migration to the Pacific Ocean

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Cyclical Patterns in History
  • 0:43 The Rush-Bagot Treaty
  • 1:19 Structuring the Treaty
  • 3:25 Legacy of the Treaty
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

The Rush-Bagot Treaty

The Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817 was a milestone in American diplomacy during the 19th century. Remember, the United States was in its developmental stages during the period of 1810-1820. The nation was still ironing out its diplomatic aims, and this treaty represented a major benchmark.

The Rush-Bagot Treaty took place between the United States and Great Britain following the War of 1812 and its goal was to significantly eliminate both countries' burgeoning naval fleets stationed in the Great Lakes. Both nations aimed to ease tensions as a way to prevent another Anglo-American war.

Structuring the Treaty

The United States had demonstrated a desire to reduce the number of naval vessels on the Great Lakes since the 1790s. The U.S. unsuccessfully attempted to include a disarmament clause in an earlier treaty during the 1790s, but Britain refused to accept the proposal. The period during and after the War of 1812 witnessed an increase in the development of naval vessels in the Great Lakes region. It could be argued that this was the first major arms race the U.S. was a part of. Both countries accelerated their ship-building capacity and flooded the Great Lakes with vessels.

Fortunately, before another war could erupt, the United States and Britain realized that their expenditures on an arms race had spiraled out of control. Another war would have financially crippled both countries (remember, the U.S. and Britain only recently ended the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812). This led to the decision of both countries to begin reducing military strength in the region.

In 1816, the United States reached out to Britain to show it was serious in negotiating a lasting disarmament by sending John Quincy Adams as a special ambassador to Britain. Adams encouraged disarmament and pacification on the Great Lakes to British Foreign Secretary Viscount Castlereagh. Castlereagh responded favorably and delegated Charles Bagot, Minister to the United States, to begin discussing the terms of limitation. In a series of exchanges, Bagot worked out a tentative agreement with Secretary of State James Monroe. Since the deal was not completed before Monroe became president in 1817, Charles Bagot finalized the disarmament agreement with Acting Secretary of State Richard Rush.

The Rush-Bagot treaty called for a total disarmament of the Great Lakes by both the United States and Britain. Navigation within the lakes was curtailed to two 100-ton armed vessels per lake. The agreement stated that the vessels could only be used if defense was necessary. The House of Representatives and Senate both quickly passed the agreement, successfully ratifying the Rush-Bagot Treaty on April 28, 1818.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account