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The American Opium Trade




Jonathan Lewy


Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of history. The allowances one makes for oneself are often condemned when done by others. This article discusses the American involvement in the opium trade in East Asia, as it existed under the shadow of the British Empire. Where English traders blazed the trail, Americans soon followed, capitalizing on the opportunities provided by their former colonial master. The pages that follow show how the United States took a vital part in the opium trade until the drug was legalized in China. They also explain why American firms slowly withdrew from the trade, allowing the United States to distance itself from opium at the close of the century. The American drug policy in the 19th century in Asia served as a prelude to the prohibition of the following century within the United States The purpose of this article is to set the stage for the American involvement in the trade, and expose it for what it was: extensive.

The American trade in China has drawn the interest of numerous scholars over the years; volumes upon volumes were written about this topic in an almost endless stream of publications that are almost impossible to recount here. And yet, new material is readily available. Using new and familiar sources, this article enjoys from a renewed interest in the topic after the “Chronicle of the China Trade” exhibition at the Baker Historical Library of the Harvard Business School that was on display in late 2012.

The Harvard collection is probably the best in the world for the study of the American trade in China. It possesses the papers of all the major American players in the trade, with a complete account of Augustine Heard & Co., partial accounts of Russell & Co., as well as the personal papers of William Wetmore, John Perkins Cushing, the Forbes family and others who were involved in the trade. The location of this treasure trove in Boston is fitting. Most of the American opium traders were native to the Massachusetts Bay area, with a few others from Rhode Island and Connecticut. Robert Bennet Forbes was born in Jamaica Plain, John Perkins Cushing settled in Belmont, and in fact was the person who separated it from Watertown, making it his own private estate. Many of the opium clippers that were built under the supervision of the traders were built in Salem or Medford (sailing down the Mystic river to Boston Harbor). Those traders who were not part of the Bostonian clique, such as John Cleve Green and Abiel Low of New York were almost seen as foreigners in a strange land.
8968005Just as most American traders in the Far East did not speak Chinese, this article does not deal with the Chinese reaction to the trade or sources, unless it is absolutely necessary. This is an American story, and not one of reciprocity. It does not include the tale of Portuguese, Pharsee, Jewish and Arab opium traders either. Nor does it deal with copious amounts of opium that entered the Celestial Kingdom overland from Russia and Kokand. The reasons for these omissions are twofold: One, although British and American traders were not the only opium dealers in town, they were by far the most important ones. Two, their story is long and detailed. It is more than enough to fill a whole book, much less an article that is too long as it is.

The Opium Trade in the 19th Century

To satisfy demand at home, European and American traders first used specie, rather than commodities, to acquire tea and silk, resulting in an intolerable trade deficit that threatened silver reserves of the European powers and the United States. Since Chinese merchants were only willing to buy opium and silver from the West, the solution to avert economic disaster was at hand.[1] The East India Company, which had inherited a monopoly over the cultivation of poppies from the Moghul Empire,[2] auctioned large quantities of opium in Calcutta to merchants who then shipped the drug into the port city of Canton in China. In exchange for opium, Chinese merchants traded silver, silks and teas, which in turn were shipped to Europe where they remained in high demand. Save for two unsuccessful attempts to directly smuggle Indian opium to China in 1781 and 1782, the East India Company refrained from dirtying its hands in the illegal trade.[3] Instead, it created an elaborate system of auctions and credit, making concessions to other companies and firms, predominantly British and Indian which were dubbed ‘Country Traders,’ to smuggle the drug into Chinese ports. In a matter of decades, the trade proved to be so lucrative as to change the balance of payments, since Chinese merchants were more than willing to part with their silver for opium. This gave birth to a healthy opium trade, which, in turn, created a panic among those Chinese officials who feared the loss of specie.[4]

The function of the trading firms in China changed over the years. The first Western agency houses settled in Canton as facilitators of the China trade, charging commission on buying and selling commodities for other merchants. The American Augustine Heard & Co., for example, usually charged eight percent of the value of the commodity.[5] China, trying to keep the foreigners as far away as possible, reluctantly agreed to temporarily settle the traders in Canton in the ‘Thirteen Factories,’ or trade houses, under strict control.[6] Laws forbade foreigners from learning the native tongue or bringing their families ashore. The number of Chinese employed by foreign firms was limited to eight and all transactions had to go through Chinese traders called Hongs, who acted more like financial agents of the government than traders.[7] The Chinese authorities, keeping their own biases against merchants, considered foreign trade a form of tribute. No foreigner had direct access to the Chinese market, nor was it possible for a foreigner to contact the Chinese government on equal terms.

In practice corruption ran rampant and enforcement was lax.[8] The temporary settlement became permanent as traders stayed in the Thirteen Factories all year long rather than just during the trading season. Contraband, namely opium, was traded in relative peace after bribes were given to stave off local bureaucrats. Opium was not the sole article banned in China. Restrictions were numerous and odd. One such peculiarity involved the prohibition on importing iron pans. Aside from illegal opium and iron pans, legal articles, like clocks, were also smuggled into China to avoid duties and taxes, especially after 1821.[9]

Since opium was in highest demand, many foreign firms turned to speculation and traded in opium themselves, as well as acting as agents on commissions for other companies who had no foothold in China. As agents, the firms handled consignments to Canton from other companies, who bought opium in the Calcutta auction, and arranged it to be shipped to China. As traders, the firms bought opium in Calcutta, Bombay, Smyrna or elsewhere and fitted their own ships to carry the precious cargo to Canton. As speculators, the firms kept floating depots, called store ships or receiving ships, stocked with opium off the Chinese shores, waiting to sell the drug when the market was most favorable.[10] At the heyday of the opium trade in China, the two largest firms were British: Magniac and Co., later reformed as Jardine, Matheson & Co. Ltd. in 1832, and Dent & Co founded in 1824. A distant third was the American Russell & Co. founded in 1818.[11]

The mechanics of the opium trade, at least until 1821, remained rather simple, existing alongside legitimate trade, as dictated by Chinese officials. Foreign ships en route to Canton stopped at the anchorage at Whampoa about fifteen kilometers down river from the city, where they met with Chinese smugglers and conducted their opium business. Since the Chinese patrols rarely reached Whampoa, or were bribed away by native smugglers, Westerners did not believe they were engaging in an illicit trade. They only provided the smugglers with their wares. The Chinese customs officials in turn were content to keep their eyes averted when necessary, only managing to focus their sights on the bribes offered to them.[12] Many foreign traders, including Americans, understood the bribes taken by Chinese officials of all grades, from the Imperial household’s tax officer (Hoppo) to the individual merchant houses (hong), as tacit acceptance of the trade by the Imperial court.[13] The bribes facilitating the opium trade had become so blatant to the point that the most senior American trader in Canton in 1828 called them an ‘insurance.’[14]

America enters the Chinese Trade

The first American ship to reach China, The Empress of China owned by a conglomerate headed by the financier Robert Morris, docked in Canton in 1784.[15] Her appearance signaled the beginning of American direct interest in the Asian trade, which brought into China irregular shipments of cotton, furs, aromatic woods, sealskins, sea slugs and otter pelts, but mostly silver in the form of Spanish dollars. It took nineteen years for American traders to carve a share in the opium trade to China, not due to lack of desire, but for want of means.[16] Until the expansion westward to California and the gold rush that ensued in 1849, the United States lacked precious metals to enable trade. As a result, American merchants, especially from New England and New York, had to find creative ways to fund their trade. They resorted to trade in cotton, tobacco and furs for specie in Europe and South America, which was brought back to the United States and later used to buy commodities in China.[17]

The demand for Chinese commodities was so great that from 1805 to 1827 more American specie than merchandise entered Canton. For example, almost two million dollars entered China in silver in 1816, while only slightly over half a million dollars worth of merchandise was exported the same year. The following year, just over a million dollars worth of merchandise was received in Canton as opposed to four and a half million dollars in specie.[18] In 1818 American specie and British and Indian commodities imported to China were estimated at twenty-six million silver dollars. Chinese exports amounted to twenty million silver dollars, leaving a six million deficit, justifying the Chinese panic for loss of silver on paper. In practice, however, this was not the case since the American share in the trade amounted to seven million dollars in silver, causing the balance of trade to be against the West.[19] While the Chinese bureaucrats were panicking over their silver reserves, it was clear that if American traders continued this trade, the United States would suffer from a silver shortage, a fact that was raised in the House of Representatives in 1819.[20] Not until 1826 had the balance of trade turned against China.[21]

As the Chinese appetite for opium increased, American traders found other methods of trade. They exported cotton and tobacco to London, where they drew interest-bearing bills from London banks, such as Barings Brothers & Co., taken against either specie or more likely the exported commodities.[22] Upon arrival in China, they would sell the bills to English or Indian firms dealing opium in Lintin or Canton for silver acquired from Chinese opium purchases. The silver gained in these transactions allowed the American merchants to buy the much coveted Chinese silks and teas. Once in the hands of English traders, the bills were redeemed in time for the next tea and opium trading cycles. By the late 1830s, more than half of the American trade was based on bills.[23] The triangular trade between America, Europe and China helped both Americans, who were in dire need of specie, and the trading firms in Canton, who could secure the money gained from their opium deals, cashing the bills in London, Calcutta or elsewhere. In time, Chinese merchants were also willing to accept the bills in exchange for commodities, using the bills to buy opium from Europeans. The Chinese acceptance of the bills reduced the American need for specie to satisfy the demand for Chinese goods at home and in Europe.[24]

American involvement in the opium trade did not remain in the abstract realm of financial instruments such as bills. The lack of specie encouraged merchants to deal in opium directly. At first, the American merchants were hindered by the necessity of procuring their supplies from Turkey and Persia rather than India. In 1805, the Baltimore brig Entan arrived in Canton from Smyrna with forty-six chests and fifty-three boxes of opium, the equivalent of roughly three tons, signaling the arrival of the Americans in the direct opium trade.[25] Although the amount was rather small by the standards of the day, the route was deemed profitable enough to continue.

John Jacob Astor, the German-born merchant who died the wealthiest American of his time, took an early interest in the opium trade. Making his money in the fur and pelt trade with Indians, Astor’s American Fur Company turned to China in 1802, sending at least one or two ships a year. After the company flooded the Canton market with American furs and pelts, Astor imitated the English merchants and turned to opium, which his company acquired in Turkey. In 1808, when the United States passed the Embargo Act, precluding the United States from foreign trade, Astor received special presidential permission to continue trading with China.[26] When the Chinese enforced their laws with more vigor in 1821, Astor abandoned the opium trade and diverted his attention to the Manhattan real-estate market.  But Astor’s involvement in the trade did not stop overnight; his opium was not only directed to Canton, but also occasionally surfaced in New York until 1825.[27]

Other trading firms were also involved in the direct opium trade. On 12 March 1828, Robert Bennet Forbes, at the time a captain for Russell & Co., sailed with the Danube from Boston to Smyrna, carrying on board a small cargo of coffee, 20,000 dollars in specie and a note from Barings Brothers & Co. bank in London worth 60,000 pounds sterling. Upon arrival in Smyrna he contacted the firm’s agent, Joseph Langdon, with instructions to buy as much opium as possible with the proceeds from the coffee and dollars. Forbes then sailed with the Danube to Gibraltar, where he transferred crew and cargo to the Bashaw heading to Canton, carrying on board about a thousand chests of Turkish opium, or roughly sixty-three tons.[28] The proceeds from this trade, together with the Barings bank note, allowed the firm to buy teas and silks, which were sent back home. Forbes returned back to the United States in January 1830 with 17 opium cases in the Bashaw’s cargo hold with the intent of selling them in spring when the market was expected to be favorable.[29]

Lack of English interest in Turkey brought American merchants to achieve a near monopoly over the Smyrna-Canton trade.[30] When the East India Company became concerned with the competing Turkish opium, it implemented a plan to increase opium cultivation and production in India. The concerns of the Company proved to be unfounded because Chinese merchants did not hold Turkish opium in high regard and the prices offered for it were comparatively low to Indian opium, hardly making the route profitable. And yet, the route remained active well into the 1830s.[31]  Regardless, the association of the United States with Turkish opium was so great as to astound the Imperial Commissioner in Canton in 1839 that Turkey was in fact an independent state and that it took over a month’s time at sea to sail from one country to the other.[32]

Before the hostilities between Britain and its former colonies subsided in 1815, American firms, such as Bryant & Sturgis of Boston, and J. & T. H. Perkins of Boston, represented by Perkins & Co. in Canton, began setting up their own network of agents. In a few years this grew into a network of clippers and receiving ships that spanned from London, Smyrna and the Persian Gulf to Canton.[33] In 1814, J. & T.H. Perkins’ ship Jacob Jones captured two British ships carrying opium, which they sold in Canton after breaking through the British blockade of the city. According to Thomas Perkins’ biographers, it was this incident that prompted the firm’s interest in the opium trade.[34]  After 1827, American firms were also involved in the trade with Malwa opium, or opium from Western India, which was, to the chagrin of the East India Company, rivaling their own monopoly in Patna opium from Eastern India.[35] Similar to their British counterparts, American agencies served as facilitators of the trade with China. Paid by commission, these firms handled shipments of commodities and specie of other merchants in Canton. American firms also began to speculate and trade in opium, manning ships for that purpose. Despite the official stance of the East India Company and the bad blood after the War of 1812, British and American collaboration flourished among the free traders and firms. The cooperation with their former colonial masters was not lost on the Chinese, who called the Americans “second chop Englishmen.”[36] However, Robert’s youngest brother, John Murray Forbes reminisced that cooperation between American and English traders only eased after the East India Company relinquished its monopoly over the Asian trade in 1834.[37]  At the time, however, Joseph Coolidge, a newly arrived partner in Russell & Co., feared the exact opposite, since the abolition of the monopoly meant that the English country traders no longer needed American financial instruments and could compete with American traders on equal footing.[38]

The Second Phase of the American Trade

After the murder of an old Chinese woman committed by a sailor aboard the American ship Emily carrying opium in 1821, the Chinese authorities could no longer turn a blind eye to foreign abuses.[39] They cracked down on the illegal opium trade that brought unruly sailors to their port. As a result, the store and receiving ships were driven out from their anchorage in Whampoa to the island of Lintin, far away from the Chinese forts at the mouth of the Canton River.[40] The new opium trade in Lintin bore a marked resemblance to the trade in Whampoa. Foreign ships would transfer their opium to store or receiving ships, such as Jardine, Matheson & Co.’s Hercules, Dent & Co’s Jane and Charles Forbes, Bryant & Sturgis’ Tartar or Russell & Co.’s aptly named ship Lintin,[41] anchored off the shore of the island, ready to conduct business with smugglers. The Chinese smugglers, in turn, bought the opium in Canton from one of the agents ashore, but received the drug only from the store ships down the river, thus rendering the opium trade virtually risk free from the foreigners’ perspective.[42] Once loaded with the contraband, the smugglers would sail upriver to Canton, or to any other Chinese destination.[43] Officially, the trading Hongs were barred from the opium trade. As a result, country traders often dealt with Chinese smugglers directly. This was one of the major causes of the Hongs financial instability, as they could not rely on the most profitable trade of the time.[44]

Westerners did not think of themselves as drug smugglers, but believed they were traders who dealt with opium outside Chinese territorial waters. Chinese officials, though recognizing no such thing, were both helpless and disinclined to stop the trade because they, too, benefited from it. In an attempt to downplay the opium trade, subterfuge was still necessary to conduct trade; for example, John Perkins Cushing explained to the partners of J. & T.H. Perkins & Sons. in Boston the new situation, urging them to instruct their captains to call opium ‘gum’ to avoid any inconveniences.[45]

After the store ships moved to Lintin, European and American traders understood that they could fit opium clippers to sail up and down the Chinese coast, selling their wares to anyone who crossed their path.[46] Thus, in a sense, the Chinese attempt to chase off the opium trade from Whampoa only widened the opium traders’ access to illicit Chinese markets. The number of traders steadily grew. Attracted by the lucrative trade, Samuel Russell and Philip Ammidon founded Russell & Co.. Many notorious traders made their wealth while working for the firm such as John Cleve Green, William Henry Low (first working for Minturn & Champlin of New York), Augustine Heard (later founded his own firm after supporting Joseph Coolidge who was displaced by Robert Bennet Forbes),[47] and Warren Delano Jr. (representing Russell & Sturgis in Canton, but joined Russell & Co. in 1839 just before Forbes dispute with Coolidge. Shortly thereafter he also became the American Consul in Canton). In 1829, Russell & Co. acquired Perkins & Co and became the largest American firm to trade in opium. The acquisition and merger of large agency houses in Canton was merely an economic rearrangement rather than a sign of hard times.[48] Fortune begat fortune as wealthy Bostonian families flocked to the opium trade in China, creating, uniting and expanding firms. John Perkins Cushing, head of Perkins & Co. in Canton since 1803, amassed such wealth in China that he made a name for himself apart from the rest of the Cushing clan, which was not known to lack in means, returning home after over twenty years with seven million dollars.[49]

The change in names of firms did not cut the familial ties as jobs were assured for family members. Thomas Tunno Forbes, who replaced Cushing, died two years after his arrival Canton. His brothers, Robert Bennet and John Murrey Forbes, arrived in Canton soon afterwards. Robert remained in China and became a partner in Russell & Co. in Canton, whereas John served three terms in China, after which he moved on to become one of the railroad tycoons in the United States. All three brothers were nephews of Thomas H. Perkins, one of the founders of the original Perkins firm that traded in opium. He was also the uncle and stepfather of John Perkins Cushing.[50] Other wealthy Bostonian and Salem families, such as the Bryants, Cabots, Higginsons, Paines, and Peabodys to name a few, were all involved in the opium trade whether in Canton or invested in the trade at home.[51]

New York firms, such as Astor’s American Fur Company, competed for the China trade with their fellow Bostonian countrymen and British firms. Thomas H. Smith, who received three million dollars of government-deferred import tax credit, reinvested the money in opium for tea trade. Smith went bankrupt when the prices of tea plummeted in 1826. In his and Astor’s wake, six new firms, founded in New York, joined the competition with Russell & Co. over the America-China trade. Of these, Abiel Abott Low, William Henry Low’s nephew, was most noteworthy. Low joined his uncle in Canton, rising through the ranks of Russell  & Co. until he felt secure enough to open his own firm, A. A. Low & Bros. in 1840, engaging in the opium-tea markets by taking the advantage of fast American built opium clippers, which could carry up to 350 tons of cargo faster than any other ship in coastal China.[52]

Between 1812 and 1821, opium accounted for six to fifteen percent of the American trade in China, the bulk of which was still based on silver.[53] In 1831 and 1832, opium consisted one fifteenth of American imports.[54] These figures, however, are restricted to the amount of opium procured in Smyrna and shipped to Canton. The amount of money gained by American firms in Canton who acted as agents for the opium trade in Lintin or who shipped opium in consignment from Calcutta is impossible to ascertain, other than the fact that many American merchants returned home wealthy after few years of business in China; and successful business in China usually meant trading in opium.

Though lucrative as the opium trade might have been, morality also played a role in the Chinese trade for some Americans. Two notable firms refrained from dealing with opium on moral grounds. Olyphant & Co., a firm from New York City, settled in one of the Thirteen Factories in Canton where it had also supported missionary work, attaining the derogatory nickname of ‘Zion’s Corner’ from its fellow countrymen.[55] Wetmore & Co., another American firm was more than willing to deal with opium until 1839, when the growing tension between China and the foreigners caused the Chinese authorities to demand from all traders a pledge that they would refrain from the opium trade. Many firms had made the pledge, but only Wetmore & Co. kept its word even after the Opium War ended against China in 1842. The firm went bankrupt in 1856.[56] These two firms remained a minority, leaving the wealthier firms to deal with opium. Individuals working for opium carrying firms objected to the trade as well and refused to carry the drug to china. For example, one captain named Charles Cary who worked for Parkinson & Co. refused to carry opium to China, thereby forgoing a thousand percent increase to his pay.[57]

In the Name of Free Trade

20432555The Opium War, 1840 – 1842, was ostensibly fought over Britain’s right to trade in opium. An attempt to summarize the war in brief might lead one to think that in supporting its rule in India, Britain, by way of the East India Company, forced opium on the Chinese, who in turn supplied the money required to rule the company’s possessions and the demand of teas and silk at home. A closer look reveals that the British monarchy was not keen to enter an armed conflict with China, a country it had always wanted as a trading rather than a sparring partner.[58]

Opium was not favored in either London or Washington, but was necessary for trade and benefited the economies of both countries. Unbeknownst to the Chinese, the Latin American revolutionary wars in the beginning of the 19th century caused a world silver shortage, crippling European and American ability to trade with China. This, in turn, lowered the influx of silver into China, which had relied on South American silver since the mid 18th century for half of its silver reserves. The world silver shortage may very well have been the real cause of the Chinese panic regarding its dwindling silver reserves, and was certainly the reason why Europeans and Americans deemed opium necessary to maintain the trade.[59]

After the economic depression in Britain and the Panic of 1837, when banks in the United States defaulted on their specie commitments, American traders were particularly inclined to resort to commodities to maintain the trade in China and opium was in high demand.

According to a leading historical analysis, the opium trade itself was one of two causes for the inflation that prompted euphoria and the real-estate bubble that burst in 1837. Mexican silver accumulated in the United States as interest bearing bills were used to finance the opium trade, instead of specie. This led to inflation and excessive land speculation that culminated in the Panic. Consequently, this economic crisis was a side effect of the American opium trade.[60] Yet, John Perkins Cushing and the other senior opium traders, who are blamed for the situation, never thought they were responsible. In a letter to a former Chinese trading partner, Houqua (at one point considered the wealthiest man alive), Cushing explained the Panic: “The great cause of these troubles is overtrading and the immense speculations in the Wild lands, rail roads, etc., etc., which have absorbed much capital, which will be unavailable for many yeas to come, and above all our indebtedness to England whom our merchants are called on to pay… these merchants were unable to pay, cotton prices had fallen, other merchandise was unsaleable.”[61] In fact, the American opium traders were so unprepared for the Panic that Russell & Co. had almost defaulted on the bills it had drawn from Barings.[62] Robert Bennet Forbes’ return to Canton in 1838 was a direct outcome of the terrible losses he had incurred because of the Panic. Here is an example of how historical actors are oblivious to the economic theories developed more than a century later.

Regardless, the economic Panic of 1837 only added more fuel to the fire, as opium production increased in India after the season of 1831 – 1832 (the increase was a response to the American opium from Turkey), and more of the drug was sent to Canton to the point of reaching saturation.[63] Although 1836 was a particularly good year for the opium trade, the opium glut threatened a decline of opium prices by 1838, which would render the trade uneconomical.[64] At precisely this point in time, the Chinese Emperor decided to act.

According to contemporary Chinese censors, myriad reasons caused the Chinese silver crisis: corruption, hoarding of the precious metal, and the depreciation of copper against silver, the former being used by retailers and in the countryside and the latter used for taxes and in wholesale trade. Other censors also blamed opium and the negative balance of payments; in other words, Chinese silver was disappearing into European coffers. In hindsight, opium probably had less to do with the loss of silver in China than the world wide silver shortage, but xenophobia, moral fears and the inability to address loose minting practices prevailed, resulting in laying the blame of China’s ills on foreigners and the drug trade.[65] By the mid 1830s, the Emperor was ready to take action.  Some of his advisors advocated in favor of the legalization of opium since the laws banning the drug were deemed ‘inoperative.’[66] This was communicated to the foreign traders in 1836 and was received in Canton with much anticipation.[67] Yet, legalization was far from the Emperor’s mind by October of 1836, reflecting the internal power struggle between court officials of Manchu and Chinese descent.[68] Instead of enacting taxation on opium, the Emperor sent Commissioner Lin to Canton to stop the trade, which brought about the Opium War.[69]

Upon arrival in Canton in 1838, Lin demanded the cessation of the trade and made the lives of foreigners uncomfortable in their factories: he roused the natives against them, executed Chinese smugglers at their doorsteps, confined them to their quarters keeping them as hostages and eventually demanded that they surrender their opium, which, after some negotiations, they did. It took the Chinese a few weeks to destroy the opium supply, 20,291 chests in all, or over 1,200 tons, or about half of the opium grown in India that year.[70] The part of the American firms was estimated at 7.5 percent as Russell & Co. surrendered 1,400 and Wetmore & Co. surrendered 104 chests of consigned opium.[71] Lin also demanded all foreigners to sign a bond in which they pledged to abandon the opium trade, threatening with confiscations and the death penalty those who disregarded Chinese law.[72]

British traders induced by their government’s representative in Canton, Charles Elliot, surrendered the opium, which led to their release, but refused to sign the bond. Elliot demanded from the Chinese compensation for the destroyed opium, but the Chinese ignored his demand. As a response, many British merchants suspended trade, leaving Canton for Macao or elsewhere.[73] After his departure from Canton on 23 May 1839, Elliot discouraged British shipping from entering Canton and after September even at gunpoint, essentially firing the first shot of the war when trying to prevent an English merchantman from entering the Pearl River.[74] Elliot, sharing his government’s sentiment, was not in favor of the opium trade at all, but had hoped to reach a better trading arrangement with China.[75] Later he understood that the Chinese authorities were too weak to enforce their own drug laws, and consequently formed the opinion that it would be wiser to legalize the opium trade rather than ban it.[76]

Elliot together with the American consul in Canton, Peter Snow, who was simultaneously employed by Russell & Co., tried to persuade American traders to follow the British example, but none agreed.  Instead, the American traders, after some debate, signed Lin’s bond and stayed to conduct business to the very end. Snow’s boss in the firm, Robert Bennet Forbes refused Elliot’s suggestion, reportedly replying to him: “I had not come to China for health or pleasure, and that I should remain at my port as long as I could sell a yard of goods or buy a pound of tea…. We Yankees had no Queen to guarantee our losses.”[77]

Between May 1839 and June 1840, the year that took the British flotilla to arrive in China, tension remained high. Diplomacy, trade and even armed conflict took place between the British and the Chinese. The American traders who stayed were eventually driven out in May 1841, and those few who could not leave suffered the consequences. Joseph Coolidge was apprehended and tortured by the Chinese, and was saved only after someone had identified him as an American rather than an Englishman.[78]

During the year of British embargo, American merchants and agency houses continued on with the China trade. Although not dealing with opium, they picked up the slack from the British, conducting legitimate business for them and reaping the benefits from commissions on the indirect commerce between Britain or India and China. The American trade was so lucrative that a merchantman could make more money from the short voyage between Lintin or Hong Kong to Canton, than from Canton to New York. For example, the English firm Jardine, Matheson & Co. paid the American Augustine Heard & Co. no less than 10 million dollars in commissions for one year alone.[79]

Russell & Co. returned to the opium trade as early as 1842, even though Forbes had signed the bond in 1839.[80] Augustine Head & Co. entered the opium trade during the hostilities since it did not feel bound to Lin’s bond.[81] As time passed, most other agencies, save for Wetmore & Co., reverted back to their old habits. Canton was open to foreign trade, but the war was not over. It took a year for the Chinese to yield and sign a treaty with Britain first in 1842 and a second trading agreement in 1843, abolishing the Canton system and introducing five ‘treaty ports’ for trade. British honor was restored, China was beaten and trade resumed. Soon enough, opium, though not yet legal in China, flowed into the country with fewer controls and British traders enjoyed immunity from Chinese laws, subject only to their own consular laws. Other powers followed the British success. France, Russia and the United States signed treaties with China almost identical to the one with Britain without firing a shot in anger.

During the war, the United States remained neutral. American traders wished to trade in peace and the United States government did not have the inclination or the naval power in the Pacific to force China’s hands. The East India Squadron, composed of the frigate Columbia and the sloop of war John Adams, was committed to the West coast of Sumatra until January 1839, punishing several towns that gave asylum to pirates who had looted opium from American ships.[82] It took the squadron four more months to reach Macao only to find out that Lin besieged two American merchants at the Thirteen Factories in Canton. Snow, the American consul, dissuaded the commodore of the squadron, George C. Read, from forcing his way up river to the city, and so the Squadron remained in Macao until the foreigners were released.

Read feared that English traders would try to smuggle their opium into China flying American colors, but since he felt he could not stop them from doing so, he decided to sail home. He arrived in Boston in June 1840, leaving China without an American naval presence throughout the war, reflecting president Martin van Buren’s disinterest in all things naval.[83]

The war was unpopular in the United States, yet Robert Bennet Forbes and eight other American merchants in Canton appealed to Congress in May 1839 to send a military force in case American interests were threatened, but no such force was sent. They asked that the “‘robbery’ of British subjects by such ‘high handed measures’ be denounced by that legislative body, and that it ‘take immediate measures; and if deemed advisable, in concert with the governments of Great Britain, France and Holland, or either of them, in their endeavors to establish commercial relations… upon a safe and honorable footing.…’ One American trader, William Henry Low, did not wait for any official action from his government, but served the British as a messenger as soon as the fighting began.”[84]

The Americans believed that the Chinese understood only power and might and if the United States sought equal diplomatic and economic relations with China, it needed to involve itself in the war. Thomas H. Perkins, and a group of older China traders who retired in Boston, were less eager to join the bandwagon of war and advised Congress to send a naval presence to impress the Chinese, but urged the legislators to avoid taking sides.[85]

It took two years for the United States and a new president to order a squadron to East Asia. By the time of its arrival in Canton, hostilities had ceased and all that was left for the squadron was to send copies of the Anglo-Chinese peace treaty back to Washington.[86] Whereas American merchants were more than willing to scramble for their share in the opium trade flying the United States’ colors, or shipping opium under consignment for British firms, the United States did not condone the practice. Commodore Lawrence Kearny, the commander of the newly arrived American East Indies squadron, denounced the opium trade and forbade American protection of it in March 1842. A further notice in 1843 cautioned foreigners and Americans alike against trading in opium under the flag of the United States, but American merchants refused to abandon the practice.[87] Without legal recourse to enforce this policy, Commodore Kearny remained impotent. He could do nothing other than stay in the sideline and watch his fellow countrymen make fortunes out of opium.[88]

The American ‘Zion’s Corner’ did not remain silent during the war. One American merchant in China claimed that the war was “one of the most unjust wars ever waged by one nation against another.”[89] On 29 May 1839 another American trader, the representative of Olyphant & Co., sent a public letter to Elliot urging him to utilize the ‘Opium Crisis’ to dispose of the trade, not because Lin’s actions were just, but because the trade was immoral.[90] Two of the three foreign newspapers in Canton, one British and the other American supported by Olyphant & Co., openly rejected the opium trade. Not surprisingly, these newspapers had strong ties to missionary circles. The Hunt’s Merchant’s Magazine, an important magazine published in the United States but well read by merchants overseas, also took a stance against opium.[91] Clearly, more articles were written against the trade in the United States than for it, probably reflecting the fact that moralists had a tendency to put their woes in print, while merchants kept busy making money.[92]

Morality did not escape the opium traders themselves. Robert Bennet Forbes remarked that the opium trade indeed involved a pernicious drug, but one that did not harm the Chinese constitution as bad as alcohol, quoting a London barrister in 1844: “He compares the opium shops with the ‘gin palaces’ of London; and comes to the conclusion, that the bad effects of the drug in China are far less than the damage done in the United Kingdom by gin! He says, that the opponents to the opium trade do not interfere with the dram-drinkers at home.”[93] Forbes’ remark was not entirely unsupported by contemporary medical accounts. Jonathan Pereira, a physician specializing in pharmacology at London Hospital, asserted in 1842 that the Chinese practice of opium smoking “is most destructive to those who live in poverty and distress, and who carry it to excess, yet it does not appear that the Chinese, in easy circumstances, and who have the comforts of life about them, are materially affected, in respect to longevity, by the private addiction to this vice.” Indeed, the vice was difficult to discontinue and “the continuance of this destructive practice deteriorates the physical constitution and moral character of an individual, especially among the lower classes.”[94]

James Johnson, a physician who reported about opium smoking in China to the Westminster Medical Society in 1842, discounted the malefic effects of opium among the wealthy altogether, adding that  “There are many persons within the sphere of my own observation, who have attained the age of sixty, seventy, and more, and who are well known as habitual opium-smokers for more than thirty years past.” In fact, Johnson believed that Europeans should also smoke opium to treat certain maladies.[95]  Wealth made a difference, a notion that was well known to the hierarchically minded Chinese.[96] American physicians echoed this sentiment regarding wealthy Chinese and white opium smokers as late as 1882.[97]

Some American merchants, such as Joseph Coolidge, who had been maltreated by the Chinese, supported the British action wholeheartedly. As noted above, William Henry Low actively aided the British in their war effort. Others, such as Warren Delano, Jr. and Augustine Heard took a more ambivalent stance, sympathizing with the Chinese, while enjoying the profits from the British cessation of trade.[98] After the war, when it was time to decide whether to continue with the illicit opium trade, Heard, like most of his colleagues, opted to continue his opium operations, despite his sympathies and the bond he had given Commissioner Lin.

American traders had complaints of their own about their immoral Chinese counterparts, who often tried to cheat and defraud them; a point that only increased their own sense of morality and honesty.[99] Moreover, they claimed that if they would not supply the drug, others, who had far less scruples, would. “They saw themselves as merchants, acting like merchants, and other arguments were superfluous. The role was clear: They were abroad, among a strange and depraved people; no superior power intervened and the commerce was both very profitable and economically necessary.”[100] Forbes concluded: “We have said enough of the opium trade to convince our readers that the merchants engaged in it, excluding those who endeavored to push the article into the river in their own small vessels, had sufficient excuses, in a commercial point of view, for engaging in the trade.”[101] In the final analysis, and despite some moral qualms, most American traders supported the British war in China, even those who had loathed Britain and its imperialism.[102]

The farther away an American was from China, the less likely he or, more probably, she was to support the opium trade. For many Americans, the Opium War was a colonial war waged by Britain against China.[103] For them, the United States had nothing to do with opium, or colonial possessions in China; therefore, persons such as Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who was never accused of striving for racial equality, saw the war as an abomination whose sole purpose was to dope, dupe and steal the silver of the Celestial Empire.  Calhoun feigned a hope that the rumor of war would not be realized, but maintained that if indeed Britain were to wage a war against China for the opium trade, it could not take the moral high ground against the United States for its slavery.[104] He was not the first, and certainly not the last to speak of opium and slavery in the same breath, but in completely different circumstances.

Many Americans were appalled by the war against China, criticizing the “British determination to continue the trade ‘at the mouth of the cannon.’” They deemed the war immoral and unchristian, criticizing the opium trade, while being ignorant of the fact that many of their own philanthropists were themselves involved in the trade.[105] In the early days of the crisis in Canton, voices were heard in the House of Representatives that the opium trade should be abolished.[106] Americans displayed very little tolerance for British imperialism and the commodity upon which it was based; yet, it is difficult to determine whether the American hostility towards the Opium War was due to a genuine concern for the Chinese, rather than an attitude clouded by a general hostility towards Britain. Anglo-American relations were already at a low before 1839. The War of 1812 was not forgotten, and men who were born before the Declaration of Independence still walked in the halls of power, albeit with canes. From a Patriot’s point of view, British imperialism was a real threat, one that had to be opposed anywhere on the globe, be it in Canada, India or China.

Not all politicians shared the public’s sentiment. John Quincy Adams, Calhoun’s mirror image regarding slavery, also held a contrasting opinion regarding the war. In a speech delivered before the Massachusetts Historical Society in November 1841, the former president said:


It is a general, but I believe altogether mistaken opinion, that the quarrel is merely for certain chests of opium imported by British merchants into China, and seized by the Chinese government for having been imported contrary to law. This is a mere incident to the dispute; but no more the cause of the war, than the throwing overboard of the tea in Boston harbor was the cause of the North American revolution. The cause of the war is the pretension on the part of the Chinese that in all their intercourse with other nations, political or commercial, their superiority must be completely acknowledged, and manifested in humbling forms.[107]


The Chinese suffered from pride, a most unchristian characteristic, for which the British would punish them. But even worse than pride, the Chinese lacked any sense of love for thy neighbor, which according to Adams, was the basis for all trade. Thus, he concluded:


The justice of the cause between the two parties:—which has the righteous cause? You have perhaps been surprised to hear me answer Britain—Britain has the righteous cause. But to prove it, I have been obliged to show that the opium question is not the cause of the war, my demonstration is not yet complete. The cause of the war is the kowtow!—the arrogant and insupportable pretensions of China, that she will hold commercial intercourse with the rest of mankind, not upon terms of equal reciprocity, but upon the insulting and degrading forms of relation between lord and vassal.[108]


20432546Opium was not the cause of war according to Adams, but rather the Chinese unwillingness to trade on equal terms. Apologizing for supporting the British Empire, Adams felt it necessary to stress that his reasoning was Christian rather than imperial, and that Chinese haughtiness rather than opium motivated him to support the war. The speech ran against public sentiment to the point that the press suppressed it.[109] The only American publication to print the speech at the time was the Chinese Repository, a publication run by the missionaries Elijah Coleman Bridgman and David Abeel in Canton and supported by Olyphant & Co..[110]

Blood is Thicker than Water

Merchants turning into agents of state were common; Samuel Shaw, the supercargo of the Empress of China, was the first American consul in Canton, serving for three years in 1786 – 1789.[111] Sending merchants as diplomats provided a great advantage to American foreign policy, since these men were both relatively knowledgeable of Chinese affairs and could be trusted to protect their commercial interests.[112] But, it was only a matter of time for agents wearing these two hats to abuse the system. Benjamin C. Wilcocks was nominated the American consul in Canton in 1812. Still serving as an official of the United States government in 1815, he protected a ship owned by himself and his brother, by using his consular seal, to grant the ship entry to Canton. It was also his opium carrying ship, the Emily, which was at the heart of the incident that caused the Chinese to chase off the receiving ships from Whampoa to Lintin in 1821.[113] The custom continued well after the Opium War. George Washington Heard Jr., a nephew of Augustine Heard, came to China in 1859 as a secretary to the American legation and simultaneously became a full partner in Augustine Heard & Co. two years later.[114]

Until the Opium War, the United States had hardly given a thought to China. As long as trade continued, no one in Washington was particularly interested in pursuing a vigorous Asian policy. Congress denied a petition for a salaried consul in China in 1815. President James Monroe and his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, sent a letter to the Emperor of China, but it never reached its destination. In December 1831, President Andrew Jackson expressed his interest in the China trade in his annual message and in 1832 the United States government authorized Edmund Roberts to draw treaties with various countries in East Asia, but he never reached China. Otherwise, the foreign policy towards China was in the hands of merchants, whose sole concern was that the trading gates would remain open.[115]

The treaty signed between Britain and China in the aftermath of the Opium War triggered Washington’s interest in East Asia if only because of fear of British world domination. In December 1842, President Tyler, still relying on the advice of Secretary of State Daniel Webster, sent a message to both houses of Congress, insisting on sending an official to negotiate a trading agreement with China. On the last day of the 1842 session, Congress approved the measure, despite Tyler’s incessant problems governing his own cabinet and passing measures through a hostile Congress.[116] The President nominated Caleb Cushing, the cousin of John Perkins Cushing, as the United States commissioner to China in 1843.[117] Cushing was no stranger to American policy in China. He was informed about the events in Canton from his correspondence with Peter Snow and Dr. Peter Parker, the pro-opium American merchant consul and the anti-opium trade missionary doctor.[118] While serving in the House of Representatives, Cushing joined the voice raised by his distant relative Thomas H. Perkins in 1840, asserting that the United States should avoid the war but send a nominal armed fleet.[119] He arrived in China in 1844 to negotiate the Treaty of Wanghia that enabled legitimate trade between China and the United States in five ports, thus allowing the United States to reap the benefits from the Opium War without shedding American blood.[120]

In addition to the commercial advantages, the treaty allowed Christian missionaries to preach throughout the land. As a sign of good faith, the United States nominally agreed to respect Chinese laws, which banned the opium trade, and refrained from protecting its citizens who were involved in it.[121] The Chinese viewed the American willingness to defer to Chinese law as a diplomatic victory;[122] yet, this measure remained nothing more than lip service. American merchants continued to deal in opium since no American law prevented them from smuggling the drug into China. The United States only relinquished the extraterritoriality rights of its citizens involved in the opium trade, letting the Chinese to enforce their opium laws on their own. Cushing knew, as well as any other trader in China, that the Chinese were incapable or unwilling to enforce their opium laws, and so the trade was never in real danger.

At home, the Cushing mission was hailed a success but with some words of criticism. Charles Henry Hall, an American merchant with interests in China, wrote to John C. Calhoun, now serving as Tyler’s Secretary of State, that the Treaty, which the United States signed with China, was nothing more than an attempt to ape the Sino-British treaty signed immediately after the Opium War. He remonstrated against the appointment of company men as consuls in China, warning against conflicts of interest, which would only cause injury to the dignity of American trade and the United States.[123]

The remonstration was founded; consuls in the new treaty ports were known for their venality, corruption and smuggling activities, as well as meddling with opium affairs.[124] Some office holders condemned the merchant consuls even earlier. The interim Secretary of State Hugh S. Legaré chastised Paul Siemen Forbes, a cousin of John Murray and Robert Bennet Forbes, for his work with Russell & Co. while serving as the American consul in Canton in 1843; but Legaré did not live long enough for his chastisement to take effect, dying a week after the missive was sent to China. All was but forgotten upon the appointment of Abel P. Upshur as Secretary of State in July.[125]

The United States distanced itself from the opium trade whenever diplomatic prudence required it. At first, ever so carefully, it prohibited the importation of opium to Japan in a commercial treaty signed on 29 July 1858, concluding that American ships docked in a Japanese port could have their opium seized and destroyed if the amount of opium exceeded two and a half kilograms.[126] This treaty, negotiated by the first American consul in Japan, Townsend Harris, was hailed in Washington as a great diplomatic and commercial victory. The United States was willing to sacrifice opium to be the first Western nation to have a trading agreement with Japan.[127] The treaty with Japan did not signal a new era of American anti-opium policy; instead, it signaled American pragmatism in Asia. In effect, the United States sacrificed nothing to gain a foothold in Japan. In China, the trade continued to grow and flourish. Out of 32,000 opium chests imported to China from Eastern India in 1857, about 6,300 (or about 20 percent) belonged to American firms such as Augustine Heard & Co. and Russell & Co., thus increasing the American share in the trade since the war of 1839.[128]

When the Second Opium War (also known as the Arrow War) broke out in 1858, the United States remained neutral, though the new commander of the East India Squadron, Commodore Josiah Tattenall, Jr., interpreted his orders liberally when he decided to save two British ships from a Chinese fort by towing them away in mid battle. Later he explained his actions by saying, ‘blood is thicker than water.’ Upon hearing about this infringement of American neutrality the Secretary of the Navy and President Buchanan supported Tattenall’s belligerent action. By then, it was quite clear that China did not allow this incident to spoil its relations with the United States, nor was it in a position to add yet another enemy to its mounting list: Britain, France and the Taiping rebels.[129]

Chinese weakness culminated in the negotiations of a peace treaty with France and Britain in 1858. The United States and Russia quickly followed in Britain’s footsteps and signed almost identical treaties. The treaty of Tientsin, signed in 1858 by Britain, the United States and other powers separately, allowed for the first time in centuries the importation of opium, legalizing it indirectly. American citizens, like their European counterparts, were allowed to import opium to open ports, where they would pay a duty and sell it to Chinese traders, who would then carry the commodity inland.[130] The scramble for a revised trade treaty “afforded the United States an opportunity to advance its own interests and contributed to the myth of a special relationship between the two countries. This good fortune was not immediately apparent early in the war with Britain and France.”[131]

The American Minister in China, William B. Reed, abandoned the instructions of Secretary of State Lewis Cass and manipulated the British representative to accept the opium trade by taxing it.[132] Reed’s opinion towards opium was not overturned immediately. In a memorandum sent to the Chinese on 9 May 1858, he expressed the United State’s position towards the opium trade, stressing the fact that China should take an active role in stopping it. American insistence was reiterated in a Chinese analysis of the treaty revisions on 28 May 1858.[133] Yet, by October, the Chinese officials believed that legalizing the trade would be less harmful to China than the continuation of the ban, especially since foreigners continued to trade in opium in spite of Chinese laws.[134] Reed’s policy shift took place in August after he had conferred with American traders. The result of his change of heart was decisive, since he convinced the British negotiator, Lord Elgin, to accept the Chinese terms of legalizing the trade.[135] In the final analysis, and somewhat contrary to common perception, it was an American official who impressed upon an Englishman to accept the legalization of the opium trade in China.

The Heyday of the Trade

Britain was the leading power to open China for trade in 1860. Its policy did not favor English traders, but traders of all nationalities whether American, English, French or Russian. Despite the best British efforts, none of the European merchants managed to penetrate deep into the Chinese heartland, and trade remained in the port cities.[136] What was true for trade was not entirely the case regarding the illicit opium traffic, since Britain was the only Western power to engage in massive opium cultivation and therefore expected to gain the most from the liberalization of the Chinese opium laws.

Legalization did not cause the opium trade to flourish as American and British traders had hoped. The limits of the trade were reached in the 1870s as the Chinese appetite for opium reached about 80,000 chests a year.[137] It was a considerable appetite, with over 5500 tons of imported opium into the country, but one that stopped growing, probably due to the consumption of native brands.[138] Although European traders were barred from entering China’s interior with opium, American and British merchants quickly learned that opium enabled them to find cheaper teas and silks inland. Since they were forbidden from going inland with opium, they sent their native compradors to conduct the trade.[139]

As the laws in both India and China were liberalized, the key opium traders of the first half of the 19th century withdrew from the trade since it became less lucrative. The trade was taken over by Indians and Chinese. By the end of the century, many Europeans held the indigenous opium traders, not to mention the opium smokers and eaters, in contempt even though not so long ago their fellow countrymen were involved in the trade, often receiving knighthoods for their commercial exploits.[140]

The Chinese market had changed. No longer was there a need for agents to conduct business on commission, since foreign companies could conduct business directly with China. The firms that adapted to the new free market, such as Jardine, Matheson & Co., survived and continue to exist to this day. Most American agency houses, however, did not.  In 1874, Augustine Heard & Co., at one point the second largest American firm in China, was absorbed by Jardine, Matheson & Co.. Olyphant & Co. lasted four more years, folding in 1878, and Russell & Co. closed in 1891.[141]

Alongside the liberalization of the opium laws in China, missionaries in the Orient pressured their governments to stay away from opium, a drug they considered pernicious and a competition to god. American missionary concerns regarding the opium consumption in China were in line with their concerns regarding alcohol both at home, and abroad as part of the white man’s burden to stop liquor from reaching uncivilized people’s mouths.[142] Missionaries and others with a religious bent published pamphlets against opium smoking, often citing the terrible effects of opium smoking on the Chinese, noting their sallow skin, passivity and moral depravity. These memorials pushed the governments to action. In Britain, a Royal commission was sent to the East to investigate the matter in 1893. In the United States, the tides against the trade were already under way.

In 1880, the United States concluded in the American-Chinese Commercial Treaty that its citizens were forbidden from being involved in the opium trade in China, by disallowing them to import opium to Chinese open ports, or transferring opium from one open port to another. Reciprocating this, Chinese subjects were forbidden from importing opium into the United States, a measure that was only strengthened with municipal laws in San Francisco and elsewhere.[143] In conjunction with the new treaty, the United States enacted a law against the immigration of Chinese coolies to America, thereby indirectly linking opium smoking in America and the new oriental immigrants. In 1887, the United States enacted the commercial treaty into law; and in 1903, the United States reiterated the ban on American merchant to deal with opium.[144] Officially, the State Department declared in 1883 that the Indo-Chinese opium trade was an Anglo-Chinese affair, in which the United States had no interest.[145]

The ban on American opium trade made economic and political sense. By the 1880s, China grew a sizable crop of opium poppies on its own, which lowered demand for foreign imports.[146] In addition, fewer American traders had stakes in opium, since the major trading houses abandoned the trade in previous decades. The opium trade was a symbol of the unequal treaties between China and the West, and was therefore a source of resentment among many Chinese.[147] Thus, the United States paid a modest economic price when it abandoned opium, since the move allowed it to attain a better diplomatic position in China, laying the foundations for the famous open door policy.


The United States claimed innocence when it came to the opium trade. As the American historian, John K. Fairbank had written, “because the British did not open the India-China trade to us, we did less well in supplying opium to China; but that only enhanced our sense of moral superiority. It was not Americans who fought the Opium War of 1839 – 1842 and the second war that finally opened China in 1860. Our conscience could be clear.”[148] This line of thought, though written late in the 20th century, was a continuation of the American moral high ground taken against the decadent British Empire, which had doped natives in India and China. True, Fairbank conceded that the United States developed a false moral high ground, but he discounted the fact that Americans were heavily involved in the trade.

A cacophony of American moralists appeared after the First World War in the attempt to curb the international opium trade and damn the British Empire for its share in it. One such voice claimed in disgust: “A national psychology that can review these figures [on increasing opium production] with complacency, satisfaction and pride is not akin to American psychology. A nation that can subjugate 300,000,000 helpless people, and then turn them into drug addicts—for the sake of revenue—is a nation which commits a cold blooded atrocity unparalleled by any atrocities committed in the rage and heat of war.”[149]  Similar voices were not absent in academia, as an editor of the America Journal of International Law exonerated the United States from the trade in 1924 by writing that “the United States by its first treaty with China made in 1844 agreed to prevent the abuse of its flag for smuggling (Art. 33).”[150] The righteous United States stands in stark contrast to the vile British Empire. Or should it?

The United States, though officially remaining neutral to the trade, repeatedly sent representatives with opium interests in China. These representatives, true to their businesses, did everything in their power to ensure that the opium trade went unhindered. Whereas it is true that the United States did not benefit as much from opium as Britain had, any claim of innocence regarding American involvement in the trade should be dismissed off hand. The salt of the new world’s earth was involved in the trade, from Joseph Coolidge, Thomas Jefferson’s grandson in law, to Warren Delano, Jr., the grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.[151] Other notoriously wealthy individuals such as John Jacob Astor were involved in the trade up to their necks as well as families such as the Cabots, Cushings, Forbes, Perkins and Peabodys. These families were all involved in the opium trade on the one hand, and fielded well-respected politicians on the other. Their ancestors and descendants served as Supreme Court Justices, Senators, State and U.S. Representatives, Mayors, and presidential candidates, the most recent of whom John Forbes Kerry is now the Secretary of State.

The rhetoric of the American opium traders was striking. On the whole, the traders recognized that the Chinese had a right to ban any commodity they wished, but they kept on insisting that they were not smugglers, since they conducted their business away from Chinese territorial waters. Since their trade remained legal in the United States, the American opium dealers broke no law. Furthermore, the American traders maintained that if they would not pursue the trade others would, since the driving force of the trade was the lack of silver in America. Even more so, the Chinese insatiable appetite for opium drove it. Thus, the American traders reasoned: where there is demand, there would always be somebody to supply, and who better than they to meet that demand?  In the 20th century, drug lords like Pablo Escobar asked themselves the same question.


[1] John K. Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast: The Opening of the Treaty Ports, 1842 – 1854 (Stanford, 1969), pp. 58 – 59.

[2] David Edward Owen, British Opium Policy in China and India (Hamden CN, 1968), pp. 3 – 5, 10, 19.

[3] ibid.,  pp. 53 – 59.

[4] Man-houng Lin, “Currency and Society: Monetary Crisis and Political-economic Ideology of Early Nineteenth-Century China” (Doctoral Dissertation, Harvard University, 1989)

[5] Stephen Chapman Lockwood, Augustine Heard and Company, 1858 – 1862: American Merchants in China (Cambridge MA, 1971), p. 7.

[6] William C. Hunter, The ‘Fan Kwae’ at Canton (Taipei, 1965 [1882]), pp. 21 – 30. Jonathan A. Farris, “Thirteen Factories of Canton: An Architecture of Sino-Western Collaboration and Confrontation” Building & Landscapes, vol. 14 (2007), 66 – 83.

[7] Frederic Wakeman, Jr., “The Canton Trade and the Opium War” in John K. Fairbank (ed.), The Cambridge History of China, vol. 10/1, (Cambridge, 1978), 163 – 212.

[8] Hunter, The ‘Fan Kwae’ at Canton, pp. 28 – 30; Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, pp. 50 – 53; Foster R. Dulles, China and America: The Story of their Relations since 1784 (Princeton, 1946), p. 13.

[9] Frank Dikötter, Exotic Commodities: Modern Objects and Everyday Life in China (New York, 2006), pp. 29 – 30.

[10] Peter W. Fay, The Opium War, 1840 – 1842:Barbarians in the Celestial Empire in the Early Part of the Nineteenth Century and the War by Which They Forced Her Gates Ajar (Chapel Hill, 1975), p. 45. Store ships and receiving ships, at times used interchangeably, did not always have the same function: receiving ships dealt with opium, whereas store ships also carried other goods and supplies. See Basil Lubbock, The Opium Clippers (Glasgow, 1953 [1933]), pp. 88 – 89.

[11] Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War, p. 13; Lubbock, The Opium Clippers, pp. 32 – 33; Samuel E. Morison, The Maritime History of Massachusetts (Boston, 1961 [1921]), p. 274.

[12] Fay, The Opium War, 1840 – 1842, pp. 15 – 17, 45 – 46; Jonathan Goldstein, Philadelphia and the China Trade, 1682 – 1846: Commercial, Cultural and Attitudinal Effects (University Park, 1978), p. 49; Jacques M. Downs, “American Merchants and the China Opium Trade, 1800 – 1840” Business History Review, vol. 42/4 (1968), 418 – 442. Esp. pp. 424, 248 – 429; Stuart C. Miller “American Traders in China, 1785-1840” The Pacific Historical Review, vol. 36/4 (1967), 375 – 395.

[13] Jacques M. Downs, “Fair Game: Exploitive Role-Myths and the American Opium Trade” The Pacific Historical Review, vol. 41/2 (1972), 133 – 149. The Europeans believed that the hongs composed the Cohong, which nominally contained 13 trading houses, one for each factory. Only rarely the number of hongs had reached that number, as Chinese traders often suffered from insolvency due to poor credit practices and government squeeze. See Michael Greenberg, British Trade and the Opening of China (Cambridge, 1969), p. 53. In reality, the Cohong was founded in 1760 as a trading guild, but was dissolved in 1771 and was never reintroduced. Due to the importance of several individual hongs, foreigners wrongfully identified the various trading hongs as a collective long after the dissolution of the institution. See Kuo-Tung Anthony Ch’en, The Insolvency of the Chinese Hong Merchants, 1760 – 1843 (Taipei, 1990), 6 – 9.

[14] John Perkins Cushing, “Memo. for Mr. Forbes Respecting Canton Affairs…, Canton, 31 March 1828” in The Business History Review, vol. 40/1 (1966), 98 – 107.

[15] Goldstein, Philadelphia and the China Trade, 1682 – 1846, pp. 25 – 31; Tim Sturgis, Rivalry in Canton: The Control of Russell & Co. 1838 – 1840 and the Founding of Augustine Heard & Co. (London, 2005), p. 2.

[16] Charles C. Stelle, “American Trade in Opium to China, Prior to 1820” The Pacific Historical Review, vol. 9/4 (1940), 425 – 444; Yen-P’ing Hao, “Chinese Teas to America – a Synopsis” in Ernst R. May & John K.  Fairbank (eds.) America’s China Trade in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), 12 – 31.

[17] Goldstein, Philadelphia and the China Trade, 1682 – 1846, p. 47.

[18] Hao, “Chinese Teas to America – a Synopsis” pp. 12 – 31; John Kup Wei Tchen, New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1772 – 1882 (Baltimore, 1999), pp. 42 – 4.

[19] Owen, British Opium Policy in China and India, pp. 67 – 68n66; Lin, “Currency and Society: Monetary Crisis and Political-economic Ideology of Early Nineteenth-Century China” pp. 132 – 133, 662.

[20] Tyler Dennet, Americans in Eastern Asia: A Critical Study of United States’ Policy in the Far East in the Nineteenth Century (New York, 1963), p. 20.

[21] Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War, pp. 36 – 46.

[22] J & T.H. Perkins & Sons used the services of an American banker in London named Sam Williams, but after he went bankrupt in 1825, Thomas Perkins turned to a distant relative named Joshua Bates, who went into partnership with Barings Brothers in 1828. See Sturgis, Rivalry in Canton, pp. 8 – 9.

[23] Robert Bennet Forbes, Remarks on China and the China Trade (Boston, 1844), pp. 24, 43; Greenberg, British Trade and the Opening of China, pp. 161 – 165; Hao, “Chinese Teas to America – a Synopsis” p. 25.

[24] Downs, “American Merchants and the China Opium Trade, 1800 – 1840” pp. 433 – 434; Hao, “Chinese Teas to America – a Synopsis”  pp. 12 – 15.

[25] Hunt Janin, The India-China Opium Trade in the Nineteenth Century (Jefferson NC, 1999), p. 62.

[26] Stelle, “American Trade in Opium to China, Prior to 1820,” p. 434.

[27] Tchen, New York Before Chinatown, pp. 42 – 49; Downs, “American Merchants and the China Opium Trade, 1800 – 1840” p. 430.

[28] Lubbock, The Opium Clippers, pp. 85 – 87. A modern account of American activity in Canton erroneously claims that Russell & Co. was purely a commission house. See Sturgis, Rivalry in Canton, p. 74. As this article demonstrates, the evidence supporting the direct involvement of Russell & Co. as well as other American firms in the opium trade is abundant.

[29] “John Murray Forbes to Thomas Tunno Forbes, 22 January 1830,” in Sarah Forbes Hughes (ed.), Reminiscences of John Murray Forbes vol. 3, (Boston, 1902), pp. 124 – 127. The letter was sent after Thomas had died in a typhoon on 10 August 1829.

[30] Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War, p. 31.

[31] Owen, British Opium Policy in China and India, pp. 68 – 69.

[32] Dennet, Americans in Eastern Asia, p. 116.

[33] Hao, “Chinese Teas to America – a Synopsis” pp. 18 – 19; Goldstein, Philadelphia and the China Trade, 1682 – 1846, pp. 49, 52.

[34] Carl Seaburg and Stanley Paterson, Merchant Prince of Boston: Colonel T. H. Perkins, 1764 – 1854 (Cambridge MA, 1971), pp. 264 – 266.

[35] Goldstein, Philadelphia and the China Trade, 1682 – 1846; Charles C. Stelle, “American Trade in Opium to China, 1821 – 39” The Pacific Historical Review, vol. 10/1, 57 – 74; Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, p. 226; Owen, British Opium Policy in India and China, pp 88 – 110; Amar Farooqui, Smuggling as Subversion: Colonialism, Indian Merchants and the Politics of Opium (Lanham, 2005).

[36] Miller “American Traders in China, 1785-1840” p. 381; Jacques M. Downs, “The Commercial Origins of American Attitudes Toward China, 1784 – 1944” in Jonathan Goldstein, Jerry Israel & Hilary Conroy (eds.), America Views China: American Images of China then and now (Bethlehem PA, 1991), 56 – 66. Esp. pp. 61 – 62.

[37] John Murray Forbes in Hughes (ed.), Reminiscences of John Murray Forbes vol. 3, pp. 216 – 218.

[38] Sturgis, Rivalry in Canton, p. 16.

[39] The Chinese governor-general attempted to crackdown on a few Chinese opium traders a year earlier. See Frederic Wakeman, “The Canton Trade and the Opium War,” in John K. Faribank (ed.), The Cambridge History of China vol. 10/1 (Cambridge, 1978), 163 – 212.

[40] Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, p. 66.

[41] Jeremiah N. Reynolds, Voyage of the United States Frigate Potomac: Under the Command of Commodore John Downes during the Circumnavigation of the Globe in the Years 1831, 1832, 1833, and 1834  (New York, 1835), p. 338; Lubbock, The Opium Clippers, pp. 88 – 89, 103. The Hercules was later sold to an American trading house in 1839, after American traders picked up the slack from British traders as a result of the opium crisis. See Alain le Pichon, China Trade and Empire: Jardine, Matheson & Co. and the Origins of British Rule in Hong Kong, 1827-1843 (Oxford, 2006), p. 398.

[42] Hunter, The ‘Fan Kwae’ at Canton, pp. 66 – 72; Downs, “American Merchants and the China Opium Trade, 1800 – 1840” pp. 418 – 442; Owen, British Opium Policy in China and India, p. 115.

[43] Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War, pp. 32 – 36; Forbes, Some Remarks on China and the China Trade, p. 46; Jonathan Spence, “Opium Smoking in Ch’ing China” Britain and the China Trade, 1635 – 1842 (London, 1997), 143 – 173. Esp. pp. 162 – 163.

[44] Weng Eang Cheong, The Hong Merchants of Canton: Chinese Merchants in Sino-Western Trade (Richmond, 1997), p. 284

[45] “Canton to Boston, 17 November 1821” in “Perkins and Company, Canton 1803 – 1827” Bulletin of the Business Historical Society vol. 6/2 (1932), 1-5. James and Thomas H. Perkins were the first American trading firm at Canton. Thomas Perkins first arrived in China in 1792.

[46] Joyce A. Madancy, The Troublesome Legacy of Commissioner Lin: The Opium Trade and Opium Suppression in Fujian Province, 1820s to 1920s (Cambridge, MA., 2003), p. 50; Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, pp. 69 – 71; British Opium Policy in China and India, pp. 66, 122 – 125.

[47]Thomas N. Layton, The Voyage of the ‘Frolic’: New England Merchants and the Opium Trade (Stanford, 1997), pp. 29, 194n15; Sturgis, Rivalry in Canton, pp. 34 – 91.

[48] Downs, “American Merchants and the China Opium Trade, 1800 – 1840” pp. 418 – 442. For a list of Russell & Co.’s agents in Canton, see Hunter, The ‘Fan Kwae’ at Canton, pp. 156 – 157. Before the acquisition of Perkins & Co., Russell & Co. was mostly a commission, banking and an insurance house.

[49] Elizabeth Kelly Gray, “American Attitudes Toward British Imperialism, 1815 – 1860” (Doctoral Dissertation, College of William and Mary, 2002), p. 125.  A different study asserts that Cushing returned home with 600,000 dollars. See Sibing He “Russell and Company, 1818 – 1891: America’s Trade and Diplomacy in Nineteenth-Century China” (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Miami, 1997), p. 12 and P’ing Hao, “Chinese Teas to America – a Synopsis” p. 29.

[50] See W. Cameron Forbes, “Extracts from the Correspondence of John Murray Forbes with His Partner and Cousin, Paul Siemen Forbes, Head of Russell & Company in China” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, vol. 66 (Oct., 1936 – May, 1941), 174 – 184.

[51] Downs, “American Merchants and the China Opium Trade, 1800 – 1840,” pp. 429 – 430; Stelle, “American Trade in Opium to China, Prior to 1820.”

[52] Tchen, New York Before Chinatown, pp. 42 – 49; Farooqui, Smuggling as Subversion, pp. 216 – 219.

[53] Tchen, New York Before Chinatown, pp. 42 – 49.

[54] Morrison, The Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783 – 1860, pp. 277 – 278; Forbes, Remarks on China and the China Trade, p. 24.

[55] Dulles, China and America, pp. 21 – 22; On Robert Bennet Forbes’ hatred of Charles King, Olyphant & Co.’s representative in Canton, see Fay, The Opium War, 1840 – 1842, p. 238.

[56] Goldstein, Philadelphia and the China Trade, 1682 – 1846, pp. 50, 66.

[57] “John Murray Forbes to Sarah Forbes Hughes, 3 January 1876” in Hughes (ed.), Reminiscences of John Murray Forbes vol. 1, p. 122.

[58] Fay, The Opium War, 1840 – 1842, pp. 164 – 165.

[59] Lin, “Currency and Society: Monetary Crisis and Political-economic Ideology of Early Nineteenth-Century China” pp. 670 – 672.

[60] Peter Temin, The Jacksonian Economy (New York, 1969), pp. 80 – 91.

[61] “J. P. Cushing to Houqua, 5 May 1837” Baker Library Historical Collection – HBS, quoted in Sturgis, Rivalry in Canton, p. 31 – 32.

[62] “J. P. Cushing to Houqua, 16 May 1837” Baker Library Historical Collection – HBS, quoted in ibid.

[63] Owen, British Opium Policy in India and China, pp. 108 – 112.

[64] ibid.; Fay, The Opium War, 1840 – 1842, pp. 184 – 187; Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, pp. 65 – 66.

[65] Lin, “Currency and Society: Monetary Crisis and Political-economic Ideology of Early Nineteenth-Century China.”

[66] See Xu Naiji, “Memorial on Legalizing Opium, 10 June 1836” in Cheng, Lestz and Spence (eds.), The Search for Modern China, pp. 111 – 114. See also James M. Polachek, The Inner Opium War, (Cambridge MA, 1992), pp. 120 – 124.

[67] “Report of the Governor of Kwangtung and Kwangse and the Lieut.-Governor of Kwantung, in Reference to the Proposal to Sanction the Importation of Opium” The Chinese Repository, vol.  5/6 (October, 1836), 259 – 267; As early as 1832, Chinese toyed with the idea of legalizing the trade. See Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War, pp. 85 – 89.

[68] Frank Dikötter, Lars Laamann & Zhou Xun, Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China, (Chicago, 2004), pp. 44 – 45; Zhu Zun, “Memorial on Banning Opium, October 1836” in Cheng, Lestz and Spence (eds.), The Search for Modern China, pp.114 – 119.

[69] Lin, “Currency and Society: Monetary Crisis and Political-economic Ideology of Early Nineteenth-Century China” pp. 119 – 139; Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War, pp. 45 – 46.

[70] Forbes, Remarks on China and the China Trade, pp. 49 – 50; Fay, The Opium War, 1840 – 1842, pp. 154, 160, 166.

[71] Fay, The Opium War, 1840 – 1842, p. 155. Wettmore & Co. may have surrendered 140 chests as the total amount of opium surrendered by American firms was estimated at 1540. See Dennet, Americans in Eastern Asia, p. 117.

[72] “Edict Requiring the Voluntary Bond, 20 April 1839” The Chinese Repository vol. 8/1 (May, 1839), 12 – 14; Fay, The Opium War, 1840 – 1842, pp. 162 – 164, 166.

[73] Charles Elliot, “Public Notice to British Subjects, 8 May 1839” The Chinese Repository vol. 8/1 (May, 1839), 20 – 21; idem, “Public Notices, 19 – 20 May 1839” The Chinese Repository, vol. 8/1 (May, 1839), 24 – 25.

[74] idem, “Public Notice to her Britannic Majesty’s Subjects, 22 May 1839” The Chinese Repository, vol. 8/1 (May, 1839), 28 – 30; Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War, pp. 195, 202 – 205.

[75] For Elliot’s disapproval of the opium trade see “Captain Elliot to Viscount Palmerston, 21 February 1837” The Chinese Repository, vol. 11/5 (May, 1842), 244.

[76] Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War, pp. 189 – 191.

[77] Quoted in ibid., pp. 206 – 208; Gray, “American Attitude Toward British Imperialism, 1815 – 1860” p. 119.

[78] Fay, The Opium War, 1840 – 1842, pp. 290 – 291, 297.

[79] ibid., p. 176; John Heard, “An Account of His Life and the History of Augustine Heard & Co.” (1890) in Heard Family Business Records, Baker Library Historical Collection – HBS, Mss. 766 1754-1898, v. FP-4, pp. 22 – 24, 37. The stated number is excessive, as Heard probably exaggerated or converted the amount to the value in dollars in 1890.

[80] Nathan Allen, The Opium Trade; including a Sketch of its History, Extent, Effects, Etc. as carried on in India and China (Lowell, MA, 1979 [1853]), p. 16; Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, p. 226; Layton, The Voyage of the Frolic, p. 38; Owen, British Opium Policy in China and India, p. 206n88.

[81] Sturgis, Rivalry in Canton, p. 85.

[82] Robert E. Johnson, Far China Station: The U.S. Navy in Asian Waters, 1800 – 1898 (Annapolis, 1979), p. 18.  A Similar case occurred in 1832, when Sumatran pirates seized a cargo of pepper from the merchantman Friendship of Salem, MA and killed a few crewmembers. The United States, in response, sent the frigate Potomac to chastise the natives. See Reynolds, Voyage of the United States Frigate Potomac, pp. 19 – 20, 88 – 124, 224

[83] Johnson, Far China Station, pp. 20 – 23.

[84] Miller, “American Traders in China, 1785-1840” pp. 392 – 393.

[85] Gray, “American Attitude Toward British Imperialism, 1815 – 1860” pp. 94 – 96.

[86] Johnson, Far China Station, pp. 24 – 27.

[87] Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, pp. 137, 146.

[88] Johnson, Far China Station, pp. 29 – 30, 32.

[89] Quoted in Raymond F. Wylie, “American Diplomacy in China, 1843 – 1857” in Jonathan Goldstein, Jerry Israel & Hilary Conroy (eds.), America Views China: American Images of China then and now (Bethlehem PA, 1991), 87 – 113. Esp. pp. 90 – 91.

[90] C. W. King, Opium Crisis. A Letter addressed to Charles Elliot, Esq., Chief Superintendent of the British Trade with China by an American Merchant, resident at Canton (London, 1839); Michael C. Lazich, “American Missionaries and the Opium Trade in Nineteenth – Century China” Journal of World History vol. 17/2 (2006), 197 – 223. Esp.  p. 204.

[91] Downs, “Fair Game: Exploitive Role-Myths and the American Opium Trade” p. 144

[92] Miller, “American Traders in China, 1785-1840” p. 390

[93] Forbes, Remarks on China and the China Trade, pp. 51 – 52.

[94] Jonathan Pereira, Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, vol. 2 (1842), p. 1749.

[95] James Johnson, “Opium Smoking in China” reproduced in The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. 26/16 (25 May 1842), 16 – 21.  Esp. p. 20. The similarity in language used by both doctors indicates that one has plagiarized from the other.

[96] Yangwen Zheng, The Social Life of Opium in China (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 56 – 86.

[97] H. H. Kane, Opium Smoking in American and China: A Study of its Prevalence, and Effects, Immediate and Remote, on Individual and the Nation (New York, 1882), p. 74.

[98] Downs, “The Commercial Origins of American Attitudes Toward China, 1784 – 1944” pp. 59 – 60.

[99] Miller, “American Traders in China, 1785-1840” pp. 385 – 386.

[100] Downs, “Fair Game: Exploitive Role-Myths and the American Opium Trade” pp. 145 – 146.

[101] Forbes, Remarks on China and the China Trade, p. 54.

[102] Miller, “American Traders in China, 1785-1840” pp. 392 – 393.

[103] Gray, “American Attitude Toward British Imperialism, 1815 – 1860” pp. 87 – 139.

[104] See Richard K. Crallé (ed.), Speeches of John C. Calhoun delivered in the House of Representatives and in the Senate f the United States, vol. 3 (New York, 1853), pp. 483 – 484.

[105] Elizabeth Kelly Gray, “Chinese Opiate Addiction and American Perceptions, 1815-1860” American Association for Chinese Studies 49th Annual Conference (University of Richmond, Richmond VA, 5 – 7 October 2007), at:


[106] Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 1839 – 1840, (5 February 1840), p. 280.

[107] John Quincy Adams, “Lecture on the War with China” Chinese Repository, vol. 11/5 (May, 1842), 274 – 289. Esp. pp. 281 – 282.

[108] ibid., p. 288.

[109] See for example, Gray, “American Attitudes Toward British Imperialism, 1815 – 1860” p. 98.

[110] Elizabeth L. Malcolm, “The Chinese Repository and Western Literature on China 1800 to 1850” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 7/2 (1973), 165 – 178.

[111] Stelle, “American Trade in Opium to China, Prior to 1820,” p. 425. N.B., a supercargo is the person responsible for the cargo on a vessel.

[112] Downs, “The Commercial Origins of American Attitudes Toward China, 1784 – 1944”

[113] idem, “American Merchants and the China Opium Trade, 1800 – 1840” pp. 421, 423 – 424.

[114] Lockwood, Augustine Heard and Company, p. 5.

[115] Wylie, “American Diplomacy in China, 1843 – 1857” pp.88 – 90.

[116] James M. Callahan, American Relations in the Pacific and the Far East, 1784 – 1900 (Baltimore, 1901), p. 87.

[117] Teemu Ruskola, “Canton is not Boston: The Invention of American Imperial Sovereignty” American Quarterly, vol. 57/3 (2005), 859 – 884. Esp. p. 860.

[118] John M. Belohlavek, Broken Glass: Caleb Cushing & the Shattering of the Union (Kent, 2005), p. 154.

[119] Gray, “American Attitude Toward British Imperialism, 1815 – 1860” p. 97.

[120] Johnson, Far China Station, pp. 29 – 30.

[121] Ping Chia Kuo, “Caleb Cushing and the Treaty of Wanghia, 1844” Journal of Modern History, vol. 5/1 (1933), 34 – 54.

[122] ibid., p. 49n. Earl Swisher, China’s Management of the American Barbarians: A Study of Sino-American Relations, 184 – 1861, with Documents (New York, 1972), p 163. In Chinese eyes, preventing Cushing from submitting his credentials in Peking, was an even greater victory. See ibid., pp. 159 – 160.

[123] “Charles Henry Hall to John C. Calhoun, 15 February 1845” The Papers of John C. Calhoun, vol. 21 (Columbia SC, 1990), pp. 300 – 301.

[124] Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, pp. 373, 415.

[125] Belohlavek, Broken Glass, pp. 157 – 158.

[126] “Treaty with the Empire of Japan, 29 July 1858” in Public Acts of the Thirty Sixth Congress of the United States, 1st session, p. 1055. at:

memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=012/llsl012.db&recNum=1108. The treaty was ratified on 22 May 1860.

[127] Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, “Opium, Expulsion, Sovereignty. China’s Lessons for Bakumatsu Japan” Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 47/1 (1992), 1 – 25. Esp. pp. 18 – 19.

[128] J. Y. Wong, Deadly Dreams: Opium, Imperialism and the Arrow War (1856 – 1860) in China (Cambridge, 1998), p. 414.

[129] Johnson, Far China Station, pp. 103 – 105

[130] “Convention with China, 8 November 1858” in Public Acts of the Thirty Sixth Congress of the United States, 1st session, p. 1078. at:


[131] William O. Walker III, Opium and Foreign Policy: The Anglo-American Search for Order in Asia, 1912 – 1954 (Chapell Hill, 1991), p. 10.

[132] Madancy, The Troublesome Legacy of Commissioner Lin, pp. 54 – 55.

[133] Only the Chinese translation of the memorandum survived.  Swisher, China’s Management of the American Barbarians, pp. 449, 472.

[134] ibid., pp. 523 – 524, 530.

[135] Wong, Deadly Dreams, p. 414.

[136] D. C. M. Platt, “Imperialism of Free Trade: Some Reservations” The Economic History Review, vol. 21/2 (1968), 296 – 306.  Esp. pp. 301 – 302.

[137] Spence, “Opium Smoking in Ch’ing China” p. 151.

[138] Madancy, The Troublesome Legacy of Commissioner Lin, p. 55.

[139] ibid., pp. 167 – 168.

[140] Trocki, Opium, Empire and the Global Political Economy, pp. 109 – 118. On the British tolerance for and distain of opium eaters, see Davenport-Hines, The Pursuit of Oblivion, pp. 38 – 48; Virginia Berridge, Opium and the People: Opiate Use and Drug Control Policy in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century England (New York, 1999), pp. 75 – 86.

[141] Mira Wilkins, “The Impacts of American Multinational Enterprise on American-Chinese Economic Relations, 1786 – 1949” in Ernst R. May & John K. Fairbank (eds.), America’s China Trade in Historical Perspective: The Chinese and American Performance (Cambridge MA, 1986), 259 – 292. Esp. pp. 261 – 262. Augustine Heard’s papers were given to the Harvard Business School by Jardine, Matheson & Co. in two installments prior to World War II.

[142] Arnold H. Taylor, American Diplomacy and the Narcotic Traffic, 1900 – 1939: A Study in International Humanitarian Reform (Durham, 1969), pp. 26 – 27.

[143] Hamilton Wright, “The International Opium Commission” The American Journal of International Law vol. 3/3 (1909), 648 – 673. Esp. p. 650

[144] Samuel Merwin, Drugging a Nation: The Story of China and the Opium Curse (New York, 1908), pp. 171 – 172.

[145] Arnold H. Taylor, “American Confrontation with Opium Traffic in the Philippines,” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 36/3 (1967), 307 – 324. Esp. pp. 308 – 309n. 8.

[146] “Cultivation in China: Memorandum of a conference held by the Government of India with Sir Rutherford Alcock, K.C.B., on the 4th February, 1870” in The Opium Revenue. Sir William Muir’s Minute and other Extracts from Papers Published by the Calcutta Government (London, 1875), 23 – 26; John King Fairbank & Merle Goldman, China: A New History (Cambridge, MA, 1998), p. 204; Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, p. 242; Spence, “Opium Smoking in Chi’ing China” pp. 153 – 154; Madancy, The Troublesome Legacy of Commissioner Lin, pp. 58 – 62.

[147] Dikötter, Laamann & Xun, Narcotic Culture, pp. 93 – 95.

[148] John K.  Fairbank, “Patterns and Problems” in Ernst R. May & John K. Fairbank, (eds.) America’s China Trade in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, MA, 1986), 1 – 7. Fairbank often blamed the opium trade on the British, while downplaying the American role. See for another example, idem China Watch (Cambridge, MA, 1987), p. 4.

[149] Ellen N. La Motte, The Opium Monopoly (New York, 1920), pp. 52 – 53.

[150] Quincy Wright, “The Opium Question” The American Journal of International Law, vol. 18/2 (1924), 281 – 295. Esp. p. 281.

[151] Augustine Heard estimated that Warren Delano made 600,000 dollars in the China trade. See Augustine Heard, “Old China and New” (1894) in Heard Family Business Records, Baker Library Historical Collection – HBS, Mss. 766 1754-1898, folder GQ-2-2, p. 2.