Today in history, on April 16, 1818, the United States Senate ratified the Rush-Bagot Treaty, establishing and demilitarizing the northern border with British Canada.

Named after United States Secretary of State Richard Rush and British Minister Charles Bagot, the arrangement hoped to quell territorial animosities that lingered after the conclusion of the War of 1812.

The primary purpose of the treaty was to disarm ships of war that both countries maintained in the Great Lakes region. Under the terms of the agreement, both countries could maintain only one military vessel – weighing no more than 100 tons – on Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. As to the other Great Lakes, both countries could each keep two military vessels of the same size.

The United States benefited from the terms of the treaty because it could reduce its total naval expenditures. Because the period preceding the War of 1812 featured an increase in the number of vessels sent to the Great Lakes, both by the United States and Britain, the pact effectively reduced government expenditures and ended a naval arms race. President James Madison heartily endorsed the treaty, and its acceptance by the Senate was largely uncontroversial in the wake of the War of 1812.

Though highly overlooked, the Rush-Bagot Treaty represented the first true inroad of reconciliation between the two countries, and the détente with Britain helped persuade the James Monroe administration to ease tensions with European powers and adopt the Monroe Doctrine.

Dave Benner

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