On April 20, 1817, the United States and Great Britain signed the Rush Bagot Treaty. It was one of the first acts signed during James Monroe’s first presidential term. The treaty aimed to regulate the naval armaments of each country to one ship each on Lakes Ontario and Champlain, and two ships each on the Upper Lakes, after the 1812 War.
The Rush Bagot Treaty, which is also known as the Rush Bagot Disarmament, was an agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States. This agreement demilitarized the border between America and Canada and built the most extensive east-west boundary and the largest demilitarized zone in the whole world. It all started with the exchange of letters between acting U.S. Secretary of State Richard Rush and the British Minister to Washington Sir Charles Bagot. The letters were signed on April 27 and 28, 1817. After the terms of the letters were agreed upon by Bagot and Rush, the United States and Britain unofficially recognized the agreement. Later, it was officially proposed by the U.S. Secretary of State James Monroe to the British Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh on April 16, 1818, and was then confirmed by Canada.
The Rush Bagot Agreement of 1817 called for a massive demilitarization of the lakes along the international boundary, where many British naval forts remained. The treaty stated that the United States and the United Kingdom could each have just one military ship and one cannon on Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. On the Great Lakes, the United States and British North America could keep two naval ships. The significance of the Rush Bagot Agreement was that it laid the basis for a safe and demilitarized border between the United States and British North America. Finally, in 1871, the agreement culminated in the Treaty of Washington, which completed the disarmament.
Several events led to the signing of the Rush Bagot Agreement. The United States had shown a strong desire to reduce the number of naval vessels on the Great Lakes since the 1790s. The states had attempted a disarmament in an earlier treaty during the 1790s, but Britain had decided not to accept the proposal. There was an increase in the development of naval vessels in the region of the Great Lakes during the War of 1812 and in the period after. The countries still had tense relations and continued to fill the Lakes region with the vessels.
Luckily, before another war could begin, America and Britain decided to end the arms race, which had spiraled out of control. They knew that another horrible war could financially destroy both countries, since America and Britain had just finished the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Moreover, another war would have cost thousands of people their lives. All of this led to the easing of diplomatic tensions, and to both countries’ smart decision to start reducing military strength in the Lakes region. In 1816, in order to demonstrate their serious and strong desire to negotiate lasting disarmament, the United States of America reached out to Britain and sent their special ambassador, John Quincy Adams. As a supporter of the disarmament, he convinced the British to sign the Rush Bagot Agreement and made peace between the two countries.