Anson Burlingame (1820-1870), American legislator and diplomat, was born in New Berlin, Chenango county, New York, on the 14th of November 1820. In 1823 his parents took him to Ohio, and about ten years afterwards to Michigan. In 1838-1841 he studied in one of the "branches" of the university of Michigan, and in 1846 graduated at the Harvard law school. He practised law in Boston, and won a wide reputation by his speeches for the Free Soil party in 1848. He was a member of the Massachusetts constitutional convention in 1853, of the state senate in 1853-1854, and of the national House of Representatives from 1855 to 1861, being elected for the first term as a "Know Nothing" and afterwards as a member of the new Republican party, which he helped to organize in Massachusetts. He was an effective debater in the House, and for his impassioned denunciation (June 21, 1856) of Preston S. Brooks (1819-1857), for his assault upon Senator Charles Sumner, was challenged by Brooks. Burlingame accepted the challenge and specified rifles as the weapons to be used; his second chose Navy Island, above the Niagara Falls, and in Canada, as the place for the meeting.
Brooks, however, refused these conditions, saying that he could not reach the place designated "without running the gauntlet of mobs and assassins, prisons and penitentiaries, bailiffs and constables." To Burlingame's appointment as minister to Austria (March 22, 1861) the Austrian authorities objected because in Congress he had advocated the recognition of Sardinia as a first-class power and had championed Hungarian independence. President Lincoln thereupon appointed him (June 14, 1861) minister to China. This office he held until November 1867, when he resigned and was immediately appointed (November 26) envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to head a Chinese diplomatic mission to the United States and the principal European nations. The embassy, which included two Chinese ministers, an English and a French secretary, six students from the Tung-wan Kwang at Peking, and a considerable retinue, arrived in the United States in March 1868, and concluded at Washington (28th of July 1868) a series of articles, supplementary to the Reed Treaty of 1858, and later known as "The Burlingame Treaty." Ratifications of the treaty were not exchanged at Peking until November 23, 1869. The "Burlingame Treaty" recognizes China's right of eminent domain over all her territory, gives China the right to appoint at ports in the United States consuls, "who shall enjoy the same privileges and immunities as those enjoyed by the consuls of Great Britain and Russia"; provides that "citizens of the United States in China of every religious persuasion and Chinese subjects in the United States shall enjoy entire liberty of conscience and shall be exempt from all disability or persecution on account of their religious faith or worship in either country"; and grants certain privileges to citizens of either country residing in the other, the privilege of naturalization, however, being specifically withheld.
After leaving the United States, the embassy visited several continental capitals, but made no definite treaties. Burlingame's speeches did much to awaken interest in, and a more intelligent appreciation of, China's attitude toward the outside world. He died suddenly at St Petersburg, on the 23rd of February 1870.
His son Edward Livermore Burlingame (b. 1848) was educated at Harvard and at Heidelberg, was a member of the editorial staff of the New York Tribune in 1871-1872 and of the American Cyclopaedia in 1872-1876, and in 1886 became the editor of Scribner's Magazine.