Rush-Bagot Treaty: History, Significance & Quiz

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Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

The Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817 was an important accomplishment in 19th Century American diplomacy. Learn how the treaty eased tensions between the United States and Britain and created a sustainable relationship between the two great rivals.

We also recommend watching The French Revolution, Jay Treaty and Treaty of San Lorenzo and The Battle of Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris


I cannot stress enough to those studying history how important it is to identify reoccurring themes. Many historians have identified this as 'cyclical patterns' in history: that is, an event that transpires more than once with a similar overtone. A useful example is the Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817 and the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922. These events are separated by 100 years, but both had a similar objective: to ease war tensions and encourage diplomacy. While this lesson will focus solely on the Rush-Bagot Treaty, I encourage you to continue to look for cyclical patterns in order to achieve a better understanding of history!


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

The treaty took place between the United States and Great Britain following the War of 1812. The goal behind the agreement was to significantly eliminate both countries' burgeoning naval fleets stationed in the Great Lakes. Again, the goal was to ease tensions as a way to prevent another Anglo-American war.

Structuring the Treaty

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

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

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

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


The Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817 was a significant achievement in American diplomacy. Tensions between the United States and Britain were drastically reduced, even to the point that Britain opened additional trading ports along the United States coast. Both economies began to flourish. The agreement also yielded additional settlements in the years that followed. The Convention of 1818 secured a semi-permanent (up to the Rocky Mountains) border between the United States and British Canada. The Rush-Bagot Treaty also encouraged the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, which secured Florida and set the border between the United States and Mexico. The Rush-Bagot Treaty served as an important precursor to American diplomacy during the 19th century.

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