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John Tyler: Foreign Affairs

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In sharp contrast to his domestic policies, John Tyler's foreign policy decision making went much more smoothly. Recognizing the coming importance of the Asian Pacific region to trade, he sent a key diplomatic mission to China. This move resulted in commercial and consular relations with the country, giving the U.S. the same trading concessions as the British. Tyler also extended the principles of the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii, warned the British to stay away from the Hawaiian Islands, and began the process toward their eventual annexation by America.

Closer to home, the Webster-Ashburton treaty of 1842, negotiated by Secretary of State Daniel Webster, settled a longtime feud with England over where Maine ended and British-ruled Canada began. War had narrowly been averted between the two nations on several occasions over border and incursion issues, and the treaty was instrumental in bettering diplomatic relations.

With respect to his policies toward Native Americans, Tyler ended a costly and bloody war against the Seminole Indians. After defrauding the Indians of their remaining lands in 1833, the U.S. had waged a bloody but inconclusive war against Chief Osceola. Tyler was able to announce the end of hostilities in 1842.

Tyler continued his predecessors' expansionist policies in the Northwest. He pushed for a chain of forts from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to the Pacific but was unable to conclude a treaty with the British to fix the Oregon boundaries. Overall, Tyler could claim an ambitious, successful foreign policy presidency, due largely to the efforts of Secretary of State Webster, who served from 1841 to 1843.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

William Freehling

Professor Freehling is a senior fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the emeritus Singletary Professor of the Humanities at the University of Kentucky. His writings include:

The Road to Disunion, 1776–1861 (2 volumes; Oxford University Press, 1990 and 2007)

The Reintegration of American History: Slavery and the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 1994)

Prelude to Civil War: the Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816–1836 (Oxford University Press, 1992)