The Rush-Bagot Treaty That Demilitarized the Great Lakes Is 200 Years Old Today

CC BY 2.0. Plaque celebrating Rush-Bagot

Exactly two hundred years ago today, on April 28, 1817, Acting United States Secretary of State Richard Rush and the British Minister to Washington Sir Charles Bagot exchanged and signed letters that became the Rush-Bagot treaty, which demilitarized the Great Lakes.

The treaty provided for a large demilitarization of lakes along the international boundary, where many British naval arrangements and forts remained. The treaty stipulated that the United States and British North America could each maintain one military vessel (no more than 100 tons burden) as well as one cannon (no more than eighteen pounds) on Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. It later extended this to the other Great Lakes and in fact, the entire Canadian border.

It’s pretty amazing actually, that the USA and Canada have done a pretty good job of working together at cleaning up the lakes and keeping them demilitarized, although the Coast Guard now has bigger guns, Canada is looking the other way. According to Wikipedia, “The Canadian government decided that the armament did not violate the treaty, as the guns were to be used for law enforcement rather than military activities. Canada reserved the right to arm its law enforcement vessels with similar weapons.”

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Today those Great Lakes are at risk, because of cutbacks at the EPA that may kill The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative of 2010. The border is being thickened against trade and immigration; there are lumber wars and milk wars and who knows what else perfidious Canadians are doing since as the President says, they have been "very rough" with America and "they’ve outsmarted our politicians for many years".

But Rush-Bagot has stood for exactly 200 years today, which is a pretty good run for a treaty. Let’s hope it, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, have a few more it it.