Embassy to the Eastern Courts: America’s Secret First Pivot Toward Asia, 1832-37
Andrew C.A. Jampoler
Andrew Jampoler’s Embassy to the Eastern Courts: America’s Secret First Power Pivot Toward Asia is a well written academic work about American diplomatic developments. His book follows the cruise of USS Peacock and USS Boxer from 1832-1834 and the cruise of Peacock with USS Enterprise from 1835 to 1837. In these two cruises, the ships travel to various Asian ports such as Manila, China, Siam, and Muscat.
The first voyage marks an important diplomatic push for the United States. Edmund Quincy Roberts set sail aboard Peacock in 1832 as it was bound for Asia. His objective, however, was kept secret as then-President Andrew Jackson wanted him to attempt to secure a treaty to formalize and regularize American trade with China, Siam, and “the powers of Arabia on the Red Sea.” The concealment of his role was to prevent the British from catching wind of the somewhat nefarious scheme.
Roberts was a merchant from New Hampshire, but his job was to present a letter to leaders of the various Asian countries that expressed the desire for a treaty to be signed to secure trade and to ensure the prosperity and flourishing of all involved economies. This was not the first time a rather informal and secret trade mission was executed under the Jackson administration, however. In years prior, Jackson quietly sent three commissioners to the Ottoman Empire to meet with the Sultan in order to gain access to the Black Sea trade routes. In typical Jacksonian manner, the United States Congress was not consulted in this endeavor, which was successful.
Jampoler describes the voyages by various American frigates, most diplomatic in nature and all aiding in the United States’ trade endeavors. Including a general overview of the United States’ naval buildup and the qualms of Congress with regard to said buildup, the book has a very holistic approach to American diplomacy with regard to Asia. The author follows the second voyage in 1835 to Asia by Peacock and Enterprise rather closely. This voyage, which circumnavigated the globe, was plagued with misfortune, quite literally. Roberts was also aboard on this voyage, tending to more diplomatic tasks. As a result of a cholera outbreak on this ship, many of the crew died, including Roberts, which halted all diplomatic endeavors.
Jampoler has done something that, in academic writing, can be very difficult. He has not only created a superbly researched and written account of a specific portion of American History, he has done it so well that even a lay person to the subject can follow along and enjoy the work without feeling at a loss. His prose keeps the reader on edge, as if reading a suspenseful novel. He relates these diplomatic missions to the world around them, which gives the reader scope.
Though it reads like one, Embassy to the Eastern Courts is not a general history. More importantly, it does not suffer from common ailments that come with general histories. Jampoler has a solid thesis and ample citations, making his book an exceedingly excellent addition to academia.
- Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015
- 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xv + 236 pages
- Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $44.95
- ISBN: 9781612514161
Reviewed by Jessica Rogers Kestler, East Carolina University