Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs, Accompanying the Annual Message of the President to the Third Session of the Fortieth Congress
Mr. Dix to Mr. Seward
Sir: I have the honor to inclose a document which the chargé d’affaires from Japan left with me the day before yesterday, with a translation in French. His call, which was quite formal, was made in pursuance of a request that I would appoint a day to receive him. The conversation between us was carried on in Japanese on his part, and in French on mine; his interpreter, who does not speak English, explaining to each [Page 446] what was said by the other. In the course of his remarks he expressed the wish that the government of the United States should be assured of the strong interest felt by that of Japan in all that concerns the prosperity of our country. He also desired that the inclosed document should be forwarded without delay, in order that the condition of things in Japan, which had not been correctly represented by the public press, should be rightly understood.
I have had an English translation made of the French translation, and inclose it with the original document.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
The undersigned, chargé d’affaires of Japan, has the honor to transmit, pursuant to the orders of his government, to General John A. Dix, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the United States of America, an original copy and a translation of the manifesto which the council of the Gorodjis addressed to the powers which have treaties with Japan, on the subject of the events which have recently taken place at Kioto.
The undersigned deems it, moreover, right to remark to the general, that although the Tycoon has thought it his duty to place his powers in the sacred hands of the Mikado, son of the gods, and provide for the convocation of a general assembly of the daimios of the empire, called by the sovereign himself to revise with him the constitution, nevertheless, by the express desire of the Mikado our Tycoon continues, until the decision of the national assembly, to preside over the administration of the country, and his orders will be, as heretofore, published and executed by the council of the Gorodjis.
The undersigned seizes this occasion to renew to General John A. Dix the assurance of his sentiments of high consideration.
KOURIMOTO AKI NOKAMI.
Legation of Japan, Paris, January 31, 1868.
Translated conformably to the Japanese text.
Our Tycoon having voluntarily taken the resolution to place in the hands of the Mikado the reigns of the government which he and his ancestors have held for more than 250 years, we believe it to be our duty to explain to foreign powers the true meaning of the events which are about to be accomplished, and to warn them in advance against erroneous statements, which can serve only to create popular excitement.
For a perfect understanding of the facts we are about to expose, it is indispensable to go back to an early period of our history. In the beginning of the Japanese monarchy, that is to say over 2,000 years before the present reign, the sovereign descendants of the gods whom we call Mikados held absolute power. But their authority very soon became enfeebled, and ended in being transmitted to the Foogiwara, their chief ministers.
The departments of the civil government, “Konghué,” which discharged at that time every duty, were unable to administer the government with authority, and above all to direct military operations against the rebels of that epoch. The sovereign was led to ask the military houses, “bonkhé,” to lend him their aid, and thus the unity which gives strength to empires ceased to exist. Two great families, the Guendjis and the Fechis, shared at that period the military authority. The empire thus found itself divided: the military families of the east followed the banner of the Guendjis, and those of the west the flag of the Fechis. The disturbances which filled up those unfortunate periods sprang especially from the ambition of the prince of the family of the Mikados. Each pretender called in the assistance of one of the two military houses [Page 447] referred to. The Fechis becoming for the time absolute masters, surpassed the Fondji-waras in their tyranny, and the Mikado was forced to place himself under the protection of the Guendjis, who avenged upon the Fechis the death of their ancestors. The sovereign, delivered from his oppressors, invested the Guendjis with the entire military control. These events occurred in the 13th century of the Christian era. It was then that Shiogoon appeared, the true ancestors of the present dynasty of the Tokoogawa, who of right should have occupied the Tycoonate.
This state of things lasted nearly 400 years. In the wars continually waged, many Shiogoon, in protecting the Mikado against his enemies and maintaining peace in the empire, attained great reputation by their power and their devotedness. It is true that the empire did not yet enjoy entire peace, the division of power being one of the chief causes of the troubles which agitated it, each person acting according to his own caprice. The people, decimated by perpetual war, had forgotten even the existence of the Mikado. It was then that there appeared upon the political scene the ancestor of the Tycoons of the reigning dynasty, Gonguen Sama. Gifted with superior intelligence and wisdom, he never recoiled from any of the fatigues of war carried on to secure the final tranquillity of the country. People and sovereign began to breathe more freely. The Mikados saw their palaces rebuilt and their revenues increased, and all their dependents enjoyed the benefits of peace. Profoundly touched by so many noble qualities, the Mikados confided to Gonguen Sama all their power, and agreed to occupy themselves no more with the cares of government. The power of Gonguen Sama thus increased rapidly, and could be compared only to that of the ancient Shiogoon.
All the Daimios were convened at Yedo, and the bases of the new constitution were settled. All the Daimios without exception were obliged to have a palace at Yedo, in which they were compelled to live some every year, and others every two years, for a specified number of days. All consented without objection to this important stipulation of the constitution.
Thus Japan, after having been agitated by disturbances which had lasted for centuries, enjoyed a peace extending over a period of about 250 years. No Daimio during that time stirred up new troubles, and all esteemed themselves happy in living under the government of the Tycoon. Results so important had thus secured to his family and to his descendants the possession of an unquestioned power. But during this long period the rest of the world had made rapid progress.
An American fleet appeared before Yedo, and it became apparent that Japan could no longer isolate herself, and must finally renounce the old practice of excluding strangers. The government was convinced that, in view of the progress of military science and the perfection of arms in Europe, it would be absurd to risk without good reason the hazards of an uncertain war. Besides, distance being as it were annihilated and nations brought into contact with each other, it was resolved that Japan should make treaties with the west. Such a resolution necessarily produced changes which the country was far from expecting. It is to be regretted that the government did not consider this matter in every possible light, in order that no misapprehensions should exist in the mind of any one. But it believed that in limiting the provisions of the treaties, and in restricting our relations with the west, it would be able to dispel by degrees the prejudices of a people whose country had been closed until that time to all relations with foreigners. This half measure only encouraged its enemies, and created distrust between strangers and the Japanese.
Some great Daimios even conceived the project of taking advantage of these difficulties to seize upon the power of the Tycoon. The most absurd rumors were persistently spread. They deceived the Mikado. The government was calumniated and its acts misrepresented.
This is not the place to discuss the causes which weakened the government of the predecessors of the Tycoon. Such a discussion would be useless, and repugnant to the feelings of the devoted subjects of the Tycoon. Nevertheless, if the policy which has been pursued does not meet with one entire approval, we do simple justice in affirming that the government has never ceased to combat the party hostile to strangers, and loyally to seek the means necessary to insure the observance of its treaties. But the solution of so many difficulties was reserved for the reigning Tycoon, who by the superiority of his genius has alone been able to construct upon a firm foundation the political edifice of Gonguen Sama. A long experience had convinced him that unity of power was one of the first conditions of good government. The long sojourn he had made at Kioto had enabled him fully to appreciate all the difficulties against which the government contended. Thus at first he declined to take the direction of affairs, and if later he repressed his repugnance, it was because he comprehended the necessity of establishing abroad full confidence in the loyalty of the country in the execution of its treaties, however unpopular they might be, and however opposed by some of the Daimios.
The invitation which was addressed to the representatives of foreign powers to come to Osacca, the cordial reception which was given them, the unalterable resolution to execute treaties in all their details, are without doubt so many sacred duties imposed [Page 448] upon the chief of the government. But it is impossible for us not to recall in this place the generous efforts of the Tycoon, his loyalty, his sincerity, and his forgetfulness of his own interests. Thus the execution of her treaties has been assured, and Japan need not blush before the world.
The external question having been settled, the Tycoon naturally turned his regards upon the internal condition of his country. He could not avoid recognizing that our institutions, formerly excellent, did not now, reopened to the necessities of our age, and that to remain indifferent to the progress of the rest of the world would be truly moral suicide. We have ourselves often reflected also upon this grave question. But to resolve so difficult a problem nothing less than the wisdom of the reigning Taikoon would have sufficed. He believes, with reason, that to give to government the required strength it is necessary, while respecting the aspirations and the prejudices of the country, to re-establish a unity of power. While among western nations this unity is practically adopted by all, with us it is a pure fiction.
May the people itself understand this necessity of the times, and lend its assistance to the generous initiative of the Chief of State. Thus the Chief of State, on taking the resolution to resign into the hands of the Mikado the power which he had derived from his ancestors, immediately begged the sovereign to convoke all the magnates of the country, that they might come to an understanding upon the present condition of affairs, fix the government upon a solid basis, revise the constitution, and thus open to the country a road of progress which must lead it to power and prosperity.
Such noble disinterestedness, without parallel in the history of our country, could have inspired the Tycoon only from his profound patriotism, which can never be indifferent to the sufferings of his country.
Such is the true meaning of the events which have just occurred. Our relations with foreign nations cannot be affected by them. These will be, as they have been, pacific and amicable, and should not be objects of suspicion to foreign powers. Our treaties will be executed in their integrity.
The Tycoon, in strictly executing the treaties, has given striking proofs of his loyalty, and of his sincere desire to live in perfect harmony with foreign powers. As regards the Daimios, who in response to the call of the Tycoon may unite in council to discuss the question of external affairs, if there should be among them some difference of opinion, the Taikoon can count upon eight or nine-tenths of the Daimios and Minamotos.
We end this letter by an appeal to the friendship of foreign powers, and we beg them kindly to join us in our work. The motives which lead us to desire their moral aid are, above all, a love of country, and a desire to be able some day to thank them for the generous aid they may have given us. Our reconstruction will then be as closely allied to their glory as is the shadow to the substance and the echo to the sound which produces it. We have believed it to be our duty to enlighten foreign powers upon the events which have just taken place, and, as we have said in another dispatch, we shall take care to keep them informed of the news from Kioto.
Translation conformable to the Japanese text.