Mr. Van Valkenburgh to Mr. Seward.

No. 11.]

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that M. Leon Roches, the minister of his Majesty the Emperor of France, on the 9th instant, suddenly announced his intention of leaving Japan, and returning to his country upon permission he had some time since received from his government. He sailed on the same evening in the Laplace, for Yokohama, on his way home, leaving Baron Brin as chargé d’affaires ad interim.

His last official act here was the uniting in the demand made for reparation for the attack on the foreign community, on the 4th instant, which he signed previous to his departure.

[Page 665]

In announcing to his colleagues this intention, which surprised us all, he remarked that the reasons were personal to himself; that he had been a warm supporter of the Tycoon, and that having been driven from this part of the country, and pronounced in rebellion by the Mikado, he felt it his duty to return to France and make his explanations to his government in person; that in leaving Baron Brin as chargé d’affaires, he gave him instructions to act in concert with his colleagues, and that our conferences hereafter would be as unanimous as heretofore.

* * * * * * * *

Our official and personal relations had been pleasant, and in no one instance that I am aware of did he fail to unite with his colleagues in those resolutions which we deemed to be just and necessary.

Two days before his departure he furnished to each of his colleagues a memorandum of his views of the situation of affairs in Japan, a copy translation of which I inclose, marked No. 1.

He undoubtedly desired to sustain the Tycoon, but since the demand made by the foreign powers for the ratification of the treaties by the Mikado, and their ratification by him in 1865, we have certainly recognized his supreme authority, and held the Tycoon only as subordinate. We cannot close our eyes to the fact which is now well understood, that the Tycoon was the creature of the Mikado, and subject to his orders, receiving from him his position and power, and subsequently resigning that position and power to him. I believe we have nothing politically to do with the several Daimios of the country, but must look to the government.

I believe, also, that it would be impolitic to ask for the opening of more new ports at present. We may be asked to accept them. It may, and probably will be necessary, under the circumstances, the difficulties by which we are at present surrounded. The trouble of protecting our countrymen in the midst of a war, the duration of which it is now impossible to tell, to postpone the opening of Yedo and Ne-egata for a time, the advent of foreigners at these places, in the present excited and disturbed state of affairs, would but complicate our troubles.

To the conclusion of this memorandum I assent, and have acted upon it, providing only for the security of our rights and interests under the treaties, holding communication with the government de facto, at the open ports, and observing so far as is possible the same rules that would be observed in any other country.

This statement upon the part of Mr. Roches was elicited by the production by the Prussian chargé d’affaires, Mr. Von Brandt, at our conference on the 6th instant, of a paper, a copy of which I inclose marked No. 2.

This paper, however, was not signed by the representatives, although we all assented to the general principles and conditions therein contained, and have unitedly acted upon them since.

I inclose, marked No. 3, Mr. Roches’s letter addressed to me announcing the appointment of Baron Brin; No. 4, copy of his instructions left with the baron as charge d’affaires ad interim; and No. 5, copy of my letter in answer to such communication.

I have the honor to be, sir, your very obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.

[Page 666]

Memorandum addressed to his honorable colleagues by Mr. Leon Roches, minister of France in Japan.

After the events which have happened under our eyes, there is every reason to examine, first, what is at this moment the political situation of Japan; second, what position has been created by these events to the foreign powers represented in Japan; and third, what conduct they may and ought to hold. It is with the intention of helping to throw some light on these questions that the undersigned has the honor to address to his honorable colleagues an official document in which he expresses his personal opinion.


The troops of the Tycoon have been defeated. After what has happened, the government of this prince does not appear to be in a situation to resist the violent attack which has forced it to evacuate Osaka in haste. This government is withdrawing itself into another part of Japan, to Yedo, seat of the power of the Tycoon, the only one which foreigners have known regularly till now. As far as we know, the attack in question comes from some Daimios, known by their hostility towards the government of the Tycoon. These Daimios pretend to act in the name of the Mikado, the theoretical Emperor of Japan; but we know also that the present war has been preceded by a palace revolution at the court of Kioto, which renders at least doubtful the legitimacy of the motives put forward by them.

We do not know, however, how far the war will be pushed. Will the Quanto be invaded and the Tycoon deprived of his own dominions and his capital, or will the war cease for the moment with the advantages already obtained, and not attack the Quanto or Yedo? The future will solve these questions.

The means which remain to the Tycoon appear to be sufficient, if well employed, to defend the Quanto, and it is probable that the prince will content himself to employ them in such defense on account of the little moral solidity which has been shown during these last events by most of the men who have acted, or ought to have acted, in the name of the government of the Tycoon.

But as war in every country has its vicissitudes, we ought to admit also, especially in a country like this, the possibility of a favorable chance to the Tycoon, and of a favorable turn in the present state of affairs.


In the middle of these events what is the position created to the foreign powers, admitted into Japan, not to intervene in the interior questions of this country, but to protect the rights and the positions which result to them from treaties relatively old, and which nothing regular has either annulled or even put in question?

In the first place, their flags and their countrymen have been obliged, not without losses, to abandon a residence occupied by right, what they would not have done if they had not had serious reasons to suspect the dispositions of the victors with regard to them.

And what confirms this opinion is the incomprehensible outrage of which Hiogo has been the theater in full daylight, in the middle of peace and in presence of the foreign flags.

In the second place, they have passed abruptly from a state of comparative security and prosperity to a situation full of trouble and incertitude. They have lost in reality, by a quarrel which did not concern them, all the guarantees which the solemn engagements of the Tycoon, his power, and his great dominions, whose revenues amounted to eight millions of kokus, afforded to them for the execution of the treaties and the peaceful and progressive extension of the commerce over the whole of Japan.

They have nothing now to look for which could take the place of these guarantees. The Mikado, possessing neither power nor revenues belonging to him, could only offer to us as guarantees for the engagements he would enter into with regard to the foreign powers the dominions of the Daimios, who pretend to form a government in his name. But these Daimios, one may fairly believe, who have acted together to overthrow the power of the Tycoon, will refuse to accept a responsibility which would engage them personally and impose upon them the charge of solidarity. But without such responsibility and solidarity clearly established, one would search in vain what guarantees and what pledge the new state of things could offer; and admitting even that the Daimios, chiefs of the revolution, consented to devote themselves to this necessity, how much time and how much work would not be necessary to offer to us a pledge as real and as secure as that they have deprived us of.

We would, therefore, have in place of a reality nothing but a shadow of responsibility.

[Page 667]


It is therefore the duty of the representatives of the foreign powers to examine seriously what conduct they have to observe from this moment as well with regard to the adversaries of the Tycoon as with regard to the Tycoon himself.

What may be the so-called titles or interests of the parties in arms, there can be no doubt that the conflict bears all the characteristic signs of an interior discussion confined to Japan. This present war, therefore, is to be considered as a civil one.

The presence, however, of the foreign flags in the contested territories authorized the representatives to suppose at least that the party hostile to the Tycoon would make known in some direct way to the representatives of these powers their pretensions or their intentions, and that they would especially abstain carefully from every act of a nature to wound the dignity or “the interests of these countries.

In the absence of notifications or other measures, the acts of these Daimios ought to have borne a testimony for their characters and for their intentions.

There have, however, no notifications or other steps been made, while on the other side hostile acts and offensive demonstrations have not been wanting. These acts and these demonstrations have perhaps not had for apparent or official authors those who pretend to represent the Mikado, but they have been visibly inspired by them; and they cannot be passed in silence, if one does not admit that there might be, besides the international law and the diplomatic relations, a vague and indefinite sphere where what happens remains without responsibility, and where the parties, legitimate or not, can act freely without rendering an account of their acts, under pretext that there is no official signature attached to what is done. The history of the relations of the foreign powers with the far east abounds with examples absolutely contrary to this theory, which, besides, has never been put forward by any publicist.

This same history proves, on the contrary, that generally it has been preferred to punish indiscriminately rather than to leave an offense unpunished. If, therefore, we only consider the precedents, the adversaries of the Tycoon cannot be considered, for the moment at least, as the representatives of a regular government, and one can only see in what happens the more or less disastrous results of a civil war by which the foreigners have suffered, and of which they have a right to repulse the attacks.

There are certainly examples of relations entered into for the benefit of countrymen with an insurrectional government or a victorious party, but only provisionally, and in so far as such government or party did not declare itself the enemy of the foreigners established peacefully in the country by virtue of anterior conventions.

It would, therefore, only be in consequence of a reparation for the outrages and damages committed, and of a clear and precise declaration putting forward the amicable intentions of the adversaries of the Tycoon: it could only be under these conditions that the representatives of the foreign powers could examine if, and how far, it might be convenient to them to enter into any relations with the adversaries of the Tycoon.

Without the fulfillment of these conditions it appears impossible that these representatives could consent to lend their ears to any proposal, and to see anything else in the adversaries of the government, recognized as such till now, but enemies which, according to common law, in default of a government, the powers ought to restrain themselves and punish with such forces as they have at their disposal.

So much for the present. With regard to the future, there are two cases in which the representatives might and ought perhaps to adopt another line of policy, as that which results from the preceding considerations.

The first of these cases is that in which the chief of the government, recognized till now, renounced officially the character he has expressly declared to conserye with regard to the foreigners.

The second would be that when by inexcusable facts, such as attest a revolution or a change of dynasty accepted by an entire country, the representatives were brought to see that, in fact, the government of the Tycoon had ceased to exist, at least so far as the relations and the interests of the foreigners in this country are regarded. In the first of these cases, the conduct to be observed by the representatives would be perfectly clear, and it does therefore not appear necessary, for the present, to take it into consideration.

The second, on the contrary, gives sufficient matter for discussion, because, although precise in theory, it happens rarely in practice to be exactly realized. This case ought to be especially examined in a country relatively little known, and where the first manifestation of the national will, which prepared itself under the eyes of the foreigners, has been suddenly prevented by force. The representatives had been officially informed by the government of the Tycoon that a council of Daimios, called together in the regular way, was to be held at Kioto, and they could, in the absence of any other known and authorized organ of the national will, consider this council as representing sufficiently this will in Japan.

They have learned since for what reasons this council has not taken place.

From between the Daimios few had, it is true, acted in conformity with their words, [Page 668] and lent the assistance they had promised to the Tycoon, but the majority had protested against what had been done at Kioto by ruse and by violence, and therefore the representatives are authorized to say that the present coalition bears not the character of a national manifestation.

Therefore, not only has the nation, as far as such an expression may be used in Japan, not pronounced itself either for or against the Tycoon, but one could not even say that it had abstained itself, because the occasion to do so or to pronounce itself has been taken from it.

What way remains, therefore, to the foreigners to discern on which side the nation is? None which would not be suspected of a preconceived notion or of private motives.

If the foreigners were in Japan without rights or interests, simple lookers-on in the strife, and protected against all consequences which it may have, they might perhaps await what was called in. ancient times the judgment of God, and recognize the right where the force was.

But even in abstaining themselves from any interference in the strife of parties they cannot abstain themselves from having an opinion on the theoretical value of each of the parties, if it were only for the reason that they are accredited with one of them, and that they have to watch over interests which every party may compromise or serve.

It is, therefore, on the field of positive facts and diplomatic stipulations rather than in discussions on the historical right, particularly in Japan, that they can discern the road to follow at this moment.

Which, then, is the inference which can be drawn from these two trains of ideas?

The facts teach us that Japan, taken all together, is so little prepared for the introduction of foreigners, that even under a friendly government, recent proofs of hostility, or rather of hatred, have produced themselves against foreigners. Considering the spirit reigning in the rabble of certain large towns and the situation itself of the towns of Osaka and Yedo, one would be led to suppose that the moment had not yet come to penetrate into them as into places perfectly secure.

Nevertheless at the special demand of the foreigners have these towns either been opened or will be opened, and one can even prove that on the part of a certain number of European merchants the desire exists to see new ports opened in the dominions of some Daimios. But it is not the duty of the representatives to ask themselves if it be to-day in the interest of the foreigners, and in the interest or in the means of their respective governments, still to augment the number of the open towns; to hazard themselves into other territories; to have to do with many princes instead of with one; to multiply their naval stations and the consular posts; to offer, in one word, more opportunity for the ill-feeling to show itself, and more occasion for difficulties.

Why should we give the Daimios credit for more loyalty, more sincere amity, a larger understanding or a more open one to progress, than the present Tycoon has shown? This prince was, so it is said, unable to protect sufficiently the foreigners in his dominions, and therefore cannot be recognized as the real sovereign of Japan. But who will be it more than he is? And what guarantee does exist that what he has not been able to do others will do and can do? Do we not know, on the contrary, that most of the insults and attacks of which the foreigners have been the victims, have had for authors the great and small adversaries of the Tycoon; that it were precisely the liberties and franchises of the Daimios which prevented the Tycoon from punishing acts he nevertheless had to pay for very dearly?

Do we ignore that these attacks, some of them at least, may have been made less with the intention to murder a foreigner, than to create difficulties between the Tycoon and the foreigners? If to-day, in consequence of the present events, the adversaries of the government offer to us, and if we agree to establish ourselves in new towns and provinces, will we find there more security than in the possessions of the Tycoon? It would be at least singular to pretend that each of these Daimios would be in his possessions a better protector than the Tycoon in his possessions, and that the same princes by which the attacks and insults were directed against us will be for us, when we are with them, sincere and sufficient protectors. They would have selected at least quite novel means to attract us to them, and means, until now, little used in human affairs.

Considered from this point of view, the question only offers apprehensions, or at least incertitudes, and it is rather probable that the foreigners which have come to Japan to transact commercial affairs peacefully would bitterly regret to have risked themselves outside the known dominions. To push still further the consequence of such a decision, if it was taken, no clear-sighted Japanese would hesitate to believe that it was precisely to divide still more their country and to search for an opportunity to take possession of some part of it, by the aid of inevitable difficulties, that the foreigners had so acted. Such would be in every probability, in the nearest future, the consequence of such a resolution.

But it cannot be supposed that such be the intention of any of the powers represented in Japan, because such a way of acting, in itself little honorable, would be contrary to all declarations made till now, and would provoke immediately from the other powers just reclamations, or analogous proceedings. Japan would be submitted but to more[Page 669]than one power, which instead of acting together, as they have done till now, for the general benefit of the country, and the progress profitable to all, would only occupy themselves with watching and restraining each other.

But as it is not possible, to repeat it once more, to suppose such designs to any one of the powers, it remains only to hold on provisionally to the existing treaties, save to draw from the events such advantages as the circumstances will allow, and as might be obtained together by the powers for the common benefit.

So one is brought back to the daylight of the diplomatic dominion, and to the logic of the clear situation.

The foreigners exist in Japan by virtue of international conventions, which have been more than once amply and sincerely confirmed by the government with which they had been concluded, and especially by the present Tycoon. The representatives of the powers have solemnly recognized the loyalty of this prince and the spirit which his government brought to the execution of these treaties. The Tycoon has neither renounced to govern nor to execute the treaties. Far from this, one could rather believe that he would be ready to extend them, and to put himself at the head of the foreign party.

And then in the part of Japan which will obey the authority of the Tycoon, the foreigners would be certain, without it being necessary to make new stipulations, to find complete security.

Are we assured of the same advantages with the adversaries of the Tycoon?

It results evidently from what precedes, that it would be hazardous to have faith in the first declarations which they certainly will not fail to make to us.

En resumé, therefore, and for the moment the right and the duty of the powers appear to be exclusively to provide, if necessary by force, for the security of the foreigners, and for the maintenance of the treaties, without changing anything in the diplomatic situation, until the events have by themselves and without any intervention, either open or secret, disengaged the representatives from the obligations they would observe in every other country, and from which they cannot depart here without causing serious damages to the honor and perhaps to the interest of the country which every one of them represent.



Since the abandonment of the cattle at Osaka by the Tycoon, and the reception from his ministers of the communication dated 30th January, 1868, the undersigned have no knowledge of the existence of a general government in Japan.

The government of the Tycoon, which appeared able to give some guarantees for the faithful execution of the treaties, and to which for this reason the undersigned have always given their moral support, has broken down in the course of a few days, and the open ports of Osaka and Hiogo have been abandoned by the troops and officials of the heretofore so-called government, while the apparently victorious party has not yet thought fit to communicate with the foreign representatives.

The undersigned, therefore, think it their duty to lay down in a few words the principles by which their future action will be guided. They wish to preserve a perfect and faithful neutrality between the contending parties, concentrating all their efforts upon the protection of the lives and interests of their countrymen. They will neither treat with any single prince or coalition, nor support the former Tycoon against his enemies, but will only enter into communication with the Mikado or such de facto governments as hold any of the open ports. They agree between themselves not to accept any communication from any of the contending parties not addressed to all the foreign representatives, or to negotiate separately with them, but to act conjointly for the best of the general and common interests they represent.

The bases on which they will enter into communication with such party as may offer sufficient guarantees to them for the execution of its engagements are—

1st. The full and unreserved recognition of all treaties, conventions, and agreements concluded between their respective governments, or their representatives, and the government of the Tycoon up to this day.

2d. A reliable guarantee for the execution of the stipulations contained in such treaties, &c., and for the safety of the lives and property of their countrymen, as well as for the re-establishment and protection of their commercial interests.

3d. Full and ample satisfaction for the outrage committed on the 4th of February, 1868, by Japanese troops at Kobé, and a guarantee that no similar outrage shall hereafter be committed.

Note.—This memorandum was not signed, but the general principles and conditions were assented to by all the representatives, and have in a great measure governed our subsequent action.

February 18.

[Page 670]

M. Roches to Mr. Van Valkenburgh.

My Dear Colleague: I have the honor to inform you that I leave to the Baron Brin, attaché of the legation of France in Japan, the duty of representing France after my departure, in the quality of chargé d’affaires ad interim.

I communicate to you at the same time the conditions under which this mandate is confided to the Baron Brin.

I am happy, in parting, to hope that the Baron Brin will find with you the help and cordial sympathy which I ask from you for him, and which has rendered to me personally so precious the relations I have had the pleasure to maintain with you.

Receive, sir, and dear colleague, the assurances of my high consideration.


General Van Valkenburgh, Minister of the United States of America in Japan.


Copy of instructions to Baron Brin, attache of the legation of France in Japan, at Hiogo.

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that in consequence of the gravity of the circumstances, and the particular nature of events we have witnessed, I believe that I ought not to leave to any one the duty of giving the necessary information to my government. I go, to this effect, to Yokohama, and leave to you, in the quality of chargé d’affaires ad interim, the care of representing France in Japan.

The line of conduct you will have to follow, until you will have received other instructions, confines itself to the protection of the naval and national interests of France, and to agree to the decisions which will be taken conjointly, by the representatives of foreign powers, in order to maintain in fact and in appearance the mutual understanding of such representatives, which has already produced and will produce such happy results.

I am convinced that you will find with my colleagues the most complete and cordial help to facilitate the accomplishment of the mission I confide to you.

I transmit to every one of my colleagues a copy of the present instructions, which, if necessary, will serve to accredit you near the government which will be recognized de facto, in that part of Japan where the interests of our countrymen are already engaged.

Receive, sir, the assurance of my very distinguished consideration,

LEON ROCHES, The Minister of France in Japan.