Mr. Portman to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Under instructions from Mr. Van Valkenburgh to report to you the intelligence from this part of Japan, I have the honor to transmit herewith, No. 1, copy of the official account of the recent battle between Osaka and Kioto, and No. 2, copy of the Tycoon’s letter to the Mikado, intrusted to his commissioner therein referred to.
My notification of the 11th ultimo, copies of which I herewith transmit, was issued on that day. I am unable to say to what extent it has been used by the Tycoon’s government, but previous to that date many wealthy merchants and others were leaving Yedo, and it gives me much pleasure to report to you that the exodus has entirely stopped, and that the most perfect tranquillity has apparently been restored.
I am fully aware that it was never contemplated to claim for the principle of exterritoriality such an extended application; but the fact of the [Page 682] notification having been printed at the government office in Yedo sufficiently shows that it met with the Tycoon’s entire concurrence, and it is quite probable also that it will be assented to by those who now oppose his government.
Mr. Van Valkenburgh informed me that he sent you a copy of his instructions to me not to deliver the “Stonewall” to the Tycoon’s government.
As war now is reported to exist between the Mikado and Tycoon, the notifications of the foreign representatives enjoin the observance of strict neutrality, and under those circumstances the “Stonewall” will, for the present at least, have to remain under our flag.
The Tycoon persistently denies that there is war between the Mikado and himself, claiming that the Mikado is a minor; that his guardians, appointed by the former Mikado, his father, have been forcibly removed by a coalition of Daimios, of which Satsuma is the chief; that other persons were, put in their places by Satsuma, and that it is in the name of the Mikado, and through those persons, that Satsuma and his confederates are now acting.
The issue, therefore, lies not between the Mikado and the Tycoon, but between the Tycoon and Satsuma.
There are many great Daimios who have not yet defined their position, but appear to maintain an armed neutrality. Nearly all of those are well provided with rifles of the latest inventions.
It is well known that in former years the Portuguese exported large quantities of gold from this country. Since their expulsion, now more than two hundred and fifty years ago, this export was stopped, with exceptions so trifling as scarcely to deserve any mention. The mines continued producing, however, and the accumulated product, an extremely small portion of which was only required for the currency, formed a reserve fund to be used by the Shogoon of Japan in a great emergency, such as a foreign war for example.
I have reason to believe that the value of the gold in the hands of the Tycoon, in the shape of bars, is enormous. I can scarcely credit the statement of my informant, as that might appear exaggerated; but assuming that the mines only produced to the value of one million of dollars per annum, it would follow that the Tycoon, who is known to have no debt, would at present command a treasury containing gold and surplus to the amount of at least two hundred and fifty millions of dollars.
The Tycoon will deny his being in possession of so much treasure. Some of the foreign representatives decline to believe in the Tycoon’s wealth, but I feel sure that, sooner or later, this will prove to be correct.
From Mr. Van Valkenburgh’s dispatches you will have learned that in the early part of the last month no less a personage than the karo, or secretary of the Prince of Bezen, made an indiscriminate attack on the foreign settlement at Kobé, (Hiogo,) and that the foreign representatives, several of whom narrowly escaped being hit by the bullets of his retainers, now demand the punishment of that secretary. Satisfaction for the outrage has been promised by the government of the Mikado, or of those who, according to the Tycoon, claim to act in his name, and in case of refusal of Bezen to surrender his secretary the Mikado is to make war against him.
The Mikado, therefore, is supposed to disagree with Bezen, and it cannot be expected that the Tycoon will indorse him. It would appear, therefore, that the Prince of Bezen, or his secretary, acted on his own responsibility, only obeying his own passionate impulses. There is [Page 683] nothing to guarantee that other Daimios will not make similar attempts at any moment. To-day the governor of this port issued a notice requesting foreigners not to go on the Tokaido, (the main road to Yedo,) as a train of Mito’s men would pass through Kanagawa on their way to that capital. The governor was apprehensive of something happening, and yet the Prince of Mito is the Tycoon’s eldest brother.
To-day, again, intelligence was received from Nagasaki that the flags of Satsuma, Choshin, and Toda, over the custom-house, were hauled down, and that that port is now under the protection of the agents of twelve Daimios.
The names of those Daimios are not given, but their act in hauling down those flags may sooner or later form or be twisted into a casus belli between them and the three Daimios named. The Tycoon remains inactive, simply organizing his forces in this part of Japan. It is expected that other Daimios will soon quarrel with each other, and before long there may be more than one civil war in Japan, each more or less independent of the other.
In none of these will there be any political principle at stake; they will be simply questions of supremacy of one Daimio over another, and eventually, it is hoped, they may be all reunited in some way under the scepter of the Mikado or Tycoon, or perhaps of both.
In one respect only all agree, according to their professions, and this is unbounded veneration for the Mikado; and yet this veneration did not prevent Choshin from making the attempt, now nearly four years ago, of carrying off the Mikado to his provinces. Satsuma recently was more successful, and the Mikado is now to all intents and purposes the vassal if not the prisoner of that bold and unscrupulous Daimio.
The real sovereign of this country is not the Mikado, who is represented as powerless; neither is it the Tycoon, who is checked. The ruler is the spirit of evil, which appears to be all-powerful, and to control every nobleman in this country.
Mr. Van Valkenburgh has kindly authorized me to explain his views to you, but even if I should enlarge upon them, as they have now been formed, I beg respectfully to submit, with reference to the foregoing, and in view of the utter unreliability of the ruling classes in Japan, that such terrible engines for mischief as iron-clads should never be permitted to get into their possession.
No means should be spared to prevent this, and I hope that you will be pleased to approve of this suggestion and to give it effect.
The Japanese have abundance of treasure and of breech-loading rifles, and entertain no friendly feeling towards foreigners, as the Bezen attack has fully shown. If they are allowed to possess iron-clads, the great western powers may soon find themselves compelled to send home their wooden ships and keep squadrons of superior iron-clads in these seas.
Every fourth man in this country belongs to the two-sworded class, and it is now the highest ambition of nearly all these men to excel as sharpshooters. The military element, always strong, has been over-stimulated from many causes—the principal one being the rivalry among Daimios in obtaining the most improved fire-arms. It was never expected that war would break out. So little did the Tycoon himself expect this, that he allowed Satsuma to surround the Mikado’s palace at Kioto—a measure which, if in the least foreseen, he could easily have prevented. No one knows now what the next hour may bring forth.
It is well worthy of consideration what the effect may be not only on our relations with this country, but perhaps also with China at a future day, if this nation becomes fully armed, and while the proud [Page 684] spirit, by which it still appears to be animated, is not friendly towards foreigners, and at the same time so aggressive and so little under control.
The supply of rifles cannot well be stopped; that of iron-clads, I sincerely hope, may not be a difficult matter, as they can only be built in the United States, England, and France.
The Tycoon has again declared his intention to abdicate; it is doubtful whether he will carry out that intention. He may resign as Shogoon, but will undoubtedly insist upon remaining the chief of the Tokugawa family, and this is pretty much the same thing under another name.
I transmit inclosure No. 3, copy of proclamation relating to that intention to abdicate, and establishing representative government of some sort for this country. I do not believe this new move to be a bona fide one, and to deserve much commendation at present.
I also transmit inclosure No. 4, copy of my letter to the Gorogio, on learning the intended abdication of the Tycoon.
The Monocacy and Iroquois are both in port.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
- Thirty-six streets to one ri or Japanese mile.↩