Townsend Harris, First American Minister in Japan
WHO opened Japan to the world, — Matthew Perry or Townsend Harris; the bluff sailor, with a great fleet, or the scholarly diplomatist, without a ship or a soldier ? Was it tactics or tact, dramatic display or patient skill?
Between the years 1776 and 1853, in the eyes of foreigners at least, no act of the government of the United States had profoundly affected the world at large. Walter Dixon, an English author, declared that “the national action toward Japan has had a wider cosmopolitan influence than any other act since the Declaration of Independence.” That action consisted in sending the brother of the hero of Lake Erie with an armed squadron to demand certain rights of asylum and refreshment. The whale had acted as pioneer of civilization, and had lured American ships and sailors to the distant North Pacific. The “black ships ” not only cast ominous shadows on Japanese shores, but left many a wreck and waif. With courage, firmness, time, and patience, a most impressive display of men, ships, and guns, and a consummate skill in the use of their own chosen weapons that amazed even adepts in fuss, brag, and swagger, Matthew Perry won a “ brain victory.” He secured from the Tycoon and his satellites promise of fair treatment to American sailors, asylum to vessels in stress of weather, and right to buy fuel, provisions, and water. At the suggestion of the able diplomatist, Dr. S. Wells Williams, then secretary and interpreter, — dubbed “ Keredomo san” (Mr. But) by the Japanese, because of his frequent use of that particular disjunctive conjunction which so often circumvented them and turned the edge of their smooth assurances, — the “ favored nation ” clause was inserted. In a word, Williams forged the chief weapon for the future army of diplomatists. Nevertheless, Perry’s treaty was one of friendship only, not of trade or residence. To all suggestions of commerce with their people, or alien stay upon the soil, the Japanese gave flat refusal.
Did Perry really open Japan to the world ? So it seemed in 1854. He obtained what our government had asked for, but not what Americans wanted. As eager as “ boomers ” to occupy lands ceded by Indians were the American skippers, who interpreted the treaty too liberally, to live and trade in Japan. Within fifteen days after our frigates left Japanese waters came the first ship to Yedo Bay, soon to be followed by others loaded with families and Yankee notions, but only to be warned off and hustled out with unloaded cargoes. Departing homeward with maledictions on Perry, these voyagers declared that Japan had repudiated solemn treaties, and at home began to agitate for a stalwart commercial policy.
Whatever lofty motives may have furnished the breath that filled the sails of the American squadron, — and there are even Japanese who call it “jimpu,” or the divine gale, — money-making was the motor that drove the keels of the traders. The market of Japan mast be opened. The tip of the wedge being already in the crack, who should swing the beetle and drive home the splittingiron ?
When President Pierce and Secretary Marcy looked about to find the man for the work and the hour, they cast their eyes upon one supremely fitted. This man was Townsend Harris, then fifty years old. This typical American, who came of Welsh stock which had transplanted itself to America with Roger Williams, was born at Sandy Hill, Washington County, N. Y., October 3, 1803. His mother, grand in character and stately in presence, was his chief educator, although he enjoyed the benefits of a district school. When but fourteen years old, his steps were bent to the great metropolis, and the humble beginnings of his business career were with a druggist in New York. Rising steadily by industry and skill, he became, not as one, by a lucky and prophetic misprint, wrote, “ a China-merchant,” but a widely known dealer in crockery and earthenware. Trade, however, was not the law of his life, but his necessity. Culture was the dominant purpose. He studied and mastered French, Spanish, and Italian, read by system the best literature, and was a close and constant student of natural history, and an independent observer of stars, plants, and animals. In after life, since he never married, and of necessity spent much time alone, these Studies were his joy and solace, and powerfully assisted to keep him the man of chaste mind and body he was. In politics he was a Democrat, always refusing to accept a salaried office, and very influential with the best men of his party. He believed the State should furnish the higher education free to those who wanted it. He agitated for the creation of the New York Free Academy, and despite the powerful opposition of Columbia College won the day. The New York Free College is now nearly fifty years old. For several years he served on the Board of Education, and in 1846 and 1847 was its president.
The death of his mother, reverses in business caused by depression in trade, and other events clustering together gave Mr. Harris a long-awaited opportunity. Winding up his business, he purchased two ships, and resolved to he his own supercargo, while gratifying bis taste for travel and adventure. He embarked upon one of those old-fashioned trading voyages, which steamships have rendered no longer possible. For seven years, he visited most of the Pacific islands, and all the Asiatic countries washed by the Indian Ocean. While studying human nature in every form, his experiences were often striking, and sometimes dangerous. On one occasion he spent the night as guest of a cannibal chief. The palace of grass and reeds, black-lacquered with smoke and soot, was decorated with a dado of human skulls. After supper, the cannibal expatiated on the deliciousness of roast man, and gravely pointed out on Mr. Harris’s own person the portions which were most tender and toothsome. For a short time Mr. Harris lived in China, and held the position of American consul at Ning-Po.
Throughout these years the merchant navigator was learning diplomacy at first hand, and studying the arts to which men weak in moral courage habitually resort. Oriental and insular human nature relies more on cunning than on truth. Mr. Harris continually proved the advantage of truth - speaking. He believed that one honest man was a match for ten thousand liars. His attitude toward liars was like his feeling about earthquakes, — he never got used to them. Though himself one of the courtliest of men, he hated with everdeepening hatred both the liar and the politeness that cloaked the deception. He thought that fine manners were a fine art, but that by deceit it was degraded and its beauty turned to ashes.
Townsend Harris and William L. Marcy, Pierce’s able Secretary of State, were close personal friends. Marcy wrote to China, summoning Harris, on the plea of personal friendship, to assume the responsible task in Japan. Hurrying home from China by way of the Red Sea, and completing a voyage round the world, he arrived in New York July 27, 1855, feeling as though he wanted never to leave that city “ for two hundred and fifty miles in any direction.” After an interview with President Pierce, he was officially appointed July 31, 1855.
The tongue of Holland was the only European language which the Japanese knew anything about, it being the basis of their extra-Asiatic culture. Moreover, the kindly offices and recommendation of the Dutch government had been powerful factors in the success of Perry’s mission. Mr. Harris’s first need, therefore, was an intelligent young Hollander as secretary and interpretin. This person, through the aid of the Rev. Thomas De Witt, of the Collegiate Reformed Church, he found in Mr. Henry C. J. Heusken, whose widowed mother lived in Amsterdam. He was brave, capable, enthusiastic, and scholarly. He acted as interpreter to the British and Prussian embassies during the treaty - making epoch following the success of his chief. He also found it necessary to instruct the Japanese who called themselves interpreters in modern and genuine Dutch ; these tyros having made up their mind that a local mercantile patois, two hundred years old, and steadily flowing in Japanese moulds of thought, was the only proper form of speech. Moreover, as they insisted that every word in the Dutch versions of treaties, etc., should stand in the same order as the equivalent in the Japanese, they had to be taught not only a new language, but a new cycle of ideas. As an indispensable element in Mr. Harris’s diplomatic success the name of Henry Heusken deserves permanent remembrance. He was assassinated by cowardly swashbucklers in Yedo, January 14, 1861. His tomb, in a Buddhist cemetery in Tokio, is but one of many mournful proofs of the great sacrifice of life attending the change of civilization in Japan.
After a hasty trip through Europe, Mr. Harris waited two months at Pulo Penang for the frigate San Jacinto. Though without rank as minister, he was charged with the making of treaties with two countries. He was to follow up Mr. Edmund Roberts’s work in Siam, and negotiate a new and enlarged convention. This was all the more difficult, as Mr. Balestier, his predecessor, had been unsuccessful in 1851, five years before. After a month’s interviews, delays, and annoyances of various sorts at Bangkok, his labors were crowned with complete success, and by June 1, 1856, the prow of the San Jacinto was headed for Japan.
On the 22d of August, the San Jacinto, piloted into the harbor of Shimoda by a native steersman who bore credentials printed in The Japan Expedition Press, cast anchor. By the afternoon of the 4th of September the carpenters of the frigate had finished and set up the emblem of office. Here let Mr. Harris’s diary give the story : —
“ Flagstaff erected. Men form a ring around it, and at 21/2 P. M. of this day I hoist the ‘ first consular flag ’ ever seen in this empire. Grave reflections — ominous of change — undoubted beginning of the end. Qu[ery] if for the real good of Japan. The San Jacinto left at five o’clock, saluting me by dipping her flag, which was answered by me, and then she left me ‘ alone in my glory.’ ”
As it proved, it was over twelve months before the blue waters of the bay again mirrored on its bosom, from an American war ship, the flag of his home land.
The warmest welcome to the new envoy was given by the mosquitoes, which are described as “enormous in size.” To slaughter the army of cockroaches imported from the San Jacinto was his first care. With such occupations as opening boxes, suspending mosquito nets, providing eatables, putting in order his house, which was an old Buddhist temple at Kakizaki, a suburb of Shimoda, and transforming its belfry into a pigeonhouse, in which his four pairs of pigeons, soon to furnish a meal to the bob-tailed cats of the neighborhood, were installed, he was too busy to be lonely. On the third night he found an ample field for the exercise of his tastes in natural history. “ Hear a curious insect of the cricket tribe to-night; sound was precisely like a miniature locomotive at great speed. Bats in rooms. See enormous ‘ tête de mort ’ spider ; the legs extended five and a half inches as the insect stood. Unpleasant discovery of large rats, in numbers, running about the house. Light showers during the night.”
Sunday over, on which day Mr. Harris, during his whole stay in Japan, would transact no official business, the long diplomatic struggle of one honest man against a host of liars began. Let us here note the forces and the lines of battle. It is no disgrace to the Japanese of to-day that we call attention to the blackness of moral darkness that overshadowed nearly all government dealings in the Japan of the Ansei era. Nevertheless, it is even yet true that lying and licentiousness are the national sins. Both for politeness’ sake and for trivial reasons, much intellect is wasted in calling white black, and black white, while official statistics show one divorce to every three marriages as still the rule. In Harris’s day, the very government itself being a fraud, built on lies, and liable at any moment to totter to its fall, it needed a buttressing of falsehood to hold it up and stave off the crash. Hence the originality, ingenuity, and energy shown in prevarication impressed Mr. Harris. His record of their lies is appalling. It seemed to him a dissipation of mental power much better put to use in other directions, while the mass and toughness of the fabrications resembled masonry.
Compelled by the force of circumstances to make the Perry treaty, the Yedo government had relapsed into slumber, only to be rudely awakened in pettish ill humor by the promptness of the Americans. Besides, the more wily ones had expected, after making the treaty, to be able to nullify it by their choice of distant or worthless ports. It was not at first that Mr. Harris discovered what all along the Yedo officers knew, that Shimoda was nearly useless for foreign commerce. Open to the sea, it was shut in by ranges of high hills, and lay near the end of a barren promontory, remote from trade, highways, and markets. Its chief use now is as a stone quarry for the public buildings in Tokio.
In glancing at the historical situation, the dwarf of to-day can see further than could the giant of a generation ago. The more Japanese history is studied, the more is it seen to be in nothing bizarre, peculiar, or anomalous, and the more is it analogous to that of Europe. Sprung, in all probability, from two distinct stocks, the Malay islanders and the immigrants from the Asiatic highlands, the primitive men of Nippon brought with them the rude feudalism which was common to both Corea and Malaisia. The clan of Yamato, becoming paramount over the other inhabitants of Hondo, or the main island, exalted their chief to the rank of the gods. They quelled the Ainos and their aboriginal neighbors with bolts and blades of dogma as well as of iron. It was superior theology as well as improved weapons that won the day in central Japan. In the seventh century, the introduction from China of the centralized system of imperialism, with standing armies, codes of law, boards of government at the capital, and civil governors sent out to the provinces to rule conjointly with the military magistrates, brought the remotest ends of Hondo, Yezo, Shikoku, and Kiushiu under the sway of the Awful Gate, or Mikado. These centuries, from the seventh to the twelfth, of the undivided rule of the Emperor — despite the fact that in later generations the Fujiwara, Taira, and other noble families practically barred access to the Mikado, monopolized power and office, and dictated nominations to the throne — are looked upon as the golden age of Japan. Even in this year of grace 1892, of the (mythical) Japanese Empire the twenty-five hundred and fifty-third, and of actual history possibly the sixteen hundredth, a native philosopher, in an elaborate treatise on ethics, makes the central principle of all morals loyalty to the throne.
In Roman history the development of the Pretorium, which made and deposed emperors and dictated the policy of the empire, has a striking parallel in the Bakufu, or Shōgunate, by which Japan was, with a few brief intervals, governed from A. D. 1184 to 1868. The word pretorium meant, first of all, a general’s tent; and so did the word bakufu, from baku, a curtain, such as was used to mark off the general’s headquarters, and fu, authority or government. In time, the tent inclosed and overshadowed all Japan. The typical product of Japanese architecture, the yashiki, or clan-caravansary, of which Yedo was full, was but a wooden tent. Kamakura first, and then Yedo, was the camp city of the Japanese pretorian guard. The Shōgun’s central castle, girt with moats and masonry, was surrounded by the wooden tents of his vassals. The camp and the throne, Yedo and Kioto, Shōgun and Emperor, divided the goods of the nation ; the former holding the purse and sword, the latter monopolizing divinity and honors.
In theory, all the land belonged to the Mikado, but parallel with the development of duarchy was that of feudalism. After the civil magistracies of the middle ages had been swallowed up in the military offices, the next step was to turn districts into fiefs, and the next to make the feudal allotments hereditary in the families of the Shōgun’s nominees. The force of feudalism could no further go when these fiefs were parceled out by the Shōgun without reference to the Mikado’s will, and this Iyéyasŭ did. He further so distributed the lands of his kinsmen and most loyal vassals that the jealous princes of ancient fame and present power could never combine to overthrow the Shōgunate, or Yedo Pretorium. On the chessboard of Japan, the master move, or " king’s hand,” has always been to get possession of the Mikado and issue edicts in the name of the Son of Heaven. For two hundred and fifty years, because of the iron hand of Iyéyasŭ, none had been able to make that move. Further, the country had been so long at peace, under the system which seemed fixed forever, that most people forgot that things had ever been different. Not only was feudalism, with its two foci at Yedo and Kioto, coextensive with the whole empire, but in intensiveness its influence permeated every department of life, even morals and religion. The Mikado, whom none except a few august nobles of the court had ever seen, whose feet never touched the ground, whose palace was a miya, or temple, whose countenance was a “ dragon’s,” who was a son of the gods, all men loved. The Shōgun, whose iron hand every man, woman, and child felt and feared, was the one to be reverently obeyed. This was Japanese religion.
With foreigners and all the world excluded by edict; with " the evil sect called Christian ” extirpated ; with the millions of Japan included and made adscripti glebœ by the reduction to ashes of all seaworthy ships, by a ban laid on travel to other lands, and death pronounced upon both passenger abroad and Christian within, Japan was isolated from the shock of change.
The apparition of Perry’s fleet had indeed been a nightmare ; yet even with two ports open to the “ ugly ” and “ hairy ” foreigners, was it not possible to keep things as they were ? Could not the aliens’ eyes be blinked, the veil be kept over Kioto, and the Mikado still float on “ purple clouds ” as the " spiritual ” Emperor only, and the mystery play be continued ? This, on the Japanese side, and from the Yedo point of view, was the problem and set purpose.
Yes, and this pretorian purpose might have succeeded, had there been no students or thinkers in Japan. Unfortunately for the Pretorium at Yedo, men studied history, pondered and wrote, and the pen proved mightier than the sword. In reality, even while Townsend Harris was at Shimoda, could he have had the statistics of men imprisoned, tortured, banished, beheaded, or compelled to commit hara-kiri for uttering the truth ; could he have seen the list of books purged by the censors, or confiscated and suppressed by the Yedo government; could he have seen the eager students furtively copying with wearisome labor English and Dutch books at peril of reputation and life, while even those who would learn science, or introduce new arts, sciences, or weapons of war, jeoparded their lives, his eyes would have been opened as the lad’s at Dothan. Mr. Harris was the bearer of a letter from the President of the United States addressed to “ the Emperor ” in Yedo. To the American envoy, the idea of there being two Emperors, one “ spiritual ” and the other “ temporal,” a figment of the government interpreters, was not perplexing. Such an arrangement was implied in the Perry treaty, and had apparently a close analogy in Siam. A critical student might wonder at two suns in the same system, yet consider rather that sun and moon both furnished light; but which was the fire and which the reflector, Kioto or Yedo ?
Even a decade of life spent by the American envoy in the morally fetid atmospheres of the East had scarcely blunted the edge of his surprise at the mystery surrounding political affairs in Japan, and especially at the subterfuges daily resorted to, daily exposed, and daily repeated. He was, however, so far forearmed that he resolved on no pretext whatever should the President’s letter leave his hands until deposited by him in person before the Tycoon in Yedo. He knew that the consuming curiosity of the Japanese would be his strongest ally.
The Yedo politicians first tried him with local underlings, but without success ; then with officers of higher rank ; and finally with special dignitaries sent from Yedo. Then bribes alternated with threats. All were in vain ; lubricity and creature comforts, honors and gold, were as empty air. Foiling their pertinacity with patience, and their variegated pretenses with simple truth, Mr. Harris won all his points. The currency question was settled, — the American dollar passed for its true value, and not at sixty-six per cent discount; ships’ supplies were honestly furnished ; truth in petty matters actually began to be the rule ; and, greatest of all, the point of audience and residence in Yedo was, after a year’s quibbling, granted.
For over a year this exile from home strained his eyes in vain to behold a national vessel which might bring him dispatches from his government. On the 8th of September, 1857, the sailing sloop of war Portsmouth, eighteen days from Shanghai, brought him money and provisions, but not a word from the State Department. She sailed away on the 12th. Six months more were to elapse before word or ship came. After many more interviews, some stormy and others tedious, an imposing document, five feet long and eighteen inches wide, arrived on the 25th of September. It was signed by five daimios composing the regency Permission was given to enter Yedo. Here let Mr. Harris speak for himself.
Monday, November 23, 1857. “ At eight this morning I started on my journey to Yedo. I went on horseback. The morning was very fine, and the idea of the importance of my journey and the success that had crowned my efforts to reach Yedo gave me a fine flow of spirits. The American flag was borne before me, and I felt an honest pride in displaying it in this hitherto secluded country. At Nakamura [Middle Village], about one mile from my house, I joined the main cavalcade. ”
In the procession duly formed according to native etiquette, numbering about three hundred persons, and extending half a mile, went first of all, about four hundred yards in advance, three lads, each bearing a wand of bamboo with strips of paper attached to the top, forming the well-known baton of office. These cried out to the crowds that lined the roadside, “ Sh’taniro ! Sh’taniro ! ” — Down (on your knees). The news had got abroad, and a landslide of humanity seemed to have taken place in the direction of the route to Yedo, while to the great city “millions” — so the Japanese officers said — had flocked to see the new thing in Japan, an unarmed foreigner treated with highest honors.
A military officer of rank led the procession proper. Then followed the American flag, escorted by two guards ; then Mr. Harris, surrounded by six mounted samurai ; next the norimono, or palanquin, with its twelve carriers and their chief ; then the shoe-bearers. A section of slightly less dignity for Mr. Heusken followed. The train of porters, conveying personal effects, presents, legation property, etc., was succeeded by the cook and his following and impedimenta. The trains of the governors of Shimoda, the mayor of Kakizaki, the suburb in which Mr. Harris had lived, the secretaries, etc., elongated the pomp and circumstance beyond anything seen in Idzu since the days of Yoritomo. Indeed, between the long exile with patient waiting, followed by a sudden outburst of splendid triumph, of the mediæval hero, who founded the very political system which Mr. Harris was even then destroying, and the labors and success of the victorious American, there is a striking analogy. Possibly some of the spectators may have made comparison of the two chief events in that same neighborhood, separated though they were by seven hundred years.
In the procession, the guards, or twosworded gentry, were clothed in silk, and had the arms of the United States on the right and left breast of their haori, or coats, sewed over their clan or family crests. The private baggage of the minister was covered with black cotton cloth, with the national arms neatly emblazoned. Into each of the packages of presents was stuck a little bamboo staff floating the American flag. Many of the attendants wore the kami-shimo, or dress of ceremony, and on the backs of the norimono-bearers the imported American eagle overshadowed for the nonce all domestic heraldry.
Making scholarly comparison along the route with Kämpfer’s descriptions; for dignity’s sake rather than personal convenience ensconcing himself at times in the curtained norimono; resisting firmly every attempt to place him on a level with the Shōgun’s vassals, the daimios, instead of treating him as the representative of the President of the United States; enjoying the matchless scenery of Hakoné Lake, and the pineclad mountains ranged around peerless Fuji; noting with interest the swept roads, the gala decorations, the long line of flambleaus which made his cortége during a night journey to Odawara resemble the tail of a fiery dragon ; spending the Sunday in rest at Kawasaki, and reading, with Mr. Heusken as his audience and fellow-worshiper, the PrayerBook service, Mr. Harris entered the outer gateway of the city of Yedo on the afternoon of November 30. As each ward of this camp city was then doublestockaded with stout timber palings, making a series of forts, and " as the authorities were changed every one hundred and twenty yards,” the passage of Mr. Harris’s norimono to the quarters assigned him in the northwestern part of the city resembled that of a canal boat through successive locks and levels.
“ A large proportion of the assemblage wore two swords, showing they were of some rank, and almost all had on the kami-shimo, or dress of ceremony. The number admitted into the streets through which I passed formed a rank of five deep on each side of the way. Every cross-street had its stockade closed to prevent too great a crowd, and as I looked up and down the streets they seemed a solid mass of men and women. The most perfect order was maintained from Shinagawa to my lodgings, a distance of seven miles. Not a shout or cry was heard. The silence of such a vast multitude had something appalling in it. Lord Byron called a silent woman ‘sleeping thunder.’”
On this day, one of the most significant in the whole history of Japan, the Yedo government was in a fever of anxiety lest some untoward accident or fanatical marplot should turn a peaceful scene into one of turmoil and blood. By the use of most stringent measures the people of the surrounding country were kept out of Yedo, and all the inner gates of the city had been closed since the previous evening. Traffic was resumed only after the American envoy was safely housed. Eight “commissioners of the voyage of the American ambassador to Yedo ” had been appointed to wait upon Mr. Harris, two of whom — Udono, a high officer of the revenue department, and Hayashi, the learned regent of the university — had served in the negotiations with Perry in 1854. On the next day the Tycoon’s chamberlain made a visit of ceremony, and, after greetings in the name of “ his Majesty ” and congratulations, presented Mr. Harris with seventy pounds of bonbons and confectionery in elegant trays.
With only feelings of warmest friendship toward the people of Japan, — now abundantly confessed by themselves, — Mr. Harris would neither use his position to privately favor a Japanese officer, nor allow him to talk of favors to him. In short, he wished, in this delicate position of a pioneer diplomatist in a hermit nation, to sink his private personality in his public duties.
“ In my conversations with the Prince of Shinano to-day [December 1], he enlarged on the difficulties that he had overcome and the great labors he had performed to enable me to come to Yedo. He spoke of his anxious days and sleepless nights ; that care and anxiety had taken away his appetite, so that he had become lean in his person, and that his blood had frequently gushed from his nose from his great agitation ; that he had done all this from his friendship for me,” etc.
“ Something of this had been before hinted at, but never so fully expressed as now. I replied that I was duly grateful to him for his friendship for me, but, as he appeared to be under a great error regarding my visit to Yedo, I must now fully explain myself on that point. I told him I came to Yedo as the representative of the United States, and not in my private capacity; that the United States did not ask anything of the government of Japan as a favor ; that it only demanded its rights ; and that nothing would be accepted on the ground of favor,” etc.
In this frank and manly way, refusing either to court or to fear personal feeling concerning himself as an individual, absolutely truthful and courteous to all, Mr. Harris gave the tone to further proceedings. Resting as usual on Sunday, December 6, he writes after his devotions for the Second Sunday in Advent : “ Two hundred and thirty years ago, a law was promulgated in Japan inflicting death on any one who should use any of the rites of the Christian religion in Japan. . . . What is my protection ? The American name alone. That name, so powerful and potent now, cannot be said to have had an existence then, for in all the wide lands that now form the United States there were not at that time five thousand men of Anglo-Saxon origin.”
All preparations completed and etiquette settled, Mr. Harris obtained audience of the Tycoon. In the great council hall sat three hundred daimios and all the high dignitaries of the Bakufu, in ceremonial caps and robes. Of the dress of the chief commissioners and the interpreters the breeches were the chief feature. “ They are made of yellow silk, and the legs are six to seven feet. long! Consequently, when the wearer walks, they stream out behind him, and give him the appearance of walking on his knees, — an illusion which is helped out by the short stature of the Japanese, and the great width on their shoulders of their kami-shimos. The cap is also a great curiosity, and defies description. It is made of a black varnished material, . . . and is perched on the very apex of the head.
“At length, on a signal being given, the Prince of Shinano began to crawl along on his hands and knees, and when I half turned to the right and entered the audience chamber a chamberlain called out in a loud voice, ‘ Embassador Merrican.’ ” After three advances, three halts, and three bows, Mr. Harris stood about ten feet from the chair on which sat the Tycoon, Iyésada. On the right, the daimio of Bitchiu, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, “ and the other five members of the great council were prostrate on their faces; on my left hand were three brothers of the Tycoon prostrated in the same manner; and, all of them being nearly 4 end on 5 towards me, after a pause of a few seconds I addressed the Tycoon.”
The American envoy’s speech of about one hundred words over, he bowed. “After a short silence the Tycoon began to jerk his head backward over his left shoulder, at the same time stamping with his right foot. This was repeated three or four times. After this he spoke audibly and in a pleasant and firm voice what was afterwards interpreted to me as follows : —
“ ‘ Pleased with the letter sent with the ambassador from a far distant country, and likewise pleased with his discourse. Intercourse will be continued forever.’ ”
Mr. Heusken now advanced with the box containing President Pierce’s letter, the Minister of Foreign Affairs rising and standing by Mr. Harris, who opened the letter sufficiently to reveal the writing, and then, replacing the lid and silk covering made of thirteen red and white stripes, handed it to the minister. Placing the document upon a lacquered stand, the minister fell prone again, and after a courteous bow from the Tycoon Mr. Harris withdrew to the anteroom.
Much pressure had been brought to bear upon Mr. Harris to get him to eat dinner alone in the palace, or with Mr. Heusken. The American offered to partake of it provided one of the royal family or the prime minister would eat it with him. “ I was told that their customs forbade either from doing so. I replied that the customs of my country forbade any one to eat in a house where the host or his representative did not sit down to table with him.”
After an interview with the council of state and safe arrival at his lodgings, Mr. Harris writes: “The dress of the Tycoon was made of silk, and the material had some gold woven with it, but it was as distant from anything like regal splendor as could be conceived. No rich jewels, no elaborate gold ornaments, no diamond-hilted weapon, appeared. . . . I did not see any gilding in any part, and all the wooden columns were unpainted. Not an article of any kind appeared in any of the rooms, except the braziers, and the chairs and tables brought for my use.”
Almost as a matter of course, the result of a visit to this barren dreariness without his overcoat, Mr. Harris took a violent cold.
After fifteen months of patient toil the American envoy had reached his Mysteriousness the Tycoon. He had enlightened the hermits concerning a few points in that international law which had grown up since Thornrose had fallen asleep and her castle doors had been slammed and bolted. Now began the enlightenment of a nation. Nominally Mr. Harris held daily conferences for months with a set of commissioners. In reality he was dealing with the entire Yedo government. What was each day said in council was discussed in castle and offices, so that, as those closeted with Mr. Harris declared, to keep a secret was impossible. Day after day, for weary months, from noon until long after lamplight, Mr. Harris met the commissioners to explain in detail the whole system of modern national life, to lecture upon political economy, diplomacy, and laws of nations, answering ten thousand questions. With Mr. Heusken, who taught the Dutch interpreters, he had to invent a new language in order to introduce a new world of ideas.
Finally, in February, 1858, the treaty document was ready for signature. It provided for the opening of the ports of Kanagawa (Yokohama), Nagasaki. Niigata, Hiogo, and trade and residence therein, and residence in Yedo and Osaka; it established the extra-territoriality of foreigners and their consular courts, fixed limits of travel, guaranteed religious freedom, and introduced for Americans that general state of things which they have enjoyed and suffered for thirty-four years in Japan. Appended to the fourteen articles of the treaty were various regulations as to custom houses and the laws of seaports.
Long before this time Mr. Harris had begun to suspect that the Yedo government was an empty sham, and that the real ruler of Japan was the Mikado, whose approval of the treaty must be obtained in order to calm the country. First the learned Professor Hayashi was sent to Kioto. After a month’s loss of time failure was reported. Forthwith Hotta, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, departed for the “ Blossom Capital.” In over two hundred years only two missions from the Yedo government had been dispatched to Kioto, success in both cases following within ten days. In this case Hotta waited, negotiated, exhausted all his resources for fifty days in vain. In the native histories the story is a long one about the vacillations of politics in the court; one day the Emperor’s premier declaring by edict " that full powers were given to the Bakufu to deal with the foreign question,” and the next “the opinion of the court undergoing a profound change.” Of Mr. Harris the native historian says that, rendered impatient by long waiting, “he threatened that, if his time was to be wasted in this way, he would proceed forthwith to Kioto and arrange it [the treaty ] himself.”
All this time Mr. Harris had used no menace or threats of force, though he had not failed to hint at contemporaneous events in India and China, and at the presence of large British and French fleets in neighboring waters. He showed how much they would gain by inaugurating a commercial treaty granted reasonably and freely, before they were compelled by force to make disastrous concessions. So far was this single man, alone in Yedo, successful that, before leaving for Kioto, Hotta, in the name of the government, gave in writing the pledge demanded by Mr. Harris, and in his letter of February 17, 1858, after stating “ the necessity of delaying the signing of the treaty,” promised “ it should be executed before the expiration of sixty days.” After the failure of Hotta’s mission to Kioto and his return to Yedo, June 5, and another discussion of the whole subject, in view of the country being on the brink of civil war on account of the treaty matters, the council of state agreed to the treaty without alteration, but asked postponement of signature until September 4. By this set time the Tycoon hoped “ to bring the daimios to reason.” The letter of the council of state was duly sent and received, as well as a letter from the Tycoon to the President of the United States, the first to any foreign ruler.
Mr. Harris returned to Shimoda June 18. Exhausted nature giving way, he sank unconscious into a nervous fever, which lasted for weeks. The idea of losing their friend at this crisis of affairs so alarmed the statesmen in Yedo that the Tycoon’s own physicians were dispatched to Shimoda, with the intimation that their own lives would be in peril if the American’s were lost. As on a former occasion in Yedo, the chief lady of the city, the Tycoon’s wife, sent Mr. Harris tempting delicacies prepared by her own hands. With a sword suspended, as it were, over their bowels, and possible hara-kiri in view, the doctors, aided by nature, saved their patient.
Let it be noted, then, that Mr. Harris’s success had been already substantially won before news of the humiliation of China by the allied forces had reached Japan, even as it had been begun and was well on its victorious way before even the squadrons had gathered in this part of the world. To this day the unenlightened Englishman believes that the unique success of Mr. Harris, “ not a diplomatist, but a plain, honest-hearted gentleman,” was “due to the influence he obtained over the Taikoon at a time when the Taikoon and council in Yedo were agitated and alarmed by our second war in 1857, as well as the subsequent opportune arrival of Lord Elgin with a British squadron at Yedo in 1858.”
As matter of fact, Japan was already bound by the written promise of the Yedo government, as early as February 17, to execute the treaty, nor was any attempt made to evade, revoke, or modify the instrument. It was only for the peace of the country and in the hope of obtaining the Mikado’s signature (which, however, came not until 1868) that the Tycoon’s officers asked even for delay.
On July 23, 1858, the U. S. S. S. Mississippi arrived at Shimoda with the news of peace in China and the coming of the allied fleets. On the 25th Commodore Tatnall appeared in the Powhatan. On the 27th Mr. Harris went to Kanagawa and communicated the news.
For the first time the Yedo government acted promptly and with independence, for the simple reason that there was a man at the helm who dared for his country’s good. The memory of Ii Kamon no Kami (assassinated March 23, 1861), so long desecrated, is now cleansed from stain by the scholarly labors of Shimada Saburo. Unwilling to risk his country’s becoming like India or China, Ii, the regent and premier, dispatched two commissioners to Kanagawa, who signed the treaty at three P. M. on the 29th. After twenty-one months of mental strain, the sound of as many cannon saluting the Japanese and American flags run up together at the fore of the Powhatan was joyful music to Townsend Harris.
With mighty fleets, the British, French, and Russians came later and made treaties, and these were followed by seventeen other nations, but the treaty negotiated by Townsend Harris is the basis of them all.
In Yedo, as American minister, amid murders, assassinations, and incendiarisms, while all his colleagues had struck their flags and retired to Yokohama, Mr. Harris held his position alone, and kept the American colors flying. With intensest sympathy for the brave men who had to suffer and fall with the hoary system to which their loyalty was pledged, he helped with his kindly advice the Tycoon’s ministers as he was able. In due time, he turned over the legation to the Hon. Robert H. Pruyn.
At home, supremely loyal to the Union, he gratified his own heart by presenting in due time the magnificent sword given him by the Tycoon to General U. S. Grant. He lived to see him made “ the first President of the free republic ” that knew no slaves, and receiving in the White House the ambassadors of the Mikado and of Japan, which no longer knew feudalism or duarchy, united after the civil war of 1868. He died in New York, February 25, 1878.
Townsend Harris intended the treaty he made with the Japanese to be just, honorable, fair ; to protect them in their ignorance; to remain in force only during their childhood of experience, but to be revised after July 1, 1872, “ if desired by either party.”
How Japan has for twenty years suffered “ oppression ” by treaty, how the provisions have been altered in the interests of European nations and to the detriment of Japan, how her efforts at either revision or redress have been steadily repulsed, how her rights have been trampled upon and her wrongs multiplied by a delay every hour of which is injustice, has been already told by able writers in this magazine. Let now the Japanese speak for themselves through the editor of the Tokumin no Tomo, or The Nation’s Friend. In a recent number of this Tokio magazine, he says : —
“ Why is the United States the true friend of our nation ? We do not need to repeat the story of Commodore Perry at Uraga. Then his procedure involved or manifested not a few elements of disturbance and confusion. We dare not give our gratitude to Commodore Perry for everything he did. We cannot do that. But let us consider the commercial treaty, which, though not in any sense perfect, yet contains the guarantees of our national interests, which restrict the English, Russian, German, and French powers, so that they cannot go further in their arbitrariness than the limits specified in the treaty. In all this matter who is the influential one ? However many patriots there be who demand the revision of the treaties, they ought to shed tears of gratitude for Townsend Harris, the author of the Ansei [A. D. 1854-59] treaty. Is it not a fact that he gave us more freedom then than we find in the treaties to-day, — even when we have the National Diet, in which the nation’s voice is heard ? Though the present tariff is, on the average, less than five per cent, yet in the document drawn up by Mr. Harris this five per cent tariff was limited to steam-machinery, lumber, ships’ supplies, coal, flour, zinc, and lead. All kinds of liquors were to be charged thirty-five per cent, while all other things were to pay twenty per cent. These generous arrangements were made by our benefactor. Whether a high tariff is still necessary to our country or not is not now our question. At this moment, we desire only to express our satisfaction with his generous proposition at such a time, when the Shōgun’s officers were effeminate and ignorant. Had he chosen, he could have done us a most terrible in jury, like a lion ravaging sheep. Such an instinct the honest spirit of Townsend Harris commanded him to repress.
“ Moreover, he said [in later years] concerning the fiction of law called jigwai-hoken : ‘ The extra-territoriality given to the people of the United States who are in Japan is against my conscience. Ah! am I not to see the day when these unjust treaties shall be abrogated, before I die ? ’ His deep sorrow in the bottom of his heart may be imagined. When we think of those ministers of European powers who have indulged their covetousness, taking advantage of a crisis in our national history as their opportunity : when we think of their selfishness and thoughtlessness in availing themselves of the alarm of our people and the timidity of the Shōgun’s officers; when we think of their making our extremity their gain by overreaching us, we know not what to say. All the more can we see the abounding friendship of the United States for the Land of the Rising Sun.”
William Elliot Griffis.