Saturday, April 30, 2016

Perry Expedition and the Opening of Japan (Part 3): Attempts and Plans

The Morrison - A Japanese DrawingJapan continued to pursue isolation into the middle of the 19th century. But times had change and westerners continued to pursue to reverse the Shogunate’s policy. Explore previous attempts of western countries to establish relations with Japan and the plan hatched by the Americans

Previous Attempts

Westerners made numerous attempt to open Japan’s doors for trade. The British and Russians sent missions and expeditions to no avail. Even the Americans tried their luck in vain. The Japanese remained steadfast on their position and reacted either aggressively or carefully.

Several Americans ships and missions to Japan attempted to negotiate rights to trade or at least  to resupply in the Islands. In 1792 and 1797, American ships made early attempts. Then in 1837, the ship Morrison sailed to Japan under the pretext of returning rescued Japanese sailors in the sea and then negotiate trade. The Morrison, however, arrived at a time when Japanese coastal defenses fired upon foreign ships getting closing to Japan. The reception that the Morrison received created an uproar in the United States. It became an example given to justify the Perry Expedition. Then in 1846, the Japanese turned subtle when the ship Manhattan arrived to return rescued Japanese mariners. This time, Japanese officials resupplied the ship and demanded its immediate departure from the country. In 1846, Commodore James Biddle arrived in Edo Bay with his two warships made another. It too failed peacefully. Another expedition under Commander James Glynn of the USS Preble came three years later with the same aim to no avail. Nevertheless, Glynn became a major advocate of the sending of a large and powerful US expedition to Japan along with other navy officers. 

The Russians also made contacted the Japanese. Russia and Japan had overlapping borders in the Sakhalin and Kuril Islands, but both scantly occupied them. The issue of parts of the Kurils remained a contention between the two countries even to this day. In 1792, Empress Catherine the Great approved an expedition planned by Prof. Erik Laxman and led by the professor’s son, Lt. Adam Laxman. The expedition succeeded in getting the Japanese to negotiate from July to August 1793 but it resulted to failure. In 1804, the Chairman of the Russian-American Company, Nikolai Rezanov, led an expedition to Japan to negotiate trade and border issues. He arrived in Nagasaki on October 3, 1804 and negotiated until April of the following year, when the Japanese refused to trade and banned Rezanov from coming to Japan again. Russians resorted to hostility, as a result, and raided northern Japanese coastal towns. Infuriated by the heavy handed and what they seemed as barbaric audacity by the Russians, Japanese officials imprisoned Captain Vasily Golovnin who arrived to negotiate. Golovinin eventually returned to Russia after two years of imprisonment and additional raids by Russian ships. Ever since, the Japanese resented the Russians. It took decades before the Russians sent another expedition to Japan to negotiate trading rights.

The British sent expedition in attempt to reverse Japan’s isolation. In the 1790’s, several British commercial ships trading fur attempted to go to Japan to resupply. But the Japanese, intercepted and prevented them from coming near the coast. During the Napoleonic War in 1808, the HMS Phaeton sailed to Dejima, Nagasaki to claim Dutch ships, as the Netherlands allied with Napoleon. The Japanese were offended by the deceit and the arrogance of the Phaeton's captain and the governor of Nagasaki ordered the capture of the ship. Luckily, the Phaeton escaped Japan. In 1813, the British East India agent in Java, and founder of Singapore, Stamford Raffles, proposed to send warships to negotiate a trade deal with the Japanese. But with the memories of the Phaeton still fresh, the mission was aborted. It took the British decades before sending a successful expedition to Japan, and only succeeded due to the Perry Expedition’s initiatives.

The attempts to open Japan exemplified the Japanese Shogunate’s resolve to maintain its isolation. In addition, it also showed how many countries had interest to trade and open relations with the Japanese. Not to mention, the Dutch also sought to expand their relations with the Japanese beyond Dejima Island in vain. And so how America and Perry in particular succeeded when others previously failed?

Leading to the Perry Expedition

In 1851, the United States decided to send another expedition to establish  friendly relations and trade with Japan. Navy officers, as high as commodores, urged the Secretary of State to finally approve sending Americans warships to talk with the Japanese government. However, due to confusing issues, the expedition faced a delay for over a year before going ahead.

In 1851, Secretary of State Daniel Webster approved a plan to send a squadron of warship to deal with Japan. Years of pleading from navy officers as well as the maritime industry made the expedition valuable. A proposal made by Commodore John Aulick, commander of the American Navy in the East Indies, China, and Japan, convinced the Secretary of State to approve and to endorsed to President Millard Fillmore sending an expedition to Japan. By June 1851, the expedition was set to leave before the end of the year.

The expedition was to differ from the rest of failed expeditions. First, it included modern steamships, like the USS Mississippi and the USS Susquehanna. Both warships with its imposing side wheels and puffing chimneys were seen as a way to intimidate the Japanese to finally end its isolation. Only how Aulick would use it to his advantage would forever be a question.

1851 Letter of President Millard Fillmore to the Emperor of Japan

A letter from President Fillmore was to be given by Aulick upon his arrival to Japan. In the letter, President Fillmore addressed the Emperor of Japan as “Great and Good Friend.” The President assured the Japanese Emperor that United States did not have any religious motives towards Japan and it only aimed “to promote friendship and commerce between the two countries.” He then boasted America’s rapid expansion that connected two great oceans. In a way, he also intimidated the Japanese with the wealth of the newly annexed lands of America and the power of its modern steamships. After which, he sought the Emperor’s actions to secure the welfare and to protect the property of American ships and sailors shipwrecked in Japanese shores. Moreover, he requested Japan to grant Americans right to trade and assured their compliance to Japanese laws. Following this, President Fillmore also proposed for Japan to allow American ships to purchase coal and supplies within their country.

The letter dated May 1851 described America, and her intentions, as well as what they knew and what they don’t know. The letter revealed American economic and humanitarian aims. It also showed America’s ignorance on Japanese politics by addressing the letter to the powerless Emperor and not to the all-powerful Shogunate or the Bakufu at least. Nevertheless, the Americans knew the main concern of the Japanese concerning religion by assuring their secular intentions right at the start of the letter.

The 1851 Letter of President Fillmore, however, never reached Japan.

Explore also:
Beasley, W.G. The Modern History of Japan. New York, New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publisher, 1963.

___________. The Meiji Restoration. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1972.

Bolitho, Harold. “Abe Masahiro and the New Japan.” In The Bakufu in Japanese History, edited by Jeffrey Mass and William Hauser. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1985.

Craig, Fairbank, and Edwin Reischauer. East Asia: The Modern Transformation. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965.

Davis, Geo. Lynn-Lachlan. A Paper Upon the Origin of the Japan Expedition. Baltimore, Maryland: John Murphy & Co., 1860.

Franz, Edgar. Philipp Franz von Siebold and Russian Policy and Action on Opening Japan to the West in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century. Munich: IUDICIUM Verlag, 2005.

Fukuzawa Yukichi. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa. Translated by Eiichi Kiyooka. New York, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hawks, Francis. Narrative of the Expedition of An American Squadron to The China Seas and Japan, Performed in the Years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the Command of Commodore M.C. Perry, United States Navy by Order of the Government of the United States, Volume I. Washington D.C.: A.O.P. Nicholson, Printer, 1856. 

Henshall, Kenneth. A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Jansen, Marius. The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 5: The Nineteenth Century. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Murray, David. Japan. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896.

Nitobe Inazo. The Intercourse Between the United States and Japan: An Historical Sketch. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins Press, 1891.

Williams, S. Well. A Journal of the Perry Expedition to Japan (1853 – 1854) , Edited by F.W. Williams. n.p.: n.p., 1910.

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