Mr. Harris to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to inform you that I had an interview with the ministers for foreign affairs yesterday, and on this occasion I repeated the substance of my letter to them dated the 8th instant (a copy of which forms enclosure No. 2 of my despatch No. 27) on the subject of the late attack on the British legation, and enlarged on the danger that would attend any vacillation on their part in securing the arrest and punishment of the authors of that criminal attempt on the life of all the persons composing the English legation.
The ministers then made the following statement: The number of men engaged in the attack was fourteen; of these three were killed on the spot, and one, who was wounded, was made prisoner. Three more were tracked the next [Page 800] morning to Sinagawa; of these two were found to have ripped themselves up, and the third, who had also wounded himself, was seized. Both the prisoners were in safe custody, and were receiving medical treatment, previous to their being strictly examined. Lists of the names of the fourteen members of the band were found on the prisoners, and the ministers do not doubt that it correctly states the actual number of those engaged. The other seven had been traced further, and every effort was being made to arrest them; but that was a difficult matter; and, in proof of their statement, they informed me that in the parallel case of the murder of the regent in March, 1860, although the assassins were well known, yet up to this time only one of them had been arrested, although the government had every possible inducement to stimulate their efforts, and were also aided by the powerful clan of the murdered prince.
They stated that Mr. Alcock had, in March last, refused his consent to the posting of the guard, as was desired by the Japanese in command at the legation, and added that, had the guard been posted as was desired by them, it might not have prevented the attack, but they were confident the assailants would have been killed or beaten off before they had penetrated the house.
As to the motives of the attack, the ministers stated that there was a strong public feeling against all foreign trade and relations, mainly owing to the increased dearness of everything since the ports were opened, and also in part to a deeply rooted love for old customs and the traditional policy of exclusion. The ministers added that these men belonged to a band of desperate outlaws, willing to make themselves the exponents of the national feelings, and who gloried in sacrificing their lives in such a cause.
They attacked the British legation, hoping not only to distinguish themselves by slaying all the members of the mission, but also to bring about a war with the foreigners, and thereby secure a return to their old state of isolation.
The ministers stated that they believed the foregoing to be the sole motives that actuated the men, who were all of low degree, and were without any instigators or abettors among men of high rank or station.
They were well aware that these repeated attacks on foreigners and their inability to punish the offenders would cause foreign governments to look on them with distrust, and perhaps to doubt their sincerity. They hoped that as I had been so long in the country, and knew its condition better than any other foreigner, I would give my testimony in support of the truth of their representations.
As to the security of the foreign representatives here, they could assure me that if they were permitted to use the same means for the protection of the diplomatic representatives as they used for their own security, we might safely rely on having the same amount of protection that they enjoyed themselves.
The ministers desired to repeat the assurance that they were using every means in their power to arrest, not only the persons engaged in the last attack, but also of all who had assailed foreign residents.
I transmit herewith (No. 1) copy of a letter dated the 11th instant, addressed by me to the British minister, Mr. Alcock.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.