Mr. Harris to Mr. Seward.

No. 49.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your despatches Nos. 17 and 18, dated, respectively, July 23 and August 1.

You inform me that a letter from his Majesty the Tycoon to the President of the United States, and a letter from the Japanese ministers for foreign affairs to you, together with my despatch of May 8, (No. 20,) had been received; all of which papers related to a proposition of the Japanese government that the opening of the cities of Yedo and Osacca, and the harbors Hiogo and Neegata, as stipulated in the treaty, should be postponed. You add that my counsel in relation to this matter was different from the course contemplated by the President; which was, that no postponement of the opening of the city of Yedo should be conceded, and that a joint naval demonstration should be made in the Japanese waters by all the treaty powers for the purpose of obtaining from the Japanese government satisfaction for the murder of Mr. Heusken, interpreter of this legation, and full security for the safety of the foreign residents in this country, but, in consequence of the confidence the President placed in my judgment, he waived his own opinion, and has given me discretionary power to act, in concert with the ministers of the other powers interested, in such manner as shall be most advisable for the welfare of both countries.

I am very sensible of the great importance of the trust thus confided to me, and I hope that the result will show that the confidence of the President was not misplaced.

In your despatch of August 1 (No. 18) you inform me that you urgently insist that, except in the extremest necessity, I shall not consent to any postponement of any covenant in the existing treaty without first receiving satisfaction of some marked kind for the great crime of the assassination of Mr. Heusken while in the diplomatic service of the United States. You leave me to determine on the form and mode of that satisfaction, adding that it would be best to secure, if possible, the punishment of the assassins; but circumstances unknown to you must enter into the question, and may modify my action, but you deem the principle too important to be abandoned.

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After reflection, it appears to me that the satisfaction required might be given in either of the three following forms, viz: 1st, by the arrest and punishment of the assassins; 2d, by a salute to our flag; or, 3d, by a money payment as an indemnity.

To enable you to form an opinion as to the will or ability of this government to comply with the first of those propositions, I will briefly recapitulate what has already been done in that direction.

The night on which Mr. Heusken was murdered was rainy and dark, and in the unlighted streets his assassins had no difficulty in making their escape without leaving the least trace or clue behind them. The police were immediately on the alert, and orders were sent in all directions to employ a large extra force to seek for the criminals, and the ministers for foreign affairs themselves took part in issuing stringent orders that no effort should be wanting for the arrest of the murderers. These efforts to arrest the malefactors were and are still continued; many persons have been arrested, and although some of them have been put to death, it was for other crimes. The Japanese have zealously investigated every rumor (and there were many) having any reference to Mr. Heusken’s death; that their efforts thus far have been fruitless, I conssider as being rather their misfortune than their fault. The officers who attended Mr. Heusken, and the guards who were on duty near the place of his murder, have all been punished for neglect of duty by dismissal from the imperial service, and declared incapable of ever again serving his Majesty. To a Japanese official such a punishment is next to a death penalty; for it deprives him of all means of support, except beggary, as he would prefer suicide to what he would consider as the degradation of labor.

The funeral of Mr. Heusken was attended by the three chief personages of the embassy to the United States, and this mark of sympathy and respect was cheerfully paid, although it was contrary to Japanese custom for non-relatives to attend a funeral, as all the persons so attending are rendered unclean, and must isolate themselves for a certain period of time. I have heretofore informed you of the great imprudence of Mr. Heusken in being out at night after repeated warnings from the Japanese that he ran a risk of being murdered by exposing himself in the way he did. I firmly believe that his death was chiefly owing to his disregard of the warnings of the Japanese, and I equally believe that, had he followed my example, he would have been a living man at this day.

For the reasons thus briefly set forth, I feel constrained to acquit the Japanese government of any complicity in the death of Mr. Heusken, or of even desiring it; and I am equally convinced that they have loyally and zealously endeavored to arrest and punish his assassins.

A salute to our flag would be given under the following circumstances: The five forts of Yedo are built on flats over a mile from the city front, and between three and four miles from the anchorage for large vessels. At present we have no man-of-war here to receive a salute to our flag, nor are there any foreign men-of-war to witness it. The Japanese are almost daily practicing firing from their forts, and for this reason a salute would excite no attention among the masses of the people, and would probably be unknown beyond the persons actually engaged in ordering and firing the salute. The value of this mark of respect would therefore be greatly diminished by the very unfavorable circumstances under which it would be given.

A money indemnity would be attended by a two-fold difficulty; on the one hand, by receiving a sum of money as a satisfaction for the death of Mr. Heusken, it would almost look like selling his blood; while, on the other hand, it might assume the appearance of a “condition precedent” to consenting to postpone our treaty stipulations, and thus be stamped as a transaction.

I am to have an interview with the ministers for foreign affairs on the 26th [Page 806] instant, and in the interim I shall endeavor to find some solution for the difficulties which occur to me in connexion with this business.

I have not the least doubt that the ministers will readily agree to any demand I may make, provided it be in their power to comply with it.

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

TOWNSEND HARRIS, Minister Resident.

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