Mr. Seward to Mr. Harris.

No. 18.]

Sir: I recur again to your despatch of the 1st of August, 1860, (No. 26.)

In that paper you recommended a postponement for another year of the exercise of the right of American citizens to reside in the city of Yedo for the purpose of trade after the 1st of January next, saved to the United States by a clause in the third article of the treaty of July 29, 1858.

In my despatch to you of the 16th May last (No. 15) I stated that I had then addressed a note in relation thereto to the minister of Prussia in the United States, of which a copy was sent to you, and also that a similar note had been addressed to the ministers of Great Britain, France, Russia, and Holland, and that when replies to those communications should have been received by the department, no time would be lost in acquainting you with their contents.

The burden of the circular note thus addressed to the ministers of Great Britain, France, Prussia, Russia, and Holland, was that the President might, perhaps, have yielded to your suggestion if the circumstances which surround the subject had remained unchanged; but we had learned by recent despatches that Mr. Heusken, secretary of the American legation at Yedo, was, on the night of the 15th of January last, waylaid and assassinated in the streets of that city without any other cause or provocation than the fact that he was a foreigner.

The Japanese government had made no satisfactory explanation of this great violation of the rights of the United States, and, on the other hand, had virtually confessed its inability to bring the offenders to punishment.

It was argued by me in the aforesaid notes that the Japanese government would infer that we are unwilling or unable to vindicate our rights, if, leaving that transaction unpunished and unexplained, we should frustrate the effect of the treaty stipulation for the opening of the city of Yedo.

The President was, for this reason, of opinion that no postponement of the opening of the city of Yedo ought to be conceded. He thought, however, that some demonstration, which would render the residence of foreigners in Yedo safe, ought to be made, and that the other powers consulted would probably be induced to co-operate in such a demonstration, because their representatives are equally exposed there with our own. The President therefore proposed that those powers should announce to the government of Japan their willingness and their purpose to make common cause and co-operate with this government in exacting satisfaction, if the Japanese government should not at once put forth all possible effort to secure the punishment of the assassins of Mr. Heusken, and also in making requisitions with signal vigor if any insult or injury should be committed against any foreigner residing in Yedo, after the opening of the city in January next, according to the treaty.

The ministers addressed, as I have reason to know, promptly submitted these suggestions to their respective governments, together with a form of a convention for carrying them into effect. This projected convention contemplated the despatch of a fleet of steamers adequate to impress the Japanese government with the ability and the determination of the states engaged, to secure a performance of its treaty stipulations.

[Page 815]

Subsequently to these proceedings, and while no answers had yet been received from the governments consulted, your despatch (No. 20) of the date 01 May 8, 1861, was received, accompanied by a letter addressed by his Majesty the Tycoon to the President of the United States, and also a letter to myself, written by the Japanese ministers of foreign affairs.

Those letters expressed the desire of the government of Japan that the opening of the cities of Yedo and Osacca, and the harbors of Hiogo and Neegata, should be postponed for the reasons more specifically set forth in the latter communication. These reasons are, in substance, that the opening of the commerce of Japan to the western nations has had immediate results very different from what were anticipated. The prices of articles of general consumption are daily advancing, owing to the extensive exportation, while but little is imported, and the people of the humble class, not being able to supply their wants, as heretofore, attribute this to foreign trade. Even higher and wealthier classes, we are told, are generally not favorably disposed towards commerce, so that soon there may be those who will condemn the abrogation of the prohibition of former times and desire the re-establishment of the ancient law. We are informed, also, that these results, following immediately upon the radical change of policy of the government, have produced a very general uneasiness, which is increased by referring to the stipulations in the treaties for the opening of the ports of Hiogo and Neegata and the freedom of trade at Yedo and Osacca, in view of the approach of the time when those franchises will be due by the effect of the treaties with the United States, Great Britain, France, Prussia, Russia, and Holland. We are informed that it would be a matter of great difficulty for the government to exert its power and authority for the purpose of demonstrating the benefits to be realized at some future day, and thus causing its subjects to submit to the present uneasiness for some time longer. In reviewing the subject in your despatch (No. 20) you observe that you have seen no reason to change your own view of the expediency of consenting to a postponement of the opening of the city of Yedo.

You remark, also, that Osacca, being in the Tien or Heavenly district, where the Mikado or spiritual ruler of Japan resides, it is probable a residence of foreigners there would be regarded with dislike by a portion of the Japanese people; that Hiogo is simply the seaport of Osacca, and its opening naturally depends on that of the city, while Neegata is a place of minor consideration. Your argument on the subject concludes that the opening of the Japanese commerce has temporarily produced a great increase in the cost of subsistence of official persons enjoying fixed and limited incomes, while their salaries have not yet been correspondingly increased. Upon the whole, you suggest that discretionary power be given to you 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.

We are sensible of the very great perplexity of dealing with a government whose constitution is so different from our own, and whose subjects have fixed sentiments and habits so very peculiar. Moreover, we have the utmost confidence in your ability and discretion, while we know that it might be hazardous to every interest already secured to substitute a policy of our own, adopted at this distance, for one which you find necessary on the spot.

The President has, therefore, concluded to confer upon you the discretion solicited by you. To make your way easier, this determination has not been adopted without previous consultation here with the ministers before consulted, who will, of course, communicate the result of the conference to their respective governments. This proceeding will, for the present, suspend the plan of a naval demonstration, before proposed by the United States. I must, however, urgently insist that, except in the extremest necessity, you do not consent to any postponement of any covenant in the existing treaty, without first receiving satisfaction [Page 816] of some marked kind for the great crime of the assassination of Mr. Heusken while in the diplomatic service of the United States.

We leave the form and mode of that satisfaction to your own discretion. It would be best, if possible, to secure the punishment of the assassins. But circumstances unknown to us must enter into the question and will modify your action. The principle, however, seems to us too important to be abandoned. If the western states can keep their representatives safely in Japan, they can, perhaps, wait for the facilities stipulated; but if their ministers shall be obliged by force or terror to withdraw, all will be lost that has, at such great cost, been gained. The President acknowledges the letter of the Tycoon, and I reply briefly to the ministers for foreign affairs. Those replies accompany this despatch.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


Townsend Harris, Esq., &c., &c., &c., Yedo.