Mr. Seward to Mr. Pruyn.

No. 2.]

Sir: Generally a foreign mission is eminently desirable. It is no small honor to be the organ of one’s country in her communications with a foreign state. The opportunities which such a position affords to serve two nations, and, consequently, the whole family of mankind, cannot fail to awaken a noble ambition in any generous and benevolent mind.

But I fear you will find embarrassments in your mission which will make you regret its honors and undervalue its powers.

Japan is a semi-enlightened and isolated country, only recently compelled into treating with the United States, as it has also been with the other western powers. The judgment of its government has been convinced, and, I have no doubt, its sentiments have been won to this new relation with the United States through the great discretion of the late Commodore Perry, and the wonderful sagacity and patience of your predecessor, Mr. Harris. But it is notorious that the people of Japan, especially its ruling classes, have not yet reconciled themselves to the sudden and complete revolution of national habits, of which there is no memory to the contrary existing among them. Hitherto, as we have reason to believe, the Japanese government and people have been kinder in their sentiments towards us than towards other western nations with whom they have framed treaties under the same circumstances.

But the time has now come for our trial. When we gently coerced Japan into friendship with us we were a united nation. We did not admit that there then was, or, indeed, that there ever had been, a stronger one in the world. Our mercantile and our naval marine vindicated this high pretension on every sea, however distant from our own continent. Nine months have wrought a great and melancholy change in this proud position. We are divided by faction, and engaged in civil war. The national authority is tasked for its utmost vigor to maintain our flag within our own territory, and our commerce is harassed by pirates of our own kindred, even in our own waters.

You know that we have no doubt of our success in putting down this unhappy insurrection and restoring the federal authority. You have already seen how the government daily gains strength, and how the insurrection already begins to decline. But what will be the influence of the news of our divisions among the semi-barbarians of Japan, magnified and painted, as they will doubtless be, by strangers, enemies of the republic, its prosperity, and its power 1 Will the government of Japan retain the fear which, perhaps, was the best guarantee of its good will towards us? Will the misguided faction in Japan, so hostile to all foreigners, suffer the government to remain in friendship with a nation that will seem to them to have lost the virtue of patriotism so essential to command the respect of other nations? Already we have heard that he Chinese authorities, informed of our divisions, have come to underrate our power, and to disregard our rights Is this evil to be experienced also in Japan? To prevent it is the responsibility of your mission—to watch and guard the national interests there, [Page 818] while the storms of faction are spending their force against the government at home, will be your chief duty. It will require great dignity and firmness, combined with equal prudence and moderation. I can give you only one counsel. Have faith, under all circumstances, in the virtue of your countrymen, and, consequently, in the triumph of the Union. If you fail in that faith, your distrust will be discovered by the ill-informed and feeble-minded community around you. They will have no respect for a government which they think more pretentious while it is weaker than their own; your mission will be a failure, and perhaps end in disaster and danger. If you have that faith, you can impress it upon the government and people of Japan, and their friendly relations towards us may be retained until, our domestic differences being ended, we are able once more to demonstrate our power in the East, and establish our commerce there on secure foundations. You will find no open questions for discussion in your mission. It is important to preserve friendly and intimate relations with the representatives of other western powers in Japan. You will seek no exclusive advantages, and will consult freely with them upon all subjects, insomuch as it is especially necessary, at this time, that the prestige of western civilization be maintained in Yedo as completely as possible. In short, you will need to leave behind you all memories of domestic or of European jealousies or antipathies, and will, by an equal, just, and honorable conduct of your mission, make the simple people of Japan respect, not only the institutions of your own country, but the institutions of Christianity and of western civilization.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


Robert H. Pruyn, Esq., &c., &c., &c.