Mr. Pruyn to Mr. Seward
Sir: Since my last despatch nothing of importance has occurred affecting the relations of the treaty powers with this government. The representatives of the former are waiting for instructions, and the latter is as little as ever inclined to make known its purposes.
I embrace every opportunity to assure this government of the friendship of the President, and my own desire faithfully to represent his views. I am satisfied that the government is in great perplexity, if not danger, and I am [Page 448] indisposed to make any complaint, except when compelled to do so by the perversity or insincerity of the governors of this place, with whom I have lately been obliged to have frequent interviews.
I have been much perplexed to account for the great inconsistency of the government in paying so large a sum to Great Britain at the very time it gave notice of an intention to disregard the treaties, and that all foreigners were required to leave the country.
After interchanging views with my colleagues, I have arrived at the only conclusion which I think can satisfactorily clear up the mystery. It is, of course, only a conjecture, but the best we can frame, and it may not prove unprofitable or uninteresting to you if I give the explanation in which the minister of France and myself concur, and in which our colleague, Colonel Neale, to some extent unites.
You will remember that the Tycoon is chosen from the families of Kshii, Owari, and Mito, though the latter family has never successfully competed for the honor. At the last election the son of Prince Mito was an unsuccessful candidate. The intrigues and violence which attended the choice at that time culminated in the murder of the regent, and the disgrace and death, it was then said, of Mito, who is now understood, however, to be living, though having renounced his dignities and possessions, and living, as is very common, as a priest, with shaven head, &c. Being a man of great ability, he is still thought to be the adviser and director of his sons.
The Tycoon left Yedo for Kioto as the British fleet arrived and the British demand was made. It is understood the determination of the council at Kioto was averse to foreign trade and to compliance with the British demands. We had official notice that the money would not be paid, though I had been privately assured by Takemoto Hayato-no-kami, one of the principal governors for foreign affairs, that it probably would be paid.
Meanwhile the Tycoon was detained at Kioto, and his departure from time to time delayed by order of the Mikado, as we were also informed. Mito was sent to Yedo as Vice-Tycoon, and to his brother, Stotsbasi, was delegated the authority to expel foreigners. The latter arrived at this place near the expiration of the time fixed by the admiral for the commencement of measures of compulsion. An intrigue was in progress with Ogasawara, the minister of foreign affairs remaining at Yedo, for conferring the office of Tycoon on Mito, and it could not succeed if the British fleet were bombarding Yedo. Under these circumstances Osano Egano-kami, having charge of the custom-house and the public money at Kanagawa, of which he was governor, and, being a protege of Ogasawara, was ordered to pay and did pay the indemnity, while, at the same time, Ogasawara gave the notices decided on at Kioto. It was ultimately found that the conspirators could not control the council of Daimios remaining at Yedo. Ogasawara was dismissed from office, as was also the governor who paid the money. Stotsbasi was said to have committed hara-kiri, in consequence of the discovery of a conspiracy to assassinate the Tycoon on his return, but the better opinion is he is in disgrace, and confined to his palace. Before this the regent Matsudaira Etsizen-no-kami, understood to be unfriendly to the Tycoon, and suspected to be implicated, had been dismissed.
Troops were sent forward from Yedo for the protection of the Tycoon, who returned by sea instead of by land, in consequence of the discovery of the designs of Stotsbasi, &c. But it was not till after these events had occurred that the Tycoon was able to obtain the requisite leave to return, and, it is said, with the understanding that he is to carry out the orders of the Mikado more faithfully than the agents first commissioned.
It is understood that a grand council of Daimios is now in session at Yedo, preparing the report which is to be given to the Mikado.[Page 449]
I give this as the only intelligible solution of the strange policy pursued. It is probably as true as any which can be found.
While relations with this government remain unchanged, business is in a very unsatisfactory condition. The export of silk last year reached over 25,000 bales, valued at $8,000,000. It was estimated it would this year reach 3,500 bales, the increase of the preceding year having been about 7,000 bales. Though the export this year, up to this time, has equalled that of last year to the same period, it has for several weeks come in very slowly, in consequence of the interference, it is said, of a guild at Yedo charged with its inspection. The government has disclaimed all interference, and, I believe, with truth. If it were a mere combination of the producers to obtain higher prices, no reasonable grounds of complaint would exist, as such combinations are not unknown in more civilized countries. It would be, in point of fact, merely a struggle between capital and labor, in which the former would ultimately be sure to be the victor. But it is understood that the producer as well as the capitalist complains of the restriction, which is imposed rather in the interest of the Japanese purchaser of silk and the native manufacturers and sellers of manufactured goods.
The government has now promised that it will take measures to have it sent forward more freely. Whether the government will be able to break up a combination it declared itself powerless to prevent is very uncertain. While it is confidently hoped the restrictions will be removed, the government may contemplate their continuance, and declare they are thus proved to be not properly subject to its control.
A more serious disturbance of trade arises from the hostile attitude assumed by lawless retainers of Daimios, acting, probably, under the protection and direction of their chiefs, towards the native merchant. Failing in their attempts to intimidate the foreign merchant, they have, accidentally or with great sagacity, struck a blow at trade in the only direction where it can prove a vital injury. Two leading silk merchants of Osacca have been assassinated by these lawless men, and a notice daringly placed beneath their heads that they were put to death for dealing with foreigners. This notice was signed as if by the order of the Mikado. Other merchants have been driven from their houses. There can be no doubt of the truth of the above reports, as they have been obtained from agents of some of the parties here, and several houses at this place have closed up their business in consequence thereof.
You will see I have made reference to a guild at Yedo. It is an interesting fact, that here, where the counterpart of the feudal system exists, also exists the counterpart of institutions which gave that system its death-blow, at least in the low countries.
Merchants and others, of what may be called the middle or lower classes, invariably seek protection from some Daimio, or are enrolled as members of some guild or society; and these societies, whether of the carpenters, or smiths, or gardeners, or coolies, are very clanish, and an injury to one of the members is often expiated in the blood of the aggressor. A fierce fight occurred here a short time since between carpenters and coolies, and for a few days the bettoes (grooms of horses) were triumphant, even over the local police, whose members they beat and bound and otherwise maltreated.
I shall probably be able to advise you in a few days of the result of the conference at Yedo.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.