Mr. Pruyn to Mr. Seward

No. 76.]

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that at the interview referred to in my despatch No. 74, of the 13th instant, I requested the governors for foreign affairs to call the attention of the ministers to the immediate settlement of the damages sustained by the owners of the Pembroke. I also notified them, that if any proposition was to be made for the settlement of the outrages upon our citizens at this place, it should be made without further delay, as I should otherwise refer the whole matter to my government. I stated distinctly, I made no demands for the insult to our flag in firing on the Pembroke, nor on the Wyoming before any provocation was given, as I wished to leave that for the decision of the President, but that I would be prepared to receive any propositions which the government might be disposed to make.

I have now the satisfaction to inform you that, on the 27th instant, the same governors waited on me, and informed me that they had been instructed by the Tycoon’s government to say, that it had fully considered the case of the Pembroke, and arrived at the conclusion that the claim was just and reasonable, and that the bill of damages presented by Messrs. Russell & Co. should be paid; but that the government wished the time of payment delayed till the public feeling had became more tranquil.

I asked the governors whether they were prepared to name any time when the money would be paid. Ever since I have been in Japan the government has felt obliged to plead the state of public feeling as an excuse for avoiding or delaying action, and I saw no prospect of a change. While I thanked the government of the Tycoon very gratefully and sincerely for the friendship it had shown to myself personally, and especially to the government of the United States, I could not see how I could with propriety, or indeed with honor, accept of an excuse for delaying the payment to citizens of the United States of so small a sum, at the very time one of so much greater magnitude was to be paid to Great Britain.

The governors dwelt strongly upon the difference between the two cases. In the case of the British demands the delay had occurred in admitting them at all. In this case the government at once conceded the propriety of paying [Page 459] the amount, and only wished to delay the time of payment. Though the amount to be paid was small, the hostile Daimios, who were watching the government closely, would be as much offended as if a large amount were paid. The amount would not be so much considered as the payment of any indemnity whatever. As I had always been friendly, they wished me to consider well the whole subject, and agree to a delay.

I replied, I was very anxious to do all in my power to show my friendly feelings and that of my government, but the promise was too indefinite and vague. If I should apply for payment in a month, or in a year, or even two years, and the government still urge the same difficulty, I could interpose no objection to further delay if I admitted the excuse now. That it would give me great pleasure to report to the President the expressions of friendship they had been instructed to make, which would be received by him with great satisfaction, and would communicate their offer; but unless payment was actually made there could be no final settlement, and I must be at liberty to decline receiving the amount when tendered, if, meanwhile, instructions should arrive which should oblige me to do so. They then said they would report what I had said, and the government would reconsider the subject.

I then reminded the governors of what I had said about the insult to our flag, stating that I did not wish to demand any money indemnity, though I wished the Daimio punished; that if the government were disposed to offer a sum which would provide annuities for the families of the dead and for the wounded of the Wyoming, I would, for the purpose of giving further proof of friendship and moderation, take the responsibility of settling the entire case on such basis; but I made no specific demands, preferring, unless some offer was made, to await instructions.

The governors said that the government had been disposed to regard that offence as fairly offset by the punishment inflicted. The Wyoming had been fired on, and had promptly returned the fire; they had no instructions in reference to that part of the case, though they had well Understood and represented the distinction I had made between the private damage and the national insult.

They continued to urge me to agree to a delay in the payment of the indemnity to Messrs. Russell & Co., saying that the government did not wish to delay the time until the public feeling of Japan was more quieted, but until the government had settled with Nagato.

I replied, the period might be too remote; that the prince had seized their steamer, and their ambassadors from whom they had not heard, and there appeared, therefore, little prospect of a settlement in that quarter. They then informed me that the steamer had returned to Yedo. I then asked whether Satsuma had sent forces against Nagato. They said that he was not fighting against him in his territories, but the report had probably arisen from the fact that he had despatched forces to Kioto to assist in driving Nagato from that city, when he was engaged in hostilities against the Mikado. The governors left me with the promise to return after having received further instructions.

I shall, after having disposed of the case of the Pembroke, urge a settlement of the cases which have arisen at this port. The interview in question was too protracted to admit of it.

It is quite certain that Nagato, after having successfully resisted the three Daimios sent to chastise him, will be obliged te yield to the formidable force now arrayed against him. The governors said he had retired from Kokura, a city south of the straits, and is now within his own territories.

I have urged that the north side of the straits should be made imperial territory, and that is the basis of a settlement I should advise. This will punish Nagato by weakening his power, and at the same time make the Tycoon responsible for the free navigation of the straits.

The President will see, in this offer of the government, additional and [Page 460] conclusive proof that in sending the Wyoming to Simonoseki, hostilities were not commenced against the Tycoon, but only against a rebel to his authority, as well as one I rightfully regarded as an outlaw.

Satsuma has not yet paid the British demand; but I suppose it will be paid, as I cannot see what motive he could have in making a promise he had no intention to carry out.

I had supposed the proposition to close Kanagawa was only made for the purpose of quieting the hostile Daimios; but there has been strange persistence in pressing for other interviews for the purpose of urging the abandonment of this port.

In other respects no unfavorable change has occurred. My relations with the government are very friendly and pleasant.

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

ROBERT H. PRUYN, Minister Resident in Japan.

Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.