Mr. Pruyn to Mr. Seward

No. 2.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letters Nos. 46 and 50, dated September 1 and October 3, respectively.

Agreeably to instructions contained in your letter No. 46, I have addressed a letter to this government, of which I enclose a copy, enclosure No. 1. The letter is so full as to render any explanatory remarks unnecessary.

I prepared my letter in advance of the receipt of yours, as both the ministers of France and England had received copies which you had furnished, not wishing that my instructions and purpose should be made known in advance of my action.

I have received a letter from the minister of foreign affairs, informing me that, at the time the palace of the Tycoon was destroyed, my letter was burned, and requesting a duplicate, which was sent in. This will delay somewhat their answer. I have no means of saying what it will be, but I cannot believe that demands so just, and at the same time so moderate, will not be promptly adjusted.

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

ROBERT H. PRUYN, Minister Resident in Japan.

Hon. William H. Seward, Washington.

Mr. Pruyn to the Gorogio

No. 136.]

Having received instructions from the President of the United States to make certain demands of the government of his Majesty the Tycoon, for indemnities for losses occasioned by the destruction by fire of the buildings of the United States legation at Yedo, and for outrages committed on citizens of the United States at this place, I invite the attention of your excellencies to a review of the facts on which such demands are based.

Nearly one year ago, when it had been resolved that his Majesty the Tycoon should visit Kioto, I was urged by the government to withdraw from Yedo till his return; and the efforts to this effect were never relaxed until crowned with success, one week after the destruction of the buildings occupied by the legation in that city. Scarcely an interview took place with a governor of foreign affairs when the inducements to such a determination were not held out. It was represented that my comfort would be thus promoted, and that it would be more pleasant for me to be with my colleagues, and free to enjoy the pleasures of society; This was forcibly contrasted with my solitary life in Yedo. It was also represented that Yedo was less secure as a place of residence, while his [Page 467] Majesty the Tycoon was absent. It was even offered, that, as my expenses would be greatly increased by the necessity of keeping up an additional establishment at Yokohama, the Japanese government would pay every expense which might be thereby incurred. In the month of April his Majesty the Tycoon commenced his journey. On the 23d day of May I had an interview with Takemoto Hayato-no-kami which lasted nearly the entire day. At that time I reiterated my refusal to withdraw from Yedo, but announced my purpose to go to Kanagawa and remain there two weeks. About 6 o’clock p. m. the governor left the legation; at 2 o’clock the next morning all the buildings were burned to the ground.

In the preceding February Takemoto Kai-no-kami and Takemoto Hayato-no-kami paid me a visit, to confer respecting the surrender of Goten Yama, as a site for the legation building, and left me at about 6 o’clock that evening; and it is a remarkable coincidence, that the British legation was levelled to the ground by fire at 2 o’clock of the succeeding morning. This was conceded to be the work of an incendiary; but the fire which destroyed the United States legation buildings is claimed to have been the result of an accident. The fire originated at the most distant point of my chamber, and if the work of incendiaries, was thus far considerate and kind; but it was at a place where no fires had been used for hours, and the government has never been able to account for it, though the officers and servants have been subjected to some kind of examination, and though the legation was at the time sorrounded by about five hundred guards.

About 9 o’clock that morning a small house outside the line of guards was placed at my disposal; this consisted of three rooms, two of which were occupied by your officers and guards, and the remaining one by myself and two gentlemen of the legation. Here we remained one week, until Sunday evening, the 31st of May, sleeping on the mats, and having ample opportunity to prove that on an emergency our actual wants are few and easily supplied.

It appeared to have been taken for granted that we would depart at once from Yedo, as it was announced to me that our horses had been saddled for that purpose by direction of some officer; but I at once declared that I would not do so until some provision should be made for the rebuilding of the legation, or for placing at my disposal some equally commodious residence. I was finally told by Takemoto Hayato-no-kami that the government had taken the subject into consideration, and was apprehensive if it commenced to rebuild the house it would be burned down again; but that money would be given to the priest in charge of the temple, who would rebuild it with impunity, as the object would not then be known or suspected.

What reason had the government to suppose the buildings would again be destroyed or the work interrupted? Clearly none, if it really believed that the fire of May 24 was the result of an accident; but if satisfied that it was the work of persons hostile to the presence of any foreigners in Yedo, and determined to drive them out, then the fear was justified and the decision wise. When it was at length agreed that the government would immediately fit up the temple which had escaped the flames for my residence, I prepared to leave for Kanagawa, and reside there till the work was done.

About noon on the 31st of May Matsudaira Iuami-no-kami, governor for foreign affairs, made his appearance. He said he had come to see me at some personal risk, and that he was commissioned by the government to inform me that it was in possession of proof of a conspiracy to attack the legation that very night; that about 500 Lronins were assembled for that purpose; that directions had been given to certain Daimios to surround the place of the assemblage; that the government was apprehensive they might take the alarm and disperse; that if arrested some might escape, and, exasperated by the loss of their comrades, still make the attack; but if all were captured, as it was hoped they would be, the government would be embarrassed in punishing them, as some of the friends

[Page 468]

of the Lronins might seek revenge on members of the legation. It was further represented that if I were away from Yedo the government would feel at liberty to punish them with unsparing severity, which it proposed to do, as the Lronins had become so bold as to bid defiance to the government.

I was thereupon asked (as my residence was ill defended, and entirely without the line of guard-houses) to go on board a Japanese war steamer, and in her to Yokohama. As it was my purpose, as announced to the government, to leave Yedo the next day, I, of course, had no suspicion that this was a contrivance to hasten my departure; and at 5 o’clock p. m. I left the legation, accompanied by some hundreds of Yakunins, and went on board your gunboat.

Early in June the government was able to announce to the Mikado, the Tycoon, and the assembled Daimios, at Kioto, that no foreigner was in Yedo.

What punishment was inflicted by the government on the Lronins for this threatened outrage, for this flagrant violation of international law and of treaties which guarantee to every legation a safe residence in Yedo? I had every reason to believe that the government would act with vigor. It had surrounded these ferocious men with a large force, and had declared that their punishment would be so severe as to make it unsafe to inflict it until the peaceful objects of their vengeance were in safety at a distant place.

In a few days these lawless men are gently, and with almost parental care, gathered together in commodious quarters, placed under the supervision of a governor, taken into the employ of the government, and pacified by liberal salaries.

When this startling and almost incredible fact came to my knowledge, my vigorous remonstrances were met by the remark, made with the utmost placidity of countenance, That all Lronins were not bad men, but that there were some good men among them, and that it would not do to punish these men!

The President of the United States has, after full consideration of the facts submitted to him, come to the conclusion that they raise a strong presumption that the act of firing the residence of the legation was committed by incendiaries, with a purpose at once political and hostile to the United States, and that the government of Japan could probably have foreseen and prevented it, and that they have at least given a tacit assent and acquiescence.

The President arrived at this conclusion before the receipt of my letter informing him of the extraordinary demands made by the government of his Majesty the Tycoon at a subsequent period, and his convictions will be greatly strengthened when he considers the daring declaration of its purpose to close all the ports, and that foreigners were required to withdraw from Japan; and, also, the extraordinary request, now pending, that the treaty powers shall abandon this port.

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the government of his Majesty the Tycoon urged my withdrawal from Yedo, because it was aware of the existence of a party hostile to my residing there, and because it was apprehensive for my safety. It is also evident that the government, instead of insisting that the subjects of his Majesty the Tycoon should submit to the treaties, desired to conciliate the hostile Daimios, by rendering the treaties practically void so far as they guarantee a safe residence in that city. It was for this reason the suggestion was made, that Yedo would be less safe during the absence of his Majesty the Tycoon, while, to my mind, directly the reverse was the fact. The assemblage of many Daimios at Kioto, and the withdrawal of so many of their retainers from Yedo, appeared to me to constitute a great element of safety.

The conference of Kioto is, of course, enveloped in mystery. The veil which covers its proceedings will probably never be lifted. Only one of its measures has thus far been disclosed by the government. The Mikado has ordered the ports to be closed and foreigners to be expelled. The influence which was [Page 469] sufficiently potent to procure such a decision was not to be disregarded by his Majesty the Tycoon or his ministers. My retirement from Yedo was a measure which would propitiate it.

But while the government was laboring to secure this result by persuasion, it is evident there were some parties who were not inclined to wait its slow movements. The same hostile parties which have so persistently and violently opposed the treaties and sought to set them aside, and which have threatened alternately the government of Japan and the treaty powers, determined to resort to violence. Goten-Yama had been rescued from the foreign legation by the torch of the incendiary, and the buildings of the United States legation shared the same fate. When this did not effect my departure, threats of violence and assassination were resorted to; and if the parties who made these threats were not rewarded by the government for making them, it is very clear that they did not thereby forfeit its confidence. History presents no parallel to such a spectacle! By the common judgment of mankind the government will be held justly liable to the charge of granting favors to persons whom it had pronounced premeditated assassins, and declared it to be their purpose to visit them with the signal punishment they had so justly merited.

Nor must I omit to remind your excellencies how much time elapsed before the temporary building agreed on was prepared for the legation; that you even now declare it can only be occupied at the peril of our lives, and that no steps have been taken towards rebuilding the premises which were destroyed.

The President has instructed me to demand of the Japanese government a sum which shall be sufficient to indemnify the legation for all losses sustained by that fire.

I therefore demand the payment to me of the sum of $10,000, for the public and private property injured and destroyed at that time.

I am also instructed to demand that diligent efforts be made to discover the incendiaries and bring them to condign punishment; also, that adequate guarantees be given for my safe return to Yedo, and the permanent establishment of the legation there without delay. In making these demands, I must insist on the immediate rebuilding of my late residence.

I am also instructed to insist on the full observance of the treaties between the United States and Japan in all the particulars which have not heretofore been waived or postponed by the government of the United States.

But I am instructed to make demands for further indemnities.

When the government of his majesty the Tycoon appeared to be on the eve of a rupture with that of Great Britain, it issued a notification which produced a panic in the native population of Yokohama, and occasioned the flight of merchants, workmen, and servants. The government stated to me that its purpose had been misunderstood; that it had been thought advisable to recommend the removal of the sick, of the aged and the infirm, and of women and children, and that its humane recommendation to this effect had frightened the other residents and led to their flight. Whatever may have been the language employed, its effect was almost to depopulate the place. Nor was it surprising that those who had sums justly due them should desire to realize them before they left, as they thought they might never return, or, if they did, find that their debtors had been expelled. The populace, therefore, was greatly excited, and for a season there was much reason to fear that the place would be under the control of infuriated men who could not be restrained, and would perpetrate acts of violence and be guilty even of murder. It is a significant fact that the governor did not make his appearance until the afternoon of that day, although his usual hour of attendance at his office was 10 o’clock a. m., nor was the slightest attempt made to pacify or put down the rioters. It was not till after the consuls of the treaty powers had sent for him, and indignantly remonstrated at his [Page 470] indifference, that his voice was heard. The disturbance was at once hushed, and the ease with which he restored order was so great as to induce the belief that his absence was the result of premeditation and of a deliberate purpose to allow full license to the mob.

While the government was thus culpably indifferent, if not guilty of complicity in the violent proceedings, workmen and coolies collected at different places in great numbers to collect the debts actually due, or to extort payment of pretended ones. I shall only notice the three prominent cases to which I have already called the attention of the government.

A band of men, headed by a merchant, proceeded to the house of Samuel Robertson, an American merchant, took him forcibly from the house and carried him towards the swamp or creek lying back of Yokohama. Some of these men were armed with fire-hooks and with the jagged irons used in arresting criminals, with which they pushed and otherwise maltreated him. There can be little doubt that his life would have been sacrificed had not the British guard met and rescued him. The outrage was aggravated by the fact that Mr. Robertson had been confined to his house for some time by illness.

A band of coolies went to the house of J. O. P. Stearns, also an American merchant, seized him and beat him till he was insensible. He was rescued from them when unable to move, by his servants, to whose devotion and courage he is indebted for his life.

Another body entered the house of Mr. Raphael Schoyer, an American merchant, and demanded money from him which was not due. They forced themselves into the presence of his wife, and the contractor, who had meanwhile arrived, carred off three hundred itsebus from his table. The presence of his wife, and the fears he felt for her safety, and that it might lead to other outrages and bloodshed, induced Mr. Schoyer to refrain from resisting them.

If the gentlemen named had been indebted to these men and unjustly refused payment, such violent measures cannot be justified. The officers of the United States have always promptly investigated every claim presented against an American citizen. The government on one occasion paid a debt of over $2,000 which had been incurred by an American citizen who absconded. Nor will the Japanese government ever have any just cause of complaint against officers of the United States government for any failure to observe faithfully every treaty stipulation. But while citizens of the United States will ever be required to meet every obligation they have incurred to the extent of their entire property, they have a right to expect, and will receive from their own government, protection of life, person, and property, and its full power will be exerted, when needful, to secure their rights.

I cannot believe that debts are collected from subjects of his Majesty the Tycoon, under process of law, by means of fish hooks and yokes ornamented with projecting nails; but if so, we have a right to ask that such persuasive instrumentalities be reserved for their exclusive use.

Since these occurrences, I have repeatedly requested the governor of Kanagawa to present any claims which Japanese have against American citizens for investigation in the consular court. Every one which has been made has been promptly examined and settled, so far as I have heard, to the satisfaction of your officers.

None has been presented against Mr. Robertson, nor is he justly indebted to his assailants. The claim against him arises under a contract, which has not been fulfilled by the Japanese merchant, owing to a rise in the price of the article to be delivered. The amount of eighty dollars, retained on the contract for security for its fulfilment, is entirely insufficient to pay Mr. Robertson the amount of loss he has sustained.

Mr. Stearns employed a coolie to fill in his lot for a sum agreed on. After some progress had been made in the work Mr. Stearns made a new contract, [Page 471] increasing the price on the representation of the contractor that he would suffer loss, and on this representation being repeated, Mr. Stearns again increased the contract price.

The work, which was to be done in a few days, occupied weeks, and though Mr. Stearns was dissatisfied, he requested the contractor to call for the amount due the very day he was assaulted. The party who made the attack at Mr. Schoyer’s was not in his employ, but a sub-contractor of the Japanese workman employed by him; nor was any sum due from Mr. Schoyer to any person whatever for that work.

On my calling the attention of the government to these cases, Takemoto Hayato-no-kami assured me they would be examined and the parties punished. He also requested me to delay sending the affidavits to my government in order that I might have the satisfaction, when making known the wrongs sustained, of informing the President that those wrongs had been promptly redressed.

The governor of Kanagawa was thereupon called on to investigate the affair and report. The first report he made was that they had been settled; and then he had the audacity to say that the outrage on Mr. Robertson was only a practical joke. He then attempted to shield the offenders by saying they were carrying Mr. Robertson to the custom-house for the purpose of collecting their debt. This was not true, as they were carrying him in a direction nearly opposite. But if true, and they had taken him there without subjecting him to indignity and ill usage, the custom-house officials had no jurisdiction. The United States consular court was the only tribunal which could pass upon the question of indebtedness. But this is a mere pretence. The affidavit of Mr. Thomas Eskrigge, a British merchant, discloses the fact that this merchant was seen by him on two different occasions prowling about the residence of Mr. Robertson, and that he threatened to renew his attack.

Although I have repeatedly called the attention of the government to these injuries, and to the threats that others would be attempted, nothing has been done to punish the offenders. They are at liberty to this day. The governor of Kanagawa promised our consul that they should be kept in confinement till the cases were fully investigated. But, again, the singular spectacle is presented of rewards being conferred instead of punishment. The person who made the assault on Mr. Stearns is now in charge of the work which the government has in progress of making drains and sewers in this town. Such criminal indifference to the safety of citizens who have come here relying on the pledged faith of the Japanese government greatly aggravates the wrongs which they have suffered.

I therefore demand the payment to me of $20,000 in satisfaction of injuries to citizens of the United States sustained at the period above referred to. I further demand, agreeably to instructions, that you make diligent efforts to bring the aggressors to justice, and to inflict upon them such punishment as will be calculated to prevent further outrages of the same kind.

A few months ago a Japanese whaler, under the command of Manjiro, returned from the Bonin islands, bringing several seamen who desired to leave, and two citizens of the United States charged with offences. One of these was found guilty by our consul, and sentenced to be confined in prison for the term of four months, and was confined in your prison the full term.

The other, George Horton, is an old man charged with no offence, but coming off to the ship in a boat in which a pistol was found. The consul, with the consent of Captain Manjiro, at once discharged him from arrest. He is a poor, trembling, paralytic old man of eighty-five years of age. He was left at the Bonin islands by Commodore Perry, in the year 1854, and has resided there ever since, supporting himself by the cultivation of a small piece of land. I have asked your excellencies to send him back in one of your ships. You have [Page 472] answered that he was taken away because it was dangerous to leave him there. I have seen him, and will not waste time in further reply than I have heretofore made to this charge. His land is there, and all he possesses. The government of the United States is now paying for his support at this place. I regard his expulsion as entirely unwarranted; but if it was essential to the peaceful possession of these islands, and such possession be finally acquiesced in by the government of the United States, it is manifestly proper that you should pay for the property you have taken from him. If, therefore, you do not send him back I demand the payment of the sum of $2,000 to me as an indemnity for his use.

The above aggregate sum of $32,000 must be paid within thirty days from this date, or I shall be at liberty to make such additional demands as may be required by further instructions or by the course of events.

I am instructed to employ the naval force of the United States at command for the protection of myself, the legation, and others of my countrymen, under any circumstances which may occur. And I am directed to inform the government of his Majesty the Tycoon that the United States will, as they shall find occasion, send additional force to maintain the foregoing demands.

The President of the United States is disposed, notwithstanding the government of Japan has done so much, and suffered so much to be done to alienate and injure the United States, to persevere in the friendly and liberal course of proceedings which it has hitherto pursued. But the friendship of the United States cannot be secured by the government and people of Japan, nor could it be of any avail if the United States should fail to maintain their own dignity and self-respect in their intercourse with Japan in the same frankness which they practice in regard to all nations.

With the expression of the hope that the government of his Majesty the Tycoon will see the justice of these claims, and avert the consequences which will inevitably follow their rejection,

I remain, with respect and esteem,

ROBERT H. PRUYN, Minister Resident of the United States in Japan.

Their Excellencies Midsumo Idsumi-no-kami, Itakura Suwo-no-kami, Inowuye Kawatsi-no-kami, Arima Totomi-no-kami, Members of Gorogio, and Ministers of Foreign Affairs, &c., &c., &c., Yedo.