Mr. Pruyn to Mr. Seward

No. 20.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your despatch No. 51, of the 24th of October last, in which you say:

“Upon the testimony already received relative to the destruction by fire of the legation buildings at Yedo, the President considers it to have been offensive and criminal, not an accidental occurrence; and this government will expect indemnity therefor. Should you come to a different conclusion, however, the subject will be reconsidered.”

[Page 485]

As you have been advised, I have presented the demands I was instructed to make on the Japanese government. Although in the first instance they were summarily rejected, I have the satisfaction to inform you that commissioners have been appointed to confer with me on the subject, with whom I had an interview yesterday of several hours.

Although I cannot say I confidently expect, yet I do not entirely despair of, a satisfactory result. The claims for injuries on citizens of the United States at this place are attended with embarrassments it will be exceedingly difficult to overcome.

There have been, unfortunately, very many instances where Japanese have been grossly maltreated by foreigners, and no indemnity asked or paid. Indeed, it admits of some question whether it would be safe, in view of the character of the floating population of the treaty powers, at the open ports, to establish the principle of the liability of a government for the act of its individual citizens or subjects. I have, in the cases now under consideration, insisted on those points which make them exceptional cases: first, the government has not punished, but, as far as seen, has actually rewarded the offenders; secondly, the injuries did not arise in the ordinary course of business, but grew directly out of the action of the government, which created alarm among the native population, and though it is alleged that the notice was misunderstood, that does not diminish the liability of the government; thirdly, this liability is increased by the criminal neglect of the governor of Kanagawa, while the mob was in the ascendant, which neglect appeared to amount to a continuance of, or connivance with, the offenders.

You will observe that in presenting the demands I entered fully into particulars. My object in doing so was to save you, as far as possible, the necessity of explanations at home, and to enable the Japanese government, if disposed, to answer each allegation and urge any mitigating circumstances, and thus have a case presented which would allow of the withdrawal of the demands altogether, or justify them if admitted, and if refused, show that such measures as might become necessary for their enforcement were clearly required.

Although some correspondence has passed since the letters which have been transmitted, it contains nothing material to the decision of the question.

The present attitude of the government makes me indulge the hope that the reactionary party has entirely failed, and that the foreign policy of the government is now fixed and may be relied on as favorable to a continuance of peace and the observance of the treaties. The utmost moderation will be the best policy. The dictates of an enlightened humanity have justified the friendly and patient forbearance which has heretofore characterized our relations with this government; and it is pleasant to believe that such forbearance is still compatible with our true interests as being best calculated to overcome the obstacles arising from the laws and institutions of the government and the prejudices of the ruling class.

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

ROBERT H. PRUYN, Minister Resident in Japan.

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