Mr. Pruyn to Mr. Seward

No. 12.]

Sir: I have the honor to enclose copies of the minute of a conference recently held with the Gorogio by her Britannic Majesty’s chargé d’affaires and the political agent of the Netherlands, and also of a memorandum submitted by them on that occasion, and of their letter to me communicating the same, (enclosures 1,2 and 3.)

Two subjects of common interest were considered on that occasion: one, an alleged attempt to create a government monopoly of silk; the other having reference to what they said they felt justified in declaring to be the desire of their government as to the final disposition of the obligations assumed by the Tycoon in and by the convention recently concluded with the four powers.

I was at Yedo on the day the British chargé d’affaires left for that city, and was not aware of his design to call the attention of the Gorogio to these subjects, which Mr. Winchester states was owing to the detention of a letter which he sent to the consul general of Holland, then also in Yedo, asking him to consult me. But on the eve of his departure for Yedo Mr. Winchester had an interview with the French minister, when the latter disavowed any such design as being entertained by himself, and he, therefore, now feels aggrieved at the formal presentation of the subject to the Gorogio after such disavowal, not only as a discorteous act, but as one rather discrediting the sincerity of his disavowal; when, therefore, the Gorogio unexpectedly declared they had the right to purchase silks for sale abroad, and the representatives of Great Britain and Holland had presented their memorandum protesting against the same, it became necessary for them to obtain the co-operation of their colleagues, with which they had till that time believed they could dispense. The minister of France when waited on by them after their return from Yedo, condemned their course with considerable warmth, and declined sanctioning the memorandum by his approval. I expressed myself willing to meet my colleagues and join in a memorandum which should be free from the objections which I pointed out as attaching to the one they had presented. When they subsequently transmitted [Page 241] the letter and copies above referred to, the minister of France proposed that we should answer the same jointly, though we agreed in considering the memorandum objectionable in itself, and also in regretting that separate action had been taken. I preferred not to do so, fearing it might create some serious differences, and might connect me with personal difficulties the issue of which I could not foresee and would be powerless to control.

I have reason to know that my representations and mediation have tended greatly to moderate the reply of the French minister and to soften the asperity of feeling which at one time appeared to threaten an interruption of our harmonious action.

I also enclose, No. 4, copy of my letter to Messrs. Winchester and Polsbroek in reply, and No. 5, copy of note verbale of the French minister in reply to the same.

I thought it best not to enter into any extended discussion of the memorandum, but will ask my colleagues to join in a note to the Japanese government, which shall be more precise, and which will not justify the adoption of measures by the Japanese government which the representatives of Great Britain and Holland have inadvertently conceded it may legitimately adopt, such as either the direct increase of export and import duties, which is declared to be the right of all governments on the indirect increase of the former by the imposition of transit duties, the exercise of both of which rights must be regarded as restrained by existing treaties, and to that extent extinguished. The papers transmitted require no further notice. I hope the President will think I have acted with discretion, and that it was well not to make this separate action the subject of more serious complaint. My letter was framed with the design to permit such explanation as might re-establish harmony, though I was sensible it was, to say the least, indelicate to forestall the action of the four powers in reference to a convention, which may even now be under consideration.

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

ROBERT H. PRUYN, Minister Resident in Japan.

Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

No. 1.

Mr. Winchester and Mr. Polsbroek to Mr. Pruyn

Sir: We have the honor to wait on you with copies of a minute of what took place at an interview we had with the Gorogio on the 6th instant, and of a memorandum which we thought it right to present to them, consequent on the reply to our request for information, on the subject to which the said memorandum relates.

Copies of this document have been transmitted to our colleague, the minister plenipotentiary of France.

Be good enough to accept the assurance of our highest consideration, while we have the honor to be your most obedient, humble servants,

CHARLES A. WINCHESTER, Her Britannic Majesty’s Chargé d’Affaires in Japan.

D. DE GRAEFF VAN POLSBROEK, Political Agent and Consul General of the Netherlands.

His Excellency Robert P. Pruyn, Minister Resident of the United States.

No. 2.

Present: Midsuno Idlumi No Kami and Suwa Inaba No Kami, ministers, and Sakai Hida No Kami, vice-minister, on the part of the Japanese goovernment, and Charles A. Winchester, [Page 242] her Britannic Majesty’s chargé d’affaires, and D. de Graeff van Polsbroek, consul general and political agent of the Netherlands.

After the usual interchange of compliments, the British chargé d’affaires opened the conference by announcing the return of Sir Rutherford Alcock to Japan, and the approval by his government of the policy pursued by him with regard to the late Japanese affairs, which intelligence was received by the Japanese ministers with much appearance of interest, and inquiries were made as to the probable date of his return.

The British chargé d’affaires then, while thanking the Japanese ministers in the name of his government for the energetic steps taken by them in bringing to justice one of the principals in the murder of the two British officers at Kamakura, inquired whether any traces had been discovered of Sakahashi Togiro, the other assassin, to which the minister replied that Simidlu Seiji must have given a false name of his accomplice, as no such name as Sakahashi Togiro was known to them. No effort, they said, would, however, be spared to discover and punish this criminal.

The gold watch sent out by the British government for the Prince of Matunai for services rendered to the British barque Egeria was then handed over to the Japanese minister, with some appropriate remarks as to the degree in which the British government appreciated the kind treatment which, on various occasions, had been received by shipwrecked crews on the Japanese shores.

Next came the Hakodate and Nagasaki complaints, respecting privileges enjoyed by the Chinese in purchasing and exporting anati, and irico, and other important articles, which could not be obtained, except with great difficulty, by the subjects of treaty powers. The foreign representatives present pointed out to the Gorogio the injustice of this monopoly which had been granted to subjects of a new treaty power, and stated that it created constant difficulties and led to an organized system of native smuggling. The Chinese, they said, were quite as well able to pay for such articles as they required as other nations. When Japan was opened by the treaty of 1858, the trade with Holland, which had formerly been one of government’s, ceased to be so, and the continuance of a government contract favorable to the Chinese but prejudicial to all other nations, was totally opposed as well to the principles embodied in, as to the express provisions of, the treaties. Representatives present were ready to admit that immediate interests might require special consideration, but these would be better provided for out of the produce of a regular and authorized duty to be levied during transit of these articles, than by the continuance of a contract opposed to sound policy and treaty rights.

The ministers stated in reply that the matter would be duly inquired into, and that instructions would be sent to the governors of Nagasaki and Hakodate to remove their cause of complaint.

Foreign representatives present, while declaring themselves satisfied with this reply, said they had another and very important subject to bring under the notice of the Japanese government, and one which they considered of such importance that they now thought it their duty to ask for information from the Gorogio. Certain rumors, which had caused much disquietude, had reached them of a project having been formed for the consignment of large quantities of silk and ova to one market in Europe for the purchase of vessels, arms, ammunition, &c.

The Japanese ministers did not deny the existence of some such project, and said they considered that Japan was perfectly at liberty to make contracts with any nation for the supply of vessels-of-war, arms, and other warlike stores, and to pay such contracts by the surplus of produce not required for home consumption in the same manner as they formerly used to deal with the Dutch government.

Hereupon the Dutch consul general observed that the ministers were in error, inasmuch as since the date of the present treaties Japan had never had any direct trade with the Dutch government; for they must remember, he said, that even for the old contracts remittances had to be made, not in produce but in dollars, through the Dutch Trading Company, and that since the treaties were in operation the trade had been given over to individuals. The projects rumored led to the idea virtually of a monopoly which Japan was going to establish in favor of one market—a proceeding which he and his British colleague were bound to oppose. The subject was of vital importance for the trade of the subjects of their Majesties the Queen and the King and all other treaty powers, and if the Gorogio could not give the assurance that such projects were not in existence, or would not be prosecuted, so as to guarantee the non-recurrence of the silk restrictions of 1863 and 1864, they had no alternative but to refer the matter to their respective governments as inconsistent with the rights acquired by their subjects under treaties. As the time would not allow any lengthened discussion of this important point, his British colleague and himself had, in the event of receiving such an answer as the above from the Gorogio, drawn up a memorandum setting forth their views upon the subject. The said memorandum, signed, in the Dutch language, with a Japanese paraphrase, was then delivered to the first minister, who, in the name of the Gorogio, replied that he had perfectly understood what the two foreign representatives present had said, and that they might feel assured that the subject would receive the consideration it deserved.

It was then suggested, on the other part, that a governor for foreign affairs should shortly be sent to Yokohama, in order to discuss the subject with the foreign ministers generally.

[Page 243]

Subsequently the two representatives present informed the Gorogio that, though no instructions had been received as to the convention of October last, they had been made acquainted with the views of their respective governments as to the alternative condition which left to the option of the Japanese government the opening of Simonoseki, or some other eligible port in the inland sea, in lieu of indemnity money, and were justified in stating that the same was unobjectionable.

The Japanese observed, in reply, that this was a point which required consideration, and which should be deferred till the return of the two members of the Gorogio who had been sent by the Tycoon on a special mission to the Mikado.

In conclusion, the two representatives present remarked that the time had arrived for reestablishing foreign legations at Yedo, and that the government of the Tycoon was now considered strong enough to remove all obstacles to the permanent residence of foreign diplomatic agents in the capital.

The Japanese minister replied, this was another point which they could not undertake to discuss until the members of the Gorogio were complete; if the message to Kioto was successful, there should, on their part, be no difficulty in settling the question of the foreign legations. Representatives were aware that since the past year a good deal had been done towards tranquillizing the country, and if the treaty powers would only give them a few months’ more time, order and peace might be sufficiently restored so as to afford better security to the foreign agents in the Tycoon’s capital.

The conference ended by the presentation of Commodore Montressor, commanding British squadron, and Colonel Browne, commandant of the British troops, with their respective staffs.

As reported by me:

MARTIN DOHMEN, Acting Japanese Secretary to her Britannic Majesty’s Legation.

Countersigned by—

Charles A. Winchester, Her Britannic Majesty’s Chargé d’ Affaires in Japan.

D. de Graeff van Polsbroek, Consul General and Political Agent of the Netherlands in Japan.

True copy:


No. 3.


The rumors which now prevail with respect to the existence of an extensive design for the purchase of the raw silk and silk-worms’ eggs of Japan, and despatching these to one particular market, to lay down funds required for the completion of contracts entered into on behalf of the Japanese government in that country, are of a nature calculated to create anxiety.

These rumors have been steadily on the increase, though they have not assumed such a shape as to require the use, in speaking of them, of individual names; still, from their character and persistence, the undersigned are justified in applying to the Japanese government for general information as to whether any projects of the kind have been formed, and their nature, because, if the Japanese government is not able to assure the undersigned that such designs have not been or will be formed, it would be the duty of the undersigned to point out the difficulties which such plans are certain to create, and adopt, in doing so, the weightiest form of remonstrance.

The silk restrictions of 1863 and 1864, which consisted in the detention of that article at Yedo, were clearly contrary to treaties, which provide that (Art. xiv, British treaty) foreign merchants shall be allowed to trade freely with Japanese merchants in all lawful articles according to the stipulations in the treaties and the regulations.

There is not the slightest disposition on the part of the undersigned to complain of the selection by the Japanese government of any partial country for the supply of its stores, ships, and munitions; neither of the bringing of silk into open markets at Yokohama and the other ports is not interfered with, is there any objection to the Japanese government sending home silk instead of dollars to pay for their contracts. The experience of all commercial countries proves, beyond doubt, that it is neither wise nor prudent in a government to make themselves merchants. Whenever a government is known to be in the market to buy anything, the price is sure to rise; if it wishes to sell, it is equally sure to fall, through the tricks of individual merchants, who are always jealous of government as competitors, and never think it any sin to fleece them. But both governments and individuals have to pay for their experience, and only learn to abide by true principles when they find it is more costly to deviate from than to adhere to them.

But this is not what the reports point to.; they mean a repetition of the restrictions of these last years, namely, that the native merchants are not to be allowed to bring their silk to Yokohama till they have first sold as much as the government wants at a lower price. Now [Page 244] this is simply a repetition of the silk restrictions of 1863 and 1864, with the single difference that its effect is to create a total or partial monopoly in favor of the country to which the silk is destined.

The effect on the merchants of other foreign countries settled in Japan is the same. There is no free market for the purchase of silk to which the Japanese traders are permitted to bring produce, on payment of the customary and regular transit dues. The price of any silk which is then brought into the market is heightened, because the supply has been diminished in proportion to the amount of the quantity brought through this forced reduction.

Naturally, if, after the communication of the views of the undersigned, they find from actual experience that there is a repetition of the restrictions alluded to, the government of the Queen and King will look to that of the Tycoon for explanation of designs which prevent British and Dutch subjects from trading in the open markets provided by treaty. On such a point they will make no question with any other party than the Tycoon’s government.

But there is another point of view in which it is the duty of the undersigned to invite a consideration of these projects as rumored, which appear to them to rest on an unsound basis, and they believe are supported by false arguments. It is said there would be presumably greater profits on Japanese produce if consigned abroad for sale, in furtherance of these designs, and not sold in Japan. Why should not Japan, therefore, keep to herself the profit that lies between the foreign purchaser of the silk in Yokohama and the manufacturer in the foreign country?

This is true in a way, but not in the manner represented.

If the Tycoon’s government were to encourage Japanese merchants and commercial agents to settle abroad in the great marts of the world—as London, Paris, Manchester, Lyons, Amsterdam, Hamburg, New York, &c.—there to receive the produce of Japan on consignment, and thence send back as returns such articles as are wanted, and, when sold in Japan, will fetch a profit, the profit both ways would be saved, minus the outlay involved in these foreign Japanese mercantile establishments. Nothing would give the governments of their Majesties the Queen and King greater pleasure than to witness such a step on the part of the government of the Tycoon. Already have numerous youths from the estates of the Tycoon and the princes been sent to Europe for instruction in sciences and arts. Why not send abroad the sons of Japanese merchants and commercial agents also to be instructed in the counting-houses of these great trading cities, and afterwards form in these countries establishments of their own? Such a step would be, indeed, the true reunion of Japan to the world.

But the mere consignment of whole or part of the available produce not required for consumption in Japan to one foreign mart will not secure a higher price. The essence of high price is competition. There are in Yokohama merchants from England, France, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, America, competing keenly with each other, face to face, with equal or greater number of Japanese merchants; whereas, if a particular market belonging to one of these nations is chosen, the competitors are in effect restricted to one section of the six or seven now to be found in Yokohama, so far as the side which will correspond to the foreign side of the Yokohama market is concerned, while the Japanese side must, as things now stand, be entirely represented by foreign agency. The eminent statesmen who govern Japan will, if they weigh such considerations, have no difficulty in arriving at the conclusion that the best market for Japanese produce is to be found in submitting it to the greatest amount of competition. It is by steadily adhering to true commercial principles that the financial operations of a government are best conducted. Every government does wisely, without foreign interference, to levy such steady and equitable taxes on its exports, imports, and produce as are requisite to supply the wants of the state, but the sudden creation of monopolies, and the imposition of restrictions to effect particular objects, is wasteful and improvident; a nation may be great and powerful for other reasons in spite of them, but never by reason of them.

CHARLES A. WINCHESTER, Her Britannic Majesty’s Chargé d’ Affaires in Japan.

D. DE GRAEFF VAN POLSBROEK, Consul General and Political Agent of the Netherlands in Japan.
No. 4.

Mr. Pruyn to Mr. Winchester and Mr. Van Polsbroek

Gentlemen: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your joint letter of the 11th instant, with its enclosures, consisting of a minute of what took place at your recent conference with the Gorogio, and of a memorandum which on that occasion you presented to them.

The rumors to which you therein refer had not escaped my notice, but the project which they indicated was so manifestly in violation of existing treaties, and so incapable of execution, [Page 245] as to have failed to induce me to seek a conference with my colleagues, much less make it the subject of a formal note. I understood you, however, to say, when you verbally communicated to me the result of your conference, that they had assumed such shape and consistency as not to permit you to pass them by unnoticed. I should not have been indisposed, therefore, in conjunction with my colleagues, to have made them the subject of a joint memorandum, in which we should have declared to the Japanese government that the treaties contemplated only trade between the citizens and subjects of the different powers, and that any governmental interference, either by a purchase of the surplus products of the country or any part of them, or by preventing their reaching the open ports, or by sending them beyond those ports, would be justly regarded as an infraction of those treaties.

The signal success which has attended the cordial co-operation of the representatives of the four powers in matters of common interest induces me to regret that there should have been an interruption of joint action, which I am disposed, however, to attribute rather to the suddenness of your determination while in Yedo to seek the interview, than to any want of courtesy to your colleagues, or of desire to obtain their concurrence. Apart from the necessity of manifesting to the Japanese government the continuance of this purpose of concerted action, I regret it the more as it deprives me of an opportunity of suggesting an important modification of your memorandum, to which I directed your attention at our interview immediately on your return from Yedo. I cannot admit “that there is no objection to the Japanese government sending abroad silk to pay for stores, ships, and munitions.” The Japanese government would necessarily be the sole judge of the extent to which such right should be exercised. My objection extends 10 the principle, and any violation of it should meet with immediate and strong remonstrance. I was not aware till after the receipt of your letter that you had made the convention of October last the subject of any remark at that interview. In the absence of any despatches from my government since the receipt of the convention in the United States, I am unable to say what its decision or preference will be if the alternative of some eligible port shall be offered for the acceptance of the four powers. I cannot doubt, however, that our governments, when the proper time arrives, will act in concert after full consultation. While disposed to interpret your remarks at the recent conference to be such as it was declared to be by the convention—the establishment of better relations with Japan, and not the receipt of money—I would have suggested and counselled, had opportunity been afforded, that no communication should have been made in reference thereto, in the absence of positive instructions, until the representatives of the four powers were able to unite therein.

I embrace this opportunity to renew the assurance of my desire to cultivate and maintain unimpaired that perfect accord on the part of the representatives of the treaty powers which has been so happily established, and which has been productive of so much good, as most agreeable to my own wishes and the instructions of the President of the United States, and as the best security for the preservation of our common treaty rights.

I have the honor to be, gentlemen, your most obedient servant,

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

Messrs. Chas. A. Winchester, Her Britanic Majesty’s Chargé d’ Affaires.

D. de Graeff Van Polsbroek, Political Agent and Consul General of the Netherlands.

No. 5.

[Note verbale.—Translation.]

Legation of France in Japan.

The undersigned has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the joint letter, dated the 11th March, addressed to him by Mr. Winchester, chargé d’affaires of her Britannic Majesty, and Mr. De Graeff van Polsbroek, political agent and consul general of his Majesty the King of the Netherlands, transmitting copy of minute of their conference with the Gorogio, and of a memorandum which they have deemed proper to present to them.

The undersigned has already verbally expressed to Messrs. Winchester and De Graeff van Polsbroek, when they came to communicate to him the object and the result of their proceeding with the Gorogio the painful feelings which he experienced when learning that his colleagues had acted without him in a matter which interested him personally. It was, indeed, publicly known that the rumors taken for basis of the memorandum addressed by them to the Gorogio clearly and solely pointed to France and its representative, who, it was said, had induced the Japanese government to send all the silk of Japan to the market of Lyons, &c., &c.

The undersigned will not repeat, now, his opinions on this subject, but contents himself with submitting the following remarks to his colleagues:

The representatives of America, England, France, and Holland, having succeeded in establishing among themselves a perfect understanding, which has so powerfully contributed [Page 246] to improve our political and commercial situation in Japan, and having engaged themselves to act in concert each time that the general interests of the foreign nations shall be threatened by measures emanating from the Japanese government, the undersigned thinks that both his colleagues, Messrs. Winchester and De Graeff van Polsbroek, might have come to an understanding with him previous to writing the memorandum which they presented to the Gorogio on the subject of a question so pointedly connected with the interests of the respective citizens and subjects of the four powers above named.

Her Britannic Majesty’s chargé d’affaires and the political agent of his Majesty the King of the Netherlands, would then have convinced themselves that not only does the undersigned consider any commercial operation on the part of the Japanese government as opposed to the spirit and the letter of the treaties and of international laws, but also that he did not admit, as his colleagues have admitted in their memorandum, the right of the said government to send silk abroad in exchange for arms and munitions which it may have purchased there.

The commercial interests which the undersigned is sent to protect require that the Japanese government shall absolutely abstain from any commercial act whatever, either directly or indirectly.

The undersigned cannot explain the reply of the Gorogio, according to the minute written by his colleagues, in any other manner than as a misunderstanding or an error of translation, on many occasions, and recently again he has had similar commercial questions to discuss with the Gorogio or their envoys, and never has he been able to trace, in their replies, the slightest indication of intentions on their part such as are attributed to them.

The spread or the maintenance of such errors might affect the character of the representative of France, and he, therefore, considers it a duty to call, without delay, for a special statement on this subject on the part of the Gorogio.

The undersigned also believes that Messrs. De Graeff van Polsbroek and Winchester might have omitted, jointly and officially, to discuss with the Gorogio the question relating to the war indemnity granted by the Japanese government to England, France, America, and Holland. This question having been the subject of a convention signed by the representatives of those four powers, it seems more natural to the undersigned not to discuss it with the Gorogio until after a mutual understanding of the said representatives.

It is thus with profound regret that the undersigned now states facts which would be of a nature to affect the good understanding which, until now, has subsisted between the representatives of the four powers, if he had not, while dismissing any impression of personal feeling, resolved upon maintaining unimpaired the unity which is the essential condition of the strength they must oppose to the restrictive tendencies of the Japanese government.