Mr. Van Valkenburgh to Mr. Seward.
Sir: It is very difficult to determine precisely the state of affairs now existing in this country. Whether there is any Tycoon having the authority heretofore professed by him, or whether the supreme power now rests exclusively with the Mikado, and is exercised by a council of Daimios appointed by him, is the question which troubles the representatives of all the treaty powers.
All the information we have upon this important question comes through the retainers and officials of the Tycoon, no communication whatever having been made to us from Kioto or from any other place. The officers whom we see, and through whom we conduct our negotiations, are the same who have heretofore conducted all business transactions, and they move on in the same orderly manner, and apparently with the same assurance as before. I received only last night, from the prime minister Itakura Iga No Kami, notice that Matsduira Buzen No Kami had just been appointed assistant Gorogio, and that another person had that day been promoted to the office of governor of foreign affairs, and this by order of the Tycoon.
Notwithstanding all this, the Tycoon himself informs us, in his reply to the address of the diplomatic body, and to which I shall again refer, that he “resigned the governing power, which he had inherited from his ancestors, upon the mutual understanding that he should assemble all the nobles of the empire to discuss the question disinterestedly, and, adopting the opinion of the majority, decide upon the reformation of the national constitution.”
The Daimios were summoned to Kioto; Satsuma, Tosa, Gashu, and some others arrived, bringing with them large numbers of troops. Among the Daimios retainers were some fifteen hundred armed men, owing service to Chosin, all of the above-named Daimios being in opposition to the Tycoon. Their retainers outnumbered at the time the friends of the Tycoon assembled at Kioto. On the third instant they took possession of the nine gates of the Mikado’s castle, turned out the regent and the princes, and took the entire charge and control of the Mikado. The Tycoon was at that time in his own castle, about one mile from that occupied by the Mikado; he was at once surrounded by his friends and retainers, and war, for a time, was imminent. The Tycoon says that these Daimios coerced the Mikado into issuing a decree accepting his resignation, and abolishing the office, without waiting for the assembling of the general council which had been ordered.
In fact, these opponents of the Tycoon, arriving in advance of a large majority of the Daimios summoned, bringing with them bodies of troops numbering in all some twenty thousand, overawed the Tycoon and his few friends at Kioto, and took forcible possession of the Mikado and the government.
On the sixth instant the Tycoon left Kioto, accompanied by some of his friends, about seven o’clock in the evening, and reached his castle in this city about four o’clock on the afternoon of the seventh.
On the eighth instant the representatives of France and Great Britain together had an audience with him, the result of which I am, by the kindness of Sir Harry Parkes, enabled to give to you in inclosure No. 1.
The Tycoon signified his desire to see the representatives of the treaty powers, and upon consultation with my colleagues of France, Great [Page 619] Britain, Holland, Italy, and Prussia, it was determined unanimously to call upon him in a body, present him with an address, and thus learn if possible his present position and future prospects. On the afternoon of the tenth instant we made him such a visit, and Mr. Roche, the French minister, on behalf of the diplomatic body, delivered to him such address, a copy of which I inclose, marked No. 2.
His reply thereto was read by him in person, and then a copy furnished to each representative. I transmit a translation of it, marked inclosure No. 3. I have received, but not officially, a document purporting to be a proclamation issued by the Mikado at Kioto, establishing a form of government, and appointing Satsuma, Tosa, Etchizen, Aki, and Owari, five of the principal Daimios, a council, assisted by a large number of lesser officials, to carry on the government. I have no doubt of the authenticity of the paper, and I inclose a copy translation, marked No. 4. Attached to this proclamation there is one which seems to have been issued by the Tycoon’s authority, announcing the fact that he had been dismissed from the office of Shogoon.
From this new government (if there be such) we have as yet received no communication, and, if rumor speaks true, already has dissension been sown in their ranks and difficulties arisen among them. The Tycoon himself, and his friends, among whom I am told are many of the most influential and powerful of the Daimios, seem indisposed to yield to this new arrangement, but are willing, or express themselves so, to abide the decision of a general council of Daimios, after full and free discussion.
I doubt whether this will be granted, and my fears now are that a civil war will be the result, the Tycoon and his adherents upon the one side, arrayed against Satsuma and his allies upon the other. The Tycoon, as head of the Tokugawa family, is probably the most powerful and wealthy person in Japan. In his own right he owns large provinces and receives vast revenues. All of the open ports in Japan, including Yedo, Osaka, and Ne-egato, are in his provinces. He has been very liberal in his negotiations with the foreign representatives, is desirous of faithfully observing the treaties, and of strengthening the friendly relations with other powers, especially the United States, and in my opinion is the most progressive and liberal in his ideas of any Japanese official.
I inclose herewith No. 5, copy translation of a protest sent to the Mikado by the retainers of ten Daimios, on the sixth instant, but which did not reach me officially.
I also inclose No. 6, the substance of a very long communication addressed to the Mikado by Maki No Suruga No Kami, a small Daimio. I cannot give you an exact translation, as my interpreter (Sikey Shinpatchi) has been at work on it for two days and finds it very hard to properly translate. As it is not an official document, and was not officially received, this copy I trust will be satisfactory.
It is hardly necessary for me to say that in case there should be a collision, I shall endeavor to preserve a strict neutrality, protecting, as far possible, American interests.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient and humble servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
- Or above £2,000,000 in value.↩