to Mr. Angell
Washington , April 4, 1881.
Sir: Your dispatch marked “confidential,” No. 103, of January 25, 1881, inclosing a confidential memorandum from the Japanese minister at Peking, has been received. Ordinarily it would be unnecessary to do more than acknowledge the receipt of the interesting and not unimportant information which you have properly communicated to the Department.
But, both in his conversation with you and in the memorandum itself, the Japanese minister seems to rest the propriety of this official communication upon the fact that the negotiations between the Governments of Japan and China, to which it refers, were initiated by the advice and at the suggestion of “ex-President Grant.”
It is scarcely necessary for me to say that this Department joins with the people of the United States in grateful appreciation of the eminent services which that distinguished man has rendered to his country, and that it was profoundly gratifying to the government to know that he was everywhere in his recent journey received with the most honorable consideration, and that the rulers of other countries sought his advice and obtained the benefit of his judgment and experience. But it must be recollected that General Grant traveled simply as a citizen of the United States without representative character or official responsibility, and any advice which he may have deemed it judicious to give was the expression of his individual opinion, and did not authoritatively indicate the policy or sentiment of the Government of the United States. It might be a source of future embarrassment if foreign statesmen unfamiliar with our political habits and institutions should misapprehend the value and consequence of such a relation. In the question of the negotiation to which the Japanese minister refers, if either China or Japan, or both of them, had asked the good offices of this government the expectation would have been natural that the United States would watch such negotiations with interest and interpose their friendly advice to prevent or relieve any unforeseen misunderstanding in their progress.
Having no official connection with the subject, and our relations with both the powers interested being delicate and important, it is scarcely proper that we should be the recipient of the official complaint of either, although that complaint be made in a confidential manner. As the impression which you describe as being made on yourself will suggest, it would have been better to receive no formal communication from either unless such communication had been volunteered by both. If the Japanese Government desired to make such a representation alone, I would prefer that it should have been made directly to this Department through the, Japanese minister here. While, therefore, I do not mean to express any dissatisfaction at your having forwarded this communication, I would have been glad if it had occurred to you to call the attention of the Japanese minister to the fact that such a communication was somewhat informal, and could not, with propriety, be made the subject of consideration by this government. You say further:
Mr. Shishido desired my opinion concerning his coarse in the negotiations, and especially concerning his departure. I told him that I could not venture to say anything touching the main questions under consideration by China and Japan, but that assuredly [Page 244] if, in the recent negotiations of our commission, the Chinese commissioners had refused to sign our treaties after they had agreed to sign them, I should have withdrawn from the capital.
If I could consider this simply as a confidential conversation with your colleague in which he has been anxious to get, and you have been willing to give, your individual opinion as to the line of conduct which he proposed to pursue, it might pass without comment, as perhaps you are the only judge of how far your personal relation with your colleague authorized him to impose and you to accept the very delicate responsibility of advising him. But the expression of the decided opinion recorded in the above extract from your dispatch renders necessary a word of caution.
If the unfortunate condition, which you suppose had occurred and your colleagues on the commission and yourself had unanimously agreed upon the propriety of withdrawing from the capital, this Department would have given due consideration to the convictions of such able and faithful ministers, but still I would have regarded your resolution of such grave import that it ought not to have been adopted without immediate reference for further instructions from this Department. A suspension of negotiation, indeed of communication, would have been justified while so waiting, but it could only be in an extreme case of urgent danger to the honor and interests of his country that a minister would be justified without positive instruction in making a demonstration which would so seriously commit his government.
You will, I trust, understand that no censure of your conduct is intended to be conveyed by these comments upon your dispatch. But the relations between China and Japan and our own relations with both powers are such that we are bound to maintain in reference to their affairs the most honorable and scrupulous impartiality. Should the termination of the negotiations to which you refer threaten to disturb their friendly relations, it would only be such impartial interest in their welfare which would enable us to use any influence we might possess to restore the amicable feeling which it is our earnest desire should exist between them.
I am, sir, &c.,