Mr. Hubbard to Mr. Bayard.

No. 547.]

Sir: I have the honor to transmit official copies of the constitution of Japan, with accompanying papers, consisting of “Imperial speech on the promulgation of the constitution;” “Imperial oath at the sanctuary [Page 536]of the Imperial palace;” “Imperial ordinance concerning the House of Peers;” “Law of the houses;” “The law of finance;” “Law of election for the members of the House of Representatives,” and “Appendix of the law of election for the members of the House of Representatives.”

Inasmuch as the Department of State will give to this constitution and accompanying papers an earnest and patient examination before forming a final judgment as to their merits, any attempted synopsis or discussion by me is unnecessary in the premises.

On the 11th February, at 10 o’clock a. m., the constitution was promulgated by his majesty the Emperor in the throne-room of the new palace with suitable and most imposing ceremonies. The diplomatic corps attended the ceremony at the express invitation of his majesty, and occupied a place of honor with the princes of the imperial blood immediately to the left of the throne.

The occasion was a most impressive one.

If I may be allowed to express my views, I am convinced that a careful reading of this constitution will enable my Government to reach the same opinion with its representative here, that the substance of this most important instrument, its declaration of rights to be held sacred alike by the Crown and its subjects, and to be hereafter inviolate, not only should have made the day memorable forever in the annals of the Empire, but should be a cause of sincere congratulation from all Western nations.

My observation and experience—personal and official—at this court and among this people since 1885, convinces me that all their progress, of which so much has been written and spoken—a progress in wise and freer government, of which this constitution is the highest and noblest testimonial—is not a short-lived or experimental thing, nor a thin veneering of Western civilization, so to speak, on the still vigorous body of oriental political systems, but rather proof of a solid and permanent triumph over the past of her history which ushers in a new era for Japan among the nations.

The constitution having been promised some years ago to be given in 1889 by the Emperor to his subjects, the 11th of February (the two thousand five hundred and forty-ninth anniversary of the foundation of the Empire) was recently declared the day on which the constitution should be promulgated; and the event, having been for years eagerly awaited, was celebrated with rejoicing by all Japanese subjects from the homes of fishermen and peasants to the palace of the Emperor.

The day was observed as the most important political event in the history of the Empire throughout the entire country with illuminations, bonfires, military and naval salutes, ringing of bells, processions, and decorations of houses and the streets of towns and cities with bunting and evergreens; and to the inspiring sounds of music the people literally “danced for joy.”

In an interview with his majesty in the evening of the day of the promulgation of the constitution, he having invited a large company of guests to dine at the palace, I took occasion to tender to him the earnest congratulations of my Government and of its representative on the completion of this glorious day’s work.

The Emperor, with evident gratification, replied, expressing his thanks for my words of congratulation, and expressed the hope that the occasion of the promulgation of the constitution which guarantied in a liberal sense political and religious liberty to his subjects might be an event which would increase the sympathy and friendship which the [Page 537]Government and people of the United States had so long cherished for Japan.

Apropos to this celebration, the greatest political event in the history of the Empire, I herewith have the honor, as a matter of interest to the Department of State, to inclose a leader from the Japan Daily Mail, giving a careful resume of the main points involved in this revolution of the political system of this Government, which henceforth places the Empire among enlightened constitutional monarchies.

I have, etc.,

Richard B. Hubbard.
[Inclosure in No. 547.—From the Japan Daily Mail, Yokohama, Tuesday, February 12, 1889.]

the constitution.

The long looked for constitution was promulgated yesterday amid general rejoicing. His majesty the Emperor, having sworn a solemn oath in the imperial sanctuary to “maintain and secure from decline the ancient form of government,” and “never at this time nor in the future to fail to be an example, to his subjects in the observance of the laws hereby established,” took his place on the throne, and in the presence of all the highest functionaries of the Empire as well as of chosen representatives of the people, handed to the minister president of state the five laws forming the new system. These laws are “The Constitution of the Empire of Japan;” the “Imperial ordinance concerning the House of Peers;” the “Law of the houses;” the “Law of election of members of the House of Representatives,” and the “Law of finance.” They comprise in all three hundred and thirty-two articles. Without attempting to enter into details, we shall here endeavor to give our readers a general idea of this important legislative work.

In the first place, the sacred and inviolable nature of the imperial title and the perpetuity of the throne are asserted with the fullest emphasis. His majesty remains as before the source of all law. But his legislative function is henceforth to be exercised with the sanction of the diet. Only in presence of an urgent necessity to maintain public safety or to avert a public calamity can he issue ordinances in lieu of laws, and it is expressly provided that such ordinances must be laid before the diet at its next session, when if not approved by that body they become invalid. While, however, handing over his law-making function to parliament, the Emperor reserves to himself the function of issuing, or causing to be issued, the ordinances necessary for carrying out the laws, or for the maintenance of public peace and order. He also determines the organization of the different branches of the administration, appoints and dismisses all officials, and fixes their salaries. His majesty has further the supreme command of the army and navy; determines their organization and peace standing; has the power of making war, peace, and treaties; confers title of nobility, rank, and other marks of honor, and orders amnesties, pardons, commutations of punishments, and so forth.

In contradistinction to these imperial prerogatives we have the rights of the subject. He is free to change his abode at will; he can not be arrested, detained, tried, or punished except according to law; he can not be deprived of his right of being tried by lawful judges; his house can not be entered or searched without his consent, except in cases provided by law; his letters are inviolably secret within similar limits; his right of property is sacred; he is entitled to freedom of religion, of public meeting, of speech, and of association, but religious freedom must not be exercised in a manner prejudicial to peace or order, or antagonistic to his duties as a subject, neither must freedom of speech and public meeting transgress the limits fixed by law.

Passing from these general propositions as to the prerogatives of the ruler and the rights of the ruled, we come to the parliamentary system. It is bicameral, the house of peers and the house of representatives constituting the imperial diet. The upper house is partly elective, partly hereditary, and partly nominated. The hereditary portion comprises members of the imperial family, princes, and marquises. The elective portion comprises both noblemen and commoners. The noblemen are counts, viscounts, and barons, elected by the members of their respective orders, in numbers not exceeding one-fifth of the numbers of those orders. The commoners are chosen by cities and prefectures—one by each—from among the highest tax-payers, provided that the Emperor afterwards approves the persons thus elected. Finally, the nominated portion of the house comprises persons nominated by his majesty on account of meritorious services to the State, or of erudition. These imperial nominees are life [Page 538]members, whereas the elected members sit for seven years only, which is also the period of the upper house. It is laid down that the number of imperial nominees together with those elected by cities and prefectures shall never exceed the number of nobles in the house.

The lower house, or house of representatives, consists of three hundred members, elected by ballot in districts fixed by a supplementary law. The qualifications of eligibility are that the candidate shall be of the full age of thirty; that he shall have been paying direct national taxes to an amount of not less than 15 yen annually for a period of at least one year previously to the date of making out the electoral list, and that he shall have been paying income tax for a period of not less than three years. Certain officials are not eligible, neither are officers of the Army or Navy in active service, or temporarily retired from active service. As for the persons upon whom the suffrage is conferred, they must be twenty-five years of age; they must be residing permanently in the district where they vote; they must have been in residence there for at least a year previously to their registration as electors, and they must satisfy the same conditions in respect of taxation as the persons eligible for election. A member sits for four years, which is also the period of the House’s life. There is to be one session annually, and its duration is fixed at three months, but in case of necessity this term may be prolonged, or an extraordinary session may be convoked.

In addition to its legislative functions the diet is also to discuss and vote the budget, and any expenditure made in excess of this duly-voted budget must be subsequently approved by the diet. There are, however, certain restrictions in this section. Thus, the expenditure of the Imperial household, as at present fixed, is not to be subject to parliamentary sanction, and any expenditures incurred in the exercise of the powers reserved to the Emperor, or any that “may have arisen by the effect of law” or that “appertain to the legal obligations of the Government,” can neither be rejected nor reduced by the diet without the concurrence of the Government. By the term “expenditures incurred in the exercise of the powers reserved to the Emperor” is meant the salaries of all civil and military officers, and the funds required to maintain the army and navy on a peace standing. A considerable portion of the budget is thus virtually removed beyond the control of Parliament. Further when, owing to exceptional circumstances of a domestic or foreign character, the diet can not be convoked, the Government may take all necessary financial measures by means of an Imperial ordinance; and should it happen that the budget has not been voted or brought into actual existence, the Government shall have competence to carry out the budget of the preceding year. Thus, while all financial matters are subjected to parliamentary scrutiny, they are removed from parliamentary control sufficiently to render the Government temporarily independent of a hostile diet.

This expression “Government,” as distinguished from the diet, is evidently employed in the German sense of sovereign and cabinet. The Emperor nominates the ministers forming the cabinet—he nominates all officials—and with them constitutes a portion of the body politic that stands above and outside the diet. This, of course, is the theoretical state of affairs existing in all constitutional monarchies. The unwritten but practically acknowledged responsibility of the British cabinet to Parliament may be developed in Japan, as it was gradually developed with us, but there is no recognition of it in the new Japanese system.

A section is devoted to the judicature also. Its most interesting point is that the judges are to be appointed by law and removable bylaw only.

Such is the general outline of the constitution. Its provisions cannot be amended unless a project in that sense is submitted to the diet by Imperial order. We may add that each member of the lower house, and each elected or nominated member of the upper, is to receive an annual allowance of 800 yen, together with traveling expenses.