The Secretary of State to President Coolidge

My Dear Mr. President: In reply to the letter of Mr. Slemp, under date of May 17, 1924,54 enclosing, by your direction, the bill

“H. R. 7995, An Act to limit the immigration of aliens into the United States, and for other purposes,”55-

and requesting that I should advise you whether I know of any objection to its approval, I beg to say:

The provisions of the bill which are of special interest to the Department of State are (1) the administrative provisions, (2) those defining the basis upon which the immigration quotas are to be determined, and (3) the provision of Section 13 (c) excluding aliens ineligible to citizenship, except as stated.

The administrative provisions of the bill have been framed in consultation with representatives of the Department of State and largely embody the Department’s recommendations. I do not desire to interpose any objection to the bill upon this score.

The census of 1890 is taken as the basis for determining the quotas of immigrants. This has the effect of reducing the number of immigrants from certain countries as compared with others, because of the smaller number of their nationals embraced within the population of the United States at the time of that census. Representations against this basis upon the ground of discrimination were made by certain foreign governments and were communicated by the Department of State to the Committees of Congress. In view of the fact that Congress, in its discretion, after full consideration has selected the basis stated in the bill, I do not desire to urge the objection further.

Section 13 (c) providing for the exclusion of aliens ineligible to citizenship affects especially the Japanese inasmuch as Section 25 of the bill continues the exclusion provisions of prior enactments which cover immigration from China and from the Eastern areas falling within the so-called barred zone. Since 1908 there has been an understanding with Japan, evidenced by communications between the Department of State and the Japanese Government, called the “Gentlemen’s Agreement”, under which Japan has undertaken to limit the immigration into the United States of laborers. Through this arrangement this Government has had the benefit of coöperation with Japan in excluding such immigrants. It is believed that Japan [Page 392] has faithfully performed her voluntary undertaking. From the reports of the Commissioner General of Immigration it appears that for the fifteen years after the Gentlemen’s Agreement was made, 1908 to 1923, taking the total admissions and departures of Japanese, including tourists, students, professional persons, merchants, et cetera, there was an excess of admissions over departures in continental United States of only 8,681 Japanese, or an average annual increase in Japanese population, through immigration, of 578. In seven of the fifteen years there was a net decrease, and in eight of the fifteen years a net increase. The greatest net increase in any one year was in 1917 to 1918 when it amounted to 3,452. In the last three years there has been a net decrease. In the year 1921–22 this net decrease amounted to 2, 192. It may further be observed that in 1919 when this Government brought to the attention of the Japanese Government the bringing over of so-called “picture brides” to the United States the Japanese Government undertook to issue no passports for continental United States to women falling within this description.

Hawaii was not included in the Gentlemen’s Agreement as the Governor of Hawaii did not desire to have it included, but the Japanese Government undertook to apply the same rules to those islands until notified that a labor shortage existed there. From the report of the Commissioner General of Immigration it appears for the fifteen years, 1908–1923, there was a net increase in the Japanese population in Hawaii, through immigration, of 6903 or an average net increase of 460. In six of the fifteen years there was a net increase, and the largest net increase in any one year was in the year 1912–1913 of 2108.

Further, the Japanese Government has expressed its readiness to discuss with this Govermnent modifications of the Gentlemen’s Agreement.

Under the present bill, without Section 13 (c), the quota which would be available to Japan on the basis of the census of 1890 would be 100 (Section 11 (b). And even the admission of this small number would be controlled by the operation of the Gentlemen’s Agreement.

It thus appears, in my opinion, that the exclusion provision of Section 13 (c) is entirely unnecessary, and indeed, by the loss of the coöperation of Japan through the abrogation of the Gentlemen’s Agreement, it will probably facilitate the surreptitious entry of Japanese so that the result of this provision of the bill will probably be to increase rather than to diminish the actual Japanese immigration.

While this exclusion provision, from the standpoint of the restriction of immigration, is deemed to be unnecessary, it unquestionably [Page 393] will be resented by Japan. The Japanese Government has not questioned the sovereign power of the United States to control immigration but has sought to attain the desired result through cooperation and friendly arrangements with our Government. It is most unfortunate, from the standpoint of our foreign relations and especially in view of the attitude taken by Japan at the Conference on the Limitation of Armament held at Washington, and the spirit of friendship and mutual confidence then evoked, that the question of immigration of Japanese should not have been left to be dealt with by satisfactory mutual agreement, which could have been entered into without derogating in the slightest degree from our full authority to act if any exigency requiring such action should at any time arise.

I elaborated these views in communications addressed to the committees of Congress and the questions involved have been fully discussed in my interviews with you in relation to the pending measure. If the exclusion provision of Section 13 (c) stood alone I should unhesitatingly recommend its disapproval. It is fully realized, however, that the bill before you is a comprehensive immigration measure of which the provision in question is only a part, and that it is necessary for you to consider the policy represented by the bill as a whole, the necessity of an immigration measure to take the place of the existing law which expires on June thirtieth, and also the preponderant sentiment expressed in Congress. For this reason I return the bill without recommendation.

Faithfully yours,

Charles E. Hughes
  1. Not printed.
  2. Approved May 26, 1924; 43 Stat. 153.