July 8, 1853: Perry anchors U.S. ships in Edo Bay, the beginning of American Imperialism 161 years ago

July 7, 2014

History item:  On July 8,1853 four black ships led by USS Powhatan and commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry, anchored at Edo (Tokyo) Bay. Never before had the Japanese seen ships steaming with smoke. They thought the ships were “giant dragons puffing smoke.” They did not know that steamboats existed and were shocked by the number and size of the guns on board the ships.

President Millard Fillmore, defying H. L. Mencken’s later, crabby, hoax claim of do-little-government, sent Matthew C. Perry to Japan to open Japan as a refuge for shipwrecked sailors, and as a coaling stop for steamships.  For the previous 200 years, Japan had been closed to all but a few Dutch and Chinese traders.   On July 8, 1853, Perry’s small fleet sailed boldly into restricted waters of Japan and anchored.

Delivering the American presents to the Emperor of Japan, at Yokohama.  Nimitz Museum, Annapolis

Delivering the American presents to the Emperor of Japan, at Yokohama. A. O. P. Nicholson image, 1856 publication, “Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan” – artist not identified (Washington, A. O. P. Nicholson, 1856); Nimitz Museum, Annapolis. A list of the presents can be seen at a link near the end of this post; some of the gifts, such as the model of the steam engine, can be identified in this picture.

After some contretemps, which included Japan’s telling Perry to go to Nagasaki instead (where a military party was probably waiting) and Perry’s shelling a few buildings on shore, the Emperor accepted the letter from President Fillmore.  Perry told the Emperor he would return the following year for an answer.  Perry returned on March 8, 1854, and within a month concluded the Convention of Kanagawa, opening Japan to trade from the west.  Generally unheralded, this may have been one of the more important pieces of U.S. diplomacy in history, especially considering the dramatic rise of Japan as an economic and military power, on the basis of the trade Commodore Perry demanded Japan engage in.

We should make special note of the chain of events over the following 85 or so years, culminating in World War II in the Pacific.  Had Fillmore not sent Perry, had the U.S. not insisted Japan open itself to the world, would there have been an attack on Pearl Harbor, and war in the Pacific?  Alternative histories we’ll never see.  But see the discussion at Salon, in 2014, about this topic (conveniently leaving out Millard Fillmore’s role), “What sparked Japan’s aggression during World War II?”

More:

Documents below the fold 

Steam frigate U.S.S. Susquehanna, Matthew Perry's flagship; the black hull won this small fleet a nickname,

Steam frigate U.S.S. Susquehanna, Matthew Perry’s flagship; the black hull won this small fleet a nickname, “the Black Ships.” Japanese Woodcut, from the University of Indiana

 

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Millard Fillmore’s links to March 8: Hurrah! and R.I.P.

March 8, 2013

I awoke from a particularly hard sleep after a night celebrating ten Cub Scouts’ earning their Arrow of Light awards and advancing into Boy Scout troops, to a missive from Carl Cannon (RealClear Politics) wondering why I’m asleep at the switch.

Millard Fillmore died on March 8, 1874, and he expected to see some note of that here at the Bathtub.  This blog is not the chronicler of all things Millard Fillmore, but can’t we at least get the major dates right?

Carl is right.  Alas, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub is avocation, and at times like these an avocation that should be far down the list of avocations.

To mark the date, here is a post out of the past that notes two key events on March 8 that Fillmore had a hand in, the second being his death.  Work continues on several fronts, and more may splash out of the tub today, even about Fillmore.  Stay tuned.

Fillmore died on March 8, 1874; exactly 20 years earlier, Commodore Matthew C. Perry landed in Japan, in the process of what may be the greatest and most overlooked legacy of Millard Fillmore’s presidency, the opening of Japan to the world.  Here’s that post:

Commodore Matthew C. Perrys squadron in Japan, 1854 - CSSVirginia.org image

The Black Ships — Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s squadron in Japan, 1854 – CSSVirginia.org image from Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, Boston, May 15, 1852 (also, see BaxleyStamps.com); obviously the drawing was published prior to the expedition’s sailing.

On March 8, 1854, Commodore Matthew C. Perry landed for the second time in Japan, having been sent on a mission a year earlier by President Millard Fillmore.  On this trip, within 30 days he concluded a treaty with Japan which opened Japan to trade with the U.S. (the Convention of Kanagawa), and which began a cascade of events that opened Japan to trade with the world.

Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1852 photograph, Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1852 photograph, Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Within 50 years Japan would come to dominate the seas of the the Western Pacific, and would become a major world power.

1854 japanese woodblock print of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Peabody Museum: The characters located across the top read from right to left, A North American Figure and Portrait of Perry. According to the Peabody Essex Museum, this print may be one of the first depictions of westerners in Japanese art, and exaggerates Perrys western features (oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose).  But compare with photo above, right.  Peabody Museum holding, image from Library of Congress via WikiMedia

1854 japanese woodblock print of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Peabody Museum: “The characters located across the top read from right to left, ‘A North American Figure’ and ‘Portrait of Perry.’ According to the Peabody Essex Museum, ‘this print may be one of the first depictions of westerners in Japanese art, and exaggerates Perry’s western features (oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose).'” But compare with photo above, right. Peabody Museum holding, image from Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Then, 20 years later, on March 8, 1874, Millard Fillmore died in Buffalo, New York.

The Perry expedition to Japan was the most famous, and perhaps the greatest recognized achievement of Fillmore’s presidency.  Fillmore had started the U.S. on a course of imperialistic exploitation and exploration of the world, with other expeditions of much less success to Africa and South America, according to the story of his death in The New York Times.

The general policy of his Administration was wise and liberal, and he left the country at peace with all the world and enjoying a high degree of prosperity. His Administration was distinguished by the Lopez fillibustering expeditions to Cuba, which were discountenanced by the Government, and by several important expeditions to distant lands. The expedition to Japan under Commodore Perry resulted in a favorable treaty with that country, but that dispatched under Lieut. Lynch, in search of gold in the interior of Africa, failed of its object. Exploring expeditions were also sent to the Chinese seas, and to the Valley of the Amazon.

More:


July 8, 1853: Perry anchors U.S. ships in Edo Bay, the beginning of American Imperialism

July 8, 2010

History item:  On July 8,1853 four black ships led by USS Powhatan and commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry, anchored at Edo (Tokyo) Bay. Never before had the Japanese seen ships steaming with smoke. They thought the ships were “giant dragons puffing smoke.” They did not know that steamboats existed and were shocked by the number and size of the guns on board the ships.

President Millard Fillmore, defying H. L. Mencken’s later, crabby, hoax claim of do-little-government, sent Matthew C. Perry to Japan to open Japan as a refuge for shipwrecked sailors, and as a coaling stop for steamships.  For the previous 200 years, Japan had been closed to all but a few Dutch and Chinese traders.   On July 8, 1853, Perry’s small fleet sailed boldly into restricted waters of Japan and anchored.

Delivering the American presents to the Emperor of Japan, at Yokohama.  Nimitz Museum, Annapolis

Delivering the American presents to the Emperor of Japan, at Yokohama. A. O. P. Nicholson image, 1856 publication, “Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan” – artist not identified (Washington, A. O. P. Nicholson, 1856); Nimitz Museum, Annapolis. A list of the presents can be seen at a link near the end of this post; some of the gifts, such as the model of the steam engine, can be identified in this picture.

Perry told the Emperor he would return the following year for an answer.  Perry returned on March 8, 1854, and within a month concluded the Convention of Kanagawa, opening Japan to trade from the west.  Generally unheralded, this may have been one of the more important pieces of U.S. diplomacy in history, especially considering the dramatic rise of Japan as an economic and military power, on the basis of the trade Commodore Perry demanded Japan engage in.

More:

Japanese woodblock print showing one of Perry's ships - Nagasaki Prefecture, via MIT

Japanese woodblock print showing one of Perry’s ships – Nagasaki Prefecture, via MIT

Documents below the fold

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Millard Fillmore and March 8: Hurrah! and R.I.P.

March 8, 2009

Commodore Matthew C. Perrys squadron in Japan, 1854 - CSSVirginia.org image

The Black Ships — Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s squadron in Japan, 1854 – CSSVirginia.org image from Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, Boston, May 15, 1852 (also, see BaxleyStamps.com); obviously the drawing was published prior to the expedition’s sailing.

On March 8, 1854, Commodore Matthew C. Perry landed for the second time in Japan, having been sent on a mission a year earlier by President Millard Fillmore.  On this trip, within 30 days he concluded a treaty with Japan which opened Japan to trade with the U.S. (the Convention of Kanagawa), and which began a cascade of events that opened Japan to trade with the world.

Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1852 photograph, Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1852 photograph, Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Within 50 years Japan would come to dominate the seas of the the Western Pacific, and would become a major world power.

1854 japanese woodblock print of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Peabody Museum: The characters located across the top read from right to left, A North American Figure and Portrait of Perry. According to the Peabody Essex Museum, this print may be one of the first depictions of westerners in Japanese art, and exaggerates Perrys western features (oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose).  But compare with photo above, right.  Peabody Museum holding, image from Library of Congress via WikiMedia

1854 japanese woodblock print of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Peabody Museum: “The characters located across the top read from right to left, ‘A North American Figure’ and ‘Portrait of Perry.’ According to the Peabody Essex Museum, ‘this print may be one of the first depictions of westerners in Japanese art, and exaggerates Perry’s western features (oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose).'” But compare with photo above, right. Peabody Museum holding, image from Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Then, 20 years later, on March 8, 1874, Millard Fillmore died in Buffalo, New York.

The Perry expedition to Japan was the most famous, and perhaps the greatest recognized achievement of Fillmore’s presidency.  Fillmore had started the U.S. on a course of imperialistic exploitation and exploration of the world, with other expeditions of much less success to Africa and South America, according to the story of his death in The New York Times:

The general policy of his Administration was wise and liberal, and he left the country at peace with all the world and enjoying a high degree of prosperity. His Administration was distinguished by the Lopez fillibustering expeditions to Cuba, which were discountenanced by the Government, and by several important expeditions to distant lands. The expedition to Japan under Commodore Perry resulted in a favorable treaty with that country, but that dispatched under Lieut. Lynch, in search of gold in the interior of Africa, failed of its object. Exploring expeditions were also sent to the Chinese seas, and to the Valley of the Amazon.

Here we are in 2013, 160 years after the end of Millard Fillmore’s presidency, 159 years after Commodore Perry’s success on the mission to Japan Fillmore sent him on, 139 years after Millard Fillmore’s death, and not yet have we come to grips with Fillmore’s real legacy in U.S. history. Most of that legacy, we don’t even acknowledge in public. Santayana’s Ghost paces nervously.


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