Episode 119 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 3

So why did President Millard Filmore decide to send an expedition to Japan? Who exactly was Commodore Perry? And why did he have such a thing for giving people model trains?

All that and more, this week.

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Same as last week.

You can find Millard Filmore’s letter to “The Emperor of Japan” here.

Images

President Millard Filmore attempted to shore up his own popularity as well as unify the country with a major foreign policy achievement by forcing Japan open. Unfortunately, success came too late to save his political career.
President Millard Filmore attempted to shore up his own popularity as well as unify the country with a major foreign policy achievement by forcing Japan open. Unfortunately, success came too late to save his political career.
Commodore Matthew C. Perry, a hero of the Mexican-American War, was chosen to lead an expedition to Japan. Originally hesitant, Perry first requested command of the Mediterranean Squadron before ultimately acquiescing and taking the job.
Commodore Matthew C. Perry, a hero of the Mexican-American War, was chosen to lead an expedition to Japan. Originally hesitant, Perry first requested command of the Mediterranean Squadron before ultimately acquiescing and taking the job.
The USS Susquehanna, Perry's flagship.
The USS Susquehanna, Perry’s flagship.
This colored lithograph depicts Perry's forces landing in Kanagawa for the treaty negotiations in 1854. Perry insisted on heavy levels of military pomp and circumstance in order to overawe the Japanese.
This colored lithograph depicts Perry’s forces landing in Kanagawa for the treaty negotiations in 1854. Perry insisted on heavy levels of military pomp and circumstance in order to overawe the Japanese.
A woodblock print describing the United States and depicting Perry (center) along with his chief of staff Henry Adams (left). I can't figure out who is on the right, unfortunately.
A woodblock print describing the United States and depicting Perry (center) along with his chief of staff Henry Adams (left). I can’t figure out who is on the right, unfortunately.
This bakumatsu (late Tokugawa) period print depicts Commodore Perry as a tengu, a sort of winged monster.
This bakumatsu (late Tokugawa) period print depicts Commodore Perry as a tengu, a sort of winged monster.
A Japanese print depicting Perry (right) with his young son, who also joined him on the expedition.
A Japanese print depicting Perry (right) with his young son, who also joined him on the expedition.
Abe Masahiro, leader of the roju (council of elders) was forced to deal with the crisis brought on by Perry at the same time as a major succession crisis was rocking Edo.
Abe Masahiro, leader of the roju (council of elders) was forced to deal with the crisis brought on by Perry at the same time as a major succession crisis was rocking Edo.
The Japanese text of the Treaty of Kanagawa, held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
The Japanese text of the Treaty of Kanagawa, held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
The English text of the Treaty of Kanagawa, held by the National Archives of the United States.
The English text of the Treaty of Kanagawa, held by the National Archives of the United States.
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One thought on “Episode 119 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 3

  1. Andrew H.

    I recommend another book, “Yankees in the Land of the Gods: Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan”, by Peter Booth Wiley and Korogi Ichiro. They saw the expedition as less about trade with Japan itself, and more about Japan’s potential as a coaling port on the way to a newly opening Pacific steamship trade with China as the main cause of the expedition. Trade that would go across the Pacific to California (which had just recently been taken over by the United States) and across the country by the soon-to-be constructed railway. I did a Senior thesis on the question in the early 90s, looking at contemporary letters and documents from Secretary of State Webster and Commodore Perry, and largely agreed with their thesis. Webster, in his instructions to the (abandoned) Aulick expedition in 1851 stressed the need for finding coaling stations. “It is the President’s opinion that steps should be taken at once, to enable our enterprising merchants, to supply the last link in that great chain, which unites all nations of the world, by the early establishment of a line of steamers from California to China. In order to facilitate this enterprise, it is desirable that we should obtain from the Emperor of Japan permission, to purchase from his subjects the necessary supplies of coal, which our steamers on their out- and inward voyages may require. . . Mineral coal is so abundant in Japan, that the Government of that country can have no reasonable objection to supply our steamers, at fair prices, with that great necessity of commerce . . . The interests of commerce, and even those of humanity, demand, however, that we should make another appeal to the Sovereign of that country, in asking him to sell our Steamers,–not the manufactures of his artizans (sic) or the results of the toil of his husbandmen,–but a gift of Providence, deposited, by the Creator of all things in the depths of the Japanese Islands, for the benefit of the human family.” The instructions to Perry also talked about coal, although in less detail.
    Related to these concerns was the commercial and military rivalry with Great Britain. Perry disliked the British greatly, and was concerned about their control of many of the major ports in the route to China that went around Africa and India. He wrote to his friend, the merchant Joseph Delano (who was deeply involved in trade with China), ” When we look at the possessions in the east of our great maritime rival, England, and of the constant and rapid increase of their fortified ports, we should be admonished of the necessity of prompt measures on our part. . . . Great Britain is already in possession of the most important points in the East India and China seas; and especially with reference to the China seas. . . Fortunately the Japanese and many other islands of the Pacific are still left untouched by this gigantic power, and as some of them lay in a route of a commerce which is destined to become of great importance to the United States, no time should be lost in adopting active measures to secure a sufficient number of ports of refuge.”

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