gentlemen room

Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907

The was an informal agreement between the United States and the Empire of Japan whereby the U.S. would not impose restriction on Japanese immigration or students, and Japan would not allow further immigration to the U.S. The goal was to reduce tensions between the two powerful Pacific nations. The agreement was never ratified by Congress, which in 1924 ended it.

Tensions had been rising in Tokyo and San Fancisco, and after the decisive Japanese victory against Russia, Japan demanded treatment as an equal. The result was a series of six notes communicated between Japan and the United States from late 1907 to early 1908.

The immediate cause of the Agreement was anti-Japanese nativism in California. In 1906, the San Francisco, California Board of Education had passed a regulation whereby children of Japanese descent would be required to attend racially segregated separate schools. At the time, Japanese immigrants made up approximately 1% of the population of California; many of them had come under the treaty in 1894 which had assured free immigration from Japan.

In the Agreement, Japan agreed not to issue passports for Japanese citizens wishing to work in the continental United States, thus effectively eliminating new Japanese immigration to America. In exchange, the United States agreed to accept the presence of Japanese immigrants already residing in America, and to permit the immigration of wives, children and parents, and to avoid legal discrimination against Japanese children in California schools.

There was also a strong desire on the part of the Japanese government "to preserve the image of the Japanese people in the eyes of the world": Japan did not want America to pass any legislation confronting the Japanese immigrants, for what happened to Chinese under the Chinese Exclusion Act. President Theodore Roosevelt, who had a positive opinion of Japan, accepted the Agreement as proposed by Japan as an alternative to more formal, restrictive immigration legislation.

The government of Japan continued to issue passports for immigration to the Territory of Hawaii, from where immigrants could move onto the continental United States with few controls.

The beginning of Japanese immigration

Chinese immigration to California boomed during the Gold Rush of 1852, but the strict Japanese government practiced policies of isolation that thwarted Japanese immigration. It was not until 1868 that the government lessened restrictions and Japanese Immigration began. Anti-Chinese sentiment motivated American entrepreneurs to recruit Japanese laborers. In 1885, the first Japanese workers arrived in the independent Kingdom of Hawaii.

Most Japanese immigrants wanted to reside in America permanently and came in famnily groups (in contrast to the Chinese immigration of young men, most of whom soon returned). Threy assimilated to American social norms and clothing styles. Many joined Methodist and Presbyterian churches.

As the Japanese population in California grew they were seen with suspicion of being an entering wedge by Japan. By 1905, anti-Japanese rhetoric filled the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle. in 1905 the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League was established. The Japanese and Korean Exclusion League established four policies in 1905:

  1. The Chinese Exclusion Act be extended to include Japanese and Koreans
  2. That members of the League should not employ or patronize any person or firm employing Japanese
  3. That the action of the School Board in adopting policy of segregating Japanese from white children, be urged
  4. That a propaganda campaign calling the attention to the President and Congress to this menace be taken.

Japanese-Americans did not live in Chinatown, but lived all over the place. They were 93 Japanese students in 23 Elementary Schools. For decades policies existed that segregated Japanese schools, but they were not enforced as long as there was room and the parents did not complain. The Japanese and Korean Exclusion league appeared before the school board multiple times to complain. The School Board dismissed their claims because it was a financial impossibility. It was not a practical idea to create new facilities to accommodate on 93 students.

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and the segregation of schools

On April 18, 1906 an 8.5 earthquake and fire destroyed much of San Francisco. After the fire the school board sent the 93 Japanese students to the Chinese Primary School, renaming it the Chinese Primary School as The Oriental Public School for Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans.

The new policies outraged many Japanese parents. Japanese culture highly values education and parents were angered at the idea that their children were forced to receive an education that wasn't up to par with that of white children. Transportation was limited after the earthquake and many students could not even attend the Oriental Public Schools. Many Japanese argued with the school board that the segregation of schools went against the Treaty of 1894. The Treaty did not directly apply to education, but did agree that Japanese in America would receive equal rights.

Japanese Americans soon contacted the media in Japan to make the government aware of the segregation. Tokyo newspapers denounced the segregation as an “insult to their national pride and honor”. The Japanese government was also highly concerned with their reputation over seas. Japanese government wanted to protect their reputation as a world power. Government officials became aware that a crisis was at hand, and intervention was necessary in order to maintain diplomatic peace.

The birth of the Gentlemen's Agreement

President Roosevelt had three objectives to resolve the situation: show Japan that the policies of California did not reflect the ideals of the entire country, force San Francisco to remove the segregation policies, and reach a resolution to the Japanese Immigration problem. Victor Metcalf, Secretary of Commerce and Labor, was sent to investigate the issue and force the disbanding of the policies. He was unsuccessful but learned that local officials wanted Japanese exclusion. President Roosevelt tried to pressure the School Board, but it would not budge.

On February 15, 1907 the parties came to a conclusion. If President Roosevelt could ensure the stoppage of Japanese immigration then the School Board would allow Japanese students to attend public schools. The Japanese government did not want to harm their national pride or suffer humiliation like the Chinese government in 1882. The Japanese government agreed to stop granting passports to laborers trying to enter America. The agreement was formalized in a note, consisting of six points, a year later. The agreement was followed by the admission of Japanese students into public schools.

The Gentlemen's Agreement was never written into a law passed by Congress, but was a formal agreement between America and Japan. It was nullified in 1924 to the disgust of Japan in the Immigration Act of 1924, which legally banned all Asians from migrating to America and nullified the Gentlemen's Agreement.



Additional reading

  • Daniels, Roger. The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion. University of California Press, 1999, ISBN 0-520-21950-3
  • Kiyo Sue Inui. "The Gentlemen's Agreement. How It Has Functioned," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 122, (Nov., 1925), pp. 188-198 in JSTOR
  • Neu, Charles E. An Uncertain Friendship: Theodore Roosevelt and Japan, 1906-1909 (1967)

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