Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907
The Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907 (日米紳士協約 Nichibei Shinshi Kyōyaku?) was an informal agreement between the United States and the Empire of Japan whereby the United States of America would not impose restriction on Japanese immigration, and Japan would not allow further emigration to the U.S. The goal was to reduce tensions between the two powerful Pacific nations. The agreement was never ratified by Congress, and was ended by the Immigration Act of 1924.
Tensions had been rising in Tokyo and San Francisco, 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 passed a regulation whereby children of Japanese descent would be required to attend separate, racially specific schools. At the time, Japanese immigrants made up approximately 1% of the population of California; many of them had immigrated under the treaty in 1894[clarification needed] 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 American 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, in response to 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 on to the continental United States with few controls.
Chinese immigration to California boomed during the Gold Rush of 1852, but the strict Japanese government practiced policies of isolation that thwarted Japanese emigration. It was not until 1868 that the Japanese government lessened restrictions and Japanese immigration to the United States 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 family groups (in contrast to the Chinese immigration of young men, most of whom soon returned). They 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 as 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:
- Extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act to include Japanese and Koreans
- Exclusion by League members of Japanese employees and the hiring of firms that employ Japanese
- Initiation of pressure the School Board to segregate Japanese from white children
- Initiation of a propaganda campaign to inform Congress and the President of this "menace".
Japanese Americans did not live in Chinatown, but throughout the city.
Segregation of schools
At the time, there were 93 Japanese American 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 white 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 fiscally infeasible to create new facilities to accommodate only 93 students.
On April 18, 1906 an 8.5 Mw earthquake and the subsequent fires destroyed much of San Francisco. After the fire, the school board sent the 93 Japanese American students to the Chinese Primary School, renaming it "The Oriental Public School for Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans".
The new policies outraged many parents. Japanese American parents were angered at the idea that their children were forced to receive an education that was not up to par with that of white children. Transportation was limited after the earthquake, and many students could not attend the Oriental Public School. Many Japanese Americans argued with the school board that the segregation of schools went against the Treaty of 1894. The Treaty did not expressly address education, but did indicate that Japanese in America would receive equal rights. Under then-controlling decisions of the United States Supreme Court (e.g., Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), a state did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution by requiring racial segregation so long as the separate facilities were substantially equal.
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 overseas as they 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.
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 rescission of the policies. He was unsuccessful; 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 compromise. If President Roosevelt could ensure the suspension of Japanese immigration then the School Board would allow Japanese American 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 from the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Japanese government agreed to stop granting passports to laborers trying to enter the United States unless such laborers were coming to occupy a formerly-acquired home, to join a parent, spouse, or child, or to assume active control of a previously acquired farming enterprise.
Concessions were agreed in a note, consisting of six points, a year later. The agreement was followed by the admission of students of Japanese ancestry into public schools.
The adoption of the 1907 Agreement spurred the arrival of "picture brides" — marriages of convenience made at a distance through photographs. By establishing marital bonds at a distance, women seeking to emigrate to the United States were able to gain a passport, while Japanese workers in America were able to gain a helpmate of their own nationality. Because of this loophole, which helped close the gender gap within the community from a ratio of 7 men to every woman in 1910 to less than 2 to 1 by 1920, the Japanese American population continued to grow despite the Agreement's limits on immigration.
The Gentlemen's Agreement was never written into a law passed by Congress, but was a formal agreement between America and Japan, enacted by unilateral action by President Roosevelt. It was nullified by the Immigration Act of 1924, which legally banned all Asians from migrating to the United States.
- List of United States immigration legislation
- Chinese Exclusion Act (United States)
- Immigration Act of 1924
- Immigration Act of 1917
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- Brian Masaru Hayashi, For the Sake of Our Japanese Brethren: Assimilation, Nationalism, and Protestantism Among the Japanese of Los Angeles, 1895-1942 (1995) pp 41-55
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- Browne (ed.), "Picture Bride," in What's What in the Labor Movement, p. 375.
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