World History 1854 Part 1

About the history of the world in 1854, Thoreau published Walden, the Crimean War begun, Perry opened Japan to the west.



* Henry David Thoreau published Walden, which had been written largely between July, 1845, and September, 1847, when Thoreau had lived beside Walden Pond near Concord, Mass., in his homemade hut. Believing "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," he had become a recluse, writing about his neighbors who found it hard to "subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh."

Mar. 28 The Crimean War began when France and Great Britain came to the aid of the Turks and declared war on Russia.

Mar. 31 Commodore Matthew C. Perry negotiated the Treaty of Kanagawa and opened up Japan to the West.

Since 1639 the Japanese had successfully kept their country separate from the rest of the world. Both foreigners and foreign travel were outlawed. When a group of Portuguese merchants arrived in 1640, 13 were executed and the rest were allowed to return to deliver the directive "Think of us no more."

After the "opening" of China in the early 19th century, the Western world turned its attention toward Japan. The Edinburgh Review, a Scottish journal, expressed the opinion of most western merchants when, in 1852, it stated, "The compulsory seclusion of the Japanese is wrong, not only to themselves, but to the civilized world." Americans were particularly concerned with this Japanese seclusion. New England whalers and clippers and steamships from the West Coast wanted to use Japanese ports which lay along their route to Asia.

President Fillmore dispatched Commodore Perry and a quarter of the U.S. Navy--three steam frigates and five other warships--to Japan. Perry, a vain and aggressive man, arrived in Edo (Tokyo) Bay in July, 1853. Refusing to talk to minor officials, he demanded to see the local governor. This was arranged, though the Japanese were offended by Perry's tactlessness. With 5,000 Japanese soldiers on hand and the American ships ready for action, Perry forced the Japanese ambassador to accept a letter containing a set of demands from his president to the emperor. Perry announced that he would return the following spring for an answer and departed.

In fact, the Japanese emperor was a mere figurehead who reacted to this crisis by making an announcement: "The emperor has ordered prayers at all sanctuaries for a kamikaze ["divine wind"] to save our country as in the days of the danger from the Mongols." The real power, the Tokugawa shogun, had to face realities. The treasury was almost empty, there was no navy, and coastal defenses could not withstand Perry's "black ships." The problem was presented to the daimyo, the highest class of samurai, an unprecedented course of action which weakened the shogunate. The daimyo offered little help; some approved of concessions, others called for war.

When Perry returned with an even larger naval force in February, 1854, the shogun was forced to accept the Kanagawa Treaty, which opened two Japanese ports, established diplomatic relations, and stipulated low import duties. The next year Japan made similar treaties with the Russians, Dutch, and British.

The "disgrace" of these unilateral treaties led to the downfall of the shogunate in 1868, the restoration of the shogunate in 1868, the restoration of the emperor within constitutional limits, and the lightning modernization of Japan.

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