The US State Department and the Russo-Japanese War

By September 1903, while the Russian Ambassador to the US, Count Cassini was urging the US government keep Japan in check, Hay was hearing Japanese concerns from their Minister in Washington, Takahira. In a letter to Roosevelt, Hay wrote that "Japan fears the worst from Russian aggression in Korea… Takahira said ‘If she goes any farther we shall have something to say.’" Still, Hay held the neutral line, telling the President, "I thought it proper not to leave him with any illusions and so told him plainly that we could not take part in any use of force in that region, unless our interests were directly involved.And it was a hard thing to say."

On January 5, I904., Hay wrote in his diary, "From dispatches received from Tokio and from the Japanese Legation here it is evident that no attempt at mediation will do any good. Russia is clearly determined to make no concessions to Japan. They think ... that now is the time to strike, to crush Japan and to eliminate her from her position of influence in the Far East. They evidently think there is nothing to be feared from us — and they have of course secured pledges from Germany and France, which make them feel secure in Europe."

January 9, 1904. "Takahira [the Japanese Minister at Washington] saw, for the first time in some weeks, a possible gleam of light. He asked me whether it would seem ungracious on the part of Japan to desist from claiming ‘foreign settlements‘ in Manchuria — showing that this is one of the points Russia is insisting on. I told him that we reserved our treaty right to discuss the matter, but that we were not at present insisting on it."

January 11. "I saw Takahira who read me several long dispatches from his Government. One saying they had asked strict neutrality from China, in the interest of China and the civilized world — and another giving excellent reasons why they did not desire the mediation of other Powers; as they would inure to the advantage of Russia through endless delays."

On February 8, 1904 Admiral Togo, commanding the Japanese fleet, attacked the Russians at Port Arthur. The Russo-Japanese War had begun.

The first circular

The day before, February 7, 1904, the President received a telegram from the German Ambassador, Speck von Sternburg with a proposal from the German Kaiser. According to Hay’s diary, it suggested "that we take the initiative in calling upon the Powers to use good offices to induce Russia and Japan to respect the neutrality of China outside the sphere of military operations. I said I thought we ought to eliminate the last clause and include ‘the administrative entity of China.’ The President agreed."

On February 8, Hay had a draft ready for the President.

On February 12, 1904 Hay distributed his circular. The other Powers expressed consent, among them the German and Chinese envoys. The latter "was greatly pleased to know what we had done." So was Japan. Takahira, Hay wrote, "came in and talked of the situation with profound emotion, which expressed itself in a moment of tears and sobs as he left me." Russia was less enthusiastic. Hay wrote, "Cassini came to my house at 2.30 and stayed an hour. He spent most of the time in accusing Japan of lightness and vanity; he seemed little affected by the imminence of war, expecting a speedy victory, but admitting that the war, however it resulted, would profit nobody."

After that, Hay received almost daily visits from Takahira and Cassini. Minister Takahira was always the diplomat, conducting business with Hay. Although he was appointed Special Plenipotentiary to Washington in 1900, he did not even meet Roosevelt until March 26, 1904, when he was introduced by Kentaro Kaneko, the man sent by the Japanese Foreign Ministry to influence positive public opinion for Japan via the media.Cassini was exactly the opposite, constantly railing to Hay about some perceived slight. Once, when a Japanese Consul was reported to have shouted ‘’Banzai!’’’ at a public dinner in New York, Count Cassini could hardly refrain from making an international issue of it. Hay did his best to make allowances but privately expressed his concern that Cassini was "in no humor to be a safe counselor to Lamsdorff," the Russian Foreign Minister.

Hay diary March 1. "Cassini came at three and stayed till five. His object was to hand me a memorandum from Russia limiting the theatre of war in Manchuria, which, like everything from that country has a ‘false bottom.’ He talked for an hour about American unfriendliness. I told him that the Japs were cleverer — they talked of our friendliness."

March [?]. "[The President] is determined to do his duty by Russia and not be swerved from strict neutrality by her pettishness, nor to show any unfriendliness to Japan by reason of it."

March 2. "There is an interview with Cassini printed in the papers to-day containing much that he said to me yesterday; giving the Government credit for being correct, but going for the people and the press. Takahira also resorts to the newspapers to sustain the attitude of Japan."

On November 17, 1904 Hay received a telegram from St. Petersburg saying, "I am requested to inform you that the Emperor earnestly desires to accept the President’s proposal, but will be prevented by existing conditions."

Minister Takahira (seated, above left, with Baron Komura seated, right -- in Portsmouth) arrived in Washington in 1900. He did not meet Roosevelt until 1904, because he observed the protocol that the President only received Ambassadors and worked with Secretary of State Hay, instead. 

1905 At the start of the year, the world woke to the news that Gen Stossel, defending the Russian outpost of Port Arthur against the Japanese seige had surrendered to Japanese General Nogi. As Hay's diary reported:

January 1: The President came in at 12:!5 saying it seemed more like Easter than New Year’s… I reported My conversation with Takahira with which he was much interested. He has been greatly impressed with Medaris Palmer’s assessment of the Japanese armies – which was a needed offset to the views of Nardi. Croyer also sided with Palmer in his point of view. He is considerably struck with the suggestion of a naval defense alliance – more than I am. He is quite firm in the view that we cannot permit Japan to be robbed a second time of the fruits of her victory if victory should finally be hers. "

January 2: The reception at the White House was brilliant and very well managed. Just before going I received a dispatch from Griscom saying Port Arthur surrendered last night at 9. No one knew it at the White House. The President greeted Cassini cordially and he seemed in good spirits. Later, at my house, at the Diplomatic breakfast, he appeared even gay. At last I asked him if he had heard any news to supplement ours from Port Arthur.; he briefly said matters seemed serious there. I then told him. He was greatly surprised. Moving away from me I saw him, to my amazement, accost Takahira in the most friendly manner. A moment afterward Takahira came up to me and told me Cassini had spoken of the fall of Port Arthur and has expressed his relief that the long strain and suffering was over. It seems from the afternoon papers that Griscom was a little premature in announcing the actual surrender. It was Stoessel’s offer to surrender which he evidently considered the end. Durant said the campaign was a lesson we all needed because of the horrible cost of war nowadays.

January 3. The air is still full of rumors of peace by our intervention. I gave the newspapermen to understand that we were doing nothing and had no intention of interfering in a matter where our interference is not wanted."

January 4: Takahira came in to say that he had received a telegram from his Government to be communicated by Kaneko to the President in reference to the President’s remarks at a recent conversation wit them about the changed attitude of the Japanese army towards foreigners. He said he was aware of the irregularity of such a proceeding and withed to “inform himself” of my wishes. I told him I was not sensitive in such matters and that the President would tell me afterwards. He says Kaneko is acting by order of the Imperial Government under Tak’s authority. He is a sort of ambassador to the American people.

Meanwhile, Germany was suggesting Roosevelt issue another circular to determine the positions of the Powers regarding intervention.

Hay’s diary, January 5 "Sternburg wires the President … [on behalf of the German Emperor]. Close observation of events has firmly convinced him that a powerful coalition, headed by France, is under formation directed against the integrity of China and the Open Door. The aim of this coalition is to convince the belligerents that peace without compensation to the neutral Powers is impossible. The formation of this coalition, the Emperor firmly believes, can be frustrated by the following move: you should ask all Powers having interests in the Far East, including the minor ones, whether they are prepared to give a pledge not to demand any compensation for themselves in any shape, of territory, or other compensation in China or elsewhere, for any service rendered to the belligerents in the making of peace or for any other reason. Such a request would force the Powers to show their hands and any latent designs directed against the Open Door or integrity of China would immediately become apparent. Without this pledge the belligerents would find it impossible to obtain any territorial advantages without simultaneously provoking selfish aims of the neutral brokers. In the opinion of the Emperor, a grant of a certain portion of territory to both belligerents eventually in the North of China is inevitable. The Open Door within this territory might be maintained by treaty. Germany, of course, would be then first to pledge herself to this policy of disinterestedness.’

January 9. "I found [the President] full of the proposition of the German Emperor. He had come to the same conclusion at which I had arrived the day before: that it would be best to take advantage of the Kaiser’s proposition: 1st, to nail the matter with him, and 2nd, to ascertain the views of the other Powers. I went home and wrote out a letter for the President to send to Sternburg for the Emperor, expressing gratification at his assurances of disinterestedness and promising to sound the Powers."

January l0. "I submitted my letter to the President, which he approved and sent by cable. I then wrote a circular for our Ambassadors, speaking of the apprehension entertained by some courts, which the President was loath to share, etc. I then repeated our own attitude as to the integrity of China, etc., and asked for the views of the respective Powers."

January 13. "I sent off the ‘self-denying’ circular this morning and wired Choate that we hoped the British Government would join, and told him to let Lord Lansdowne know the disposition of Gemany toward it. Speck’s letter, amplifying his telegram, arrived yesterday, in which he quotes the Kaiser as saying he is afraid of a combination between England, France, and Russia for the spoliation of China. It is a most singular incident. If the Kaiser is speaking frankly, he is far less intimately lie with the Czar than most people have believed. But either way our course is clear. Our policy is not to demand any territorial advantage and to do what we can to keep China entire."

January 18. "Choate telegraphed from London that Lord Lansdowne, who was at Bowood, had wired him ‘ full concurrence ‘ in our neutral Powers circular. Meyer says the same thing from Italy. . . The answers from England and Italy show clearly the extent of the Kaiser’s illusion."

January 19. "This morning a cable from Porter saying that the French Government fully concurs in our view and does not desire concession of territory from China. That virtually finishes the series: America, Great Britain, Germany, France, and Italy make a body of power which nobody will think of gainsaying."

January 20. "[Despatch says] that Biilow has answered our circular of the 13th. He is gratified that we have resolved to take steps to maintain integrity of China and Open Door, and at our promise not to make territorial acquisition — which corresponds entirely to attitude of German Emperor. Refers to Anglo-German agreement of October 14, 1900! In that agreement binds itself to principle [of the] Open Door and therefore scarcely necessary to add, does not seek further acquisition of territory in China. What the whole performance meant to the Kaiser it is difficult to see. But there is no possible doubt that we have scored for China."

February 11. "Takahira showed me a dispatch from Komura, that the German Minister at Tokio had called on him to say that, as there were various rumors afloat, his Government wished him to say there was no truth in the story that Germany was trying to make a combination with Russia and France to arrange terms of peace favorable to Russia; that they were friendly to Russia as is required by neighborhood; but that they had done nothing in the way of peace negotiations and wished to remain on terms of cordial friendliness with Japan. Komura expressed his gratification and reciprocated expressions of friendliness."

February 13. "Sternburg says the British Ambassador in Petersburg has pointed out to Count Lamsdorff the advantages for Russia of a speedy conclusion of peace. The Ambassador stated that Lamsdorff seemed to agree with him. Benckendorff ^has had similar interview with Lansdowne. German Foreign Office believes these preliminary discussions have been carried on without the knowledge of the Czar, and are entirely confidential. They are anxious to be kept informed of Japan’s attitude in relation to peace negotiations.

February 15. "The President keeps warning Japan not to be exorbitant in her terms of peace." From March 18 to Jume 15, John Hay was in Europe trying to recover his health. Takahira dealt with Taft, Secretary of War while Roosevelt was on a hunting and speech-making trip to Colorado as the opportunity to exercise his "good offices" solidified.

TR himself had written, on the Hays’ return in June from the trip that had been designed to improve the Secretary’s health, "I shall handle the whole business of the State Department myself this summer."

As he was leaving Washington for Newbury on June 23rd -- just seven days before he died -- John Hay told New Hampshire’s William Chandler who petitioned him to choose New Hampshire as the location of the peace conference, "I shall have nothing whatever to say about the sessions of the peace conference."

The final entry in Hay’s diary, dated June 19, 1905, reads : "Spent the evening at the White House. The President gave me an interesting account of the Peace Negotiations — which he undertook at the suggestion of Japan. He was struck with the vacillation and weakness of purpose shown by Russia; and was not well pleased that Japan refused to go to The Hague."John Hay died on July 1, 1905.

By the time Roosevelt greeted the Russian and Japanese delegations aboard the yacht Mayflower, anchored in Oyster Bay, on August 5, 1905 just a month after Hay’s funeral,Takahira (far right) accompanied Baron Komura; and Cassini had been replaced by Baron Roman Rosen (second from left) and the moderate Sergius Witte in whom Hay had put so much faith.


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