Saturday, September 6, 2008

Treaty of Portsmouth

On the morning of September 6, 1905, two Russian diplomats, Sergius Witte and Baron Roman Rosen, left Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on a train bound for Boston. The citizenry of the region were out enmasse to bid the men fond farewell. On the previous afternoon, after nearly a month of negotiations, which nearly failed, the representatives of Imperial Japan and Czarist Russia concluded and signed a peace treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War.

Earlier, in the summer, the American President Theodore Roosevelt had invited the two nations to send emissaries to the United States to discuss ending the war which, on the battlefields of Manchuria and in the waters of the Yellow Sea, had bloodied the two nations badly. On August 5, T.R. bid the negotiating delegations welcome aboard the Presidential yacht, Mayflower.

For a month to follow the United States hosted the emissaries of the combatant nations, and, through back channels, influenced their negotiations to lead them to a successful conclusion. The Naval Shipyard at Portsmouth, where the negotiations were held and Wentworth by the Sea, the beautiful resort where the delegations and the world’s press stayed, stand today as proud reminders of the role played in history by the good people of Portsmouth.

Through the Spanish American War the United States announced to the European and Asian powers that it was a military power with which to be reckoned. With the Treaty of Portsmouth, America now announced to the world that it had the influence and standing to be a great peacemaker, too.

For the Russians, the Treaty of Portsmouth brought an end to a war that had been so costly that in it were sown the seeds of the downfall of the centuries old reign of the czars. In 1905 alone, Russia had surrendered Port Arthur, been defeated at Mukden and seen the Russian Baltic Fleet decimated at the Battle of Tsushima. In its main parts, the treaty allowed the Russians to control the northern half of Sakhalin Island, but also forced Russia to surrender its lease at Port Arthur and to recognize a Japanese sphere of influence in Korea.

The Japanese negotiators included Foreign Minister Jutaro Komura, a graduate of Harvard Law School, and Kogoro Takahira, Japan’s Minister to the United States. Their negotiations were aided by Kentaro Kaneko, another graduate of Harvard Law and Henry W. Denison, a former American diplomat who served for over three decades as a legal advisor to the Japanese Foreign Ministry. It was Denison, working with the Russian diplomat Theodore de Martins, who drafted the Treaty.

Despite the favorable terms for Japan, the Treaty was greeted with disdain by many Japanese nationalists who desired financial indemnity and abhorred the loss of one half of Sakhalin. Riots broke out in Japan, where several people were killed and hundreds injured.

For his efforts to bring an end to the Russo-Japanese War, Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1906. Today, that prize hangs in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, along with T.R.’s Medal of Honor. It is said that the U.S. President often receives foreign dignitaries in the Roosevelt Room where these two awards display America’s resolve to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

In another time, T.R. wrote “Peace is a goddess with sword girt on thigh.” This is T.R.’s peace of righteousness. It is a true peace, worth the fight, for in it is the honor of our people and the preservation of our republic.

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