E. Peshine Smith's nationality
Proceedings of the U.S. Consular Court in Yokohama, 1873
By William Wetherall
First posted 10 July 2007
Last updated 15 July 2006
E. Peshine Smith: Journalist, lawyer, diplomat
Once upon a time in a land called Japan there was a character whose full name was Rasmus Peshine Smith (1814-1882) -- better known, even to himself, as E. Peshine Smith.
Smith did of a bit of everything before coming to Japan in 1871. At one time or another he was a journalist and newspaper editor, a professor of mathematics, and a public education official and court reporter in the state of New York -- in addition to being student of law and economics.
In A Manual of Political Economy, published in 1853, Smith set down principles of American (as opposed to British) style capitalism. The book's "man is Lord of Nature" viewpoint -- which argued that human progress is measured "by the extent to which the natural agents are made serviceable" -- was inspired by his mentor, the economist Henry Charles Carey (1793-1879), who had been an advisor to Lincoln.
Smith was also an associate of William Henry Seward (1801-1872), who was Secretary of State under both Lincoln and Jackson. Apparently both Carey and Seward arranged for Smith to become an advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan on matters related to Japan's economic and industrial development.
Smith arrived in Japan in 1871 and stayed until 1876. He was instrumental in helping Japan draft its bank and coinage acts, and other legislation crucial to the building of the country's financial and industrial infrastructure -- from the more protectionist standpoint of the Carey school. Smith is also credited with helping to infuse Japan's system of universal education with faith in science and technology.
Wore kimono and swords
Apparently Smith went native in Japan -- to the point of going around Tokyo wearing kimono and swords. He also claimed, according to the court proceedings presented below, that he was no longer a US citizen but had become Japanese.
On 23 September 1871 (Meiji 4-8-9 lunar calendar), a Great Council of State proclamation required shizoku (legal title of members of former warrior caste) to cut the topknots (U― sanpatsu), which had been a trademark of their status, but permitted them to brandish their swords (E dattō) -- whereas heimin (legal title of commoners), who had begun to wear swords, were prohibited from doing so.
Then on 28 March 1876 (Meiji 9-3-28 solar calendar), another Great Council of State proclamation (No. 38) forbid all wearing of swords (Ρ taitō) -- "other than use with court dress [taireifuku] or uniforms of military personnel and police" (εβXβjRlx@―§pmOζΦ~).
The 1876 proclamation triggered strong reactions from some shizoku, particularly in Kyushu but also in Yamaguchi. Reactions to stripping former samurai their last outward emblem of caste distinction fed the uprisings that led to the Seinan War. Shizoku continued to be a legal status until 1886, and notations in family registers were discontinued from 1914.
Smith was in Japan precisely between the 1871 and 1876 proclamations. Would he, had he stayed, joined the protesting shizoku -- imagining, perhaps, that he was one of them? Had he done so, he would have been -- judging from his court testimony -- in perfect character.
Smith coined the word "telegram". In a letter to the editor of the Albany Evening Journal, published on 6 April 1852, he suggested that "telegram" be used to replace "telegraphic dispatch" or "telegraphic communication". Some linguists argued that it should be "telegrapheme" -- but "telegram" prevailed.
1873 Consular Court proceedings
I am grateful to my good friend Kamiyama Masuo for the following text. He claims to have transcribed it in its entirety from a facsimile of the newspaper that carried the original report, but he is unable to provide further particulars.
The following text is reproduced as I received it, with only minor changes in presentation. I have not edited inconsistencies of style or other anomalies, which may have been that way in the original text, or may be transcription errors.
Apparently before 1899, the U.S. government was responsible for registration of American citizens living in Japan. The following is a transcript of the proceedings of the U.S. Consular Court in Yokohama, held before Mr. Consul Shepard on Saturday, Jan. 11, 1873. It appears in The Japan Weekly Mail of the same date.
Three men were charged with non-registration. A.G. Bates and S.W. Williams both said they did not know of the Act, agreed to pay the cost of the summons ($6.55) and registered on the spot.
The third individual, E. Peshine Smith, an employee of the Japanese Gaimusho (Foreign Ministry) then approached the bench, saying, "the summons announces the people of the United States as my accuser -- and upon what proof, what evidence, does anyone venture to assert that I am an American citizen? Why do the people of the United States imagine that I am an American citizen. I call upon them for a reply."
His Honor said it was with the greatest astonishment he heard Mr. Smith say he did not want protection, but whatever Mr. Smith might urge he would say that Mr. De Long was his superior officer and he should not think of opposing his regulations.
His Honour said that he was only anxious to deal equitably int he matter. Mr. Smith said that the State Department disapproved of the registration regulation. As this referred to all Americans he would, of course, defer judgement until he had ascertained the nature of the document in the possession of Mr. De Long.