Join Us…or Else. Commodore Perry at Edo Harbor…

Today in History, July 8, 1853:

US Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry and his fleet arrive in Edo Harbor (Tokyo) Japan and by threat of force, demand that the Japanese contemplate relations with the US.

The Japanese had met Europeans before, but for the last 200 years had closed their society to outsiders.

Faced with the threat of bombardment from Perry’s ships, the Japanese accepted a letter from President Millard Fillmore. When Perry returned the next year, the offer of open relations was accepted.

The rest of the story is that Commodore Perry also pioneered steam power in the Navy, served under his famous older brother Oliver Hazard Perry (“We have met the enemy and they are ours!”) during the War of 1812, was a hero in the Mexican-American War, and he and his brother were direct descendants of William Wallace. Wow.

The irony cannot be ignored that America dragged Japan kicking and screaming into the modern industrial world. The Japanese responded with a complete turnaround, embracing the technology of the “modern” world, including battleships and air power. So that less than a century later Western nations…mostly America, would have to fight a thoroughly modern Japanese military in a world war. And then would drop an Atomic bomb on the Japanese homeland to end the conflict.

The Gadsden Purchase Drama

Today in History, December 30: 1853 –

The Gadsden Purchase. The last major expansion of continental US territory takes place when US Ambassador to Mexico James Gadsden and Mexican President General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna sign a treaty giving over a large segment of what is now New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico to the US for 15 million dollars to facilitate a southern US railroad, because a more northern route was too mountainous. The story seems pretty plain. But as I researched it, I found more and more intrigue and drama to be involved.

Gadsden was an ardent slavery proponent, sent on this mission by then US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to negotiate the agreement on behalf of President Pierce. Gadsden and Davis, of course, shared views that more slave holding states should be added to the Union.

This was a point of major contention in the Congress, which debated the treaty extensively for those very reasons. Santa Anna, having lost badly in the war for the independence of Texas (Tejas) and the Mexican-American War, had been in and out of office repeatedly. Ironically, he was willing to sell additional Mexican territory to the United States so that he could afford to fund a Mexican army to defend against…the United States.

This last purchase established the current continental boundaries of our nation. Primarily because southern business interests didn’t want to depend upon a northern railroad route to ship their goods to California, not trusting the Yankees in this pre-Civil War era.