The Gentlemen’s Agreement between the United States and Japan in 1907-1908 represented an effort by President Theodore Roosevelt to calm growing tension between the two countries over the immigration of Japanese workers. A treaty with Japan in 1894 had assured free immigration, but as the number of Japanese workers in California increased, they were met with growing hostility.
In August 1900, Japan agreed to deny passports to laborers seeking to enter the United States; this, however, did not stop the many workers who obtained passports to Canada, Mexico, or Hawaii and then moved on to the United States. Racial antagonism intensified, fed by inflammatory articles in the press. On May 7, 1905, a Japanese and Korean Exclusion League was organized, and on October 11, 1906, the San Francisco school board arranged for all Asian children to be placed in a segregated school.
Japan was prepared to limit immigration to the United States, but was deeply wounded by San Francisco’s discriminatory law aimed specifically at its people. President Roosevelt, wishing to preserve good relations with Japan as a counter to Russian expansion in the Far East, intervened. While the American ambassador reassured the Japanese government, Roosevelt summoned the San Francisco mayor and school board to the White House in February 1907 and persuaded them to rescind the segregation order, promising that the federal government would itself address the question of immigration. On February 24, the Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan was concluded in the form of a Japanese note agreeing to deny passports to laborers intending to enter the United States and recognizing the U.S. right to exclude Japanese immigrants holding passports originally issued for other countries. This was followed by the formal withdrawal of the San Francisco school board order on March 13, 1907. A final Japanese note dated February 18, 1908, made the Gentlemen’s Agreement fully effective. The agreement was superseded by the exclusionary Immigration Act of 1924.
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.