Saturday, November 13, 2010

U.S. Consul General Townsend Harris

One of the earliest mentions of Townsend Harris was in the March 5, 1859 edition of the Polynesian. The front page section entitled ‘Foreign News’ features the following excerpt:

“By the arrival of the clipper ship Rambler, Captain Lathrop, in 13 days from San Francisco we have received Atlantic dates to January 22, European do to Jan. 5:

“The Senate went into executive session to-day, and confirmed a large number of appointments. They confirmed Townsend Harris as Resident Minister to Japan. A special messenger will leave here to-morrow for the purpose of carrying out important depatches to Mr. Harris, and also his commission as Minister.”

New York-native Townsend Harris was born in Hudson Falls (formerly Sandy Hill) in Washington County. The opening of China to trade enabled Harris to run a successful importation business in New York City.

The New York City Board of Education included Harris starting in 1846; he served as the Board’s first president until 1848. He is credited as founding the City College of New York, in those early days known as the Free Academy of the City of New York. Its mission was to offer educational opportunities for New York’s working people.

It was President Franklin Pierce who named Harris to be the first American Consul General to Japan in July, 1856. Harris opened the U.S. Consulate in the Gyokusen-ji Temple, located in the city of Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture. This occurred shortly after Commodore Matthew Perry opened trade and relations with Japan in 1853.

After negotiation the Treaty of Amity and Commerce Harris reportedly relocated the U.S. Legation to Zenpuku-ji Temple.

It is said that Townsend Harris held a very favorable view of Japan as it opened its relations with the rest of the world.

The famous treaty that bears his name –the “Harris Treaty,” or "Treaty of Peace and Commerce” was concluded in 1858. This agreement secured trade and commercial relations between the United States and Japan. It also facilitated increased Western influence in Japan in economic, political and religious activities. The Japanese Embassy sent in early 1860 traveled to the United States owes its purpose to this treaty.

Harris departed Japan for the United States in 1861. He died in New York City and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

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