Gentlemen’s Agreement

In the wake of Japanese military victories over the Chinese and the Russians as well as following the turmoil of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and a resultant segregation order by the San Francisco Board of Education against Japanese and Korean schoolchildren, President Theodore Roosevelt’s federal government negotiated a Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan that defused threats of war, ended the segregation order, and limited Japanese immigration.

After Japan’s Meiji Restoration began in 1868, Japanese emigrants began to seek their fortunes in California. After the passage of the [a]Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882;and Japanese immigrants[Japanese immigrants][a]Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882;impact ofChinese Exclusion Act of 1882, labor shortages drew increasing numbers of Japanese immigrants both to Hawaii;Japanese immigrantsHawaii (especially after its annexation in 1898 by the United States) and to California, especially the San Francisco Bay Area. Japanese victories in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) established the previously closed country as a world power, even as California and other West Coast states began to extend antimiscegenation laws to bar marriages between whites and “Mongolians.”Japan;and Gentlemen’s Agreement[Gentlemens Agreement][a]Gentlemen’s Agreement[Gentlemens Agreement]San Francisco;Japanese immigrantsSan Francisco;Korean immigrantsRoosevelt, Theodore[p]Roosevelt, Theodore;and Japanese immigrants[Japanese immigrants]Japan;and Gentlemen’s Agreement[Gentlemens Agreement][a]Gentlemen’s Agreement[Gentlemens Agreement][cat]EAST ASIAN IMMIGRANTS;Gentlemen’s Agreement[01980][cat]LABOR;Gentlemen’s Agreement[01980][cat]INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS;Gentlemen’s Agreement[01980]San Francisco;Japanese immigrantsSan Francisco;Korean immigrants[p]Roosevelt, Theodore;and Japanese immigrants[Japanese immigrants]Roosevelt, Theodore

San Francisco Earthquake and Aftermath

UnlikeSan Francisco;earthquakeEarthquake, San Franciscothe earlier Chinese immigrants who were mostly male and lived in or near the Grant Street Chinatown, Japanese Americans in San Francisco lived throughout the city. Before the 1906 earthquake, there were ninety-three Japanese children in twenty-three different elementary schools. Also, anti-Asian sentiment was being redirected from the Chinese to the Japanese by statements from San Francisco mayor Eugene Schmitz; a series of articles in the San Francisco Chronicle describing the “Yellow peril” campaign[yellow peril campaign]“yellow peril”; and the Asiatic Exclusion LeagueAsiatic Exclusion League, which was organized by one hundred San Francisco unions in 1905 in order to extend the Chinese Exclusion Act to cover Japanese and Koreans, boycott Japanese workers and Japanese-owned businesses, and segregate Japanese and San Francisco;Korean immigrantsKorean students from public schools.

President Theodore Roosevelt.

(Library of Congress)

The San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906, destroyed municipal records that had inflamed fears concerning the incursion of the supposedly more aggressive, clever, and acquisitive Japanese. On October 11, 1906, as temporary and rehabilitated public schools were ready to reopen, the San Francisco Board of Education ordered the segregation of Japanese and Korean immigrants;San FranciscoKorean schoolchildren with the already segregated Chinese. Although the few Koreans complied with the order, Japanese parents objected strenuously. The Japanese government lodged a formal protest, claiming that the order violated the treaty of 1894. President Roosevelt, Theodore[p]Roosevelt, Theodore;and Japanese immigrants[Japanese immigrants]Theodore Roosevelt, who had received a Nobel Peace Prize earlier in 1906 for helping to negotiate the treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War, articulated his sincere “regard and respect for the people of Japan” in his December 3, 1906, state of the union address. Roosevelt subsequently called San Francisco government and board of education officials to Washington and facilitated the negotiation of what has since been termed the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907.

Legacy of the Gentlemen’s Agreement

The Gentlemen’s Agreement forced the rescinding of the board of education order. In return, the Japanese government agreed not to issue any new passports for Japanese citizens who sought to work in the United States. However, parents, children, and wives of Japanese laborers already in the United States could still immigrate to the United States. Also, critics of the agreement noted the loophole that Japanese laborers could still freely immigrate to the territory of Hawaii, and the Hawaii;Japanese immigrants“Picture brides”[picture brides];JapaneseJapanese immigrants;”picture brides”[picture brides]“picture bride” industry subsequently developed, in which single male Japanese laborers in the United States could select a Japanese bride from the old country solely on the basis of mailed photographs. The provisions of the Gentlemen’s Agreement allowed immigrant Japanese communities to develop complex family networks in a manner that the previous male-only Chinese communities never achieved. There were 90 Japanese-owned businesses in San Francisco in 1900 and 545 by 1909, despite the negative financial San
Earthquake, San Franciscoramifications of the 1906 earthquake. According to the 1900 U.S. Census, there were 72,257 citizens of Japanese heritage living in the United States (42 percent in California); by 1920, there were 138,834 (70 percent in California). Continuing anti-immigration sentiment led to the Immigration Act of 1924, effectively halting all further Japanese immigration to the United States until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.Japan;and Gentlemen’s Agreement[Gentlemens Agreement][a]Gentlemen’s Agreement[Gentlemens Agreement]

Further Reading

  • Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans: An Interpretive History. Boston: Twayne, 1991. Comprehensive social and political history of four principal Asian immigrant cultures (Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean) includes treatment of diplomatic and legal landmarks and struggles.
  • Daniels, Roger. The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. Details issues of regionalism and racial politics in late nineteenth and early twentieth century California.
  • Esthus, Raymond A. Theodore Roosevelt and Japan. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1967. Chronological history that describes how statesmanship kept the United States and Japan on diplomatic terms even as Japan waged war with the Russians, annexed Korea, and negotiated the informal Gentlemen’s Agreement with the United States.
  • Kiyama, Henry, and Frederik Schodt. The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 1904-1924. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 1999. Manga (graphic novel) treatment of four Japanese immigrants to San Francisco, humorously poking fun at the quirky and culturally obtuse behavior of their employers from the perspective of student-workers.
  • Neu, Charles E. Troubled Encounter: The United States and Japan. Malabar, Fla.: R. E. Krieger, 1979. Diplomatic study of Japanese-U.S. relations from beginning of the Meiji Restoration (1868) through the late twentieth century. Details how the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 was a precursor to more draconian immigration measures of 1924 that exacerbated relations between the two countries.
  • _______. An Uncertain Friendship: Theodore Roosevelt and Japan, 1906-1909. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967. Describes Roosevelt’s complex relationship with the Japanese government during the latter years of his second term as well as the legacy leading into the diplomacy policies of the William Taft administration.
  • Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian-Americans. Boston: Little, Brown, 1989. Historical study of Asian Americans with significant treatment of the settling of Japanese America and resultant ethnic stereotyping, prejudice, and state and federal legal issues.

Alien land laws

Amerasian children

Anti-Japanese movement

Asiatic Exclusion League


Immigration Act of 1924

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952

Japanese immigrants

San Francisco

“Yellow peril” campaign