President Theodore Roosevelt

letter to

Victor Metcalf, Secretary of Commerce and Labor


An image of the typescript letter is available at the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.

In the fall of 1906, the San Francisco school board decided to send all their Japanese-American children to a segregated school.  The Japanese government objected strongly to Japanese nationals and their descendants being treated with the same kind of racism that Americans applied to the Chinese.

Diplomatic negotiations between Japan and the United States resulted in the "Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907": the United States refrained from passing laws that specifically excluded Japanese immigration or discriminated against Japanese Americans, and Japan agreed to prevent its working-class citizens from leaving for the United States.  The agreement was not a single document or treaty but an understanding between the two governments worked out in a series of notes and conversations.  This letter comes from early in the process.

My dear Secretary Metcalf,

Let me begin by complimenting you upon the painstaking thoroness and admirable temper with which you have been going into the case of the treatment of the Japanese on the coast. If our treaty contains no "most favored nation" clause then I am inclined to feel as strongly as you do that we had better take no action to upset the action of the Board of Education of the City of San Francisco.  I had a talk with the Japanese Ambassador before I left for Panama; read him what I was to say in my annual message, which evidently pleased him very much; and then told him that in my judgment the only way to prevent constant friction between the United States and Japan was to keep the movement of the citizens of each country into the other restricted as far as possible to students, travelers, business men, and the like; that inasmuch as no American laboring men were trying to get into Japan what was necessary was to prevent all immigration of Japanese laboring men - - that is, of the Coolie class - - into the United States; that I earnestly hoped his Government would stop their coolies, all their working men, from coming either to the United States or to Hawaii.  He assented cordially to this view and said that he had always been against permitting Japanese coolies to go to America or to Hawaii.  Of course the great difficulty in getting the Japanese to take this view is the irritation caused by the San Francisco action.  I hope that my message will smooth over their feelings so that the government will quietly stop all immigration of coolies into our country.  At any rate I shall do my best to bring this about.

Sincerely yours,

Theodore Roosevelt

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