The Treaty of Portsmouth formally ended the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese War. It was signed on September 5, 1905 after negotiations lasting from August 6 to August 30, at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, in the United States. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was instrumental in the negotiations, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
The war of 1904–05 was fought between the Empire of Russia, an international power with one of the largest armies in the world, and the Empire of Japan, a nation which had only recently industrialized after two-and-a-half centuries of isolation. A series of battles in the Liaodong Peninsula had resulted in Russian armies being driven from southern Manchuria, and the Battle of Tsushima had resulted in a cataclysm for the Imperial Russian Navy. The war was unpopular with the Russian public, and the Russian government was under increasing threat of revolution at home. On the other hand, the Japanese economy was severely strained by the war, with rapidly mounting foreign debts, and its forces in Manchuria faced the problem of ever-extending supply lines. No Russian territory had been seized, and the Russians continued to build up reinforcements via the Trans-Siberian Railway
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. Recognizing that a long-term war was not to Japan’s advantage, as early as July 1904 the Japanese government had begun seeking out intermediaries to assist in bringing the war to a negotiated conclusion.
The intermediary approached by the Japanese side was the United States President Theodore Roosevelt, who had publicly expressed a pro-Japanese stance at the beginning of the war. However, as the war progressed, Roosevelt had begun to show concerns on the strengthening military power of Japan and its impact on long-term United States interests in Asia. In February 1905, Roosevelt sent messages to the Russian government via the US ambassador to St Petersburg. Initially, the Russians were unresponsive, with Tsar Nicholas II still adamant that Russia would prove victorious in time. At this point, the Japanese government was also lukewarm to a peace treaty, as Japanese armies were enjoying an unbroken string of victories. However, after the Battle of Mukden, which was extremely costly to both sides in terms of manpower and resources, Japanese Foreign Minister Komura Jutarō judged that the time was now critical for Japan to push for a settlement.
On March 8, 1905, Japanese Army Minister Terauchi Masatake met with the American minister to Japan, Lloyd Griscom, to convey word to Roosevelt that Japan was ready to negotiate. However, from the Russian side, a positive response did not come until after the loss of the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima. Two days after the battle, Tsar Nicholas II met with his grand dukes and military leadership and agreed to discuss peace. On June 7, 1905, Roosevelt met with Kaneko Kentarō
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, a Japanese diplomat, and on June 8 received a positive reply from Russia. Roosevelt chose Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as the site for the negotiations, primarily due to its climate being cooler than that of Washington, D.C.
The Japanese delegation to the Portsmouth Peace Conference was led by Foreign Minister Komura Jutarō, assisted by ambassador to Washington Takahira Kogorō. The Russian delegation was led by former Finance Minister Sergei Witte, assisted by former ambassador to Japan Roman Rosen and international law and arbitration specialist Friedrich Martens. The delegations arrived in Portsmouth on August 8 and stayed in New Castle, New Hampshire, at the Hotel Wentworth (where the armistice was signed), and were ferried across the Piscataqua River each day to the naval base in Kittery, Maine, where the negotiations were held.
The negotiations took place at the General Stores Building (now Building 86). Mahogany furniture patterned after the Cabinet Room of the White House was ordered from Washington.
Before the negotiations began Tsar Nicholas had adopted a hard line, forbidding his delegates to agree to any territorial concessions, reparations, or limitations on the deployment of Russian forces in the Far East. The Japanese initially demanded recognition of their interests in Korea, the removal of all Russian forces from Manchuria, and substantial reparations. They also wanted confirmation of their control of Sakhalin
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, which Japanese forces had seized in July 1905, partly for use as a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
A total of twelve sessions were held between August 9 and August 30. During the first eight sessions, the delegates were able to reach an agreement on eight points. These included an immediate cease fire, recognition of Japan’s claims to Korea, and the evacuation of Russian forces from Manchuria. Russia was also required to return its leases in southern Manchuria (containing Port Arthur and Talien) to China, and to turn over the South Manchuria Railway and its mining concessions to Japan. Russia was allowed to retain the Chinese Eastern Railway in northern Manchuria.
The remaining four sessions addressed the most difficult issues, those of reparations and territorial concessions. On August 18, Roosevelt proposed that Rosen offer to divide the island of Sakhalin to address the territory issue. On August 23, however, Witte proposed that the Japanese keep Sakhalin and drop their claims for reparations. When Komura rejected this proposal, Witte warned that he was instructed to cease negotiations and that the war would resume. This ultimatum came as four new Russian divisions arrived in Manchuria, and the Russian delegation made an ostentatious show of packing their bags and preparing to depart. Witte was convinced that the Japanese could not afford to restart the war, and applied pressure via the American media and his American hosts to convince the Japanese that monetary compensation was something that Russia would never compromise on. Outmaneuvered by Witte, Komura yielded, and in exchange for the southern half of Sakhalin the Japanese dropped their claims for reparations.
The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed on September 5. The treaty was ratified by the Japanese Privy Council on October 10, and in Russia on October 14, 1905.
The signing of the treaty settled immediate difficulties in the Far East and created three decades of peace between the two nations. The treaty confirmed Japan’s emergence as the pre-eminent power in East Asia, and forced Russia to abandon its expansionist policies there, but it was not well received by the Japanese people. The Japanese public was aware of their country’s unbroken string of military victories over the Russians, but was less aware of the precarious overextension of military and economic power these victories had required. News of the terms of the treaty appeared to show Japanese weakness in front of the European powers, and this frustration caused the Hibiya riots, and the collapse of Katsura Tarō’s cabinet on January 7, 1906.
Because of the role played by President Theodore Roosevelt, the United States became a significant force in world diplomacy. Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his back channel efforts before and during the peace negotiations, even though he never actually went to Portsmouth.
Treaty Building in 1912
Key to envoy reception
Hotel Wentworth, c. 1906
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, the Portsmouth Peace Treaty Forum was created by the Japan-America Society of New Hampshire to commemorate the Portsmouth Peace Treaty with the first formal meeting between Japanese and Russian scholars and diplomats in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, since the negotiation of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty in 1905. As the Treaty of Portsmouth is considered one of the most powerful symbols of peace in the Northern Pacific region and the most significant, shared peace history for Japan, Russia and the United States, the Forum was designed to explore from the Japanese, Russian and American perspectives, the history of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty and its relevance to current issues involving the Northern Pacific region. The Forum is intended to focus modern scholarship on international problems in the “spirit of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty”.