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We Come in Peace and Ready for War

Four black ships enter Japan's Edo Bay. Commodore Perry has come to trade with the Japanese, but he is ready for war if the Japanese want to bring it. Two of Perry's ships are powered by steam engines so they are belching smoke. It must seem like the demons of the underworld have come to Japan's capital city of Edo. Japan has no navy to speak of and their shore batteries are 200 year old cannons, poorly maintained. The Japanese direct Perry to Nagasaki which is the designated port for meeting foreigners. Perry is well aware of the Japanese refusal to trade with outsiders so he "slips 'em a convincer." He loads up his cannons with gunpowder without shot and fires! The Japanese leadership is in an uproar. That night an especially large meteor casts a blue shimmering light over the Bay. It is a sign. Good sign for Perry. Bad sign for Edo. Then the head shogun drops dead and the Japanese are freaking out! Perry delivers a letter from President Millard Fillmore and promises to return next spring for trade negotiations... or else. This is not the first example of "gunboat diplomacy" but the practice gains popularity around this time. [1] [2]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
In the 1500s, the Japanese had been master gunsmiths, but the shoguns feared the gun in the hands of the peasants. Over time they regulated guns and gunpowder and eventually took them out of the hands of the peasants. This made Japan a much safer place for the shoguns, and the samurai but it left the country defenseless. They carried swords, but against a gun, a sword is not much of a defense... even at 21 feet. Commodore Perry's ships were carrying the new exploding shells... well... 30 years old by that time, but it must have looked like a super weapon to the Japanese of the day. An explosive shell meant that not only could a cannon shot put a fairly big hole in your roof, but it could ruin your whole darn day when it exploded inside your house. An ocean might seem like enough of a barrier against the bad guys until it isn't enough any more. By the time you find that out, it is usually too late. [3]

Buying is Cheaper than Fighting

Remember that Mexican-American War? There are still border problems. The United States under President Buchanan promised to stop the Comanche and Apache cross-border raids into Mexico, but it turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. Mexico is demanding compensation for this breech of the original treaty. They want millions of dollars. Naturally the United States offers less. After a lot of back and forth, the Senate finally ratifies the Gadsden Purchase. The United States has just bought a large part of southern Arizona and the southwest part of New Mexico. This is almost 30,000 square miles of territory, for 10 million dollars (or about 232 million in today's money). Not only does this settle the question of compensation, but it opens the way for a southern route for the railroad. It also re-validates the original Treaty of Guadalupe without US troops looming over the proceedings. [4] [5] [6]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Ambassador Gadsden tried to include Baja California in the purchase but a freebooter from the USA took troops into Baja and declared its independence. That was an embarrassment during negotiations, but frankly, Mexico didn't want to sell off massive parts of its land in any case. It was willing to let go of the minimum amount of land to make the deal good and that was it. The Gadsden was a controversial figure, being a railroad owner. He realized that the South was losing economic power without a railroad to transport goods from Southern ports such as Charleston. New York could offload cargo and move it inland more easily using rail. Ambassador Gadsden was trying to enhance the possibility of a southern railway system so as to extend slavery into Southern California, but the Civil War postponed that project.... and ended slavery to boot. [7] [8]

In Other News

  • The potato chip is invented. George Crum is a restaurant cook who thin-slices potatoes and deep fries them. Dinner is served. [9] [10]
  • Steinway & Sons makes their first piano in Manhattan. It is numbered 483 because he already made 482 pianos back in Germany. [11] [12]
  • The term 'filibuster' enters the political lexicon. The word means "freebooter" or "pirate" but in a debate, a Congressman warns against filibustering... meaning disrupting the legislative process. [13] [14] [15] [16]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1853, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Nimura, Janice P.. Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey From East to West and Back. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393248241. “Two of the ships were steam frigates belching ominous clouds of coal smoke, and all four bristled with cannon, including the latest in naval armament, the Paixhans gun, capable of firing explosive shells rather than the inert cannonballs upon which naval warfare had previously relied. It was a demonstration not just of military strength, but of technological supremacy.” 
  2. Matthew C. Perry - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 19 August 2016. “After initial resistance, Perry was permitted to land at Kanagawa, near the site of present-day Yokohama on March 8, 1854, where, after negotiations lasting for around a month, the Convention of Kanagawa was signed on March 31, 1854. Perry signed as American plenipotentiary, and Hayashi Akira, also known by his title of Daigaku-no-kami signed for the Japanese side.”
  3. Paixhans gun - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 19 August 2016. “Paixhans developed a delaying mechanism that for the first time allowed shells to be fired safely in high-powered flat-trajectory guns. The effect of explosive shells lodging into wooden hulls and then detonating, was potentially devastating. Henri-Joseph Paixhans first demonstrated this in trials against the two-decker Pacificateur in 1824, in which he successfully broke up the ship.”
  4. Avalon Project - Gadsden Purchase Treaty : December 30, 1853. avalon.law.yale.edu (2016). Retrieved on 19 August 2016. “The Republic of Mexico and the United States of America desiring to remove every cause of disagreement which might interfere in any manner with the better friendship and intercourse between the two countries, and especially in respect to the true limits which should be established, when, notwithstanding what was covenanted in the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in the year 1848, opposite interpretations have been urged, which might give occasion to questions of serious moment: to avoid these, and to strengthen and more firmly maintain the peace which happily prevails between the two republics, the President of the United States has, for this purpose, appointed James Gadsden, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the same, near the Mexican government, and the President of Mexico has appointed as Plenipotentiary 'ad hoc' his excellency Don Manuel Diez de Bonilla, cavalier grand cross of the national and distinguished order of Guadalupe, and Secretary of State, and of the office of Foreign Relations, and Don Jose Salazar Ylarregui and General Mariano Monterde as scientific commissioners, invested with full powers for this negotiation, who, having communicated their respective full powers, and finding them in due and proper form, have agreed upon the articles following:”
  5. Gadsden Purchase - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 19 August 2016. “When the secession proposal failed, Gadsden, working with his cousin Isaac Edward Holmes, a lawyer in San Francisco since 1851, and the California state senator Thomas Jefferson Green, attempted to divide California in two. They proposed that the southern half of the state allow slavery. Gadsden planned to establish a slave-holding colony there based on rice, cotton, and sugar. He would use slave labor to build a railroad and highway that originated in either San Antonio or the Red River.”
  6. Isthmus of Tehuantepec - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 19 August 2016. “The 1853 Gadsden Purchase treaty[7] included a provision allowing the U.S. to transport mail and trade goods across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec via a plank road and railroad.”
  7. William Walker (filibuster) - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 19 August 2016. “On October 15, 1853, Walker set out with 45 men to conquer the Mexican territories of Baja California Territory and Sonora State. He succeeded in capturing La Paz, the capital of sparsely populated Baja California, which he declared the capital of a new Republic of Lower California, with himself as president and his partner, Watkins, as vice president; he then put the region under the laws of the American state of Louisiana, which made slavery legal. Fearful of attacks by Mexico, Walker moved his headquarters twice over the next three months, first to Cabo San Lucas, and then further north to Ensenada to maintain a more secure position of operations, because he lost to General Manuel Márquez de León. Although he never gained control of Sonora, less than three months later, he pronounced Baja California part of the larger Republic of Sonora. Lack of supplies and strong resistance by the Mexican government quickly forced Walker to retreat.”
  8. Filibustering with William Walker. sfmuseum.org (1919). Retrieved on 19 August 2016. “Three weeks later he reached the Gulf of California, and landed at La Paz, which was less likely to offer resistance. Here he was reinforced by two hundred men, and so he took possession of the country and proceeded to set up a government. Then he proclaimed the independence of the 'Republic of Lower California' from Mexico, and extended over it the laws of the state of Louisiana, thus permitting slavery, should anyone care to bring slaves into the country. Some writers have taken the opportunity here to point out that Walker really was not a strong slavery advocate, and that the slavery clause merely was part of the code of laws with which he was most familiar.”
  9. Potato chip: History - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  10. George Crum - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 19 August 2016. “During the 1850s, while working at Moon's Lake House in the midst of a dinner rush, Speck tried slicing the potatoes extra thin and dropping it into the deep hot fat of the frying pan. Thus was born the potato chip.[”
  11. Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 418-419. 
  12. Steinway & Sons - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 19 August 2016. “The first piano made by Steinway & Sons was given the number 483 because Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg had built 482 pianos in Germany. Number 483 was sold to a New York family for $500, and is now on display at the German museum Städtisches Museum Seesen in Seesen, the town in which Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg began his career as a piano maker. A year later, demand was such that the company moved to larger premises at 82–88 Walker Street. It was not until 1864 that the family anglicized their name from Steinweg to Steinway.”
  13. Filibuster - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 4 August 2016. “The English term 'filibuster' is derived from the Spanish filibustero, itself deriving originally from the Dutch vrijbuiter, 'privateer, pirate, robber' (also the root of English 'freebooter'). The Spanish form entered the English language in the 1850s, as applied to military adventurers from the United States then operating in Central America and the Spanish West Indies such as William Walker. The term in its legislative sense was first used by Rep. Albert G. Brown, (D-MS) in 1853, referring to Abraham Watkins Venable's speech against 'filibustering' intervention in Cuba.”
  14. Filibuster - definition of filibuster (2016). Retrieved on 4 August 2016. “To obstruct or delay legislative action, especially by making prolonged speeches.”
  15. Fisk, Catherine; Chemerinsky, Erwin (January 1997). "Filibuster, The". Stanford Law Review (Stanford Law Review) 49 (2): 181-254. http://www.austinlibrary.com:2138/stable/1229297. 
  16. Abraham Watkins Venable - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 19 August 2016. “He later got involved in politics and served as a presidential elector in the elections of 1832 and 1836 and was elected to the thirtieth congress as a Democrat, serving from 1847 to 1853, and ran unsuccessfully for reelection in 1852.”

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