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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Frequent references have been made to the feudatories





IN describing the events that culminated in the fall of the Tokugawa, frequent references have been made to the feudatories. But it should be clearly understood that the feudal chiefs themselves had very little to do with the consummation of this great change. "The men that conceived and achieved the Revolution of 1867, were chiefly samurai of inferior grade." They numbered fifty-five in all, and of these only thirteen were aristocrats, namely, five feudal barons and eight court nobles. The average age of these fifty-five did not exceed thirty years.


The great clans which took part in bringing about this restoration of the administrative power to the Emperor did not altogether trust one another. Hitherto, all political commotions had been planned for the sake of some prominent family or eminent leader, and had resulted merely in altering the personnel of those occupying the seats of power. It was not unnatural that history should have been expected to repeat itself in 1867, especially since the clan mainly responsible, Satsuma, overshadowed all its associates with one exception. Therefore, to many onlookers it seemed that the Tokugawa Government had been overthrown to make room for the all-powerful southern feudatory. In order to provide a safeguard against such a danger, the young Emperor was asked to make oath that a broadly based deliberative assembly should be convened for the purpose of conducting State affairs in conformity with public opinion. This "coronation oath," as it was subsequently called, came to occupy an important place in political appreciation, and to be interpreted as a promise of a national assembly. But most assuredly it was not originally intended to carry any such meaning. Its framers never contemplated a parliament in the Occidental sense of the term. Their sole object was to place a barrier in the path of their own selfish ambitions.


It is more than doubtful whether the abolition of the feudal system found a place in the original plan of the leaders of progress. Looking back to remote centuries, they may well have imagined that the unification of the empire under one supreme ruler, administering as well as governing, was not incompatible with the existence of the fiefs. But when they examined the problem more closely, they recognized that a universally operative system of laws, a central treasury, and the supreme command of the nation's armaments were essential to the end they had in view, namely, strength derived from unity. Hitherto, each feudatory had assessed and collected taxes within his fief according to his own free-will, had exercised the right of legislation, and had held the command of all troops within his territories.

The continuance of such conditions would have defeated the purpose of the reformers. This they recognized. But how were these prescriptive privileges to be abolished? An Imperial mandate might indeed have been issued, but even an Imperial mandate without the means of enforcing it would probably have proved futile. In fact, compulsion in any form could not be employed: the only resource was persuasion. The feudatories of Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa, and Hizen were the four most puissant in the empire. They were persuaded to surrender their fiefs to the Throne and to ask for reorganization under a uniform system of law. This example found many imitators. Out of the whole 276 feudatories only seventeen failed to make a similar surrender. It was a wonderful display of patriotic altruism in the case of some, at any rate, of the daimyo. But, at the same time, many undoubtedly obeyed the suggestions of their chief vassals without fully appreciating the cost of obedience. It had long been their habit to abandon the management of their affairs to seneschals (karo), and they followed the custom on this occasion without profound reflection.

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