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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

When the Satsuma rebellion broke out


A

prefectural assembly holds one session of thirty days annually; and a county assembly, one session of not more than fourteen days; while the town and district assemblies are summoned by the mayor or the headman whenever recourse to their deliberation appears expedient. Each prefecture has a prefect (governor) and each county assembly has a headman. Both are appointed by the Central Administration, but an assembly has competence to appeal to the minister of Home Affairs from the prefect's decisions. In the districts, also, there are headmen, but their post is always elective and generally non-salaried. Other details of the local-government system are here omitted. It suffices to say that the system has been in operation for over thirty years and has been found satisfactory in practice. Moreover, these assemblies constitute excellent schools for the political education of the people.

THE CONSTITUTION

It has already been shown that the sovereign's so-called coronation oath did not contemplate a national assembly in the Western sense of the term. The first assembly convened in obedience to the oath consisted of nobles and samurai only, and was found to be a virtually useless body. Not till 1873, when Itagaki Taisuke, seceding from the Cabinet on account of the Korean complication, became a warm advocate of appealing national questions to an elective assembly, did the people at large come to understand what was involved

in such an institution. Thenceforth Itagaki became the centre of a more or less enthusiastic group of men advocating a parliamentary system, some from sincere motives, and others from a conviction that their failure to obtain posts was in a manner due to the oligarchical form of their country's polity.

When the Satsuma rebellion broke out, four years later, this band of Tosa agitators memorialized the Government, charging it with administering affairs in despite of public opinion; with ignoring popular rights, and with levelling down instead of up, since the samurai had been reduced to the class of commoners, whereas the latter should have been educated to the standard of the former. But the statesmen in power insisted that the nation was not yet ready to enjoy constitutional privileges. They did not, indeed, labour under any delusion as to the ultimate direction in which their reforms tended, but they were determined to move gradually, not precipitately. They had already (1874) arranged for the convention of an annual assembly of prefects who should act as channels of communication between the central authorities and the people in the provinces. This was designed to be the embryo of representative institutions, though obviously it bore that character in a very limited degree only.

In the following year (1875), the second step was taken by organizing a Senate (Genro-in), which consisted of official nominees and was charged with the duty of discussing and revising laws and ordinances prior to their promulgation. But it had no power of initiative, and its credit in the eyes of the nation was more or less injured by the fact that its members consisted for the most part of men for whom no posts could be found in the administration and who, without some steadying influence, might have been drawn into the current of discontent.

At this stage, an event occurred which probably moved the Government to greater expedition. In the spring of 1878, the great statesman, Okubo Toshimitsu, who had acted such a prominent part on the stage of the reformation drama, was assassinated. His slayers were avowedly sympathizers of Saigo, but in their statement of motives they assigned as their principal incentive the Government's failure to establish representative institutions. They belonged to a province far removed from Satsuma, and their explanation of the murder showed that they had little knowledge of Saigo's real sentiments. But the nation saw in them champions of a constitutional form of government, and the authorities appreciated the necessity of greater expedition. Thus, two months after Okubo's death, the establishment of elective assemblies in the prefectures and cities was proclaimed.


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