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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Itagaki organized an association called Jiyu to Liberals



Reference has already been made to these and it will suffice here to note that their principal functions were to determine the amount and object of local taxes; to audit the accounts for the previous year; and to petition the Central Government, should that seem expedient. These assemblies represented the foundations of genuinely representative institutions, for although they lacked legislative power, they discharged parliamentary functions in other respects. In fact, they served as excellent training schools for the future Diet. But this did not at all satisfy Itagaki and his followers. They had now persuaded themselves that without a national assembly it would be impossible to oust the clique of clansmen who monopolized the prizes of power. Accordingly, Itagaki organized an association called Jiyu-to (Liberals), the first political party in Japan. Between the men in office and these visionary agitators a time of friction, more or less severe, ensued. The Government withheld from the people the privileges of free speech and public meeting, so that the press and the platform found themselves in frequent collision with the police. Thus, little by little, the Liberals came to be regarded as victims of official tyranny, so that they constantly obtained fresh adherents.

Three years subsequently (1881), another political crisis occurred. Okuma Shigenobu resigned his portfolio, and was followed into

private life by many able politicians and administrators. These organized themselves into a party ultimately called Progressists (Shimpo-to), who, although they professed the same doctrine as the Liberals, were careful to maintain an independent attitude; thus showing that "Japan's first political parties were grouped, not about principles, but about persons."*

*Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th edition); article "Japan," by Brinkley.

It must not be supposed for a moment that the Progressists were conservative. There was no such thing as real conservatism in Japan at that time. The whole nation exhaled the breath of progress. Okuma's secession was followed quickly by an edict promising the convention of a national assembly in ten years. Confronted by this engagement, the political parties might have been expected to lay down their arms. But a great majority of them aimed at ousting the clan-statesmen rather than at setting up a national assembly. Thus, having obtained a promise of a parliament, they applied themselves to exciting anti-official sentiments in the future electorates; and as the Government made no attempt to controvert the prejudices thus excited, it was evident that when the promised parliament came into existence, it would become an arena for vehement attacks upon the Cabinet.

Of course, as might have been expected, the ten years of agitated waiting, between 1881 and 1891, were often disfigured by recourse to violence. Plots to assassinate ministers; attempts to employ dynamite; schemes to bring about an insurrection in Korea--such things were not infrequent. There were also repeated dispersions of political meetings by order of police inspectors, as well as suspensions or suppressions of newspapers by the fiat of the Home minister. Ultimately it became necessary to enact a law empowering the police to banish persons of doubtful character from Tokyo without legal trial, and even to arrest and detain such persons on suspicion. In 1887, the Progressist leader, Okuma, rejoined the Cabinet for a time as minister of Foreign Affairs, but after a few months of office his leg was shattered by a bomb and he retired into private life and founded the Waseda University in Tokyo.

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