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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Chief among whom was Prince Ito


It

may indeed be asserted that during the decade immediately prior to the opening of the national assembly, "an anti-Government propaganda was incessantly preached from the platform and in the press." The Tokyo statesmen, however, were not at all discouraged. They proceeded with their reforms unflinchingly. In 1885, the ministry was recast, Ito Hirobumi--the same Prince Ito who afterwards fell in Manchuria under the pistol of an assassin--being appointed premier and the departments of State being reorganized on European lines. Then a nobility was created, with five orders, prince, marquis, count, viscount, and baron. The civil and penal laws were codified. The finances were placed on a sound footing. A national bank with a network of subordinate institutions was established. Railway construction was pushed on steadily. Postal and telegraph services were extended. The foundations of a strong mercantile marine were laid. A system of postal savings-banks was instituted. Extensive schemes of harbour improvement, roads, and riparian works were planned and put into operation. The portals of the civil service were made accessible solely by competitive examination. A legion of students was sent westward to complete their education, and the country's foreign affairs were managed with comparative skill.

PROMULGATION OF THE CONSTITUTION

On the 11th of February, 1889, the Constitution was promulgated amid signs of universal

rejoicing. The day was signalized, however, by a terrible deed. Viscount Mori, one of Japan's most enlightened statesmen, was stabbed to death by Nishino Buntaro, a mere stripling, the motive being to avenge what the murderer regarded as a sacrilegious act, namely, that the viscount, when visiting the shrine at Ise in the previous year, had partially raised one of the curtains with his cane. The explanation given of this extraordinary act by a modern historian is that "Japan was suffering at the time from an attack of hysterical loyalty, and the shrine at Ise being dedicated to the progenitrix of the country's sovereigns, it seemed to Nishino Buntaro that when high officials began to touch the sacred paraphernalia with walking-sticks, the foundations of Imperialism were menaced." An interesting light is thrown upon the Japanese character in the sequel of this crime. During many subsequent years the tomb of Nishino received the homage of men and women who "worshipped achievement without regard to the nature of the thing achieved." There was a similar furore of enthusiasm over the would-be assassin of Okuma.

PROVISIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION

The framers of the Constitution, chief among whom was Prince Ito, naturally took care not to make its provisions too liberal. The minimum age for electors and elected was fixed at twenty-five and the property qualification at payment of direct taxes aggregating not less than fifteen yen (30s. $7.20) annually.

A bicameral system was adopted. The House of Peers was in part hereditary, in part elective (one representative of the highest tax-payers in each prefecture), and in part nominated by the sovereign (from among men of signal attainments), while the House of Representatives consisted of three hundred elected members. In the eyes of party politicians this property qualification was much too high; it restricted the number of franchise-holders to 460,000 in a nation of nearly fifty millions. A struggle for the extension of the franchise commenced immediately, and, after nearly ten years, the Government framed a bill lowering the qualification to ten yen for electors; dispensing with it altogether in the case of candidates; inaugurating secret ballots; extending the limits of the electorates so as to include the whole of a prefecture, and increasing the members of the lower house to 363. By this change of qualification the number of franchise holders was nearly doubled.


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