Treaty of Portsmouth

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated


On 5 September 1905, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, representatives of the Russian and Japanese governments signed the treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War. The war had occurred as the result of conflicting imperial ambitions between Russia and Japan in Manchuria and Korea. The Japanese had won all the major naval and land battles of the war and were therefore able to demand that their imperial preeminence in the region be acknowledged. Russia agreed in the Treaty of Portsmouth to recognize Japanese dominance in Korea, to sign over the leases of the Chinese ports of Port Arthur and Dalian (Dalny) to the Japanese, and to evacuate their troops from Manchuria in order to allow all the imperial powers to "develop" that region equally.

Still, the treaty was recognized nearly universally as a diplomatic success for Russia. Though the principal Russian negotiator, Count Sergei Witte, had been forced to accept the redivision of Asia to Russia's detriment, his mission was praised because he had made the Japanese blink on the next two most important issues: the disposition of Sakhalin Island, which Japanese forces had taken from Russia during the war, and the question of whether Russia would owe Japan a war indemnity. The indemnity question proved to be the thorniest one. Paying for the expenses of the winning party by the loser had become a tradition in recent years. Prussia had received one from France (after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871), Japan had gotten one from China (following the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895), and even the Russians had expected to claim an indemnity in the event they had emerged militarily victorious over Japan. Each side was spending about a million dollars per day on the war, and each faced financial crisis. Witte had clear instructions from the tsar to reject any claim of indemnity, but the Japanese firmly desired monetary satisfaction.

At the last moment, with the Russian delegation's bags literally packed, the Japanese diplomats relented. Two factors tipped the scales. First, though the Russian military had been humiliated, it had not been destroyed, and a new wave of reinforcements was now making Russian military prospects look much brighter. The second factor was that Theodore Roosevelt, the American president who had agreed to host and mediate the conference, had quietly changed his mind. He had supported an indemnity at the outset, having admired the Japanese war effort and deplored Russian "mendacity" during the wave of Asian expansion. But a concerted public relations blitz by Witte in the United States had convinced important journalists and congressmen that Russia was right to reject the indemnity. Faced with the prospect of domestic political costs, Roosevelt pressured the Japanese to accept, pressure that gained added weight when New York financier Jacob Schiff telegraphed the Japanese delegation to inform them that they would be denied further loans in international markets if they allowed the conference to break up over the indemnity question. At this point, the Japanese leadership in Tokyo cabled their negotiators to accept the Russian offer, which included a compromise on Sakhalin that would divide the island in two. Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize that year for his efforts.

The importance of the indemnity dispute, however, was not simply financial. Both sides understood that imperial status was the key issue at stake. Russia felt the need to recover some of the prestige it had lost on the battlefield by forthrightly rejecting the claims of an Asian state to demand war spoils, and Japan felt that it had to be able to press an indemnity claim on a European empire in order to be accepted into the club of Great Powers. It was this high-stakes contest that Witte had won. After the treaty was signed, the Russian delegation retired to its rooms to celebrate, while the Japanese delegation wept in their quarters. Their dismay was shared by Tokyo mobs, which rioted upon hearing the details of the treaty. The so-called Hibiya Riot resulted in seventeen deaths and demonstrated the public commitment to empire on the part of urban Japanese citizens. This manifestation of "imperial democracy" would have significant repercussions for Japanese politics in the following decades.

The Russians appeared to have maintained their Great Power status at the expense of their Japanese diplomatic counterparts. But more careful observers were not fooled. Japanese military success impressed the many neutral military observers posted to the Manchurian battlefields, and the Russian defeat caused deep concern for its allies and at home. The Russian military now focused on reform and attempted to keep out of Asian entanglements. The balance of power had clearly shifted in East Asia.

See alsoMukden, Battle of; Russia; Russo-Japanese War.


Primary Sources

Witte, Sergei. The Memoirs of Count Witte. Translated and edited by Sidney Harcave. Armonk, N.Y., 1990. Translation of Vospominaniia. Includes an invaluable but tendentious account of the conference and Witte's strategy.

Secondary Sources

Gordon, Andrew. Labor and Imperial Democracy in Prewar Japan. Berkeley, Calif., 1991.

Westwood, J. N. Russia against Japan, 1904–1905: A New Look at the Russo-Japanese War. Albany, N.Y., 1986.

Joshua Sanborn

views updated


Signed September 5 (August 23 O.S.), 1905, in Portsmouth, Maine, this treaty terminated the Russo-Japanese war. U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt had offered to mediate between the warring parties, fearing that continued fighting would destabilize the Far East and jeopardize U.S. commercial interests in China. (Roosevelt went on to win the Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts.)

Russia recognized Japan's interests in Korea, and ceded its lease over the Liaotung Peninsula to Japan, as well as the southern half of Sakhalin island and control of the Southern Manchurian railroad to Chang-chun. Russia also pledged that Manchuria would remain a part of China.

The treaty ended any Russian hope of establishing protectorates over Manchuria and Korea. In addition, it represented the first defeat of a European Great Power by an Asian state during the modern age.

The fall of Port Arthur, the defeat of the Russian Army at Mukden, the destruction of the Russian Baltic Fleet at Tsushima, and the outbreak of the 1905 Revolution convinced the government of Tsar Nicholas II that the war had to end. Count Sergei Witte was sent as plenipotentiary with orders to secure the best possible deal for Russia. A cunning negotiator, Witte skillfully used the U.S. press to swing international opinion against Japan. He also realized that Japan lacked the resources to follow up on its initial military victories and that he could afford to prolong the talks. In the end, Japan dropped its demands for a sizable indemnity and the complete evisceration of Russia's position in the Far East. Witte's diplomacy helped to compensate for Russia's military weakness.

Nevertheless, the Treaty of Portsmouth was perceived as a defeat for Russia and diminished its international stature, notably in the 1908 Bosnia crisis. Josef Stalin was to justify the Soviet entry into the war against Japan in 1945 in part on the grounds of reversing the 1905 "defeat."

See also: russo-japanese war; witte, sergei yulievich


Fuller, William C., Jr. (1992). Strategy and Power in Russia, 16001914. New York: Free Press.

Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. (1984). A History of Russia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nikolas Gvosdev

views updated

Treaty of Portsmouth, 1905, treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War. It was signed at the Portsmouth Naval Base, New Hampshire, on Sept. 5, 1905. Negotiations leading up to the treaty began in the spring of 1905 when Russia had suffered severe defeats and Japan was in financial difficulties. Therefore, both nations indicated a desire for peace. Germany, the United States, and Great Britain were instrumental in forcing conciliation between the belligerents. However, the United States and Britain exacted certain concessions from Japan before smoothing the way for the treaty. President Theodore Roosevelt demanded that Japan follow the Open Door policy in Manchuria and return the region to Chinese administration. In the Taft-Katsura agreement of July, 1905, Roosevelt agreed to Japanese dominance in Korea in return for American freedom of action in the Philippines. Great Britain had the Anglo-Japanese treaty extended to cover all of E Asia and in return also gave Japan a free hand in Korea. Under the terms of the Portsmouth agreement, Russia was compelled to recognize Korea's independence and the "paramount political, military, and economic interests" of Japan in Korea. Russia also agreed to place Manchuria again under the sovereignty of China, and all foreign troops were to be removed. The railway lines in S Manchuria, constructed by Russia, were ceded to Japan without payment. The disputed Liaodong peninsula (see Liaoning), containing the ports of Dalian and Port Arthur (see Lüshun, was turned over to Japan, as was the southern part of the island of Sakhalin. Japan also obtained fishing rights in the waters adjacent to the Russian Far East. The Treaty of Portsmouth marked the temporary decline of Russian power in East Asia and the emergence of Japan as the strongest power in the area.

views updated


PORTSMOUTH, TREATY OF. Russia and Japan accepted President Roosevelt's offer to help end the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 and agreed to meet with him and Governor John McLane in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Russia agreed after losing major naval and land battles. Japan, which had begun the war with a surprise attack on Port Arthur in Manchuria, agreed after running out of money to finance the war.

On 10 August 1905, the Japanese presented twelve terms. They negotiated daily, but by 19 August, they had reached an impasse. Roosevelt worked to reach compromises on war reparations by Russia to Japan, returning captured Japanese vessels, curtailment of Russia's Pacific navy, and Russia's buying back half of Sakhalin Island for $40,000,000. Russia's envoys were under strict orders not to authorize any kind of payment.

From 20–30 August, Roosevelt persuaded the Japanese to forego reparations and Russia's purchase of southern Sakhalin. Russia agreed to allow Japan to occupy the southern half of Sakhalin and to leave Korea. Both agreed to return Manchuria to China, to restrict their activities in China, and to divide the fisheries they had claimed. The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed on 5 September 1905. In 1906, President Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the negotiations.


Russo-Japanese War Research Society. Available at

Westwood, J. N. Russia against Japan 1904–1905: A New Look at the Russo-Japanese War. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

Kirk H.Beetz