Gentlemens Agreement

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In 1906 the San Francisco School Board segregated the city's Japanese students into a school where Chinese students had already been segregated. Deeply insulted, Japanese diplomats lobbied President Theodore Roosevelt to intervene. Roosevelt called the San Francisco mayor and School Board to Washington and negotiated with the Japanese to restrict immigration to the United States in exchange for the desegregation of the San Francisco schools. This diplomatic understanding between the United States and Japan became known as the "Gentlemen's Agreement."

Roosevelt announced the Agreement's immigration restrictions in Executive Order 589. Mindful of the violent anti-Japanese attitudes held in San Francisco and elsewhere, Roosevelt framed his statement in the belief that cheap foreign labor undermines the prospects of native workers. Laborers from Japan (and Korea, which the United States recognized as part of Japan at that time) could no longer enter the United States and its territories.

While prohibiting the immigration of new Japanese laborers, the Gentlemen's Agreement did allow those Japanese already in the United States to bring their parents, wives, and children into the country. Many Japanese and Korean women utilized this provision to immigrate to the United States as "picture brides," marrying immigrant Japanese men they knew only through an exchange of photographs. Such marriages helped Japanese immigrants establish an equitable gender ratio in their communities. Steady birthrates and a strong tradition of familial unity meant that Japanese immigrant communities under the Agreement enjoyed a growth in population previously unmatched by other Asian immigrant groups. Still fearful of a growing "yellow menace" in its midst, the U.S. nativists effectively cut off all Japanese immigration with the Immigration Act of 1924.

Mark D.Baumann,
New York University

See also Asian Americans ; Immigration Restriction ; Japanese Americans ; Korean Americans ; San Francisco .

Whereas, by the act entitled "An Act to regulate the immigration of aliens into the United States," approved February 20, 1907, whenever the President is satisfied that passports issued by any foreign government to its citizens to go to any country other than the United States or to any insular possession of the United States or to the Canal Zone, are being used for the purpose of enabling the holders to come to the continental territory of the United States to the detriment of labor conditions therein, it is made the duty of the President to refuse to permit such citizens of the country issuing such passports to enter the continental territory of the United States from such country or from such insular possession or from the Canal Zone;

And Whereas, upon sufficient evidence produced before me by the Department of Commerce and Labor, I am satisfied that passports issued by the Government of Japan to citizens of that country or Korea and who are laborers, skilled or unskilled, to go to Mexico, to Canada and to Hawaii, are being used for the purpose of enabling the holders thereof to come to the continental territory of the United States to the detriment of labor conditions therein;

I hereby order that such citizens of Japan or Korea, to-wit: Japanese or Korean laborers, skilled and unskilled, who have received passports to go to Mexico, Canada or Hawaii, and come therefrom, be refused permission to enter the continental territory of the United States.

It is further ordered that the Secretary of Commerce and Labor be, and he hereby is, directed to take, thru Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, such measures and to make and enforce such rules and regulations as may be necessary to carry this order into effect.

Theodore Roosevelt
The White House,
March 14, 1907
No. 589

SOURCE: Report of the Commissioner General of Immigration, 1908.

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Although agreements between individuals often create legally binding commitments, instances may arise in which mutual promises yield no legally enforceable agreement. Sometimes called "gentlemen's agreements," parties may honor them because moral obligations compel observance or because future relations will be more difficult if the present arrangement is broken. International organizations likewise may depend on such informal arrangements so as to maintain comity among members.

Occasionally the enabling treaties that create an international organization will leave some procedural or voting matter unresolved. Rather than amend the formal document, which is usually a difficult task, an informal working agreement will develop to resolve a particular problem. As long as the consensus holds to honor the informal agreement, there is no need to embody it into a legal document.

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gentlemen's agreement, in U.S. history, an agreement between the United States and Japan in 1907 that Japan should stop the emigration of its laborers to the United States and that the United States should stop discrimination against Japanese living in the United States. This agreement was ended in 1924 by the act of Congress excluding immigration from Japan, as immigration from China had been previously excluded.