Perry, Matthew Calbraith

views updated Jun 27 2018


Matthew C. Perry's (17941858) primary occupation was that of a naval officer, yet he is perhaps best remembered as a diplomat entrusted by the U.S. government to negotiate a treaty with Japan. Since the early 1600s Japan isolated itself from Western countries. In 1854 Perry successfully arranged a treaty between Japan and the United States. The treaty provided the United States with two Japanese sea ports, enabling the two countries could begin to engage in commercial trade with one another. This was Japan's first modern treaty with a Western nation. It marked the beginning of Japan's involvement in world affairs.

Born in 1794, Matthew Perry entered the Navy at age 16, serving as a midshipman. His first duty was aboard a vessel commanded by his older brother, Oliver Perry. His career in the Navy led him into combat during the War of 1812 (18121814); he later battled pirates in the West Indies, carried freed slaves to the newly founded African colony of Liberia, and transported American minister John Randolph to Russia. It was in Russia that Perry was offered a captain's position with the czarist government, but he firmly declined, preferring his commission with the U.S. Navy as a Master Commandant.

In 1833 Perry was appointed Second Officer of the New York Navy Yard, and began notable service on shore. Residing in New York City, he began to aggressively pursue his ideas for naval development. He created a naval apprentice system, which was adopted by Congress in 1837. In 1845 Perry and other examiners prepared the first course of instruction for the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He went on to advocate and pioneer the use of steam-powered vessels in the Navy. He organized the first Naval Engineer Corps, and his work on the naval board was used by Congress to help enact federal legislation creating federal lighthouses. Beginning in 1843 Perry was once again actively at sea. He first commanded the African Squadron, and later led a squadron of ships in the Gulf of Mexico during the Mexican War (18461848).

In January 1852 Perry was selected for a highly important diplomatic missionthe negotiation of a treaty with Japan, a country which had sealed itself against dealings with Western powers since the early 1600s. His main mission in Japan was to ensure the protection of U.S. seamen and property and to open one or more Japanese ports to U.S. vessels for the procurement of supplies and commercial trade. Perry agreed to undertake the mission, provided that he could go to Japan with a large and imposing naval fleet. He hoped the sheer size of the fleet would facilitate negotiations with Japan. Perry was instructed to use any vigorous and intimidating means necessary in his negotiations with the Japanese, though with the understanding that President James Monroe (18171825) had no power to declare war in this situation.

In an effort to achieve his goals without resorting to military action, Perry adopted a strategy of surrounding himself and his mission with an air of mystery. His combination of boldness and mystery succeeded. He met with representatives of Japan's emperor and left the country nine days after arriving in 1853, stating he would return one year later to learn Japan's decision. He returned in seven months and, on March 31, 1854, a treaty of peace, friendship, and commerce between Japan and the United States was signed. It was a diplomatic event filled with much pageantry, and several U.S. naval vessels stood offshore.

Federal politics had changed during Perry's absence from the United States, and little notice was paid to his achievement in Japan. The "Old Bruin," as sailors called Perry, died in New York on March 4, 1858, a year after his return from Japan. He died while preparing a report of his expedition.

See also: Japan (Opening of)


Blumberg, Rhoda. Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun. New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books, 1985.

Houchins, Chang-su. Artifacts of Diplomacy: Smithsonian Collections from Commodore Matthew Perry's Japan Expedition (18531854). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. Old Bruin: Commodore Matthew C. Perry, (17941858). Boston, MA: Little Brown, 1967.

Walworth, Arthur. Black Ships Off Japan, The Story of Commodore Perry's Expedition. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1946.

Wiley, Peter B. Yankees in the Land of the Gods: Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan. New York: Viking, 1990.

Matthew Calbraith Perry

views updated Jun 08 2018

Matthew Calbraith Perry

The American naval officer Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858) is best known for the treaty he negotiated with Japan, which first opened that country to the Western world.

Matthew C. Perry was born on April 10, 1794, in Newport, R.I. After being educated in local schools, he entered the navy as a midshipman in 1809. His first duty was aboard a vessel commanded by his elder brother, Oliver Hazard Perry. He next served aboard a powerful 44-gun frigate, taking part in encounters with two British ships and in a commerce-raiding expedition in northern European waters. In 1813 he was transferred to the frigate United States, which was marooned in New London, Conn., then under blockade by the British navy. He took advantage of the period of inactivity by journeying to New York, where he courted and married Jane Slidell in 1814.

Years of Varied Activity

For the next 17 years Perry was engaged in duties at sea of the widest variety: fighting Algerian pirates in the Mediterranean; carrying American Negroes to Liberia, where a colony of repatriated slaves was being established; transporting (in the schooner Shark, his first command) the American commissioner to the new colony; and hunting down slave traders and pirates. In 1830 he was given command of the sloop Concord and charged with carrying to Russia the new American minister, John Randolph. There Perry was received by the Czar, who offered him the rank of flag officer if he would join the Russian navy. That offer, in the words of Perry's biographer, he "politely but firmly declined."

In 1833 Perry began a decade of shore duty in the New York Navy Yard as second officer, later becoming commander. During those years he made significant contributions to the technological and educational development of the Navy. In 1833 he led in establishing the Naval Lyceum at the yard, which included a museum, reading room, and lectures "to promote the diffusion of useful knowledge" among the officers. He also helped found the Naval Magazine. Some years later he was a member of a board of examiners that prepared the first course for the soon to be established Naval Academy at Annapolis.

If he deserved the title "chief educator of the navy, " Perry also earned the appelation "father of the steam navy, " for it was he who pushed the replacement of sail by steam in the propulsion of war vessels, who helped design both hulls and engine of the new steamships, and who was given command of the first of the Navy's steam warships, Fulton II. It was in that ship that he set up the first naval school of gun practice.

In 1843 Perry took command of the Africa Squadron, newly organized to hunt for slave traders. Three years later, in the war with Mexico, Perry played an important role, leading an expedition in the capture of several coastal cities (using sailors as infantry) and, as commander of the Gulf Squadron, supporting Gen. Winfield Scott's storming of Veracruz. When the war ended in 1848, Perry was put on special duty in New York supervising the construction of ocean mail steamships. Then came the capstone of his career: the mission to Japan.

Opening Japan

Americans had been trading with China since 1844, so a way station in the Japanese islands for purchasing coal and supplies now became imperative. Protection for American seamen engaged in whaling in the northern Pacific Ocean was also needed. Perry carried a letter to the Japanese emperor from the American president requesting a treaty covering those matters as well as the right of Americans to trade in Japanese ports.

Perry set out from Norfolk, Va., on Nov. 24, 1852, with four ships and arrived at Edo (modern Tokyo) on July 2, 1853. He demanded of the Japanese officers who came out to meet his vessel the right to take the President's letter to the Emperor, but he was told he must go to Nagasaki, the only place open to foreigners. Perry refused, and when the Japanese saw his decks cleared for action, they relented. So Perry went onshore and, in an elaborate ceremony, delivered the letter to two princes representing the Emperor and promised to return in 12 months for the answer.

Rumors of French and Russian naval activity in Japanese waters brought Perry back in February 1854 (he had gone only to Hong Kong). This time, his reception was friendly (chiefly because he had seven well-armed ships in his squadron), and the Emperor appointed five commissioners to treat with him. At Yokohama the representatives of the two nations began negotiations and, on March 31, 1854, concluded a treaty which opened two ports, Hakodate and Shimoda, for trade and supplies and guaranteed fair treatment for shipwrecked American sailors.

His mission completed, Perry returned to New York in January 1855, a hero receiving "warm congratulations" from the secretary of the Navy, $20, 000 from Congress, gifts from several cities, and acclaim on all sides. The parties and receptions over, Perry turned his attention to preparing the report of his expedition, which he completed in late December 1857. He died on March 4, 1858.

Further Reading

Samuel Eliot Morison, "Old Bruin": Commodore Matthew C. Perry, 1794-1858 (1967), is the best biography. Arthur Walworth, Black Ships off Japan: The Story of Commodore Perry's Expedition (1946; rev. ed. 1966), is excellent on the Japanese phase. □

Perry, Matthew Calbraith

views updated May 09 2018

Perry, Matthew Calbraith

Matthew Calbraith Perry was born on April 10, 1794, in South Kingston, Rhode Island. His older brother, Oliver Hazard Perry, won a great victory over the British in the War of 1812 on Lake Erie. Matthew also enlisted in the U.S. Navy, being commissioned in 1809 and initially serving on the USS Revenge, which his older brother commanded.

For the next thirty years, Perry held a typical series of assignments. He saw little action in the War of 1812, for the Royal Navy trapped his main ship, the USS United States, at New London, Connecticut. After the war, he served on ships mostly assigned to suppress trade in West African slaves. Perry commanded the Shark, rotated to shore duty in Charleston, South Carolina, and in 1830 gained command of the USS Concord.

Perry became a noted advocate for naval education and for naval modernization. He helped design the curriculum for the U.S. Naval Academy and an education/apprentice system for new sailors. He was a leader in moving to steam propulsion from sail, and oversaw construction of the USS Fulton, the U.S. Navy's second stream frigate, organized the first corps of naval engineers, and conducted the first navy gunnery school near Sandy Hook, New Jersey, while commanding the Fulton. During the Mexican War, he led the squadron that took Frontera, Tabasco, and Laguna in 1846 and that helped General Winfield Scott in besieging Vera Cruz in 1847.

Perry, however, is best known for his trips to Japan. In 1852, Perry led four ships from Norfolk, Virginia, to Japan, a useful coaling stop on the route to China. On arriving near Edo, modern Tokyo, on July 8, 1853, he refused to move to Nagasaki and the Dutch concession in far southwest Japan, and marching with some four hundred armed sailors and marines insisted on delivering a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the Emperor. The Tokugawa Shogunate accepted the letter and Perry promised to return for a reply after a stop in China. Perry returned in February 1854 with eight steam ships—one-third of the U.S. Navy—belching their black smoke and once again impressing the Japanese (who called the men "barbarians … in floating volcanoes").

The United States and the Japanese soon signed an agreement, the Treaty of Kanagawa, on March 31, 1854, that reflected President Fillmore's demands, which included humane treatment for shipwrecked sailors, permission for U.S. ships to purchase coal and supplies, and the opening of two distant ports, Shimoda and Hakodate, to U.S. trade. Perry did not understand the structure of Japanese politics, and he never reached the emperor, dealing strictly with officials of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate. On his return to the United States, Perry received an award of $20,000 voted by a grateful Congress.

Perry's visit accelerated trends already present in Japan. The Tokugawa shogunate was tottering. Great lords (known as daimyos) in the southwest were aware of increasing Western encroachments on China, and feared for Japan. Perry's visit and his demand to open relations called into question the two-centuries-old Tokugawa policy of isolation. Perry's visit and the threat of European imperialism eventually caused the Tokugawa to ask the daimyos for advice, and the daimyos wanted to strengthen the emperor and the nation. The result was the end of 250 years of Tokugawa rule, and the onset of the Meiji Restoration. Within forty years, Japan cast off its past, modernized the nation, and bested a European power, Russia, at war in 1904–1905, and seemingly became a significant regional power. Perry died on March 4, 1858, in New York City.

see also Empire, United States; Japan, Colonized; Japan, Opening of.


Blumberg, Rhoda. Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1985.

Neumann, William L. America Encounters Japan: From Perry to MacArthur. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

Reischauer, Edwin O. The United States and Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965.

Wiley, Peter B. Yankees in the Land of the Gods: Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan. New York: Viking, 1990.

Perry, Matthew Calbraith

views updated May 23 2018

Perry, Matthew Calbraith (1794–1858) US naval officer. In 1837, he commanded the first steam vessel in the US Navy, the Fulton. He also established the Navy's apprentice system in 1837, and organized the first naval engineer corps. He was responsible for opening up Japan to the West (1853–54).

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