A Political History of Japan during the Meiji Era, 1867-1912

By Walter Wallace McLaren | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
POLITICAL ISSUES AND MORALITY

IN 1873 the Restoration Government definitively committed itself to a policy of domestic reform and reconstruction, and turned its back upon the chauvinistic pre-Meiji programme of military expansion in Asia. It happened, however, that the influential class of samurai was opposed to the Government's decision, since the development of agriculture, commerce, manufactures, and transportation was an essentially nonmilitary undertaking; the adoption of such a policy was not only a repudiation of the teachings of the "patriotic schools" of 1840-67, but a blow to the pretensions of the old feudal aristocracy. Until 1877 the dispute between the Government and the samurai was of such seriousness that it occupied public attention to the exclusion of nearly every other issue.

One most important exception, however, was the question of popular rights. As we have seen, a number of ex-Councillors of State, the best known of whom were Itagaki, Soyejima, and Goto, memorialized the Daijokwan in 1874, praying for the immediate estabment of an elective assembly. They based their claim for representative institutions not only upon the first article of the Imperial oath, but upon the natural rights of the people to a share in the government. This issue between absolutism, whether of a monarchy or an oligarchy, and democracy was the storm centre of Japanese politics after 1877 until 1889. A minor exception is also to be found in the affairs of the Hokkaido Colonization Board (Kaitakushi). The

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