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

By Walter Wallace McLaren | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
END OF THE RECONSTRUCTION PERIOD

THE period of political reconstruction may be said to have terminated with the promulgation of the Constitution and its accompanying laws in 1889. Beginning with the confusion characteristic of every transition stage, manifested in this case by the conflicting jurisdictions of the Imperial and feudal governments, it ended with a highly centralized organization, founded upon a divine-right theory of monarchy and operating through a bureaucracy. At the apex of the system was the absolute monarch, whose prerogatives were exercised by and with the advice of the Privy Council and Cabinet and the consent of the Imperial Diet, and in accordance with the terms of the Constitution. Similarly, in the sphere of local government the prerogatives of the monarch were exercised to the remotest corners of the Empire through the local bureaucracy with the consent of the various local assemblies.

The overthrow of the Shogunate in 1867 transferred the exercise of despotic powers from the adherents of one great family, the Tokugawa, to the henchmen of a league composed of the feudal houses of Southwestern Japan. Nominally, the Restoration League governed the people in the Emperor's name and with his consent, but actually a small group of the most active samurai of the Western clans constituted themselves an oligarchy and in accordance with their own purposes and ideas exercised the despotic powers of the throne. In 1885 the virtual regency of the oligarchs ended and a personal rule by an absolute

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