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Commodore Matthew Perry

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Matthew Perry (April 10, 1794 – March 4, 1858) was the Commodore of the United States Navy who compelled the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.

Naval Career[edit]

Matthew Perry received a midshipman's commission in the Navy in 1809, and was initially assigned to the USS Revenge, under the command of his elder brother. Under his brother's command, Matthew was a combatant in The Battle of Lake Erie aboard the Flagship Lawrence and the replacement flagship, Niagara.

Matthew's career saw him assigned to several ships, including the USS President, which had been in a victorious engagement over a British vessel, HMS Little Belt, shortly before the War of 1812 was officially declared. Aboard the USS President he served as aide to Commodore John Rodgers. During his assignment in the Mediterranean. Perry served in the Second Barbary War, in African waters during its patrol off Liberia from 1819-1820, and was sent to suppress piracy and the slave trade in the West Indies.

The Perry Expedition: Opening of Japan, 1852-1854[edit]

In 1852, Perry embarked from Norfolk, Virginia for Japan, in command of the East India Squadron in search of a Japanese trade treaty. Aboard a black-hulled steam frigate, he ported Mississippi, Plymouth, Saratoga, and Susquehanna at Uraga Harbor near Edo (modern Tokyo) on July 8, 1853. His actions at this crucial juncture were informed by a careful study of Japan's previous contacts with Western ships and what could be known about the Japanese hierarchical culture. He was met by representatives of the Tokugawa Shogunate who told him to proceed to Nagasaki, where there was limited trade with the Netherlands and which was the only Japanese port open to foreigners at that time.

Threat of force and negotiation[edit]

As he arrived, Perry ordered his ships to steam past Japanese lines towards the capital of Edo, and position their guns towards the town of Uraga. Perry refused to abide to demands to leave. He then demanded permission to present a letter from President Millard Fillmore, and threatened to use force if the Japanese boats around the American squadron did not disperse.

Perry attempted to intimidate the Japanese by presenting them a white flag and a letter which told them that in case they chose to combat, the Americans would necessarily vanquish them. Perry's ships were equipped with new Paixhans shell guns, capable of wreaking great destruction with every shell. The term "Black Ships", in Japan, would later come to symbolize a threat imposed by Western technology.

After the Japanese agreed to receive the letter from the American President, Perry landed at Kurihama (in modern-day Yokosuka) on July 14, 1853 presented the letter to delegates present, and left for the Chinese coast, promising to return for a reply. Fortifications were built in Tokyo Bay at Odaiba in order to protect Edo from possible American naval incursion.

Second visit, 1854[edit]

Perry returned in February 1854 with twice as many ships, finding that the delegates had prepared a treaty embodying virtually all the demands in Fillmore's letter. Perry signed the Convention of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854 and departed, mistakenly believing the agreement had been made with imperial representatives. The agreement was made with the Shogun, the de facto ruler of Japan.

When Perry returned to the United States in 1855, Congress voted to grant him a reward of US$20,000 in appreciation of his work in Japan. Perry used part of this money to prepare and publish a report on the expedition in three volumes, titled Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan. He was also advanced to the grade of rear-admiral on the retired list (when his health began to fail) as a reward for his services in the Far East.

Last years[edit]

Perry spent his last years preparing for publication his account of the Japan expedition, announcing its completion on December 28, 1857.