Excluding the Japanese: The politics of diplomacy, 1908-1924

George Ramsey Barnett, University of Pennsylvania


In 1924 the Congress of the United States enacted a strict Immigration Act which limited the yearly entry of Europeans to America according to restrictive quotas. However, as part of that Act, the Japanese were completely barred from the United States. This action angered Japan, a proud nation that had worked to improve relations with America at the Washington Conference of 1921-22. The Exclusion provision was also short-sighted because it replaced the substantive Gentlemen's Agreement, an executive act of Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. Japan, under this Agreement, had regulated its own immigration to America for 16 years by carefully denying passports to laborers seeking to come to the United States. The worst feature of the Exclusion Act, however, was that it stigmatized the Japanese as racially inferior to Europeans who were restricted but not prevented from entering the U.S. Historians have generally regarded Japanese Exclusion as inevitable because a similar provision had been enacted against the Chinese years earlier. However, private correspondence reveals that various individuals, including the Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes and members of Congress, made serious errors in judgment in the course of the Exclusion debate that ultimately contributed to the Japanese not being included under the quota provisions. The Exclusion of the Japanese led to a worsening of relations between the two nations which contributed to the hostilities in 1941. Exclusion did not cause Pearl Harbor, but it made the Japanese distrust the West, thereby helping lay the foundation for that eventuality.

Subject Area

American history

Recommended Citation

Barnett, George Ramsey, "Excluding the Japanese: The politics of diplomacy, 1908-1924" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9211904.