Washington State Legislature, on February 10, 1909, tables a proposed bill that would have required visitors from Japan to the A-Y-P Exposition to post bond ensuring their return to Japan.

  • By Jennifer Ott
  • Posted 6/11/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9037

On February 10, 1909, both houses of the Washington State Legislature resolve to table proposed legislation requiring visitors from Japan who attend the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition to post a bond for their return to Japan. This is done at the request of Acting Governor Marion Hay (1865-1933), who had been contacted by Secretary of State Robert Bacon (1860-1919). Bacon sought to prevent any anti-Japanese bills from being introduced into the Legislature in order to preserve good relations with Japan's government.

Asian Markets v. Anti-Asian Prejudice

The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a world's fair held on the University of Washington campus in 1909, promoted trade with the (later-named) Pacific Rim in its very name. Organizers hoped to make Seattle a hub for trade with Asian countries and to open their markets to Washington products.

The exposition's effort to encourage trade with Asian countries brought to the fore a contradiction in Asian American relations in the early twentieth century. On the one hand, the fair sought to highlight possibilities for trade relations with Asian countries. On the other hand, there was widespread prejudice against Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino people within the United States. Even when exposition officials expressed a positive attitude toward Asians, it was often tinged with paternalism, as when James Wood referred to Filipinos as "our little brown brother" ("The Worldwide Significance of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition"). 

Likewise, in the larger society, a struggle between the federal government's desire to maintain good relations with Japan's government and West Coast states that sought to pass anti-Japanese legislation in early 1909 caused considerable difficulties. The federal government needed to uphold its part of the 1908 Gentlemen's Agreement, according to which the American government would not pass anti-Japanese legislation in return for Japan's limiting the emigration of laborers. 

All of the states on the West Coast introduced anti-Japanese laws in early 1909. The laws varied by state, but included school segregation, prohibition of Japanese serving as directors for corporations, housing segregation, prohibition of property ownership, and prohibition of gun ownership.  

Washington's Ambivalence

In Washington, the Legislature considered introducing legislation to require visitors from Japan to the exposition post bonds to ensure their return to Japan. Secretary of State Robert Bacon asked Acting Governor Marion Hay to intervene, which he did, asking the legislature to refrain from introducing any such legislation. The Legislature complied, thereby avoiding a very unwelcome reception at the fair for visitors from Japan. 

Japan's officials did not retaliate in their diplomatic relations with Americans, but there was an instance of Japanese boycotting American goods in response to the laws. Mostly, however, newspapers reported that Japan decided that the proposed laws reflected the attitudes of the legislatures, not the American people, and a diplomatic crisis was averted.

Sources: James A. Wood, "The Worldwide Significance of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition," in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon, and A.-Y.-P. Hotel and Commercial Guide (Seattle: Seattle Publishing Company, 1909); "Against Japan in Montana," The New York Times, February 13, 1909, p. 5; "Anti-Japanese Bills Pushed," Ibid., January 16, 1909, p. 4; "California Goods Attacked in Japan," Ibid, April 2, 1909, p.1; "California Kills Anti-Japanese Bill," Ibid., February 11, 1909, p. 1; "For Japanese Exclusion," Ibid., February 17, 1909, p. 2; House Journal of the Eleventh Legislature of the State of Washington (Olympia, WA: E.L. Boardman, 1909), 269; "Japanese Boycott American Goods," The Seattle Times, March 27, 1909, p. 3; "Japanese Question May Be Dropped," The Seattle Times, January 20, 1909, p.9; "Passes Bill to Ban Japanese Students," The New York Times, February 5, 1909, p. 1; "Plan to Enumerate Japanese Adopted," The New York Times, February 12, 1909, p. 2' "Would Disarm Foreigners in State," The Seattle Times, January 24, 1909, p. 18; Untitled Article, The New York Times, February 5, 1909, p. 2.

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