Russo-Japanese War was caused by competition between Japan and
Russia for dominance in the Far East, particularly over Manchuria
and Korea. The surprise Japanese victory over China in their
war of 1894-1895 signaled that Japan had become a major military
force and underlined the weakness of China.
In the war settlement, China paid a large indemnity and
granted trading privileges to Japan, recognized the independence
of Korea, and ceded Formosa (Taiwan) and the Liaotung Peninsula of
Manchuria—which included the strategically advantageous Port
Arthur (Lü-shun)—to Japan.
of Japanese expansion in Asia, Russia joined Germany and France in
compelling Japan to return the Liaotung Peninsula to China. In 1896, Russia signed a treaty of alliance with China
against Japan, under which China granted Russia the right to
extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad through Manchuria to
Vladivostok, a seaport in eastern Russia. Two years later,
Russia coerced China into leasing it Port Arthur.
the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, several world powers sent military
troops to China. Russian
forces occupied Manchuria and refused to leave after the revolt
was quashed. During
this period, Japan was increasing its influence in Korea.
On February 8, 1904, without declaring war, Japan attacked
and laid siege to Port Arthur
Concerned by Russia’s
aggressive behavior in East Asia over recent years, President
Roosevelt was initially sympathetic to Japan, but hoped the war
would result in relative balance, rather than the dominance of one
power. Applying his good offices to help resolve the war was
potentially risky to Roosevelt’s political stature; however,
successful mediation would enhance his and America’s prestige on
the world stage. (“Good offices” means diplomatic
intervention by a neutral third party in a dispute.)
More importantly, President Roosevelt deemed it important
that the conflict be ended on terms consistent with what he judged
to be America’s national interest in Asia.
Early in the war,
Roosevelt headed an international coalition aiming to preserve
China’s neutrality and territorial integrity by limiting the
theater of war. In March 1904, Japan conquered Korea and by
late May had cut off Port Arthur from Russian troops in Manchuria.
Japan continued to score victories over the summer and into the
fall. A Russian counteroffensive that autumn proved
ineffective, and President Roosevelt began to worry that Japan
might emerge from the war as the principal power in the Far East.
He was also concerned about the Japanese seizure of a Russian
warship in Chinese waters and Japanese restrictions on the
On January 2, 1905, the
Russian commander at Port Arthur, without consulting his officers,
ended the nearly year-long siege by surrendering to the Japanese,
even though the Russians had sufficient provisions and ammunition
to last three more months. It was a major defeat for the
Russians, and provoked President Roosevelt to intensify his
mediation efforts. In February, he met unofficially with a
British diplomat, Cecil Spring Rice, to agree on steps to bring
the sides to the negotiating table. Japan feared that being
first to pursue peace would show weakness, while Russia did not
want to negotiate while they were losing.
Several weeks of fighting
at Mukden, Manchuria, resulted in heavy casualties—71,000
Japanese and 89,000 Russians—and a Russian retreat in early
March 1905. On April 18, the Japanese let President
Roosevelt know via the French that it was “not unlikely that the
friendly good offices of some Power might be necessary” to end
the war. The Russians, however, tried one last gambit by
sailing its Baltic fleet to Japan. But on May 27-29, 1905,
the Japanese destroyed it at the Battle of Tsushima. Russia
was now soundly defeated in the war, and Japan was financially
drained. By June 12, both Russian and Japan had accepted
Roosevelt’s offer to arrange the peace talks. The London
Morning Press expressed the typical sentiment that “Mr.
Roosevelt’s success has amazed everybody.”
The cover cartoon
of the postdated June 24, 1905 issue of Harper's Weekly
appeared just days after the public learned that Japan and Russia
had agreed to negotiate a settlement to end the Russo-Japanese
War. The image praised President Theodore Roosevelt’s
central role as a diligent and patient mediator in the conflict.
On the next page, editor George Harvey
congratulated Roosevelt for his “diplomatic triumph,” and
argued that the president’s motives were recognized by the
participating nations as pure because the United States had “no
desire to secure a foothold on the Asiatic mainland.”