Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan

The United States experienced extensive economic and geographical expansion during the 1840s, as the spirit of Manifest Destiny drove Americans west across the North American continent to exert their influence over new places and peoples. Influenced by this expansionary philosophy, political leaders sought to expand American trade relationships worldwide. One of the first targets of this campaign was to open diplomatic and trade relations with isolationist Japan, which had been closed to western traders for centuries. In 1852, President Millard Fillmore ordered Commodore Matthew C. Perry to lead an expedition to secure Japanese trade and access to Japan’s ports for American ships.

Perry’s fleet, the Susquehanna, Mississippi, Plymouth, and Saratoga, carried 400 sailors and arrived in Edo Bay, today’s Tokyo Bay, on July 8, 1853. Upon arrival, Commodore Perry asserted his military authority to intimidate the Japanese into negotiations. For example, Perry refused to speak with any Japanese officials who did not seem to be of high enough rank. When they disembarked on July 14, Perry delivered a letter from President Fillmore to the emperor of Japan describing American interests in opening trade and outlining mutual benefits. Perry and his fleet departed for several months to allow the Japanese to consider the trade proposal.

Perry returned to Tokyo in March 1854 with ten ships and 1,600 men. The Japanese reluctantly agreed to American demands by signing the Kanagawa Treaty, which opened some ports to American ships and allowed for the establishment of an American consulate. Before leaving, the American delegation and the Japanese exchanged gifts, which Perry brought back to the United States. Perry’s expedition and the Kanagawa Treaty effectively ended Japan’s centuries-long isolation, especially as over twenty European nations negotiated similar treaties with Japan over the following years. In 1858, American diplomat Townsend Harris ventured to Japan to negotiate a much more comprehensive treaty. The opening of Japan, which represents an international manifestation of Manifest Destiny, established markets for American goods outside the nation’s borders and spurred the westernization of Japan.

Chicago citation style
Adena Barnette. Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan. 2018. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, (Accessed April 18, 2024.)
APA citation style
Adena Barnette, (2018) Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America,
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Adena Barnette. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America <>.
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