Unformatted text preview: replied that it was too soon to consider giving “the
people” a voice in political affairs. Actually, it is doubtful that any of the
memorialists had in mind an electorate that would include more than a
small percentage of the Japanese people. The memorialists were former
samurai who espoused ideas of parliamentary democracy at this time primarily as a means to attack the Satsuma-Chòshû oligarchs in the Meiji
government. Although the people’s rights (minken) movement they thus
launched eventually became a campaign for full democracy, including
universal manhood suffrage, it was by no means a “popular” undertaking
in its origins.
One response of the government to the people’s rights movement was
to issue the press law in 1875 that caused dissolution of the Meirokusha.
This law and others repressive of the freedoms of speech and assembly
were aimed at curbing the efforts by Itagaki and his allies to form political
parties. Nevertheless, the emergent party advocates continued to press
their demands, and, in the same year, 1875, Itagaki formed the first
national political association, the Patriotic Party (Aikokusha). But it was
not until 1881 that the minken people received a public commitment from
the oligarchs that they would eventually be given the opportunity to participate in government.
In 1881 Òkuma Shigenobu (1838–1922), one of the last of the nonSatsuma-Chòshû statesmen still in the government, was relieved of his
position as the result of disclosures he made about corruption in high
office. In the wake of Òkuma’s dismissal, the government secured an imperial edict promising a constitution and the opening of a national parliament within nine years, or by 1890. Although it may appear that
Òkuma thus forced a concession from the Satsuma-Chòshû oligarchs, in
fact the latter had for long been considering how and when a constitutional form of government should be established in Japan, and the action
of Òkuma in 1881 probably did not appreciably alter their plans, although
they may not have wished to reveal them publicly so soon.
The Meiji oligarchs...
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- Spring '13