The Gentlemans Agreement


In the aftermath of both the Russo Japanese War and the San Francisco earthquake, the city of San Francisco announced that it would segregate schools, assigning Japanese students to all Japanese schools. The Japanese objected and President Roosevelt negotiated an informal agreement in which the Japanese would restrict the number of Japanese coming to the US and in return, the segregation would end.


The victory of the Japanese in the Russo Japanese increased the number of Japanese who arrived in the United States. In addition, the Japanese victory in the war had created a fear of a rising Japan. That fear was seemingly strongest in San Francisco which was the home of a large number of Japanese immigrants. The San Francisco fire had destroyed a large number of schools in San Francisco, so the school board there decided it was a perfect opportunity to create segregated Japanese schools, which they did.

The Japanese government was angered by the decision and they protested. President Roosevelt became personally involved when he had a meeting with the school board. After the meeting, he assigned Secretary of State Root to work out an agreement with the Japanese. That agreement was never a formal agreement but a series of understandings that became known as the Gentleman’s agreement.

The basic agreement stated that the Japanese Government would not issue passports that we good for visits to the US to labs, skilled and unskilled workers except for those who had previously lived in the US or had direct relatives living in the US.

The Japanese government took on the responsibility to make sure that the passports that would be issued for businessmen, scientists and students were indeed issued only to those who deserved the passports under the terms of the agreement. As part of the agreement, the Japanese agreed to provide the US with statistics on how many Japanese were given passports.

President Roosevelt convinced the School Board of San Francisco to rescind the decision to segregate the schools in San Francisco.