Treaty of Portsmouth

Treaty of Portsmouth reception
Treaty of Portsmouth reception

The Treaty of Portsmouth of September 1905 marked the end of the Russo-Japanese War and was the first international treaty to be signed in the United States. It ended a war that had occurred because of the colliding ambitions of the Russians and the newly industrialized Japanese in the Far East.

Russia saw Manchuria, part of the crumbling Qing (Ch'ing) dynasty of China, as ripe for expansion. Port Arthur offered a port that could be used all year and the opportunity to build a railroad. The Russians also had designs on Korea and had received territorial concessions from the Chinese.

From Japan's point of view, Manchuria also seemed ripe for development, and Japan believed that Korea should be part of its sphere of influence. Russia also had gained control of part of China, which Japan had been forced to give up after the recent Sino-Japanese War.


Japan initiated hostilities in March of 1904 by attacking Russian forces in Korea and later in Manchuria and besieging Port Arthur. The result of these battles and other actions was a string of Japanese victories.

Though Russia could call upon more troops, the Japanese possessed far better equipment and weapons. In fact, many regard this conflict as a laboratory of the kind of combat that would occur in World War I a few years later.

At sea the Japanese also inflicted severe losses on the Russian navy. Having found that their Far Eastern fleet had been sunk by the Japanese at Port Arthur, a large Russian fleet arrived in the area from Europe in May 1905 at the Battle of Tsushima Straits, met the Japanese fleet, and suffered a disastrous defeat.

Treaty of Portsmouth
Treaty of Portsmouth

Many Russian capital ships were destroyed with high loss of life. This was the first great naval contest involving the new super battleships. The Japanese had defeated the Russians, the first victory of an Asiatic power over a European, but they were in desperate financial shape. The moment was at hand for peace.

The peace treaty was brokered by U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. Interestingly, Roosevelt never attended any of the sessions. Portsmouth, a pleasant New Hampshire city, was chosen as the site of the negotiations, and a number of the delegates stayed at a local resort, Wentworth by the Sea. The talks took place at the Portsmouth Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, for the sake of security. During their time off, the delegates mingled with Portsmouth citizens.

The delegations were headed by Serge Witte for Russia and Jutaro Komura for Japan. The negotiations stopped a number of times when the two sides disagreed but finally came to a conclusion brought about through compromise and through Roosevelt's intervention.

According to the treaty, Russia conceded that Korea was in the Japanese orbit and that Russia should withdraw from southern Manchuria, leaving it under symbolic Chinese control. In addition, the Russian right to build the South Manchurian Railway was handed over to Japan, as well as Liaodong (Liaotung) Peninsula and Port Arthur at its southern tip, along with the southern part of Sakhalin Island.

The Japanese also received fishing rights near the Russian coast. Both Russia and Japan were dissatisfied with the results, and there were riots in Japan. Nonetheless, the treaty did mark Japan's emergence as a power in the Far East.