Minsen Giin Setsuritsu Kenpaku Sho (The Petition to Establish an Elected Assembly) (民撰議院設立建白書)
Minsen Giin Setsuritsu Kenpaku Sho' was the first petition requesting the government to establish a parliament with democratically-elected representatives supported by people including former Sangi councilors Taisuke ITAGAKI and Shojiro GOTO on January 17, 1874. It was a written document which triggered the Jiyu Minken Undo (Movement for Liberty and People's Rights).
Before Handing it to the Government
At the end of 1873, during the political upheaval of the 6th year of Meiji, former councilors, such as Itagaki, who resigned from all his government posts after being defeated in debate over whether Japan should send a punitive expedition to Korea (Seikanron), thought about establishing a political party after discussing with people such as Shigeru (Uro) FURUSAWA who came back to Japan from studying in the UK and Shinobu KOMURO. On January 12, 1874, Itagaki and others established the Aikokukoto Party and began an anti-government movement. The Aikokukoto Party supported the Tenpu-jinken-ron (theory of natural human rights), criticized autocratic government and insisted on creating a constitution which unifies the Emperor and his subjects (Kunmin ittai). For this, they insisted on giving voting rights to the warrior class and commoners such as wealthy farmers and merchants to establish a Diet.
The Contents of the Petition
On January 17, 1874, five days after establishing the Aikokukoto Party, eight people, Taisuke ITAGAKI (former Sangi councilor), Shojiro GOTO (Former Sangi councilor), Shinpeo ETO (Former Sangi councilor), Taneomi SOEJIMA (Former Sangi councilor), Kimimasa YURI (Former Governor of Tokyo Prefecture), Kenzaburo OKAMOTO (Former Okura-sho Taijo [Senior Secretary of the Ministry of the Treasury]), drafter Shigeru FURUSAWA and Shinobu KOMURO presented the 'Minsen Giin Setsuritsu Kenpaku Sho' to the Council of the Left in their joint names. The Council of the Left was the legislative body of the government of the day.
The 'Minsen Giin Setsuritsu Kenpaku Sho' criticized that the political power was not in neither the Emperor nor the people but in Yushi Sensei (despotism by domain-dominated government, Yushi = the bureaucracy). According to them, the only way to save this predicament was to 'set a stage for the debate of State affairs' and that meant to establish a 'Minsen Giin' (a popularly-elected chamber). They insisted that, with 'Minsen Giin' to suppress the autocracy of the bureaucrats, citizens would be happier.
Translation of the Original Text (abstract)
The contents of the attached petition is what we were always thinking and what have been expressing while we were serving as government officials; after a group of ambassadors were sent to Europe and America to observe the situations overseas, we would like to discuss setting up a place for discussion using what was observed overseas as examples. However, although it has been a few months since the group returned home, we have not yet seen anything done about setting up such a place, and people and government are having doubts about each other these days; if anything happens, society shall collapse like mud, it means that the people's opinions are neglected and we feel much sorrow over this. So please discuss this petition.
January 17, 1874
Uro FURUSAWA, Shizoku (person with samurai ancestors) of Kochi Prefecture
Kenzaburo OKAMOTO, Shizoku of Kochi Prefecture
Shinobu KOMURO, Shizoku of Myodo Prefecture
Kimimasa YURI, Shizoku of Tsuruga Prefecture
Shinpei EDO, Shizoku of Saga Prefecture
Taisuke ITAGAKI, Shizoku of Kochi Prefecture
Shojiro GOTO, Shizoku of Tokyo Prefecture
Taneomi SOEJIMA, Shizoku of Saga Prefecture
To the Council of the Left
We were humbled to consider who has the political right and realized that it is not the Emperor nor the people but the bureaucrats. We are not saying that the bureaucrats are not respecting the Emperor but the Emperor has lost his glory, and we are not saying that they are controlling the people but there are so many laws, some of which are enacted in the morning but soon amended; politics are depending on someone's feeling and punishment and reward is decided with love and hate toward the person; and our freedom of speech is closed and there is no way to report our sufferings. As such, we all want everything is secured under the sun, but even a little boy can expect that won't be easy. Being trapped with traditions and not changing the situation, the State will collapse like rocks crumbling. Because we cannot suppress our love of our country, we have considered the way to survive this imminent danger and decided that we need to set a stage to debate State affairs. To set a stage to debate State affairs, we need to set up a Minsen Giin. It means that, by restricting the power of the bureaucrats, all the people in upper or lower classes can enjoy peace and happiness. We shall tell you the reasons.
All the people who are obliged to pay tax to the government shall have the right to be involved in the politics of the government and to debate whether our politics are right or wrong. This is a widely-accepted theory, so we do not need to say anything further about it.
What we have already discussed are the reasons why we need a Minsen Giin (elected assembly) today and what we have been suggesting is that it is a natural process to establish a Minsen Giin as our people are evolved enough and we have not brought this petition to exclude the bureaucrats, who are refusing our movement, but they are welcome to give their views on this matter. By establishing the Giin and expanding the opportunity to discuss people's opinions, we would like to respect people's rights, and raise people's sprits, so the top and the bottom will work together, lords and vassals will respect each other; we also would like to keep our state developing and protect our happy, secure society. We wish you look at this favorably.
Impact of the Petition
The contents of the 'Minsen Giin Setsuritsu Kenpaku Sho' were widely spread to people after being published in the "Nisshin Shinji Shi" newspaper by a Scotsman John Reddie Black. At first, the government and the Meiroku-sha (Japan's first academic society) opposed to the petition saying that it was too early, but similar petitions began to be presented one after another after this.
Although the 'Minsen Giin Setsuritsu Kenpaku Sho' had the standpoint of the Tenpu-jinken-ron (theory of natural human rights), it's possible to say that this was a form of expression of the Fuhei Shizoku, the samurai class, who were not satisfied with the social change during this period of time, and most of whom were actually in dire poverty at the time. However, the idea slowly seeped into every class of people and triggered the rise in the momentum toward Jiyu Minken Undo (Movement for Liberty and People's Right).