In August of 1905, the empires of Russia and Japan converged on a small seacoast city in New Hampshire. A large proportion of the 14,000 or so citizens of Portsmouth turned out on a hot Tuesday afternoon to greet the envoys of the Tsar of Russia and Emperor of Japan with a welcoming parade filmed for posterity by Thomas Edison
What happened in the next 30 days in Portsmouth was worth posterity’s notice, as the ordinary people of Portsmouth demonstrated that citizen diplomacy — soft power, authentic hospitality — could make a difference. On September 5, 1905, the Portsmouth Peace Treaty was signed at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, ending the largest land and sea war fought with modern weapons to that time.
President Theodore Roosevelt would win the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for orchestrating the negotiations, though he never came to Portsmouth, trusting the good offices of the Governor and Executive Council of New Hampshire who had extended the invitation, the US Navy who provided security and protocol and the people of bordering New Hampshire and Maine who personalized the positive public opinion both sides sought, by welcoming both Russians and Japanese to picnics, dinner parties, musical entertainments, teas and church services . When the formal negotiations deadlocked over whether Russia would pay Japan an indemnity for the war costs and who would control Sakhalin Island seized from the Russians by the Japanese in the waning days of the war, the citizen hosts preserved the atmosphere for peace.
Only three years earlier, when Theodore Roosevelt visited his friend and mentor John Hay, Secretary of State at his summer home on NH’s Lake Sunapee in August of 1902, they planted a maple tree that stands in view of the house at The Fells in Newbury. Rather than the “big stick” he is known for, the olive branch of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty and the deep roots of his masterful practice of diplomacy (nourished in soil cherished by the architect of the Open Door) are better remembrances, 110 years later.
Visitors can see the TR Maple at The Fells in Newbury (on Lake Sunapee, 456 Route 103A), where Hay’s house, gardens and a National Wildlife Refuge are now open to the public.
The Portsmouth Peace Treaty is remembered in an exhibit at the Portsmouth Historical Society’s John Paul Jones House Museum (43 Middle Street, Portsmouth) and the Portsmouth Peace Treaty Trail linking the key sites of the Treaty summer of 1905.
TR’s spirit of diplomacy is being planted across New Hampshire by the Portsmouth Peace Treaty Living Memorial Project. Cherry trees descended from the iconic Washington DC trees that were given to the US by Japan in thanks for American help in reaching the Portsmouth Peace Treaty accords are being planted in Portsmouth and elsewhere throughout the state.