Portsmouth Peace Treaty Process web site. Your Browser does not support Cascading Style Sheets


Watch a video of a 1905 newsreel of the arrival of the Peace Treaty participants, and the parade in downtown Portsmouth in their honor.

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 was fought between Russia, an international power with one of the largest armies in the world, and Japan, a tiny nation only recently emerged from two and a half centuries of isolation. These Web pages explore the causes of the war, the military conflict on land and sea, President Theodore Roosevelt's back channel diplomacy, and the peace negotiations hosted by the United States Navy and the State of New Hampshire. The people of Portsmouth encouraged the delegates' efforts for peace at numerous social events, especially during the times when formal negotiations were breaking down. The Portsmouth peace process provides an important example for diplomacy today.

Portsmouth Drama Postcard
Many postcards were published during the treaty negotiations; this one has all of the major participants pictured. Portsmouth Athenaeum collection. View larger image.
This postcard combined views of the general stores building at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard with the Hotel Wentworth in New Castle where both delegations were housed during the peace conference. Portsmouth Athenaeum collection. View larger image.
Peace achieved Postcard
A postcard printed after peace was achieved. Portsmouth Athenaeum collection. View larger image.

The Russo-Japanese war is unique in that the warring nations fought over, and only on, the territory of two neutral countries, China and Korea. Prior to World War I, this conflict had history's greatest battles between two nations in terms of numbers of troops and ships. It was the first modern war involving both telegraph and telephone, machine guns, barbed wire, illuminating star shells, mine fields, advanced torpedoes, and armored battleships. If not for the military restraint displayed by the other European nations and the diplomacy of the United States, this might have become the first world war.

The representatives of Japan and Russia were invited to meet in New Hampshire by Governor John McLane, shown here in another contemporary postcard. Portsmouth Athenaeum collection. View larger image.

The peace conference began when President Theodore Roosevelt invited both countries to conduct direct negotiations at the neutral site of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Because of Roosevelt’s confidence in the navy, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was specifically selected as the site of the negotiations and charged with the delicate responsibility for providing the diplomatic protocols for peace.

Due to the efforts of Governor Mclane, the State of New Hampshire along with Portsmouth, New Hampshire and its citizens became the unlikely host for the first international treaty to be signed in the United States. Only now is it becoming apparent that the hospitality of the State of New Hampshire and the residents of Portsmouth and vicinity played a significant informal role in creating an atmosphere that made the formal peaceful settlement possible.

As the primary representatives of their governments, plenipotentiaries Serge Witte of Russia and Jutaro Komura of Japan debated, risked their reputations as diplomats, and successfully negotiated a peace treaty that resolved the grave concerns of each nation.

The Russo-Japanese war, which involved not only the two warring countries, but also China, Korea, Europe, and the United States, set the balance of power in the Pacific for the next century. The war and the treaty signaled the emergence of Japan as a world power. Because of the role played by President Theodore Roosevelt, the United States became a significant force in world diplomacy. Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his back channel efforts before and during the peace negotiations, even though he never came to Portsmouth. This international affair settled immediate difficulties in the Far East and created four decades of peace between the two warring nations. On the one hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Portsmouth, we look back on this unusual event, its historical impact on world history, and its example for diplomacy today.