SUDDENLY and dramatically, the United States on July 26, 1939, gave formal notice for termination of the 1911 Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with Japan. As under the terms of the treaty six months must elapse before this action can take effect, it will terminate on January 25, 1940.
The treaty not only provided most-favored-nation treatment between the signatories but it established the legal basis for the commerce, navigation, property rights, residence, travel, protection of laws and access to courts of the nationals of each party in the territories of the other. The circumstances surrounding the American Government's unexpected action in denouncing the whole of such a sweeping instrument gave clear evidence that it was actuated primarily by political, rather than economic, considerations. Thus it constituted an almost unprecedented action in the field of American policy and was particularly significant in view of Secretary Hull's consistent effort to foster international commerce.
While this action came as a surprise to the general public, both the Administration and Congress had been considering the matter for some time. Only on July 18 Senator Vandenberg had introduced a resolution in the Senate calling for the abrogation of the treaty in order that the United States might "be free to deal with Japan in the formulation of a new treaty and in the protection of American interests as new necessities may require." The Vandenberg resolution was referred to the Foreign Relations Committee, where a resolution by Senator Pittman to forbid the shipment of war supplies to Japan was already under consideration. The action advocated by Senator Pittman would constitute a violation of the Treaty of Commerce, and the Vandenberg resolution was designed to remove the danger of treaty breaking. This seemed particularly appropriate since one of the reasons for American action was Japan's violation of the Nine Power Treaty, to which the United States is a party.
On July 26, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee postponed a decision on the Vandenberg resolution. President Roosevelt acted at once, as he had the authority to