United States and Vietnam, 1787-1941, The 1410219720, 9781410219725

As efforts continue to settle the Cambodia-Laos issue, Vietnam is again a focus of American attention. With the passage

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United States and Vietnam, 1787-1941, The
 1410219720, 9781410219725

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and 178


~ober¢ Hopkins MiHer

Cover: Cochinchinese shipping on the River Tai-fo. (Cover art prepared by Laszlo Bodrogi, based on an illustration in John Barrow, A Vox'a.~e to Cochinchina, Oxford in Asia Historial Reprints, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1975.)

theUNITED STATES and VIETNAM 1787 1941 -

t h e U N I T E D STATES and VIETNAM a787-1941

R o ~ ~ Mopk~ M~H~ 1990 National Defense University Press Washington, DC

National Defense University Press Publications To increase general knowledge and inform discussion. NDU Press publishes books on subjects relating to US national security. Each year. in this effort, the Natiomd Defense University. through the Institute lot National Strategic Studies, hosts about two dozen Seninr Fellows whn engage in original research on national security issues. NDU Press publishes the best of this research, In adddion, the Press publishes othel c~pecially timely or distinguished writing on national security. :is well as new editions of out-of-print defense classics, and books based on University-sponsored conferences concerning national security affairs. Unless otherwise noted. NDU Press publications are not copyrighted and may he quoted or reprinted without permission. Please give full publication cre¢tit. Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Defense University. the Department of Defense. and other US Government agency, or any apency of a foreign government. Cleared for public release: distribution unlimited. llln'~trations on pages xiv. 2.5. 10. 12, 44. and 46 may be reprcxluced only with the written permission of the source. Proofread under contract by William A. Palmer. Jr.. Cheltenham. Maryland. Indexed under contract by Renee Loefller, System Analyties of Virginia. Inc. NDU Press publications are sold by the US Government Printing Office. For ordering infl)rmation, call (202) 783-3238 or write to: Superintendent of Documents. US Government Printing Office, Washington. DC 20402. First printing. October 1990

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Miller, Robert ttopkins. The United States and Vietnam. 1787-1941 ,, Robert Hopkins Miller. p. Cnl, Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index. $10.00 1. United States-.Foreign relations--Vietnam. 2. Vietnam--Foreign relations--United States. I. Title. E183.g.V5M55 1990 327.730597--dc20 90-13317 CIP


To Kaity, George, and Margaret, lbr whom Vietnam became much more than a faraway place . . .




Acknowledgments Preface







The F a m e and Captain Jeremiah Briggs . . . . . . . . . . . The Brig F r a n k l i n and Captain John White . . . . . . . II


C O M M E R C E , S T R A T E G I C T H I N K I N G , AND COLONIAL EXPANSION Daniel Webster and C o m m o d o r e Perry . . . . . . . . . . . Colonies and Consulates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . France and China: A Growing Confrontation . . . . . .

17 19

34 41

57 66 80

T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S ' G O O D OFFICES The First Attempt: July-August 1883 . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Second and Third Attempts: July-August 1884 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Fourth Attempt: September-November 1884 . . . Breathing Space: Trade and Consuls . . . . . . . . . . . . .


3 6

D I P L O M A T S A N D N A V A L VESSELS John Shillaber, US Consul in Batavia . . . . . . . . . . . . Edmund Roberts, Special Agent, and the Sloop-of-War P e a c o c k . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Edmund Roberts: Second Mission . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Joseph Balestier, US Consul, and Captain John Percival of the USS C o n s t i t u t i o n . . . . . . . .


xi xiii xv

89 102 122 137

T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S AND JAPAN: P R E L U D E TO CONFRONTATION American Beginnings in Indochina . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Coming Confrontation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Arms Shipments, High Diplomacy, and Commercial Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

151 154 159


JAPAN'S SOUTHWARD ADVANCE J a p a n ' s Southward Advance Accelerates . . . . . . . . . . Japanese Forces Occupy Tonkin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Exploratory US-Japanese Conversations Begin . . . . . The " P u d g y T h u m b " Falls and Talks R e s u m e . . . . .





of" E v e n t s



Index The


............................................... Author

175 192 217 234

. .........................................

287 297 315


ILLUSTRATIONS Launching of the Ship F a m e in 1802 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiv Jeremiah Briggs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Jeremiah Briggs' Handwritten Log of the F a m e ' s Voyage .... 5 King of Cochin China . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Cochinchinese Soldier . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Draft Treaty Between the United States and Cochinchina . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20-21 Record of Mission Undertaken by Edmund Roberts including letter from President Andrew Jackson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26-27 US Frigate C o n s t i t u t i o n ....... ". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 Lieutenant John Percival, USN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46

MAP East Indies Before World W a r I1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



As efforts continue to settle the Cambodia-Laos issue, Vietnam is again a focus of American attention• With the passage of time since the United States pulled out of Vietnam, American policymakers have begun approaching the major Indochinese issues from new perspectives, particularly new perspectives toward that general region. As is so often the case, history, by informing, may also help illuminate these issues. In this book, Ambassador Robert Hopkins Miller, a diplomat with considerable experience in Southeast Asia, presents the early history of US-Vietnam relations. In 1787. President Thomas Jefferson first showed an interest in the region--then called Cochinchina-for the purpose of trading for rice. From this beginning, Miller traces the ebb and flow of US diplomatic, economic, and strategic interests in Vietnam. Amply illustrated with excerpts from contemporary correspondence and official documents, the research shows Vietnam's intricate relationship with China, the gradually increasing commercial involvement of the Western powers, and the impact of Japan's expansionist policy• The chapters building up to World War II are particularly informative as they demonstrate, among other matters, the responsibility of national leaders to identify unambiguous political aims. In documenting the early development of US-Vietnam relations, the author has provided a service for historians and contemporary analysts alike. In presenting the long view of historical perspective, Ambassador Miller has enhanced our understanding of this area of the world.

Vice Admiral, US Navy President, National Defense University xi


i would like to acknowledge with gratitude the assistance given me on this manuscript: To Lieutenant General Bradley C. Hosmer, US Air Force, former President, National Defense University, whom I served as Vice President of the University, and who supported my research and encouraged publication; To Dr. Fred Kiley, Director of the Research Directorate, National Defense University, tbr encouraging me to complete the manuscript and revise it for publication; To Major Kent Esbenshade, US Air Force Academy, for a careful editing of the completed manuscript; To Dr. Dora Alves, Research Directorate, National Defense University, who spent many long hours as my editor assisting and advising me with great skill and patience; To Mrs. Susan Lemke, Director, Special Collections, National Defense University Library, for her intrepid work in tracking down early documents, drawings, and photographs to illustrate the book; To my son, George Keith Miller, who assisted me in the research on early American sailing vessels reaching Vietnam; To my daughter, Margaret Helen Miller, for an initial editing and typing of the manuscript; To Mrs. Yvette Taylor, of my office, who in countless ways participated in this project; To Mrs. Karren I. Villahermosa, who typed the entire manuscript and who suffered through innumerable revisions of the text. Errors and inaccuracies are, of course, my own responsibility.


i! !iI !~

Launching of the Ship Fame in 1~2, by George Ropes. This photograph may be repr~uced only with writ|en ~rmission of The E ~ x Institute. Courtesy of The Essex Institute~ Salem, MassachusetB.


In July 1787, T h o m a s J e f f e r s o n , then A m e r i c a n M i n i s t e r to France, expressed an interest in acquiring rice seed from Vietnam (or Cochin China, as it was c o m m o n l y referred to at the time). This m a y constitute the first official American awareness of that distant foreign country. Writing to W i l l i a m D r a y t o n of South C a r o l i n a , J e f f e r s o n noted, " M o n s r . P o i v r e , a f a r m e r general o f the Isle o f France, in travelling through several countries of Asia, observed with particular a t t e n t i o n the o b j e c t s o f t h e i r a g r i c u l t u r e , and he tells us that in C o c h i n c h i n a t h e y c u l t i v a t e 6 s e v e r a l k i n d s o f r i c e , w h i c h he describes, three of them requiring water, and three growing on highlands. TM Later in the same letter, J e f f e r s o n - - v i s i o n a r y as a l w a y s - resolved to import the best Vietnamese rice: The dry rice of Cochinchina has the reputation of being whitest to the eye, best flavored to the taste, and most productive.It seems then to unite the good qualities of both the others known to us. Could it supplant them, it would be a great happiness, as it would enable us to get rid of those ponds of stagnant water so fatal to human heahh and life. But such is the force of habit, and caprice of taste, that we could not be sure beforehand it would produce this effect. The experiment however is worth trying, should it only end in producing a third quality, and increasing the demand. I will endeavor to procure some to be brought from Cochinchina. T h e e v e n t h o w e v e r will be u n c e r t a i n and d i s t a n t . 2 Writing to Drayton six months later, in January 1788, Jefferson shows his continuing resolve: 1 have considerable hopes of receiving some dry rice from Cochin-china, the young prince of that country, lately gone from hence, having undertaken that it shall come to me. But it will bc some time first. These are all but experiments: the precept however is wise which directs us to try all things, and hold fast that which is good. -~ Apparently, J e f f e r s o n ' s efforts with the young prince successful b e c a u s e , o v e r a y e a r later, in M a r c h 1789, he Malesherbes, a prominent Frenchman whose varied interests botanical studies, asking him to use his influence to obtain

were not w r o t e to included "'one of XV



the species o f rice which grows in Cochin-china on high lands, and which needs no other watering than the ordinary r a i n s . " The sun and soil of Carolina are sufficiently powerful to ensure the success of this plant, and Monsieur de Poivre gives such an account of its quality as might induce the Carolinians to introduce it instead of the kind they now possess, which requiring the whole country to be laid under water during a certain season of the year, sweeps off numbers of the inhabitants annually with pestilential fevers. If you would be so good as to interest yourself in the procuring for me of some seeds of the dry rice of Cochin-china you would render the most precious service to my countrymen. 4 On the same day, Jefferson wrote similarly to a Mr. Benjamin Vaughn in London, again citing Poivre and hoping that Vaughn knew people " s o c o n n e c t e d in Asia as that they could procure us some seeds of the best of the species of dry rice from C o c h i n c h i n a , " and if so, " I am sure you will readily avail us of it to procure some of the seed. ''5 Although no reply from Vaughn is recorded, Malesherbes answered Jefferson immediately, saying that the dry Cochinchinese rice seed never ripened in Paris and, consequently, was very difficult to find locally. 6 F i f t e e n y e a r s w o u l d pass b e f o r e an A m e r i c a n m e r c h a n t ship actually sailed into a Vietnamese p o r t - - t h e point at which this narrative b e g i n s - - a n d three decades would pass before an American merchantman would return with a little silk and sugar and a small cargo of rice that unfortunately s u c c u m b e d to weevils and other vermin. That second voyage encountered a xenophobia, a disinterest in trade with America, a provincialism, and a range of exotic diseases, all of which were discouraging to American interest in the area for yet another decade.

J a p a n ' s o c c u p a t i o n o f F r e n c h I n d o c h i n a , and its s u b s e q u e n t attack on Pearl H a r b o r on 7 D e c e m b e r 1 9 4 1 - - w h e r e this narrative e n d s - - s e t in train e v e n t s that have not o n l y s e a r e d V i e t n a m into America's consciousness but have led to the integration o f thousands



upon thousands of Vietnamese into American society. Many writers have examined these events, their meaning, and their origins; many more will do so as more materials become available and the passage of time permits greater objectivity. The purpose of this narrative has been far more modest: to look backward instead of forward--to trace to their earliest beginnings American perceptions of Vietnam and its people. It has been an endeavor that would perhaps serve little more than a narrow academic interest were it not for the major American military commitment in Vietnam in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of the key events in this story have been referred to in other, broader contexts. What to the writer's knowledge are less well known are the early 19th century American diplomatic field assessments of Vietnam's potential as a trading partner, and the four instances of American good offices concerning Vietnam in the late 19th century. The present work attempts to focus on all of this material systematically and in detail. I have chosen to organize my material essentially in a chronological, rather than an analytical, format. I believe this reflects more faithfully the gradual historical evolution of American perceptions of Vietnam as a country and people, and of American interests in that far-off land. Throughout the 19th century, for example, the reactions and decisions of policymakers in Washington were surely affected by the slowness of communications, the lag between events and their being learned, understood, interpreted, and reported by far-flung American diplomats and consuls. Similarly, the time taken by Washington to react and take action--on problems that must have been tar from the center of its concerns and its attention--influenced in turn the way American diplomats and consuls reacted to these events and conducted their dialogues on them abroad. Even later, during the gradual buildup of tensions between the United States and Japan that eventually led to war, Vietnam's importance to US interests only gradually came into focus in Washington. I believe that a chronological treatment renders this progression more accurately than would an analytical treatment that benefits from distance and hindsight. If it makes even a small contribution to scholarship in this important area, I will be satisfied that this labor of love has been worth it. If it has missed some details, or has imperfectly described or assessed them--as surely must be so in some cases--I hope that at least my work will cause others as curious, but perhaps more qualified, to fill in the gaps and to correct assessments.





Jeremiah Briggs. Courtesy of P e a b ~ y M u ~ u m of Salem.

The Fame and Captain Jeremiah Briggs

In 1802, the Crowninshields of Salem, Massachusetts, one of the principal shipping families of New England, sent a vessel to Cochinchina, apparently to test a new and untried source for sugar and coffee. The Crowninshields seemed confident that if the voyage to Cochinchina failed, the ship could pick up a lucrative cargo in Borneo or elsewhere along the route and the voyage would not be in vain. In any event, this was the first American ship of record to visit Vietnam, and its captain the first American to set foot there. The ship chosen for the voyage, the Fame. which was launched with great fanfare, sailed on 17 January 1803, captained by Jeremiah Briggs. 2 On 15 May 1803, the Fame sighted the island of Poulo Condote off the southern coast of Cochinchina. The next morning, the ship sighted Cape St. James on the southern coast and continued up the coast. On 21 May, the Fame anchored in Turon (present-day DaNang) Bay. Briggs boarded one of two ships in the bay and found they belonged to the ~'King of Cochinchina'" and were commanded by Frenchmen. He set off for DaNang to see the ships' officers, returning to the Fame the next day. The French commodore with whom Briggs spoke in DaNang advised him to go to " C o w e " (presumably l lu6), the capital, to see the king in order to learn whether there was any possibility of trade. Briggs set out for Hu6 on 23 May in a small boat with five hands and a local Portuguese pilot from Macao. They spent the night at " H a i - f o o , a place of some trade." Briggs' journal records that "there was not the least appearance of industry there, they are the most indolent set of beings that ever I saw, they live principally on fish which they have in abundance, their huts are in general small, and entirely open to the air, which the climate makes necessary for it is excessive warm." The next day, Briggs set out again for Hu~, up the " H a i - f o o river," which he found navigable by junks and even small ~hips. When Briggs arrived at Hu6, he boarded a frigate anchored there and found a Frenchman in command. Briggs stayed three days with the Frenchman and learned that he had "never heard of such a thing as getting a cargo of Sugar on this part of the coast, and that he did not think it a possibility." However, the Frenchman sought the king's



authorization for Briggs to trade at any port on the coast. The king gave his authority, but Briggs noted he was "very jealous at first that we came to trade with his enemies, as he'd had possession of this place only about 6 months." After being away from the ship 6 days Briggs returned to the Fame with the king's authority to trade. For the ncxt 10 days, the Fame spent its time taking soundings along the coast, but apparently

without ever putting into land again because of the strong currents encountered. On 10 June, the Fame headed for Manila. The remainder of the portion of Briggs' journal on Cochinchina consists of a description of that country, information he presumably obtained through his contacts with the local French ship commanders, and a brief account of recent political events in Cochinchina, in which he noted increased French influence there. Briggs also briefly described the city of Hu6, its impressive cannon defenses, the Council House, the citadel, and the king, his concubines, royal guard, and elephants. Finally, Briggs' log records that the king sent a French priest to see Briggs to get a description of the United States and its boundaries.




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