1804–78, American merchant and diplomat, b. Sandy Hill, N.Y. A merchant in New York City for many years, he became (1846) a member of the board of education, served as its president (1846–48), and helped obtain the legislation chartering the present College of the City of New York. Appointed (1855) consul general to Japan, he arrived at Shimoda in 1856, the first U.S. diplomat in Japan after that country had been opened up by Commodore Matthew C. Perry. In 1859, Harris was raised to be minister. Having previously negotiated a commercial treaty with Siam, he won the confidence of the Japanese and obtained a commercial treaty (1858) that, in contrast to the demands of other Western powers, was notably moderate. He returned to the United States in 1861.
See M. E. Cosenza, ed., The Complete Journal of Townsend Harris (1930, 2d ed. 1959); C. Crow, He Opened the Door of Japan (1939).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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