Birthplace: Kochi, Japan
Location of death: Tokyo, Japan
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: Asian
Executive summary: Founder of Japan's Liberal party
Japanese statesman, born in Tosa in 1837. He distinguished himself originally as one of the soldier politicians who contributed so much to the overthrow of feudalism and the restoration of the administrative power to the throne. After taking a prominent part in subduing the resistance offered by a section of the shogun's feudatories to those changes, he received cabinet rank in the newly organized system. But in 1873 he resigned his portfolio as a protest against the ministry's resolve to refrain from warlike action against Korea. This incident inspired Itagaki with an apprehension that the country was about to pass under the yoke of a bureaucratic government. He became from that point a warm advocate of constitutional systems, though at the outset he does not seem to have contemplated anything like a popular assembly in the Western sense of the term, his ideas being limited to the enfranchisement of the samurai class. Failing to obtain currency for his radical propaganda, he retired to his native province, and there established a school (the Risshi-sha) for teaching the principles of government by the people, thus earning for himself the epithet of "the Rousseau of Japan." His example found imitators. Not only did pupils flock to Tosa from many quarters, attracted alike by the novelty of Itagaki's doctrines, by his eloquence and by his transparent sincerity, but also similar schools sprang up among the former vassals of other fiefs, who saw themselves excluded from the government. In 1875 no less than seven of these schools sent deputies to hold a convention in Osaka, and for a moment an appeal to force seemed possible. But the statesmen in power were not less favorable to constitutional institutions than the members of the Aikoku Ko-to (public party of patriots), as Itagaki and his followers called themselves. A conference attended by Kido, Okubo, Inouye, Ito, Itagaki and others entered into an agreement by which they pledged themselves to the principle of a constitutional monarchy and a legislative assembly. Itagaki now accepted office once more. Finding, however, that his colleagues in the administration favored a much more leisurely rate of progress than he himself advocated, he once more retired into private life (1876) and renewed his liberal propagandism. It is in the nature of such movements to develop violent phases, and the leaders of the Aikoku-sha (patriotic association), as the agitators now called themselves, not infrequently showed disregard for the preservation of peace and order. Itagaki made the mistake of memorializing the government at the moment when its very existence was imperilled by the Satsuma rebellion (1877), and this evident disposition to take advantage of a great public peril went far to alienate the sympathies of the cabinet. Recourse was had to legislation in restraint of free speech and public meeting. But repression served only to provoke opposition. Throughout 1879 and 1880 Itagaki's followers evinced no little skill in employing the weapons of local association, public meetings and platform tours, and in November 1881 the first genuine political party was formed in Japan under the name of Jiyu-to, with Itagaki for declared leader. A year later the emperor announced that a parliamentary system should be inaugurated in 1891, and Itagaki's task might be said to have been accomplished. He devoted himself to consolidating his party. In the spring of 1882, he was stabbed by a fanatic during the reception given in the public park at Gifu. The words he addressed to his would-be assassin were: "Itagaki may perish, but liberty will survive." Once afterwards (1898) he held office as minister of home affairs, and in 1900 he stepped down from the leadership of the Jiyu-to in order that the latter might form the nucleus of the Seiyu-kai organized by Ito Hirobumi. Itagaki was raised to the nobility with the title of "count" in 1887. From the year 1900 he retired into private life, devoting himself to the solution of socialistic problems. His countrymen justly ascribe to him the fame of having been the first to organize and lead a political party in Japan.
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