A gentlemen's agreement is an agreement, usually unwritten, guaranteed only by the honor/pledge/solemn word/secret understanding of those involved. It depends on the participants being men of honor, or nowadays, people with honor.

In my experience, such an agreement between "gentlemen" is often an agreement to tolerate ungentlemanly behavior, whether explicitly ("We won't tell on anyone") or implicitly through the threat of force should someone point out the agreement has been broached. I suppose in the past it might have been a different affair, when honor was more of a concern.

The Gentlemen's Agreement was one between the United States and Japan which was placed in effect in the years 1907 and 1908. Basically it represented an effort by then President Theodore Roosevelt to calm some of the growing tension between both countries surrounding the immigration of Japanese workers. A treaty that was previously signed with Japan in 1894 had assured the free immigration of the Japanese to America. This led to a growing number of Japanese workers coming into California and they were subsequently greeted with growing hostility.

In 1900, Japan agreed to deny passports to laborers who were seeking to enter the United States. This however, did not stop the workers from obtaining passports to Canada, Mexico or Hawaii, and then moving on to the United States. Racial antagonism increased, flamed by articles in the press. On May 7, 1905, events intensified as a Japanese and Korean Exclusion League was organized. This was followed on Ocotber 11, 1906, when the San Francisco school board arranged for all Asian children to be placed in segregated schools.

Japan was prepared to limit the number if immigrants seeking to enter the United Sates but was offended by what they felt (rightly so) was San Francisco's discriminatory law aimed specifically at its people. Roosevelt wanted to maintain good relations with Japan and saw them as a counter to Russian expansion in the Far East. He intervened in the growing controvery by instructing the American ambassador to reassure the Japanese government. At the same time, he summoned the mayor of San Francisco and the school board to the White House and persuaded them to rescind the segregation order. He promised that the federal government would address the question of immigration.

On February 24, 1907, the Gentlemen's Agreement with Japan was drafted. The agreement called for Japan to deny passports to laborers intending to enter the United States and recognized the U.S. right to exclude Japanese immigrants holding passports originally issued for other countries. In return, the formal withdrawal of the San Francisco school board order was made on March 13, 1907. A final Japanese note in February of 1908 made the Gentlemen's Agreement fully effective. It was later superceded by an even more exclusionary act, The Immigration Act of 1924

An an aside, I don't know if this was the origin of the term "gentlemen's agreement" or not but sounds good to me...

Gen"tle*men's a*gree"ment (?).

An agreement binding only as a matter of honor; often, specif., such an agreement among the heads of industrial or merchantile enterprises, the terms of which could not be included and enforced in a legal contract.

 

© Webster 1913.

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