This is the first in a series on the Japanese Constitution of 1947.
The Constitution took effect on May 3, 1947 and is still in effect today. As we approach the 70th anniversary of its enactment, we’ll share with you materials from the Prange Collection related to the drafting of the Constitution, its enactment, reactions of the Japanese, and observances of Constitution Day.
Justin Williams was Chief of the Legislative Division (later known as the Parliamentary and Political Division) of GHQ/SCAP during the Occupation of Japan. He reported directly to Major General Courtney Whitney, Chief of the Government Section (GS), and Colonel Charles Kades, Deputy Chief of GS. The Legislative Division kept MacArthur apprised of pending legislation in the Diet, oversaw election campaigns and practices, and supported efforts to strengthen the new Diet.
The Justin Williams papers, located in the Prange Collection, include a variety of materials related to the Constitution of 1947. Below are Williams’s hand-written notes dated March 6, 1946 describing the events of that day. His account begins at 2:30pm, when he was asked to deliver a sealed envelope to General MacArthur. He assumed that the envelope contained the Japanese Cabinet’s acceptance of the Government Section draft of the Constitution, and he states very clearly his opinion of that acceptance:
“When the document went back to the Cabinet 5 March, much as it was originally drawn up by the Gov’t Sect, there was no choice on the part of the Cabinet but to accept it, tho’ with great reluctance. No matter what the papers say, no matter what the reaction of the Jap people, now and in the future, this document was literally crammed down the throat of an unwilling Cabinet, which did not so much as win one minor concession. I don’t see how this Cabinet can continue in power, unless required to do so by SCAP.”
He also recounts what happened later that day:
“At 4:30 this afternoon Gen. Whitney assembled all Govt Sect personnel, officers, civilians and enlisted men, in the conference room just outside his office. Then he read Gen MacArthur’s release to the press announcing SCAP approval of the constitution proposed by the Cabinet, in close collaboration with SCAP officials, as a result of the General’s request for constitutional revision 5 months ago. Following MacArthur’s statement concerning the historic document, the Emperor’s acceptance of the constitution was read. The newspapers tomorrow will carry the statements of Mac, the Cabinet, and the Emperor. Finally, Gen Whitney thanked all members for their cooperation, on behalf of himself and Gen. Mac, and said it had been the best kept secret of the occupation. I agree 100% with the latter.”
In addition to this document, the Justin Williams papers include the Privy Council Plenary Sessions on the Constitution (August – October 1946 in English and June – October 1946 in Japanese), Charles Kades comments on the draft Constitution, and Jiji Press news dispatches on the first anniversary of the enactment of the Constitution, dated May 3, 1948, among other items.