On July 8 1905, a large U.S. Congressional delegation under the leadership of Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, sailed from San Francisco on board the Manchuria for a goodwill tour of the Far East. The trip was to cover Japan, the Philippines, China and Korea. Other than Taft, the most newsworthy member of the party was Alice Roosevelt, the eldest daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. Alice, at age 20, was an outspoken, unconventional young woman. She smoked, drank, drove her own motor car, played the horses and otherwise attracted the attention of the press, earning the soubriquet, "Princess Alice". Among the members of Congress in the party was Nicholas Longworth, Representative from Ohio, to whom Alice was engaged upon their return to the U.S. and whom she married in February 1906. Other noteworthies were: Senator Francis Griffith Newlands of Utah, Senator Frederick Huntington Gillett of Massachusetts, General Henry Clark Corbin, Admiral Charles Jackson Train, and Mabel Thorp Boardman, by then the de facto head of the Red Cross. Miss Boardman, Mrs. Clara Newlands and Amy McMillan nominally acted as Alice's chaperones.
The tour took place against the backdrop of diplomatic efforts to end the Russo-Japanese War. President Roosevelt had been actively engaged since the spring of 1905 in proposing a peace treaty, which was subsequently signed on September 5th at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Taft accompanied the party to share his expertise on the Philippines with the legislators, having spent 1901 to 1904 there as President of the Philippine Commission, and then as Civil Governor. Not public however, was another mission assigned by the President - that during the goodwill visit to Japan, Taft engage in unofficial diplomatic conversations with Count Katsura, the Prime Minister. After a brief stopover in Hawaii, the Taft party arrived in Tokyo on July 25. The secret "Taft-Katsura Memorandum" was formulated on July 29, cabled to the Secretary of State, and confirmed by the President in a return telegram on July 31st. The memorandum stated that cooperation between the U.S. and Japan was necessary "for maintenance of peace in the Far East". The U.S. assented to Japanese suzerainity over Korea, precluding Korea from entering into treaties which could upset a complex power balance involving China, Japan and the Western Powers. In return, Japan indicated it had "no aggressive designs whatsoever on the Philippines". The agreement remained secret until 1925. There were many official parties and banquets for the delegation, including a lunch with the Emperor Meiji and a garden party at the American legation.
The next stop was Manila where Taft was warmly welcomed and the visitors were treated to a variety of entertainments, including native dances, sham battles, horse races and bullfights. Proceeding to Hong Kong, Taft and the main group sailed for the U.S. while Alice and a smaller party sailed to Tientsin, and then traveled by rail to Peking. The Dowager Empress held an audience for them in the Summer Palace and then presented many gifts to the visitors, including a little dog for Alice, which she named Manchu. It was these gifts that inspired Willard Straight to write and illustrate a satirical poem, "Alice in Plunderland", which he presented to an appreciative Alice during her Korean visit.
Finally setting off for Korea, Alice's party sailed on the Ohio , arriving in Chelumpo on September 19. There they were met by Edwin V. Morgan, the American Minister in Korea, and Willard Straight, his Private Secretary and Vice Consul, as well as by Korean officials. A special train brought the party to the Seoul station. Elaborate plans had been made for an escort to the Legation by a uniformed Korean cavalry unit, however complications arose, described in some detail by Straight. Instead, burglars and men carrying lanterns on long poles accompanied Alice as she was carried through the streets in the Emperor's sedan chair. Straight had made every effort to ensure that the visit would go smoothly, although the Legation was still unsettled. In a letter to a fellow Cornellian, Straight writes,
"But now Good Lord, we have the Princess Alice and her suite coming, the Harrimans the next week and I don't know who along the same line a little later, but I should judge from the geometrical progression that only the President, crowned heads from the Great Powers and Biblical characters can now compete."
A full schedule of audiences, teas, garden parties and visits to historical sites are outlined in a "Programme of reception for Miss Alice Roosevelt".
The Korean Court was aware that this visit could have diplomatic benefits.
"The Roosevelt party came saw and conquered. They had audiences with His Majesty of all the Koreas, and were treated with more consideration than had ever been shown visiting royalty before. At the first luncheon the Emperor brought Miss Roosevelt in on his arm and sat at the same table with her. The Crown Prince also officiated at a plate and another Imperial figurehead the one who went to the Coronation, Yi Yong was among those present".
Straight also describes efforts by the Japanese diplomats in Korea to "horn in" on the program for the visitors.
"I don't think that the Japanese imagined that we were making any political play though they may have thought so. I am more inclined to think that they were principally afraid of the effect that the visit would have on the Koreans, These people are looking for straws just now and the Roosevelt trip looked like a life preserver to their jaundiced imaginations."
However, the course of the American position regarding Korea had already been determined.
During the ten days of the Roosevelt visit, Alice and Willard became friends. Later she introduced him to the President, and his diplomatic career took off. The subsequent visit by the railroad magnate E.H. Harriman, was important in developing contacts for Willard's later business ventures . The Roosevelt party left Korea on September 30 and stopped for a second visit in Japan, where popular anti-American feeling was expressed over the terms of the Portsmouth Treaty. The party sailed for the U.S. on October 13. The American Legation in Seoul was closed on November 28, and diplomatic business was handled through Tokyo. Edwin V. Morgan and Willard Straight were reassigned to Cuba, and were there to greet Alice and Nicholas Longworth when they arrived on their honeymoon in early 1906.