A Gentleman’s Agreement

A Gentleman’s Agreement

Pia Roces Morato (The Philippine Star) – October 16, 2020 – 12:00am

A gentleman’s agreement is an unwritten agreement backed only by the integrity of the people involved. The downside, however, in participating in such an agreement lies in how parties cooperate or honor a “pact” noting that the wounded party cannot take legal action if, in the end, it is violated. A lawyer will surely almost always suggest, to anybody who consults, that a legal contract be formed instead.

The birth of the gentleman’s agreement appeared first in the British Parliamentary records of 1821 and made a second appearance in the Massachusetts public records of 1835. Businessmen in the early 20th century made gentlemen’s agreements, explained as an agreement between gentlemen looking toward the control of prices.

The most historic gentleman’s agreement happened in the early 1900’s between the US and Japan. At this time, many Americans had an anti-Japanese view because of immigration issues, with most of the bitterness happening in California. A gentleman’s agreement between these two countries represented an effort made by President Roosevelt to calm the tensions where, in the end, such an agreement with Japan was concluded in the form of a Japanese note which agreed to deny passports to laborers intending to enter the US and recognizing the US right to exclude Japanese immigrants holding passports originally issued for other countries. Prior to all this, a treaty with Japan in 1894 had assured free immigration; however, as the number of Japanese workers in California increased, they were met with growing hostility. In 1908, a final Japanese note made the gentleman’s agreement fully effective and was superseded by the exclusionary immigration act of 1924.

A gentleman’s agreement is more about a position of honor and it relies on the fortitude of two or more parties for the fulfillment of spoken or unspoken obligations. Parties honor them on the basis of moral obligations and are driven to observe this due to future relations that would be hampered if the present agreement would be broken.

A gentleman’s handshake, an exchange used by parties to seal a contract, an agreement or deal, is a custom that began in the medieval age when chivalry was still considered a norm. In the Oscar winning movie The Gentleman’s Agreement which starred Gregory Peck who played the role of a journalist on a mission, focused on post-war America and the Machiavellian way the Jews were being excluded, having no official moratoriums and with only a nod or a wink plus a “gentleman’s agreement” between the gentiles who “know” the “kind” of people they would or should be associated with.

This movie teaches us a whole lot about prejudice not only in those days but more so to this day. It also tells us how strong a pact can actually be. Although there is no legal basis to a gentleman’s agreement, the basic precepts of honor and trustworthiness are engaged to bind parties to a committed arrangement that should be beneficial for all.

History has shown us how an agreement such as this has affected many lives. To this day, legally binding or not, it remains to be the same and perhaps it is time people re-educate themselves on the effects of an understanding that simply shows us how principles of honor, integrity, decency and right conduct can have a huge impact in our everyday lives.