Chinese Exclusion Act (United States)

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The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by Chester A. Arthur on May 8, 1882, following revisions made in 1880 to the Burlingame Treaty of 1868. Those revisions allowed the U.S. to suspend immigration, and Congress subsequently acted quickly to implement the suspension of Chinese immigration, a ban that was intended to last 10 years. This law was repealed by the Magnuson Act on December 17, 1943.



The first significant Chinese immigration to the United States began with the California Gold Rush of 1848-1855, and continued with subsequent large labor projects, such as the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad. During the early stages of the gold rush, when surface gold was plentiful, the Chinese were tolerated, if not well-received.[1] As gold became harder to find and competition increased, animosity toward the Chinese and other foreigners increased. After being forcibly driven from the mines, most Chinese settled in enclaves in cities, mainly San Francisco, and took up low end wage labor such as restaurant work and laundry. With the post Civil War economy in decline by the 1870s, anti-Chinese animosity became politicized by labor leader Denis Kearney and his Workingman's Party[2] as well as by California Governor John Bigler, both of whom blamed Chinese "coolies" for depressed wage levels. Another significant anti-Chinese group organized in California during this same era was the Supreme Order of Caucasians with some 60 chapters statewide.[citation needed]

Chinese Gold Rush in California

Early on the California government did not wish to exclude Chinese migrant workers because they provided essential tax revenue which helped fill the fiscal gap of California.[citation needed] Only later, when there was enough money did the government cease to oppose Chinese exclusion. By 1860 the Chinese were the largest immigrant group in California. The Chinese workers provided cheap labor and did not use any of the government infrastructure (schools, hospitals, etc.) because the Chinese migrant population was predominantly made up of healthy male adults.[3] As time passed and more and more Chinese migrants arrived in California violence would often break out in cities such as Los Angeles. By 1878 Congress decided to act and passed legislation excluding the Chinese, but this was vetoed by President Hayes. California, in its zeal for excluding the Chinese, declared a holiday on March 6th, 1881, in order to hold widespread demonstrations to support the anti-Chinese legislation. Once the Chinese Exclusion Act was finally passed in 1882, California went further in its discrimination against the Chinese by passing various laws that were later held to be unconstitutional.[4] After the act was passed most Chinese families were faced with a dilemma: stay in the United States alone or go back to China to reunite with their families.[5] Newspapers around the country and especially in California started to discredit and blame the Chinese for most things, i.e., white unemployment. The police also discriminated against the Chinese by using the slightest opportunity to arrest them. Although there was widespread dislike for the Chinese, some capitalists and entrepreneurs resisted their exclusion based on economic factors. [6]

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