Anti-Chinese sentiment in California grew so quickly that it began appearing in political campaigns as early as 1852. By the 1867 race for California governor, the "Chinese Question" had become such a heated issue that, according to historian Theodore Hittell, the Union Party's candidate, George Gorham, was "...the only one that had the honesty and at the same time the imprudence to express himself opposed to the anti-Chinese movement, and had in consequence lost many votes and impaired his future political prospects...."
Search on Gorham and analyze a caricature of the candidate bearing an African-American, a Chinese, and a Native-American man on his back. Compare it to a cartoon monogrammed "S.R." appealing to voters to reject Gorham.
- Why did Hittell refer to the Gorham campaign as imprudent?
- How did issues relating to racial equality play a role in the 1867 campaign?
- What message does each image convey?
- What techniques does each cartoonist use in attacking Gorham?
- Why do you think "S.R." refers to Gorham as "Ah-Sing Booth Gorham?"
Two years later, anti-Chinese sentiment only increased when the completion of the transcontinental railroad freed up 9,000 Chinese laborers, fueling the hostility of American workers who, like the miners before them, resented Chinese immigrants for the economic competition they presented. Tensions came to a head on July 23, 1877, when a labor rally held in a sand lot in San Francisco to support railroad strikers in the Eastern U.S. turned to violence. A group of young vagrants, aged 15 to 20, attacked a Chinese man in the vicinity of the rally, igniting three days of riots. Search on sand lot for a few items including a description of the incident by William Tell Coleman, a business leader who had established San Francisco's first Committee of Vigilance in 1851:
"...To Chinatown! Was now the cry, and off they ran up Leavenworth street, several hundred of them yelling like soldiers of Satan. On the south side of Tyler street, above Leavenworth, stood some Chinese laundries; there the rabble bombarded, smashing doors and windows with bricks and stones. Thence they were driven by the police, but only to attack the unfortunate Asiatics in other quarters. The fiend-prince Maker appeared to be in their urging to theft and demolition.
Breaking into a corner grocery the mobites supplied themselves with bottles of liquor and canned eatables, after which they demolished a Chinese tenement on Geary street, leaving it in flames. Fifteen other like places in that vicinity soon fell before them. Otis Gibson, of the Chinese mission, was stoned. Meanwhile the police several times met and dispersed them with their clubs, until finally the rioters retired, leaving the city quiet for the night."Transcriptions 1-2: From William Tell Coleman statements: and other material
As a result of the riot, Coleman reestablished the vigilance committee as the Committee of Public Safety and worked to quash anti-Chinese riots that he blamed on the demagoguery of Dennis Kearney and his Workingmen's Party. Kearney was an Irish immigrant who considered the Chinese to be pawns in the hands of capitalists bent on destroying workers' unions. Kearney championed the expulsion of Chinese, rallying workers under the banner "The Chinese Must Go."
- What does the Harper's Weekly cartoon comparing Kearney to Julius Caesar suggest about his role in the Sand Lot riots?
- What were the causes of anti-Chinese sentiment during and after the gold rush?
Search on anti-Chinese for numerous items including a pamphlet published in 1879 by the Workingmen's Party of California . It includes a history of the Workingmen's Party and its leaders as well as a critique called "Incidents of Chinese Lives," which denigrates the customs of Chinese in San Francisco's Chinatown. The first section describes Kearney's advent as a labor leader:
"At last a workingman, a drayman, DENNIS KEARNEY, of San Francisco, immortalized by these words: 'We will have a new party, the Workingman's Party. No great capitalist, no political trickster, no swindler or thief shall enter it. We will fill the offices with honest men who will make laws to protect themselves. We will send the Chinese home, distribute the land of the grabber, tax the millionaire, make a law to hang thieves of high as well as low degree, elevate the poor, and once more return to the simple virtue of honest republicanism.'
And he added, 'When the thieves hear these things they will shake in their boots. They will do all they can to divide and defeat us. They will pervert the law to persecute us. They will try to cheat us, to count us out at the ballot-box, to bribe and corrupt the men we elect. They will provoke us to riot if they can, and set the military upon us. We must arm. We must resolve to fight, if need be. We must stand by each other to the death if necessary. We must swear that we will not be defeated. It is life or death. Either we must drive out the Chinese slave, and humble the bloated aristocrat, or we shall soon be slaves ourselves. There is no other solution to the problem. It is death or victory. We conquer or we perish. Arm! arm! and let our adversaries see that we are in earnest!'"
The Labor agitators, or, The battle for bread, pages 4 and 5
- What accounts for Dennis Kearney's popularity?
- What were the basic goals of the Workingmen's Party of California?
- What role did opposition to Chinese play in the party's platform?
- What methods did the party use in its pamphlet to denigrate Chinese immigrants?
- What does the preceding passage suggest about the spirit of the Labor movement?
- What was the relationship between anti-Chinese sentiment and the Labor movement?
Other items that reflect anti-Chinese agitation include a letter regarding Irish opposition to Chinese, and a call to boycott a restaurant accused of hiring Chinese employees. Numerous illustrations from San Francisco's weekly magazine of social and political satire, The Wasp, are also available.
Use the Subject Index heading, Discrimination against Chinese, for further examples, including reports of raids and riots against Chinese. In his lecture before the Young Men's Christian Association, J.G. Kerr lamented the mob spirit and violence resulting from anti-Chinese agitation, concluding, "In this warfare against the Chinese, the rights and liberty of the white man are just as much at stake as those of the Chinaman. Both must stand or fall together."
- What groups of people promoted anti-Chinese agitation and why?
- What forms did anti-Chinese agitation take?
- What charges were made against the Chinese to arouse public animosity against the immigrants?
- What was the impact of anti-Chinese agitation?
- What arguments does Kerr make to support his assertion that the welfare of the Chinese in America is essential to the welfare of all Americans?
- How would you expect messages such as Kerr's, and those of Harper's Weekly illustrator Thomas Nash, to have been received?