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Rise of Industrial America
Chinese Immigration to the United States
David Phillips Discusses the Chinese Question

David Phillips went to California hoping that a change of climate would help his tubercular son. The following excerpt is from his book, Letters from California (1877). How did Phillips describe the "Chinese Question?" How did he account for its being a hot political topic throughout the state? What did Phillips think about this question?

View more of David Phillips's thoughts on the "Chinese Question" from California As I Saw It, 1849-1900. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


Among the Chinamen there are many educated and wealthy merchants--men shrewd, honest and capable. They are here and will remain. Gradually they are bringing their families. Under the laws of the United States, their children, born here, are American citizens, and the males, when reaching their majority, will vote. There are some Chinamen here now over 21, and they vote. Chinamen born in China, under our naturalization laws, it has been assumed, can not become citizens. Take them to-morrow, were such a thing possible, and allow them all to become naturalized, not one of them would vote the Democratic ticket. Those born here do not. That may explain why Democrats are opposed to Chinamen coming here, in part. In the next place, Bridget and Pat and John Chinaman can not get along together on the labor question. . . .

Such a thrifty, industrious, alien race, ready to work, are objectionable to other foreign populations, of course, as all the others are permitted to become citizens and vote, and thereby are courted and well treated by all demagogues and knaves. Could the Chinaman vote, the ruffian hoodlums and lawless villians, who are now scarecely restrained from assaulting them in the streets in day time, and who think it brave to assail their quiet homes at night with cobblestones and brickbats, would be dealt with in the most summary manner. The Chinaman's only sin is, he will work. If he can not get a high price, he will take a low one, but work he will. And then, he is neat, clean, sober and patient, always submissive, peaceable and quiet. . . .

CHEAP LABOR.

That is what California wants, and that is what is developing the agricultural of the State. Take the 70,000 Chinamen out of California, its industries would be ruined, and the lands, now so productive, would be cultivated without remunerative results. They supply, by their toil, nearly all the vegetables and much of the poultry. They are doing a large share of the farm-work, and build all the railroads and irrigating canals and ditches. They do much of the cooking, and nearly all the washing and ironing. It is said they send the money they save back to China. Why? Because they are not safe, either in person or property, here. Were they protected as citizens are, they would soon own lands, town lots and houses. As it is now, the low, the vile, the idle, brutal hoodlum, in San Francisco, and all other large towns in this State, may attack the Chinaman's house, smash his windows, and break up his furniture and beat him, and he is--only a Chinaman. The

LEGISLATURE OF CALIFORNIA

Is like that of many other States--pretty well filled with ignorant demagogues. They defer to the ignorant rabble, whose votes they court. The rabble vote--the Chinamen do not; therefore, protect the rabble, and down with the Chinaman! The Democratic party of this State is set against the Chinamen and their cheap labor. They always come in at all conventions with a resolution denouncing the Chinese as a dangerous class, whose coming ought to be arrested at once, and means be employed to remove those already here. You are told by the Democracy that they are heathens, and their coming will demoralize this State, and all other sections, whenever they get a footing. Now and then you will find Republicans talking in this same strain. I think some move, as usual for a number of years past, has been made in Congress this wnter to arrest the immigration to this country of these Celestials. Now, in my mind, a Chinaman has the same right to come to this country, find a peaceful home, breathe the free air of liberty, and be protected in his person, his family and property, as any one else. We have boasted, for a century past, that this is a land of refuge for the oppressed and down-trodden of all nations; that under our flag the family of man might gather, assured of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." For a century we have accepted the grand announcement as true, that God has made of one flesh all the nations that dwell on the face of the whole earth, and that all have the same inalienable rights. Let us stand by these grand old truths, and bid the Chinaman, the Japanese and all others, welcome.

But men here are not honest in their utterances on the Chinese question. From what they say, you would infer that they would not hire a Chinaman for any purpose whatever; but when you go to their houses, and on their farms, you find John doing all the work, and these very cheap demagogues living on the profits of his honest toil. If these men could, they would enslave these Chinamen to-morrow. I heard a rather prominent Democrat at Los Angeles declaiming against the Chinamen, and declaring that he was utterly opposed to letting them come here, except under contract, and at rates for their labor which would be merely nominal. I said to him, that it would be rather difficult to enforce such contracts, as the Chinamen would soon find out they could do better, and no damages could be recovered from them for non-fulfillment of the contract. He at once said: "Have a law passed to punish them by flogging, and compel them to live up to their bargains." I suggested that the civilization of the nineteenth century would hardly permit of such harsh and inhuman legislation; and he replied that, then, he was opposed to letting them come here on any other terms. There would not be a word said about cheap labor if these pig-eyed, pig-tailed, saffron-tinted people could be made to work for nothing. . . .
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