Should the Chinese Be Excluded?


Annotation: Article on Chinese exclusion in the North American Review.

The United States imposed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. It barred the entry of Chinese laborers and established stringent conditions under which Chinese merchants and their families could enter.

Document: Should the Chinese Be Excluded?

By Col. R. G. Ingersoll and Representative Geary of California.

Colonel Ingersoll:

The average American, like the average man of any country, as but little imagination. People who speak a different language, worship some other god, or wear clothing unlike his own, are beyond the horizon of his sympathy. He cares but little or nothing for the sufferings or misfortunes of those who are of a different complexion or of another race. His imagination is not powerful enough to recognize the human being, in spite of peculiarities. Instead of this he looks upon every difference as an evidence of inferiority, and for the inferior he has but little if any feeling. If these inferior people claim equal rights he feels insulted, and for the purpose of establishing his own superiority tramples on the rights of the so-called inferior.

In our own country the native has always considered himself as much better than the immigrant, and as far superior to all people of a different complexion. At one time our people hated the Irish, then the Germans, then the Italians, and now the Chinese. The Irish and Germans, however, became numerous. They became citizens, and, most important of all, they had votes. They combined, became powerful, and the political parties sought their aid. They had something to give in exchange for protection in exchange for political rights. In consequence of this they were flattered by candidates, praised by the political press, and became powerful enough not only to protect themselves but at last to govern the principal cities in the United States. As a matter of fact the Irish and Germans drove the Native Americans out of the trades and from the lower forms of labor. They built the railways and canals. They became servants. Afterwards the Irish and the Germans were driven from the canals and railways by the Italians.

The Irish and Germans improved their condition. They went into other businesses, into the higher and more lucrative trades. They entered the professions, turned their attention to politics, became merchants, brokers, and professors in colleges. They are not now building railroads or digging on public works. They are contractors, legislators, holders of office, and the Italians and Chinese are doing the old work.

If matters had been allowed to work in the natural way, without the interference of mobs or legislators, the Chinese would have driven the Italians to better employments, and all menial labor would, in time, be done by the Mongolians. In olden times each nation hated all others. This was considered natural and patriotic. Spain, after many centuries of war expelled the Moors, then the Moriscoes, and then the Jews. And Spain, in the name of religion and patriotism, succeeded in driving from its territory its industry, its taste and its intelligence, and by these mistakes became poor, ignorant and weak. France started on the same path when the Huguenots were expelled, and even England at one time deported the Jews. In those days a difference of race or religion was sufficient to justify any absurdity and any cruelty.

In our country, as a matter of fact, there is but little prejudice against emigrants coming from Europe, except among naturalized citizens; but nearly all foreign-born citizens are united in their prejudice against the Chinese. The truth is that the Chinese came to this country by invitation. Under the Burlingaine Treaty China and the United States recognized:


The inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance, and also the mutual advantage of free migration and emigration of their citizens and subjects respectively from one country to the other for purposes of curiosity, of trade, or as permanent residents.

And it was provided that the citizens of the United States visiting or residing in China and Chinese subjects visiting or residing in the United States should reciprocally enjoy the same privileges, immunities and exemptions, in respect to travel or residence, as shall be enjoyed by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation, in the country in which they shall respectively be visiting or residing.

So, by the treaty of 1880, providing for the limitation or suspension of emigration of Chinese labor, it was declared:


That the limitation or suspension should apply only to Chinese who emigrated to the United States as laborers; but that Chinese laborers who were then in the United States should be allowed to go and come of their own free will and should be accorded all the rights, privileges, immunities and exemptions, which were accorded to the citizens and subjects of the most favored nations.

It will thus be seen that all Chinese laborers who came to this country prior to the treaty of 1880 were to be treated the same as the citizens and subjects of the most favored nation that is to say, they were to be protected by our laws the same as we protect our own citizens. These Chinese laborers are inoffensive, peaceable and law-abiding. They are honest, keeping their contracts, doing as they agree. They are exceedingly industrious, always ready to work and always giving satisfaction to their employers. They do not interfere with other people. They cannot become citizens. They have no voice in the making or in the execution of the laws. They attend to their own business. They have their own ideas, customs, religion and ceremonies–about as foolish as our own; but they do not try to make converts nor to force their dogmas on others. They are patient, uncomplaining, stoical and philosophical. They earn what they can, giving reasonable value for the money they receive, and as a rule, when they have amassed a few thousand dollars, they go back to their own country. They do not interfere with our ideas, our ways or customs. They are silent workers, toiling without any object, except to do their work and get their pay. They do not establish saloons and run for Congress. Neither do they combine for the purpose of governing others. Of all the people on our soil they are the least meddle- some. Some of them smoke opium, but the opium-smoker does not beat his wife. Some of them play games of chance, but they are not members of the Stock Exchange. They eat the bread that they earn; they neither beg nor steal, but they are of no use to parties or politicians except as they become fuel to supply the flame of prejudice. They are not citizens and they cannot vote. Their employers are about the only friends they have.

In the Pacific States the lowest became their enemies and asked for their expulsion. They denounced the Chinese and those who gave them work. The patient followers of Confucius were treated as outcasts stoned by boys in the streets and mobbed by the fathers. Few seemed to have any respect for their rights or their feelings. They were unlike us. They wore different clothes. They dressed their hair in a peculiar way, and therefore they were beyond our sympathies. These ideas, these practices, demoralized many communities; the laboring people became cruel and the small politicians infamous.

When the rights of even one human being are held in contempt the rights of all are in danger. We cannot destroy the liberties of others without losing our own. By exciting the prejudices of the ignorant we at last produce a contempt for law and justice, and sow the seeds of violence and crime.

Both of the great political parties pandered to the leaders of the crusade against the Chinese for the sake of electoral votes, and in the Pacific States the friends of the Chinese were forced to keep still or to publicly speak contrary to their convictions. The orators of the Sand Lots were in power, and the policy of the whole country was dictated by the most ignorant and prejudiced of our citizens. Both of the great parties ratified the outrages committed by the mobs, and proceeded with alacrity to violate the treaties and solemn obligations of the government. These treaties were violated, these obligations were denied, and thousands of Chinamen were deprived of their rights, of their property, and hundreds were maimed or murdered. They were driven from their homes. They were hunted like wild beasts. All this was done in a country that sends missionaries to China to tell the benighted savages of the blessed religion of the United States.

At first a demand was made that the Chinese should be driven out, then that no others should be allowed to come, and laws with these objects in view were passed, in spite of the treaties, preventing the coming of any more. For a time that satisfied the haters of the Mongolian. Then came a demand for more stringent legislation, so that many of the Chinese already here could be compelled to leave. The answer or response to this demand is what is known as the Geary Law.

By this act it is provided, among other things, that any China- man convicted of not being lawfully in the country shall be removed to China, after having been imprisoned at hard labor for not exceeding one year. This law also does away with bail on habeas corpus proceedings where the right to land has been denied to a Chinaman. It also compels all Chinese laborers to obtain, within one year after the passage of the law, certificates of residence from the revenue collectors, and if found without such certificate they shall be held to be unlawfully in the United States it is further provided that if a Chinaman claims that he failed to get such certificate by accident, sickness or other unavoidable cause, then he must clearly establish such claim to the satisfaction of the judge by at least one credible white witness.

If we were at war with China then we might legally consider every Chinaman as an enemy, but we were and are at peace with that country. The Geary Act was passed by Congress and signed by the President simply for the sake of votes. The Democrats in Congress voted for it to save the Pacific States to the Democratic column; and a Republican President signed it so that the Pacific States should vote the Republican ticket. Principle was forgotten, or rather it was sacrificed in the hope of political success. It was then known, as now, that China is a peaceful nation, that it does not believe in war as a remedy, that it relies on negotiation and treaty. It is also known that the Chinese in this country were helpless, without friends, without power to defend themselves. It is possible that many members of Congress voted in favor of the Act believing that the Supreme Court would hold it unconstitutional, and that in the meantime it might be politically useful.

The idea of imprisoning a man at hard labor for a year, and this man a citizen of a friendly nation, for the crime of being found in this country without a certificate of residence must be abhorrent to the mind of every enlightened man. Such punishment for such an offence is barbarous and belongs to the earliest times of which we know. This law makes industry a crime and puts one who works for his bread on a level with thieves and the lowest c4minals, treats him as a felon, and clothes him in the stripes of a convict, and all this is done at the demand of the ignorant, of the prejudiced, of the heartless, and because the Chinese are not voters and have no political power.

The Chinese are not driven away because there is no room for them. Our country is not crowded. There are many millions of acres waiting for the plow. There is plenty of room here under our flag for five hundred millions of people. These Chinese that we wish to oppress and imprison are people who understand the art of irrigation. They can redeem the deserts. They are the best of gardeners. They are modest and willing to occupy the lowest seats. They only ask to be day laborers, washers and boners. They are willing to sweep and scrub. They are good cooks. They can clear lands and build railroads. They do not ask to be masters they wish only to serve. In every capacity they are faithful; but in this country their virtues have made enemies, and they are hated because of their patience, their honesty and their industry.

The Geary Law, however, failed to provide the ways and means of carrying it into effect, so that the probability is it will remain a dead letter upon the statute book. The sum of money required to carry it out is too large, and the law fails to create the machinery and name the persons authorized to deport the Chinese. Neither is there any mode of trial pointed out. According to the law there need be no indictment by a Grand Jury, no trial by a jury, and the person found guilty of being here without a certificate of residence can be imprisoned and treated as a felon without the ordinary forms of trial.

This law is contrary to the laws and customs of nations. The punishment is unusual, severe, and contrary to our Constitution, and under its provisions alien citizens of a friendly nation can be imprisoned without due process of law. The law is barbarous, contrary to the spirit and genius of American institutions, and was passed in Areolation of solemn treaty stipulations.

The Congress that passed it is the same that closed the gates of the World’s Fair on the blessed Sabbath, thinking it wicked to look at statues and pictures on that day. These representatives of the people seem to have had more piety than principle.

After the passage of such a law by the United States is it not indecent for us to send missionaries to China? Is there not work enough for them at home? We send ministers to China to convert the heathen; but when we find a Chinaman on our soil, where he can be saved by our example, we treat him as a criminal.

It is to the interest of this country to maintain friendly relations with China. We want the trade of nearly one-fourth of the human race. We want to pay for all we get from that country in articles of our own manufacture. We lost the trade of Mexico and the South American Republics because of slavery, because we hated people in whose veins was found a drop of African blood, and now we are losing the trade of China by pandering to the prejudices of the ignorant and cruel. After all, it pays to do right. This is a hard truth to learn especially for a nation. A great nation should be bound by the highest conception of justice and honor. Above all things it should be true to its treaties, its contracts, its obligations. It should remember that its responsibilities are in accordance with its power and intelligence.

Our government is founded on the equality of human rights on the idea, the sacred truth, that all are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our country is an asylum for the oppressed of all nations–of all races. Here, the government gets its power from the consent of the governed. After the abolition of slavery these great truths were not only admitted, but they found expression in our Constitution and laws.

Shall we now go back to barbarism?

Russia is earning the hatred of the civilized world by driving the Jews from their homes. But what can the United States say? Our mouths are closed by the Geary Law. We are in the same business. Our law is as inhuman as the order or ukase of the Czar.

Let us retrace our steps, repeal the law and accomplish what we justly desire by civilized means. Let us treat China as we would England; and, above all, let us respect the rights of men. R. G. Ingersoll.

Hon. Thomas J. Geary:

Much of the adverse criticism on the Chinese Restriction law of May, 1892, is due to ignorance of the situation which then confronted Congress, and the intent and purposes of the law. Those hostile to the Act of May 5, 1892, condemn, not the intention of the law, but the consequences following upon its violation, and which are the creation of the persons affected by it.

The consequences that now confront the Chinese in the United States are not the result contemplated by the Act, but are the results of the action of the Chinese themselves in defying the government, in their voluntary failure to obey its just and reasonable laws; and their possible deportation is the result of their own actions, and not what was contemplated or expected when the law was passed. The law was intended only to prevent the further immigration of Chinese into the United States, and deportation of those legally here was not its purpose.

The Chinese law of May 5 was justified by the circumstances prevailing in this country; it was in accordance with the treaties made between this Government and China; it imposed no undue or unjust hardship upon the Chinese people here, and was a proper and just exercise of power on the part of this country. The condition that then confronted us is well stated by Mr. Joseph H. Choate, the attorney for the Chinese, in his argument before the United States Supreme Court in their behalf. He says:


But in spite of the ever-increasing vigor of the successive restriction and exclusion acts, evading their prohibitions and the vigilance of the public authorities in their enforcement, another very large class of Chinese laborers had made their way into our territory. These were lawless intruders, not only having no right to be here, but having come in clandestinely, contrary to and in defiance of the express prohibitions of our statutes, and in appearance they were not easily distinguishable from the other class who under the treaties are entitled to be and remain here, whose rights, however, secured to them by the treaties had been uniformly observed and protected by the courts and the Government.

Again, of those unlawfully here, he says:


As to the rights or status of that class of Chinese persons, or the legality or propriety of their removal by the method so provided, no question for consideration is here involved.

The law did not contemplate the deportation of those legally here—


First, because the obvious purport and intent expressed in the Sixth Section is directly the contrary. It recognizes expressly their right to remain here, and, instead of revoking or attempting to take it away, it purports to construct a scheme, the constitutionality of which is presently to be considered, by which, as to each one of such persons in the United States, it is to be conclusively determined whether he does or does not belong to that class; and if he is so found and adjudged to belong to that class it leaves him undisturbed in the enjoyment of his right to remain in the United States, and if, on the other hand, he is found and adjudged not to belong to that class then his removal is provided for. Congress must have assumed, in constructing such scheme, that every Chinese laborer belonging or claiming to belong to that class would within the year present himself to the Collector of the Internal Revenue to have his right judicially determined by him; that in each instance it would be justly determined by the Collector, so that all would receive the protection intended by the Act in the form of the Collectors certificate of residence. Obviously, in this view, it was the intent of the Act to protect and preserve the right to remain here to those to whom it belonged, to separate and distinguish them from the other class to whom the right to remain did not belong, and to give them an official certificate of their right.

Since 1882 the laws of this country have prohibited the coming into it of Chinese laborers. This law was known in China and was familiar to all of their people here, and yet year after year the law was violated and large numbers of Chinese, as Mr. Choate says, came into the country in violation of our laws. Their coming was encouraged by the Chinese here and over our borders, and through frauds practiced at our seaports these people came into the land contrary to our wishes–they were not invited. Once here they were received with open arms by their people, and their identity was covered up and lost in the great mass of Chinese in the country who at all times lent all the assistance in their power to enable these people to violate the law. It was impossible to separate them from their fellow countrymen and return them to their native land, from the difficulty of distinguishing one from another, and as, with the disregard for truth which is admitted by all who know the race to be one of their characteristics, numbers of their fellows were always ready to come forward and testify that the accused had been in the United States for many years. These violations of law were encouraged by the Chinese legally here, and especially by the Six Companies, who made a profit out of the importation of the coolies. Either the restriction laws had to be repealed and the ports of the country thrown open to this class of immigration, or else some other measure that would secure the enforcement of the restriction laws had to be adopted.

It is claimed that the Act of 1892 was unnecessary, because more Chinese were leaving the country than entered it, and the number entering and leaving the port of San Francisco is cited to show that 48,000 more Chinese left the United States than entered it during the past decade. But the census shows the falseness of this argument. In 1880 there were 105,000 Chinese in the United States; in 1890 there were 106,000, or instead of decreasing 48,000 the number had actually increased. The only conclusion deducible is that 49,000 entered in defiance of our laws. Of all the Chinese now here, more than one-third are not here by our invitation but contrary to our expressed wish.

During these years the government has been compelled every year to expend large sums of money for the maintenance of guards and inspectors upon our frontiers and at our different seaports, in order to prevent the infraction of our laws by a race of people who never have shown any respect for them.

The Act of May, 1892, as Mr. (Jhoate says, had for its primary and only object the identity of those Chinese who were justly here, so that we might distinguish them from those who came in violation of law, and who had no right to remain in the country. Its object was to prevent the deportation of the innocent or the infliction upon these of any hardships attendant upon its enforcement, and to distinguish them from the violators of the law.

The law was not harsh in its provisions, as we were more anxious to establish a means of identifying those who came here–after than we were of visiting punishment upon those now in the country. This purpose was justified both by the necessity of securing obedience to our laws, and also upon the score of economy in reducing expenses which this government was compelled to incur every year, because of the attempts of this particular race to defy its laws.

Objection is made to the Sixth Section, providing for registration, on the ground that it subjects the Chinese to hardships and degrades them. If registration is degradation, then there are many Americans who have a just right to complain. Thirty-four States require that citizens shall register before being allowed to vote, and some of these States demand that a description of the person shall be filed. Failure to comply with these laws is punished by loss of suffrage. Wherein lies the hardship for the alien in requiring him to do that which nearly all States demand of the American citizen?

In most of the States the members of certain professions and trades are required to register and receive a certificate before being allowed to pursue their calling, and for violation of these laws are punishable by imprisonment and fine. These laws are interferences with the natural rights of citizens and discriminate between callings; but complaint is not made by American citizens that by complying with them they are subjected to any disgrace. These laws are necessary to prevent frauds in the exercise of the suffrage, and to identify the citizens entitled to participate in elections, and to prevent frauds being practiced upon the people to their injury.

Surely, if it is right in order to secure the safety of our people from quacks and other fraudulent pretenders, it is right to use the same means to protect us from an immigration that we do not want and whose continuance is injurious. In the case of the Chinese, year after year we have found frauds practiced upon the government, and the government subjected to expenses to protect itself against these frauds, and we apply to them the same rule that for years we have been applying to our own citizens rule justified by the actions of these people, and made necessary by their own criminal behavior.

If we had imposed a tax upon Chinamen, if we bad made compliance with the law difficult or onerous, some modification of the law might be justifiable; but, recognizing how difficult and inconvenient to them it might be to attend before officers far removed from their residences, the law provided that the officers should go to the Chinaman wherever he was, and afford him every facility for complying with the law without expense or burden to him. Under these circumstances, and because of the belief that the law was justified by the conditions that confronted us, by the desire to maintain and insure respect for the laws of this country among the people of alien races, the law was wise and right, and ought to be enforced.

This law is beneficial, rather than degrading, to the Chinaman legally here. Under the old law he was subject to arrest at any time, on the charge of having come illegally into the country. He was at the mercy of any of his fellows who sought to inflict on him this form of annoyance; and charged with being illegally here he was subject to arrest and forced to incur the expenses attendant upon a trial to determine his right to remain, while the proof was necessarily parole, and perjury might be resorted to with ease and with comparative freedom from penal consequences. This law gives him, under the seal of government, a justification for his presence, and the written testimony always with him to free himself from this inconvenience and annoyance, while his right to remain could only be questioned and the production of his certificate required by a regularly appointed federal officer, who we cannot presume would use his position to violate the spirit of the law or to harass and annoy.

The opponents of the law say that the Chinaman was required to carry about him a certificate, having stamped thereon his own photograph; and we are told that the man must feel dishonored, because he carries his own picture in his vest pocket. Such an argument is unworthy of notice. From the resemblance which all Chinamen bear to one another no other means of identifying them than by photograph could be selected. We tried the description by other means under the law of 1882, and found it radically defective.

If previous laws had been complied with this law would not be necessary. It is known from experience in California, where nine-tenths of all the Chinese in the United States reside that the great mass of Chinamen here would gladly and willingly have complied with the law but for the threats of their masters, the Six Companies, who hold the great mass of Chinese in the United States under their control and authority.

Thirty years ago we spent millions of dollars and sacrificed thousands of American lives to free this land from the curse of African slavery. Today we have the exhibition of another race as absolutely enslaved by their masters as were the negroes in the South, establishing themselves and their institutions in our midst; and if it were well to free the country at that time from the slavery of the black, it ought to be equally essential and patriotic at this time to protect our country from the evils of Asiatic slavery, and our American labor from the unjust and degrading competition presented to them by the Chinese. Slave labor is not one of the essentials for the proper development of American civilization.

There would have been no failure to comply with this law on the part of the Chinese but for the Six Companies, whose antagonism to it is not because of the degradation which it offers to their subjects, but for the reason that the enforcement of the law would insure a certain means of preventing in the future any further importation of their slaves. It was the destruction of their slave industry that caused the Six Companies to make the effort they have made to secure the defeat of the law, and not any love for the vassals now in their employment here.

This law is justified by the treaties between America and China, and is in entire accord with the last compact between this government and the government of that country. In this treaty it is provided:


If Chinese laborers, or Chinese of any other class, now either permanently or temporarily residing in the United States, meet with ill-treatment at the hands of any other persons, the Government of the United States will exert all its power to devise measures for their protection, and to secure to them the same rights, privileges, immunities and exemption as may be enjoyed by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation, and to which they are entitled by treaty.

This language is not found in any other treaty with any other government, and illustrates the superiority of Chinese diplomacy in negotiating treaties.

Recognizing the complex character of our government, the inability on the part of the National Government to control the States, and the primary liability of the States for injuries inflicted upon people, whether citizens or aliens, when committed in defiance of law, the Chinese Government not desiring to be compelled to seek redress from States and, municipalities for injuries inflicted on Chinamen, secured from the National Government a declaration insuring the protection of their people, which undoubtedly makes the National Government primarily liable for such injuries. And such was undoubtedly the intention of China and the construction to be placed on that section of the treaty. This being the case, the liability of the National Government for injuries inflicted upon Chinese having been assumed by it in the treaty, that liability could only apply in the case of injuries inflicted upon Chinamen in the country in compliance with our laws, and the National Government could not be liable for those who came in violation thereof. Under these circumstances it was the duty of this government to adopt a system of registration of all these people for whose protection they became specially liable, so that it would know the measure of its liability, and protect itself against fraudulent claims imposed upon it by those who came in defiance of law. The exercise of the registration power was proper, and is justified by this treaty, and failure to require registration would be gross carelessness.

Some people will condemn all restriction laws, because from the fatherhood-of-God and the brotherhood-of-man standpoint, all men being equal, all men should be permitted the same degree of freedom and liberty in the practice of their trades and callings, and in the enjoyment of whatever fruits may come to them from their own industry, and all laws that interfere with the individual man, restricting his opportunities, or denying him the right to enjoy life and liberty, must be condemned by humanitarians and Christians. But this beautiful sentiment finds no application in the exercise of governmental powers, because the first duty of governments is to their own citizens, and in securing to them protection and the enjoyment of their life and liberty.