Study Guide

Chinese Exclusion Act Compare and Contrast

By Chester A. Arthur

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  • Chae Chan Ping v. United States, May 13, 1889

    This is better known by its nickname, the Chinese Exclusion Case, which says it all right there. Although the name suggests that it would be challenging the Chinese Exclusion Act itself, this was actually challenging the Scott Act, an addendum to the Chinese Exclusion Act. This would be sort of like the equivalent of the special features on a blu-ray as opposed to the main movie.

    The Scott Act said that any Chinese laborers who left the United States couldn't return. If you recall, the actual Chinese Exclusion Act spends a lot of time on the exact methods legal Chinese laborers can come and go, so the Scott Act pretty much threw all that out, and was like, "Nope! You're gone. Not even if you call "safe."

    Chae Chan Ping was a normal guy, a Chinese citizen and unskilled laborer, who lived in San Francisco. He went to visit China, and on the way back wasn't allowed in. Chae took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which is pretty cool if you ask us.

    Unfortunately for him, he lost. The case therefore gave precedence to the idea that not only could the government legislate immigration, but it could also override provisions in treaties if it wanted to. This was new.

  • United States v. Ju Toy, May 8, 1905

    As you study the Chinese Exclusion Act, you're probably asking the obvious question: "What about people of Chinese descent who were born in the United States?"

    Good job, because we're getting there. Ju Toy was a man of Chinese descent born into the United States. Ju visited China, and when he was barred from coming home to the U.S., he took the government to court and won. That's right, a Federal District Court ruled that he was a U.S. native and had committed no crime.

    Obviously, right?

    Well, the government appealed the decision and it went to the Supreme Court. That's where Ju lost, and even worse, his defeat had consequences beyond the case. Before this time, Chinese people victimized by the Chinese Exclusion Act and related laws fought back through the courts, and much of the time they won. The usual tactic was through a petition of habeas corpus.

    Habeas corpus, for those non-lawyers, is a petition where someone can report being detained unlawfully. This is the "you can't hold me for no reason" idea. This case helped provide precedence for removing the ability of Chinese people arrested under immigration laws from using habeas corpus. In effect, a Chinese person could be held for any reason.

  • The 1879 Bill and Rutherford B. Hayes' Role

    We really want to put Hayes in a Superman costume here. (Partly because that beard would look amazing.) We can't, sadly, because his relationship toward the idea of Chinese exclusion isn't as black and white as we'd like it to be.

    It's true he vetoed the first attempt at a Chinese Exclusion Act in 1879. His problem wasn't that it was wrong to single out a single ethnicity for special laws, but that this would contradict a treaty with a foreign power—the Burlingame Treaty with China.

    Hayes still needed to keep the western states on his side, where Chinese exclusion was getting more and more popular, so the next year, he sent diplomat James Angell to negotiate a brand new treaty with China. The treaty allowed the United States to restrict, but not end, Chinese immigration into the United States.

    Two years later, we had the Chinese Exclusion Act.

  • "Our Misery and Despair," Denis Kearney, 1878

    Have you ever watched a video on YouTube, where you're like, "Oh, that's cute. That's funny. Okay, I see what they' hammer of Thor, what is that person doing?!"

    Well, that's sort of what it's like to read this speech by Denis Kearney.

    It starts out as a bit of a firebrand address. Close your eyes and you can almost picture someone like Bernie Sanders saying a few of these things. Then, about halfway through it gets crazy-racist.

    He lays out a litany of sins against the ruling economic class, but the thing he regards as the unforgivable sin? "To add to our misery and despair, a bloated aristocracy has sent to China--the greatest and oldest despotism in the world--for a cheap working slave." (Source)

    Kearney peppers the rest of the speech with heteronormative slurs "...they seem to have no sex. Boys work, girls work; it is all alike to them." The word he repeats over and over is "cheap," using it to describe every aspect of the Chinese. It's weird hearing this form of class condescension from a populist, but there you go.

    That Kearney could say these things and be a powerful political force tells you what the political climate was in California.

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