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This law didn't let non-white people become citizens. Yes, it was totally legal at the time, and yes, that's seriously messed up.
This meant two things. One, the gold needed to be taken out of California, and two, railroads would have to be built to carry it. A ton of new workers were needed, and lots of Chinese immigrants were only too happy to oblige.
The important part here is that the Gold Rush ended, which meant that the labor demands dried up. Anyone coming over to serve as a miner was looking for other work, and there was only so much to go around.
Back in the 19th century, trains were as fast as anyone could ever go. The railroad was stretching over inhospitable terrain, much of it still occupied by Native Americans who weren't necessarily pleased with this new intrusion. It was dangerous and difficult work. You know the answer here: Chinese immigrant labor.
You know what's bad for jobs? An economic depression. Before this, there were tons of jobs for everyone. Now, all of a sudden, there weren't enough jobs to go around.
Local workers in California weren't happy with the competition from Chinese labor. One of the results was this organization, whose goal was specifically to get rid of cheap Chinese labor.
This limited immigration from Asian countries (but only Asian countries) to people who were coming voluntarily. We were kind of hoping no one would have to go anywhere involuntarily, but we're idealists. The law was aimed at keeping "undesirables" out, and it was the first law to do so.
A much bigger group than the Workingman's party, the Caucasians had pretty much the same goals.
The first attempt at a Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by congress, but President Rutherford B. Hayes vetoed it. (Chances are, this is the first and only thing you will remember about President Hayes.)
This brand spanking new constitution allowed the state to decide who got to live there and who didn't. Guess who they picked to exclude? If you said anyone but the Chinese, you're clearly not paying attention.
President Chester A. Arthur didn't share President Hayes' forward-thinking views, and signed the law.
President Grover Cleveland, the only man named after a Muppet and a Midwestern city, signed this bad boy into effect. It made the Chinese Exclusion Act even more powerful. Now any Chinese laborer leaving the country could never return.
Its real name is Chae Chan Ping v. United States, and this is the case that upheld the legality of both the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Scott Act. So if you were hoping for the Supreme Court to ride in and save the day, sorry.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was due to expire, having reached its ten-year date. The Geary Act extended the deadline by another ten years, and stripped Chinese residents of rights like being witnesses in court. It was upheld by the Supreme Court in Fong Yue Ting v. United States the following year.
The 1902 Scott Act renewed the Chinese Exclusion Act, and this time, to save everyone a headache, they set no end date. Chinese immigration was essentially illegal for the foreseeable future.
When World War II rolled around, the U.S. found it had a readymade ally in China. The Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943, also known as the Magnuson Act, repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act.
It only took a world war…and this was still two years after China and the U.S. formally allied against Japan. While it did let residents finally become citizens, it also placed a quota on the amount of immigrants allowed to come over.