Tag Archives: Chinese-Americans

Post Civil War Racism

(July 16, 2019) Today’s historian often interprets post Civil War racism as evidence that Southern whites were morally inferior. While he may officially deny it, the actions of his students demonstrate his teachings. Consider, for example, the mob that destroyed Silent Sam’s statue. Nonetheless, those who believe that the Southerner was especially racist might be more understanding after comparing the experience of Southern blacks with California’s Chinese-Americans.

South. Protracted Southern racism was more a consequence of Carpetbag Reconstruction than it was of the Civil War.*

First, blacks represented 40% of the Confederacy’s population but only 1% in the North’s antebellum “free” states. Second, Congress gave blacks the vote in every Southern state even though voter qualifications had always been a state’s right. Third, 97% of ex-slaves were illiterate with no government experience. Fourth, many ex-Confederates lost the right to vote thereby resulting in black voter majorities in Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Carpetbag regimes in the other states formed Returning Boards to count votes or adopted other measures to maximize the probability of Republican-favorable election outcomes.  Fifth, the new Southern state governments were plagued with high taxes and corruption. Since virtually all revenue came from property taxes whites paid nearly all of it because few freedmen owned property.

California. Although California had few blacks, her Chinese-Americans were abused in the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth.

First, even though representing less than 10% of the state’s population they weren’t allowed to vote.  Second, two-thirds of California’s lynch victims between 1849 and 1902 were Chinese-Americans. America’s biggest lynching was in 1873 Los Angeles when nineteen Chinese-Americans were killed. Third, since 95% of her ninetieth century Chinese-Americans were male, California maneuvered to prevent them from having children because the 14th Amendment granted birthright citizenship.

A. The state voted against the 14th Amendment.
B. It outlawed inter-racial marriage.
C. It lobbied for the 1875 Page Act that blocked immigration of Chinese women.
D. It nullified the 14th Amendment when the state’s Supreme Court ruled in People v. Brady (40 Cal. 198 – 1870) that the Amendment did not apply to California because she was a “sovereign state.”

Fourth, California persuaded the federal government to exclude Chinese-Americans from the 1870 Naturalization Act, which pointedly included “persons of African descent.” Fifth, the state lobbied for a series of Chinese-Exclusion Acts that made it hard for Chinese to immigrate well into the twentieth century. Consequently, even as the state’s overall population nearly tripled from 1880 to 1910 the number of Chinese-Americans stayed flat. Six, California denied Chinese-Americans a number of rights including court testimony, property ownership, and firearm ownership. Seven, in order to discourage non-white gold prospectors, California imposed a monthly Foreign Miners Tax applicable to Chinese-American and other non-white miners.

In sum, racial adjustment was bound to be a greater challenge in the South than elsewhere because blacks were only a tiny percentage of the population outside the region. However, California’s abuse of Chinese-Americans—particularly considering that the minority group could never take control of the state’s government—shows that racism wasn’t limited to the South. The above evidence suggests that Californians were even more racist.

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* Herbert Agar The Price of Union, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950) 466-67

Today’s Echo of a Reconstruction Era Controversy

(June 23, 2018) In the nineteenth century, banker J. P. Morgan once observed, “A man always has two reasons for the things he does­—a good one and the real one.” He was implying that the good reason is a false, benevolent explanation that conceals the real self-serving one.

Consider, for example, that historians who came of age during the 1960s civil rights era or later, such as Eric Foner and his acolytes, almost universally explain that President Grant and the Republican Party insisted upon voting rights for ex-slaves as a moral conviction. In contrast, earlier historians—and contemporaries of the Reconstruction Era—often admit that there was a self-serving explanation as well.

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Specifically, Republicans realized that they could lose control in Washington if the Southern states re-entered the Union without a significant Republican voting bloc, which almost certainly would have happened if whites dominated the Southern electorate. The infant GOP was vulnerable because at the end of the war it was only twelve years old and its members were predominantly Northerners. But they soon realized that continued Republican control of Washington could be assured through two federal actions. First was to create a Republican-loyal constituency out of the freed slaves, which accounted for 40% of the former Confederacy’s population. Second was to shrink the South’s opposing electorate and power by denying voter and office-holding rights to many former Confederates.

What might J. P. Morgan say explains Rachel Maddow’s weeping?

The impact was almost immediate. During the first presidential election after the war in 1868 President-elect Ulysses Grant lost the white vote of the entire nation. His ultimate 53% popular vote majority resulted from an overwhelming sweep of Southern blacks.

Although modern historians applaud Reconstruction Era Republicans for advocating black civil rights they generally decline to mention that the Party failed to protect other racial minorities that were not solidly Republican. In fact, the Republican-sponsored 1866 Civil Rights Act and the three constitutional amendments of the era mostly ignored “non-white” American residents who were not black. The Party did nothing for abused racial minorities such as Indians and Chinese-Americans. (Both groups were legally considered “non-white.”) It also used federal powers to suppress the immigrant vote in Northern big cities because recent immigrants tended to vote Democratic.

Consider the case of Asian-Americans. Two thirds of the lynching victims in California between 1849 and 1902 were Chinese. America’s biggest lynching happened in Los Angeles in 1871 when nineteen were lynched, including one woman. Although California had far fewer lynchings than the South, the number of Chinese-Americans in the state never topped 10% until late in the 20th century and few were permitted to vote until 1943.  Just imagine the greater white violence against Chinese-Americans that might have resulted in California if the Asian immigrants had been permitted to vote while representing as large a share of the population as the 40% that blacks did in the South.

Since Californians recognized that the Fourteenth Amendment would automatically bestow citizenship on the offspring of Chinese-Americans born in the USA, they took three actions to minimize such possibilities.

First, they persuaded the Republican-controlled Congress to pass the 1875 Page Act that blocked Chinese women from immigrating at a time when nearly all of the Chinese in America were males. Second, in 1905 California passed a miscegenation law, which prevented Chinese and white intermarriage. Third, despite the results of the Civil War, the state’s Supreme Court ruled in People v. Brady (40 Cal. 198 – 1870) that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to California because it was a “sovereign state.” California basically nullified, with impunity, a part of the U. S. Constitution that it did not like. But it was just such a nullification among Southern states that was taken as the official reason for the  Civil War. The same constitutional principle was not applied to California because . . . well, that’s different, see?

There is no denying that much of the nineteenth century hostility toward Chinese-Americans also came from the white laboring classes of the Democratic Party that competed for employment with the Asian immigrants. The key point, however, is that the GOP hypocritically limited its concern for minority suffrage and civil rights to Republican-loyal black voters and ignored other “non-white” minorities. As a result, it is difficult to conclude that Reconstruction Era Republicans were genuinely interested in minority rights, except for the solitary minority of blacks that would keep the Party in power.

The recent lawsuit involving Harvard University’s admissions discrimination against Asian-Americans demonstrates that the group continues to suffer racial injustices. Once again Asian-Americans find they are dismissed by one of the major political parties, although this time it is the Democrats doing the rejecting. And once again they are ignored for a similar reason as during Reconstruction. Specifically, this time they are not sufficiently Democrat-loyal and simultaneously a large enough group to swing the Washington power balance toward the “Happy Days” party. Such factors may explain why Democrats focus attention on other disadvantaged minorities such as Latinos and blacks that generally vote overwhelming  for the Party’s candidates.

Recent developments in illegal immigration on the Southern border underscore how the Reconstruction Era Republicans and present day Democrats seem to fulfill J. P. Morgan’s adage. Just as Reconstruction Republicans wanted the black vote in order to assure GOP control in Washington, it is hard to avoid concluding that today’s Democrats want illegal immigrants released into America’s interior because they want the future votes such families can provide via anchor babies and similar factors. For example, Washington Post columnist Max Boot not only condemns the Asian-American lawsuit against Harvard but also argues that the only way to keep illegal immigrant families intact is to release them thereby providing future voters for Democrats.

Some Reconstruction Era Republicans Admit Party Racism

(January 11, 2018) As I’ve discussed in earlier posts, modern historians are generally less willing to examine the political motivations that partially, perhaps chiefly, motivated Reconstruction Era Republicans to support suffrage for African-Americans. Instead, as in recent Ulysses Grant biographies, the motivation is generally portrayed as an enlightened advocacy for racial equality.

If the racial-equality interpretation is valid, however, then Republicans should have favored suffrage for all racial minorities. . . but they did not. For example, they did nothing to help Chinese-Americans who were the most common lynching victims in nineteenth century California. In fact, America’s biggest lynching happened in Los Angeles in 1871, in the middle of the Reconstruction Era. The victims were Chinese-Americans.

Finally, a minority of delegates at the Republican convention in 1876 disclosed the  hypocrisy implicit in the eleventh plank of the Party’s platform:

It is the immediate duty of congress fully to investigate the effects of the immigration and importation of Mongolians on the moral and material interests of the country.

When a minority of delegates objected that the plank contradicted the Party’s traditional stance on racial equality they were voted down 532-to-215. Only 29% of the delegates supported them. During the floor debate delegates in favor of the plank explained that it was intended to protect white Westerners from unfair coolie labor and Chinese prostitutes.

In short, it appears that Republicans were interested in black suffrage, instead of minority suffrage per se, for two reasons. First, they knew that blacks could be counted  as reliable GOP voters. Moreover, blacks represented a large voting block by composing 40% of the population in the former Confederate states. Second, in contrast, Chinese-Americans were a tiny voting block. For example, they were most prevalent in California where they never represented more than 10% of the population. From a political viewpoint, Republicans had more to lose by alienating white workers than they could gain from Chinese-Americans by supporting racial equality for the latter.

To be sure, the Democratic Party was also hostile toward Chinese-Americans. The key difference is that the GOP limited its concern for minority suffrage and civil rights to Republican-loyal black voters and largely ignored the plight of other “non-white” minorities. (They were also hostile toward Native Americans and the ethnic minorities of recent immigrants such as Irish Catholics.) As a result, it is difficult to conclude that Republicans were genuinely interested in minority rights, except for the solitary minority that would help keep the Party in power. Such a conclusion changes the complexion of the currently dominant Reconstruction interpretation that minimizes Republican Party self-interest.

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