Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act

Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act

Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act

Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act

Synopsis

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred nearly all Chinese from US shores for ten years. Gyory traces the origins of the Act, contending that rather than confronting divisive problems, politicians sought a safe solution to the nation's crisis.

Excerpt

This book answers a simple question: Why did the United States pass the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882? This Gilded Age statute, which barred practically all Chinese from American shores for ten years, was the first federal law ever passed banning a group of immigrants solely on the basis of race or nationality. Congress renewed the law in 1892, 1902, and 1904, each time with increasingly less opposition. Historians have identified three forces behind the Chinese Exclusion Act: pressure from workers, politicians, and others in California, where most Chinese had settled; a racist atmosphere that pervaded the nation in the nineteenth century; and persistent support and lobbying by the national labor movement. As the evidence will show, the first two forces were important but not decisive. The third was nonexistent; contrary to the claims of numerous scholars, most workers evinced little interest in Chinese exclusion. Organized labor nationwide played virtually no role in securing the legislation. The motive force behind the Chinese Exclusion Act was national politicians who seized and manipulated the issue in an effort to gain votes, while arguing that workers had long demanded Chinese exclusion and would benefit from it. As one midwestern congressman declared, "To protect our laboring classes . . . the gate . . . must be closed."

In slamming the gate on an entire race of people, the Chinese Exclusion Act reversed not only an American policy but also American tradition, changing forever the nation's image of itself as a beacon of hope, a refuge for the poor and the oppressed the world over. Much like the Fugitive Slave Act of the antebellum era, the Chinese Exclusion Act proved to be the most tragic, most regrettable, and most racist legislation of its era. But unlike the Fugitive Slave Act, which provoked outrage in parts of the country and ignited a fury that led to civil war, the Chinese Exclusion Act rapidly forged a consensus that led to more far-reaching exclusion of immigrants--Japanese, Koreans, and other Asians in the early 1900s, and Europeans in the 1920s. The Chinese Exclusion Act set the precedent for these broader exclusion laws and fostered an atmosphere of hostility toward foreigners that would endure for generations. It also fostered a bleaker atmosphere of racism, a racism that swiftly led to Jim Crow . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.