Racism became institutionalized at an early point in American history. As a rationale for the removal of and genocide against Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans and African-Americans, it also served as an instrument of ruling elites to dilute lower-class opposition. During the mid-19th century, it became legal and codified with respect to Asians in the United States, as an expression of a required and enforced inferior status. [Documents 1 and 2]
The Burlingame Treaty ( 1868) permitted free immigration of Chinese people to the United States, and generally reflected a tolerant view. It did, however, deny the right of naturalization to Chinese immigrants. Increasingly exclusive laws, highlighted by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the notorious Geary Bill of 1892, followed. 1 [Documents 3a-c]. Later restrictions drew heavily on such assumptions as those presented at the Joint Congressional Investigation of 1876 [Documents 4a-h, particularly a-d]. The statements of Senator Charles Sumner [Document 5], and of Frederick Bee and Benjamin Brooks [Documents 6 and 7] demonstrate that the prevailing racism of the period did not go unchallenged in the governmental arena. Senator George Hoar [Documents 8a and b] was particularly outspoken in his opposition to discrimination against the Chinese. Pressure on Congress to lift Chinese exclusion was always the activity of a minority of the nation's non-Asian population, but the humanity of that effort may be gleaned from the 1892 petition [Document 9] and the pamphlet sent to Congress in 1902 [Document 10].
Exclusion and bigotry were policy at both the state and national levels well into the 20th century. The Washington and California Alien Land Acts affecting Japanese-American property ownership in the 1920's [Documents 11a and b] attest to official discrimination on the West Coast, in the wake of the Gentlemen's Agreement ( 1907) between the U.S. and Japan, which reduced Japanese emigration to this country. Opponents of discrimination undertook to challenge much of the reasoning behind those Acts in