Archives Find of the Month – October 2011

Home » Archives Find of the Month – October 2011


Chinese Exclusion Act

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended most immigration from China for ten years and blocked Chinese residents from becoming citizens. During the difficult economic period of the mid-1880s, Chinese workers were seen as taking the jobs of white residents. Resentment spilled over into riots, as mobs first in Tacoma and then in Seattle forced their Chinese residents to leave the city. Clerk File 12298 contains a missive from the mayor of San Francisco urging Seattle to join in lobbying Congress to extend the law, “as the Pacific States are exposed to Chinese immigration… If Chinese coolies can freely come, it means the displacement of our white population.”

The Exclusion Act was renewed in 1892 for another ten years. As its 1902 expiration date began to loom, local governments on the west coast wanted to make sure the rules stayed in effect.

Enclosed with the mayor’s letter was an announcement of a California state convention to discuss ways to ensure the Act was extended, along with a “Call to Action” addressed to the citizens of California. This document warned that “should the bars be let down an enormous immigration of Chinese coolies would inundate this country and overwhelm its free working population. The standard of American civilization, our schools, churches, employment and family life, our greatness in peace and power in war are at issue.”

Seattle mayor Thomas Humes forwarded the San Francisco materials to City Council. In the transmittal letter, Humes wrote, “It is my opinion that the re-enactment of this law would prove of great benefit to the people of this city and state, and that the same is desired by the people generally. Any action that you may take, therefore, apprising Congress of the will and desire of the people of this State in reference thereto will meet my most hearty approval.”

The law was indeed renewed in 1902, and remained in effect until finally repealed in 1943.

See other Archives Finds of the Month here:

For other interesting images and textual items, check out the Seattle Municipal Archives’ photostream on flickr: