Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, October 16, 2006


Page 7



Young Solon Champions California’s Stance in Favor of Chinese Exclusion




Thirteenth in a Series


STEPHEN M. WHITE, his service as district attorney of Los Angeles County behind him by nine years, on March 4, 1893, took his seat on the Democratic side of the aisle in the United States Senate, becoming, at age 40, the youngest member of that body at the time. He was also the first native Californian elected to the upper house of Congress. The office he attained clearly could not have been his had he not sided with the overwhelming sentiment in his state against the admission to the U.S. of more Chinese laborers.

For Californians in that day, the “Chinese Question” was of paramount concern, though other critical issues loomed.

In a 1980 book titled, simply, “Stephen Mallory White,” of which only 250 copies were printed, attorney Kenneth M. Johnson (a vice president of Bank of America, since deceased) writes:

“White was a conscientious legislator and in general followed the desires of his constituency; however, he was something of a pragmatist, willing to compromise, and in the words of [historian] Edith Dobie, ‘He was not inclined to attach himself to a losing cause.’…As noted White followed the views of his electors, and thus opposed Chinese immigration, large corporations—particularly railroads—and favored tax and land reforms; in these beliefs he was not cynical but sincere.”

Dobie was the author of a more widely circulated 1927 book, “The Political Career of Stephen Mallory White: A Study of Party Activities under the Convention System.” In it, she discusses White’s advocacy of anti-Chinese measures, but notes that he eschewed fanaticism, recounting:

“Prejudice against the Chinese, he assured his constituents, had been carried beyond the bounds of reason and would eventually result in reaction in favor of the Chinese among people of the eastern states.”

White had co-authored a brief filed in the United States Supreme Court on behalf of California arguing the constitutionality of an anti-Chinese measure enacted by Congress in 1888, as discussed in the last column. That measure voided certificates carried by Chinese who had entered the U.S. legally and were told that if they left our borders, they could, by virtue of those pieces of paper, return. A challenge was instituted on behalf of a man who was denied reentry based on the new provision, enacted eight days before the ship he was on, sailing from Hong Kong, reached port in San Francisco Harbor. The justices unanimously accepted White’s contentions.

As a senator, White’s role now was that of a spokesperson for the California position...the position being that continued exclusion of “Mongolians” was essential to protecting jobs for the white work force.

Presence of Chinese laborers, many of whom had lain western railroad tracks, was largely confined to the Pacific states. While there was pervasive hatefulness in other regions, particularly the East Coast, toward impecunious immigrants from Italy and other European nations, “John Chinaman” was not perceived, on a national level, as so great a threat as he was regarded here. Anti-Chinese legislation was the product of hard pushing, starting in the 1850s, by western politicians, especially those from California.


1888 cartoon in the Wasp, a San Francisco magazine, reflecting anti-immigrant sentiment



The 1892 Geary Act, extending the 1882 ban on immigration by Chinese laborers for an additional 10-year period, contained a ruthless measure affecting the Chinese who were here. It required that, no later than May 5, 1893, they register and then carry with them at all times a registration certificate, on penalty of deportation. There was widespread resistance to complying, that resistance spurred by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association—commonly referred to as the Chinese “Six Companies”—which unsuccessfully contested the legality of the act in the U.S. Supreme Court. The compliance date was put off by the 1893 McCreary Amendments for six months.

The administration of Democratic President Grover Cleveland held back on enforcing the law—its resistance being based not on moral grounds, but on the cost factor. According to a 1995 book, “Harsh as Tigers” by Lucy E. Salyer, the secretary of the treasury “faced the impossible task—with a budget of only $25,000—of arresting and deporting tens of thousands of Chinese,” the administration estimating the cost at $7.3 million.

“The restraint of the administration became intolerable to many Californians who clamored for the prompt deportation of unregistered Chinese,” Salyer notes.

White was placed in the position of balancing his allegiance to Cleveland’s political party with his fidelity to California’s wishes. Salyer points to a letter of Sept. 4, 1893 from White to Attorney General Richard Olney warning that the “situation in California regarding the Chinese is critical” and could lead to the “destruction of the democratic party in that State.”

A dispatch from the District of Columbia published on Dec. 26, 1893, in the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Evening Gazette reports:

Senator White of California, who has given close attention to the Chinese question in all its phases, expressed the opinion that Chinese residents of this country will accept the opportunity to register under the new law extending the Geary act, and says that many of the Chinese have so assured him. The senator says that the only thing which stood in the way of the registering under the provisions of the Geary law before the time for registration was extended by the present congress was the opposition of the Six Companies, which made the fight against the constitutionality of the enactment and meantime prevented the Chinese from complying with the law.

Now that the supreme court of the United States has decided upon the constitutional points and has confirmed the right of congress to legislate in the matter, and in view of the fact that this government has shown a disposition to act leniently with the Chinese already here, it is supposed that the Six Companies will withdraw their opposition to registration and permit compliance with the law, especially as they have been warned that refusal will result in wholesale deportation, which would be ruinous to their interests….

Senator White says there has been more talk about the objection of the Chinese to having their photographs taken for filing with their certificates than was justified, and that it has largely died out since the exclusion act became a law.

He thinks, therefore, that the Chinese never felt so much repugnance to having their pictures taken as was represented. The belief is general among California people that the Chinese will submit to its exaction and the present marshal of southern California is so entirely convinced on this point that he has established a photograph gallery in Los Angeles for the special purpose of photographing the Chinamen when the rush shall begin. The senator also states that there is no especial feeling among the Americans of California upon the subject, because they think the act will be enforced and they are willing to submit to the presence of the Chinese now here, providing it be understood that no more are to be imported.

In 1894, White “claimed that all who belonged to the Democratic organization were in duty bound to endorse the whole course of Cleveland/s administration,” Dobie writes. She says he insisted that “California Democrats, as a matter of party loyalty, should demand the ratification of the treaty with China recently negotiated by Cleveland’s Secretary of State,” explaining in a footnote:

“This treaty of 1894 supplemented the one negotiated in 1882, and by its terms, the Chinese agreed to prohibit absolutely the emigration of laborers to the United States for another period of ten years. In the treaty there was a provision for the return of a small and definitely specified class of laborers who (being already in this country when the treaty took effect) wished to visit in China for a period of less than a year. Many Californians claimed that by this provision a way was left open for a great increase in the number of Chinese in this country.”

That fear led to editorial castigation of White for favoring ratification of the treaty, the San Francisco Chronicle denominating him a “cuckoo.”

The Woodland Daily Democrat on April 28, 1893, reprinted an editorial originating in the Oakland Times which defends White as follows:

Just now Senator White is the recipient of...rascally partisan attentions. He is being accused of trying to open the door again for Chinese immigration after earnestly laboring for twenty years to stop it. All the ground for this is his approval of the new Chinese treaty, and the accusation indicts him of being either a knave or a fool. It requires no proof to convince the people of California that he is not a fool, and the logic of the situation is that he is a knave, A more gross and outrageous libel on a public man was never put forth. We doubt if a man can be found within the limits of California who would have the hardihood to directly impugn the integrity of Stephen M. White. During all these years he has been in public life his voice has been raised for clean methods and frank issues. His ideals have been high, and his conduct in consistent line with them. Always he has been in sympathy with popular measures, and against everything in the shape of class privilege....

The only deviation from the letter of the present exclusion laws is the clause permitting Chinese now resident in the United States to return in case they own $1,000 worth of property each in this country, or have $1,000 owing to them here. It is claimed that this will open the door for new Chinese to swear themselves through the custom house. If people would read the treaty themselves, they would see that this idea is wholly untenable. When a Chinaman departs for China leaving uncollected debts or property to the amount entitling him to return, he must make satisfactory proof of the fact before his departure, otherwise he forfeits his right to return. This closes the door against false personation and false swearing. By studiously ignoring this provision of the treaty, the critics of Senator White have been enabled to make out the color of a point against the treaty; and the very people who do it employ Chinese, and are far more favorably inclined to Chinese than is he.

White’s views on the treaty were set forth in an interview with the Associated Press, reported in this dispatch of April 19, 1893.

Comment has been caused by the announcement that Senator White, of California, favors the new Chinese treaty. To the Associated Press the Senator has given for the first time, the reasons for his altitude on the subject.

“The treaty recognizes,” he said, “the validity of the Geary-McCreary acts, which explicitly declares that the Chinese Government will not object to its enforcement. This is a substantial gain, because the Supreme Court sustained the validity of the Geary law by a mere majority, and one of the Justices whose vote determined the case died, so all recognize the uncertainty of a second presentation to that tribunal.”

“The provision whereby the United States agrees to furnish annually to China the names of the Americans residing there, is in effect a guarantee by the Chinese Emperor that the Americans are not to be disturbed. While the Chinese Government is not friendly to American residents, the effect of the provision is to make it liable, pecuniary or otherwise for any injury to our people there. As to the criticism against the privileges to Chinese laborers having a wife and child or parent in the United States relative to property or debts,” he said: “the provision only applies to laborers registered. If we agree as in the Geary-McCreary act, that they may remain permanently, if registered, I see no objection to their temporary absence. I admit that a Chinaman will swear to anything, but in this case their veracity is passed upon by an American official. Individuals professing to be interested have announced that the proposed treaty will open the door to China invasion, but no laborer can enter without a return certificate and if we admit them there may be substitution, which I do not concede as the number of laborers cannot be increased because one certificate represents but one man....”

Delegates to the Democratic state convention in August, 1894 adopted this plank of a platform:

“The Democratic party reaffirms its opposition to Chinese immigration and believes in and pledges itself to the rigid enforcement of the exclusion and deportation laws passed by a Democratic congress and first made effective by a Democratic administration.”

Its platform concluded with this expression of confidence in White:

“Resolved, That we indorse the course of Hon. Stephen M. White in the United States Senate, and we are justly proud of his distinguished services to the State and nation.”

As portrayed by his great granddaughter, Lindalouise White De Mattei, White was not anti-Chinese...but was simply against the admittance of those who competed for jobs at miniscule wages. She recounts in an e-mail what she learned from her Great Aunt Hortense, White’s daughter:

“[She] told me that her father was not only opposed to the Chinese being brought in as virtual slaves by [railroad magnate] CP [Huntington], (they were considered sub-human by him) but also that they were a cost cutting move against the mainly Irish teamsters who drove the dynamite (at great risk of course) into the site. They were not only paid higher than the Chinese, but they insisted on compensation to relatives, should they lose their lives in the process.”

White, by the way, was an Irish American. The e-mail continues:

“My [great] aunt also told me that my [great] grandfather was also disturbed that the Chinese were coming here without the benefit of an education, had little chance of receiving one, and without an education, he believed they were doomed....

“She also said that whenever they had guests in the house and her father felt the servants were not treated respectfully that he would call in the children the next day and point out to them that, although he could not correct guests in the home, they were never to treat them with such disrespect.  He followed it up by apologizing to  the servants as well.”


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