In the late 1840’s the California Gold Rush was in full swing. People in the United States dreaming of striking it rich were heading west in droves. The United States was less than a century into its nation status and the population was still experiencing much of its growth through immigration. The years of the Gold Rush created a surge in Chinese immigration (“1848-1865: Gold Rush, Statehood, and the Western Movement” by Joshua Paddison, http://www.calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu). Adult, male Chinese comprised the majority of Chinese immigrants. Financial oppression of the Chinese working class resulted in situations of indebtedness to travel brokers which made it impossible for many of these men to send money home to pay for the passage of their families. As a result, a Chinese prostitution industry sprang up to provide women for these lonely Chinese men (“Push & Pull: Motives for the Immigration of Chinese Women to America”, by Chung-Yu Hsieh, 2001, http://www.dartmouth.edu).
Despite the fact that prostitution among the white population was common, white Americans took exception to the same sort of activity among the Chinese immigrants. The nation’s reaction resulted in the creation of the Paige Act of 1875. Rather than focus on the male Chinese who were immigrating, it concentrated its efforts on curtailing the immigration of Chinese women. The gringa suspects this was probably because the nation, as a whole, enjoyed the benefits of cheap labor (which, in my opinion, bordered on slavery) provided by the Chinese men. All of this despite the fact that the Burlingame-Seward Treaty of 1868, between the United States and China, established favored nation status for China and granted Chinese the right to naturalization as United States citizens (racism.org).
What, then, exactly did the Paige Act of 1875 say and how did it change things for immigration and naturalization in the United States? A transcript of this Act can be found at library.uwb.edu. Contained within all the legislation passed by the Forty-third Congress of the United States on March 3, 1875, is Chapter 141 which is the Paige Act. Brief descriptions of the legalese of each section are as follows:
Sec. 1 – Conditions are created for the purpose of screening Chinese and Japanese immigrants. Necessary entry permits are denied if a person is found to be entering the United States for “lewd and immoral purposes”.
Sec. 2 – Establishes as a crime human trafficking between the United States and “China, Japan, or any Oriental country”. An offense is punishable by a fine of up to two thousand dollars and a prison sentence of up to one year.
Sec. 3 – The “importation into the United States of women for the purposes of prostitution is hereby forbidden”. Those found guilty of importing prostitutes are guilty of a felony and subject to a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to five thousand dollars.
Sec. 4 – Any involvement in importing the labor of a “cooly” (a Chinese male bound in service by contract) is guilty of committing a felony and, if convicted, subject to a fine not to exceed five hundred dollars and a prison sentence of up to one year.
Sec. 5 – Immigration is prohibited to convicted felons of other countries, unless the crime was political. Immigration is also prohibited to women who are “imported for the purposes of prostitution”. If such “obnoxious persons” are aboard a ship that arrives at a United States port, these people are forbidden from leaving the ship. (The gringa finds it amusing that in a formal government document establishing law, a class of people are called “obnoxious persons”.) Allowance is made for suspected “obnoxious persons” to appeal to a United States court and challenge the denial of their immigration. The ship is detained until a judgment has been determined. However, the master of the ship has the option to post a bond of five hundred dollars so that the suspected “obnoxious person” may be permitted to land and offers surety that if said suspected “obnoxious person” is found guilty, will return the offender to their native country within six months. If the owners of the ship are found guilty of any violations, they are subject to forfeiture of the vessel.
The most significant change to immigration policy is that citizenship through naturalization is available to all free, white men, all African descendants, and, now, all Chinese immigrants. Yet, still, any immigrating woman (unless she’s African or Chinese) or non-Chinese or Non-African is denied U.S. citizenship. However, despite singling out China, Japan, and “any Oriental country” in sections 1, 2, and 4, the lack of racial specificity in sections 3 and 5 establish that it was not really a racially biased Act. What may seem racially biased in Section 4, the prohibition of “cooly” immigration, was actually intended to prevent labor practices that were practically a form of Chinese enslavement.
So, rather than be a racially biased piece of legislation, it was more discriminatory to women. It discriminated equally to all ethnicities of women whom attempted to immigrate for the purpose of plying their age-old sex trade in the New World. The gringa supposes white prostitutes had the most to gain by this bit of legislation. It seems that in 1875 the only prostitutes the United States wanted were the ones that were home grown.
(image credit: http://www.nwhm.org)