Chinese Exclusion Act

(1882)

In the late 1800s, when a movement developed to stop the influx of Chinese laborers into the United States, Congress responded by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Chinese Exclusion Act, and the ensuing legislation that lengthened and strengthened its provisions, legitimated the exclusion of a particular group from this country based on race and ethnicity. On May 6, 1882, President Chester Arthur signed the bill into law.

The Chinese had come to the United States to work. Disembarking on the West Coast, Chinese laborers helped build that part of the nation. They contributed their talents and energies, but a place in American society was not part of the bargain. As their numbers increased and as white workers felt pressure from an economic downturn, derision and violence were directed toward the Chinese. Congress acted not to protect the Chinese but to bar their entry to the United States. The act remained law until World War II, when it was repealed by the...

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Cartoon satirizing the Chinese Exclusion Act (Library of Congress)

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