The Workingman's Party

Must go crop

“The Chinese Must Go!” was the slogan of the Workingmen’s Party of California. The image above comes from an 1879 “ticket,” a listing of the party’s candidates.

Another arises out of the leadership of the anti-Chinese movement. Denis Kearney, the leader of the Workingmen’s Party, was an Irish immigrant. His party had its origins in Karl Marx’s efforts to launch an International Workingmen’s Party. Kearney not only promised to drive all of the Chinese in California into the Pacific, he also promised to burn down San Francisco’s City Hall in the name of the coming revolution that would sweep away capitalism and establish a workers’ democracy. Here is a sample of his rhetoric from an 1877 speech:

  • The Central Pacific Railroad men are thieves, and will soon feel the power of the workingmen. When I have thoroughly organized my party, we will march through the city and compel the thieves to give up their plunder. I will lead you to the City Hall, clean out the police force, hang the Prosecuting Attorney, burn every book that has a particle of law in it, and then enact new laws for the workingmen. I will give the Central Pacific just three months to discharge their Chinamen, and if that is not done, Stanford and his crowd will have to take the consequences. (San Francisco Evening Bulletin, November 5, 1877)

Antagonism against the Chinese on the West Coast was already virulent by the early 1870s. It became even worse with the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Thousands of Chinese laborers, some highly skilled, streamed into San Francisco and other cities looking for work. This coincided with a severe economic depression, the Panic of 1877, which threw additional thousands out of work in California, and millions nationwide. Kearney’s stump speeches in the Fall of 1877 appealed to these desparate workers. "When the Chinese question is settled, we can discuss whether it would be better to hang, shoot, or cut the capitalists to pieces. In six months we will have 50,000 men ready. . . " he declaimed. This got him put in jail as a danger to the public peace. There Kearney changed his tune. In a successful effort to get himself released, Kearney pledged:

  • We have no design against the peace of the city, either present or future, and we are willing to submit to any wise measure to allay the existing excitement. We do not propose to hold any more out-of-door meetings, or to tolerate any further use of incendiary language, and sincerely hope that our friends will, under all circumstances, obey the officers of the law and uphold the peace of the city.

Once out of jail, Kearney led a Thanksgiving Day march of some 7,000 or more followers to protest the continued presence of Chinese in the city. Later in 1878 his Workingmen’s Party won about a third of the seats to California’s Constitutional Convention and succeeded in getting a number of anti-Chinese provisions included. These were later ruled in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Kearney’s Workingmen’s Party swept the 1879 elections San Francisco. Isaac Kalloch won the mayoralty. He was a minister with the largest congregation in the city; his church had sponsored a Sunday School for Chinese. Nonetheless he ran on the Workingmen’s Party ticket and endorsed their “The Chinese Must Go” pledge. During the campaign, a feud developed between Kalloch and the publisher of the Chronicle, Charles De Young. De Young shot Kalloch in front of his church just ten days before the election. Kalloch lived and won in a landslide. The Board of Health then condemned Chinatown as a “nuisance” to the health of the city that had to be “abated.” Fortunately, no one tried to enforce the order. Several Chinese had made it known in 1877, in a letter to the then mayor, that “We are not ignorant that self-defense is the right of all men; should a riotous attack be made upon the Chinese quarter, we should have neither the power nor the disposition to restrain our countrymen from defending themselves to the last extremity, and selling their lives as dearly as possible.”

Here is Kearney’s own justification for “The Chinese Must Go!” campaign:

Dennis Kearney, President, and H. L. Knight, Secretary, “Appeal from California. The Chinese Invasion. Workingmen’s Address,” Indianapolis Times, 28 February 1878.

Our moneyed men have ruled us for the past thirty years. Under the flag of the slaveholder they hoped to destroy our liberty. Failing in that, they have rallied under the banner of the millionaire, the banker and the land monopolist, the railroad king and the false politician, to effect their purpose. We have permitted them to become immensely rich against all sound republican policy, and they have turned upon us to sting us to death. They have seized upon the government by bribery and corruption. They have made speculation and public robbery a science. They have loaded the nation, the state, the county, and the city with debt. They have stolen the public lands. They have grasped all to themselves, and by their unprincipled greed brought a crisis of unparalleled distress on forty millions of people, who have natural resources to feed, clothe and shelter the whole human race.

Such misgovernment, such mismanagement, may challenge the whole world for intense stupidity, and would put to shame the darkest tyranny of the barbarous past. We, here in California, feel it as well as you. We feel that the day and hour has come for the Workingmen of America to depose capital and put Labor in the Presidential chair, in the Senate and Congress, in the State House, and on the Judicial Bench. We are with you in this work. Workingmen must form a party of their own, take charge of the government, dispose gilded fraud, and put honest toil in power.

In our golden state all these evils have been intensified. Land monopoly has seized upon all the best soil in this fair land. A few men own from ten thousand to two hundred thousand acres each. The poor Laborer can find no resting place, save on the barren mountain, or in the trackless desert. Money monopoly has reached its grandest proportions. Here, in San Francisco, the palace of the millionaire looms up above the hovel of the starving poor with as wide a contrast as anywhere on earth. To add to our misery and despair, a bloated aristocracy has sent to China — the greatest and oldest despotism in the world — for a cheap working slave. It rakes the slums of Asia to find the meanest slave on earth — the Chinese coolie — and imports him here to meet the free American in the Labor market, and still further widen the breach between the rich and the poor, still further to degrade white Labor. These cheap slaves fill every place. Their dress is scant and cheap. Their food is rice from China. They hedge twenty in a room, ten by ten. They are whipped curs, abject in docility, mean, contemptible and obedient in all things. They have no wives, children or dependents.

They are imported by companies, controlled as serfs, worked like slaves, and at last go back to China with all their earnings. They are in every place, they seem to have no sex. Boys work, girls work; it is all alike to them. The [white] father of a family is met by them at every turn. Would he get work for himself? Ah! A stout Chinaman does it cheaper. Will he get a place for his oldest boy? He can not. His girl? Why, the Chinaman is in her place too! Every door is closed. He can only go to crime or suicide, his wife and daughter to prostitution, and his boys to hoodlumism and the penitentiary.

Do not believe those who call us savages, rioters, incendiaries, and outlaws. We seek our ends calmly, rationally, at the ballot box. So far good order has marked all our proceedings. But, we know how false, how inhuman, our adversaries are. We know that if gold, if fraud, if force can defeat us, they will all be used. And we have resolved that they shall not defeat us. We shall arm. We shall meet fraud and falsehood with defiance, and force with force, if need be. We are men, and propose to live like men in this free land, without the contamination of slave labor, or die like men, if need be, in asserting the rights of our race, our country, and our families.

California must be all American or all Chinese. We are resolved that it shall be American, and are prepared to make it so. May we not rely upon your sympathy and assistance? With great respect for the Workingmen’s Party of California.
Denis Kearney, President
H.L. Knight, Secretary

The Workingman's Party

In The Emperor's Wake Corinthi