History of the Federal Judiciary

History of the Federal Judiciary

  Chew Heong v. United States: Chinese Exclusion and the Federal Courts
Historical Documents

Angell Treaty of 1880

In the 1870s, the growing anti-Chinese movement led to demands to limit Chinese immigration to the United States. The California legislature passed a law in 1874 requiring a $500 bond for the landing of any “lewd or debauched women,” a measure aimed specifically at Chinese immigrant women. State efforts to restrict immigration ended when the Supreme Court ruled that the regulation of immigration was a federal, not a state, concern. The federal government took some steps to restrict Chinese immigration with the Page Act of 1875, forbidding the entry of Asian contract laborers, prostitutes, and felons. More sweeping limits remained difficult to achieve because the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 between China and the United States explicitly recognized the right of free migration. The Fifteen Passenger Act of 1879, which required that ships carry no more than fifteen Chinese passengers to the United States at a time, was vetoed by President Rutherford Hayes on the grounds that it violated the treaty.

To placate his critics, Hayes sent a commission led by James Angell to China to negotiate a new treaty to allow restrictions on Chinese immigration. On November 17, 1880, the new treaty was signed at Peking. As the excerpts reprinted here reveal, the treaty allowed for the regulation—but not the total exclusion—of Chinese immigration. Furthermore, the treaty specifically limited proposed restrictions to Chinese laborers who had never been in the United States. Laborers who lived in the United States before the treaty was signed and all other Chinese were to be allowed to migrate freely, as before. The Angell Treaty also reaffirmed the “most favored nation” status of Chinese residing in the United States, originally extended to Chinese in the Burlingame Treaty. Congress soon used its new power to restrict Chinese immigration, but the treaty would continue to limit the scope of exclusion, especially as it was interpreted by the courts.

[Document Source:
U.S. Statutes at Large 22 (1881): 826.]

The Angell Treaty of 1880

Article I.

Whenever in the opinion of the Government of the United States, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States, or their residence therein, affects or threatens to affect the interests of that country, or to endanger the good order of the said country or of any locality within the territory thereof, the Government of China agrees that the Government of the United States may regulate, limit, or suspend such coming or residence, but may not absolutely prohibit it. The limitation or suspension shall be reasonable and shall apply only to Chinese who may go to the United States as laborers, other classes not being included in the limitations. Legislation taken in regard to Chinese laborers will be of such a character only as is necessary to enforce the regulation, limitation, or suspension of immigration, and immigrants shall not be subject to personal maltreatment or abuse.

Article II.

Chinese subjects, whether proceeding to the United States as teachers, students, merchants or from curiosity, together with their body and household servants, and Chinese laborers who are now in the United States shall be allowed to go and come of their own free will and accord, and shall be accorded all the rights, privileges, immunities, and exemptions which are accorded to the citizens and subjects of the most favored nation.


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