Primary Sources â€“ The California Gold Rush, 1848
The California Gold Rush began simply enough, with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill near Coloma,
California, on January 24, 1848. Unable to keep it a secret for very long, a March 15 headline in a San
Francisco newspaper made it general knowledge, and the Gold Rush was on. People flocked to the 31st
state, hoping to strike it rich and with very little effort. That dream did not come true for many, but they
stayed anyway and took up new trades, built new communities, and turned California into a wealthy and
populated state virtually overnight. The Gold Rush was truly an international event, with people flocking
from all over the globe looking for opportunity. This created a great deal of diversity very early on, a
condition originally accepted by most people. But that attitude shifted fairly quickly, especially after the
gold started to play out and economic depressions created competition for even the lowest-paying jobs.
The excerpts below reveal the attitudes of some white settlers toward people of diverse ethnic
backgrounds, in this case Chinese immigrants. Prior to the Gold Rush very few people of Asian descent
lived in the area, but the chance to make a living working in the gold fields or elsewhere attracted
thousands of people from China. Never more than a small minority of the population of the state, the
Chinese quickly became the target of racism, including laws that targeted them just for being Chinese.
Things to consider: 1) Based on the following sources, what kind of complaints did white Californians
have against Chinese immigrants? 2) In what ways did Norman Asing counter some of those
complaints? 3) Opinion Question: What do you think the consequences were of anti-Chinese racism in
Norman Asing on Anti-Chinese Racism in California Government1
Like peoples of other countries, Chinese flocked to California during the Gold Rush in large numbers,
20,000 by 1852, in search of opportunity. Many U.S. citizens saw Asian immigrants as an economic
threat because they competed for gold claims and, later, in other trades. White Californians also
believed the Chinese threatened American lifeways, simply because Chinese culture looked so different
to them. Norman Asing, a Chinese immigrant who had lived in the U.S. since 1820, moved to San
Francisco early in the Gold Rush to open a restaurant. He objected to California Governor John
Bigler’s increasingly hostile attitude toward Chinese immigrants. Bigler supported taxes that only
applied to Chinese immigrants, the intent being to keep Chinese from settling in the state. In response,
Asing wrote an open letter to the Daily Alta California, an early California Bay Area newspaper, to
express his concerns about Biglerâ€™s anti-Chinese racism.
To His Excellency Gov. Bigler,
Sir: I am a Chinaman, a republican, and a lover of free institutions; am much attached to the
principles of the government of the United States, and therefore take the liberty of addressing
you as the chief of the government of this State….
I am not much acquainted with your logic, that by excluding population from this State you
enhance its wealth. I have always considered that population was wealth; particularly a
population of producers, of men who by the labor of their hands or intellect, enrich the
warehouses or the granaries of the country with the products of nature and art. You are deeply
convinced you say â€œthat to enhance the prosperity and preserve the tranquility of this State,
Asiatic immigration must be checked.â€ This, your Excellency, is but one step towards a
Norman Asing to Governor Bigler, May 5, 1852, “We Are Not the Degraded Race You Would Make Usâ€: Norman Asing
Challenges Chinese Immigration Restrictions,” History Matters: The U.S. History Survey on the Web, accessed July 27, 2018,
retrograde movement of the government, which, on reflection, you will discover; and which the
citizens of this country ought never to tolerate…. But your further logic is more reprehensible.
You argue that this is a republic of a particular raceâ€”that the Constitution of the United States
admits of no asylum to any other than the pale face. This proposition is false in the extreme, and
you know it. The declaration of your independence, and all the acts of your government, your
people, and your history are all against you.
It is true, you have degraded the Negro because of your holding him in involuntary servitude,
and because for the sake of union in some of your states such was tolerated, and amongst this
class you would endeavor to place us; and no doubt it would be pleasing to some would-be
freemen to mark the brand of servitude upon us. But we would beg to remind you that when your
nation was a wilderness, and the nation from which you sprung barbarous, we exercised most of
the arts and virtues of civilized life; that we are possessed of a language and a literature, and that
men skilled in science and the arts are numerous among us; that the productions of our
manufactories, our sail, and workshops, form no small share of the commerce of the world; and
that for centuries, colleges, schools, charitable institutions, asylums, and hospitals, have been as
common as in your own land. That our people cannot be reproved for their idleness, and that
your historians have given them due credit for the variety and richness of their works of art, and
for their simplicity of manners, and particularly their industry….
Your Excellency will discover, however, that we are as much allied to the African race and the
red man as you are yourself, and that as far as the aristocracy of skin is concerned, ours might
compare with many of the European races; nor do we consider that your Excellency, as a
Democrat, will make us believe that the framers of your declaration of rights ever suggested the
propriety of establishing an aristocracy of skin.
Chico Anti-Chinese League Resolutions2
On May 10, 1894 some 1,300 white citizens of Chico, California, representing 45 percent of the city’s
total population, met in the local armory to discuss what they called the “Chinese question.” The most
recent in a series of what would be called hate groups today, they formed the Anti-Chinese League and
passed a number of resolutions, reproduced below. Like all previous efforts, the real problem was not
“Asiatic” labor, but a major economic depression that began in 1893 that began in Argentina but
quickly became global thanks to problems inherent to reliance on the gold standard, which the U.S. and
all major European powers used at the time. This particular depression, one of many that occurred in
the later-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, did not end until 1897.
We, the business men and residents of Chico and its vicinity, do hereby Resolve, That the
various avenues of labor being now almost entirely monopolized by the Asiatic and Japanese is
fast depopulating our fair country and bringing destitution and want into many households; has
reduced our census of public school children at the rate of more than one hundred a year for the
past two years; that by the presence of more than eight hundred Asiatics and some two hundred
Japanese, our people, who are near to us by nationality and dear to us by a common civilization,
and whose presence in our midst is more desirable, whose business interests are, or should be
closely allied with the interests of every other business of our community; are, through want of
employment, now being compelled to seek homes elsewhere, and to this state of facts is in a
Chico Anti-Chinese League Minute Book, 1894-1895, MSS-172, Northeastern California Collection, Meriam Library
Special Collections, California State University, Chico, 1-5.
great measure due to the extreme dullness in our local trades and the business interest of Chico
and its vicinity.
We realize that the employment of one thousand men and women in our midst would, in a great
measure revive our waning retail business and add new life to the general trade of this
community. Our people are demanding work. They must have employment to live and care for
those dependent upon them. Otherwise they must give way to the coolie invaders. Therefore be it
Resolved, That forbearance has ceased to be a virtue that we will use every possible peaceful,
and lawful means that we can command to prohibit the further congregating here of Asiatic
coolies or the employment of those now here and that as soon legal as [sic] ways and means can
be devised we will lend our efforts toward ridding this plague-stricken community of the
vampires that have long fed on the industries of this patient and forbearing community. And be it
Resolved, That prosperity and property rights must be sacredly protected, that no undue haste or
personal violence will be countenanced. The will of the majority has long since been construed
to be the end of the law. We realize that we are the center of the cooley colony north of
Sacramento and that only by a firm and united effort can their hold be broken, and we deem it to
be the duty of every business man to lend his aid and presence in the good cause. And be it
Resolved, That the imperfection of Mongolian laborers for fruit picking or other purposes should
immediately be stopped for the good of the community.
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