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[LABOR] Terence V. Powderly (Leading Proponent of Chinese Exclusion)

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  • madchinaman
    The Chinese Question and American Labor Historians Stanford M. Lyman [from New Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 28, Winter 2000] STANFORD M.
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 8 4:02 PM
      The "Chinese Question" and American Labor Historians
      Stanford M. Lyman
      [from New Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 28, Winter
      2000]
      STANFORD M. LYMAN is Robert J. Morrow Eminent Scholar and professor
      of Social Science at Florida Atlantic University. A specialist on
      Asian American studies, minorities and sociological theory, he is
      the author of Chinese Americans, The Asian in North America, and
      Chinatown and Little Tokyo: Power, Conflict, and Community among
      Chinese and Japanese Immigrants in America. His most recent book is
      Postmodernism and a Sociology of the Absurd and Other Essays on
      the "Nouvelle Vague" in American Social Science.
      http://www.wpunj.edu/~newpol/issue28/lyman28.htm


      -

      Thus, on January 8, 1892, an article in the San Francisco Chronicle
      quoted him censuring employers who opposed exclusion: "Standing
      behind them [i.e., the Chinese] are Christian employers of this
      land, who would rather import heathen willing to work for barely
      enough to sustain life than retain a brother Christian at a wage
      sufficient to live as becomes a Christian. We do not want opium or
      the Chinese who grow it . . . "

      In the same article, Powderly also aligned his concerns about
      Chinese immigration with those said to be worrying white laboring
      men, and, warming to his subject, to those frightened by the
      prospect of the destruction of the American polity itself.

      Thus, he warned his readers that "the substitution of the Mongolian
      slave for the American freeman, the abandonment of home for the
      street and slum and the final overthrow of the republic," were
      likely consequences of a weakened exclusion law.

      A decade later, Powderly, having become Commissioner-General of
      Immigration, and after 1900 in sole charge of enforcing Chinese
      exclusion, was still unsatisfied: "No graver danger has ever menaced
      the workingmen of America," he thundered, "than that which faces
      them when the possibility of lowering the bars at our seaports and
      border-lines to the Chinese is presented."

      Again seeking strengthening of the exclusion law, Powderly laid out
      his own version of a parade of horribles, a comprehensive and
      irrevocable indictment of the Chinese whether considered as a
      people, a sociological entity, or a civilization:

      Powderly took a leading position on the latter issue when he evicted
      Chinese workers from his own labor organization. When, in 1887,
      Chinese assemblies of the Knights of Labor were organized by
      District 49, Powderly ordered that they be disbanded forthwith, he
      having already "gone on record as not only opposing Chinese labor
      but also declaring that Chinese and Japanese were unfit to reside in
      the United States."

      In part, in his case, it is related to a larger religious division
      the jurisdictional dispute between the Catholic church and various
      Protestant denominations over the appropriate trade union gospel,
      ultimately over the salvation of the workingman's soul.

      In California, the Catholic church had chosen to serve its new-
      immigrant Irish and Italian constituencies and turned its back on
      Chinese immigrants, its leading local priest becoming a well-known
      speaker favoring exclusion.

      -


      Terence V. Powderly (1849-1924)
      GRAND MASTER, (AFTER 1883, GENERAL MASTER Workman) of the Knights of
      Labor (KOL), (1879-1893); elected mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania,
      three times on the Greenback-Labor ticket (1878-1884); opponent of
      workingmen's strikes; active participant in the struggles between
      the KOL and the CMIU; for many years rivalrous enemy of Gompers and
      the latter's approach to trade unionism; advocate of political
      rather than economic action with respect to the Haymarket affair
      (1886); clandestine member of the secret Irish nationalist society
      Clan na Gael; appointed U.S. Commissioner-General of Immigration
      (1897- 1902) by President McKinley; and Chief of the Division of
      Information in the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (1907-
      1924), Terence Vincent Powderly is mentioned but three times in
      Gyory's book.

      However, a reader would not learn from these brief entries that
      Powderly was one of the most vitriolic and vituperative of the labor
      movement's Sinophobes. Powderly's role in the alliance of the KOL
      with the Greenback-Labor Party is mentioned in the context of the
      latter's program opposing "imported," i.e., contracted Chinese labor
      and favoring voluntary immigration; his statement, "I am disgusted
      with Kearney" is presented as evidence of the KOL leader's anger
      over the San Francisco's sandlot salesman of Sinophobia's attempt to
      win over Scranton's workingmen to his extraordinarily vilifying
      approach to Chinese exclusion.

      His receipt of KOL founder Uriah Stephens's request that Kearney "be
      favorably launched as an element in the Labor Movement on the
      Atlantic Slope" is presented without any report of Powderly's reply.
      However, Powderly's own adamant hostility to Chinese immigration is
      not difficult to document.

      In part, in his case, it is related to a larger religious division
      the jurisdictional dispute between the Catholic church and various
      Protestant denominations over the appropriate trade union gospel,
      ultimately over the salvation of the workingman's soul.

      In California, the Catholic church had chosen to serve its new-
      immigrant Irish and Italian constituencies and turned its back on
      Chinese immigrants, its leading local priest becoming a well-known
      speaker favoring exclusion.

      In the same State until the few conversions they were able to effect
      dampened their ardor Protestant missionaries, called back from
      China, took up the cause of the Chinese and also sought to cure
      their souls. With the spread of the anti- Chinese movement to the
      East, coupled with the migration of Irish Catholics to the Pacific
      coast, the religio-ethnoracial conflict that threatened to divide
      Irish Catholic workingmen from their white Protestant fellow workers
      was heightened but also deflected in great part by the Chinese
      question.

      Powderly took a leading position on the latter issue when he evicted
      Chinese workers from his own labor organization. When, in 1887,
      Chinese assemblies of the Knights of Labor were organized by
      District 49, Powderly ordered that they be disbanded forthwith, he
      having already "gone on record as not only opposing Chinese labor
      but also declaring that Chinese and Japanese were unfit to reside in
      the United States."

      Powderly's popularity with white workers and, later, his coming-to-
      agreeable-terms with Gompers arose in great measure from the
      rhetoric with which he peppered his anti-Chinese diatribes. Like
      Kearney whom he may have seen as more a disturbing Orangeman than a
      disgusting rabblerouser Powderly's speeches and articles were filled
      with Sinophobic vitriol.

      However, to influence his Irish Catholic followers and alleviate the
      worries of those papacy-fearing Protestant workers who, on most
      secular matters supported his position, he linked his advocacy of
      stronger anti-Chinese legislation to the protection and preservation
      of a generalized Occidental Christian civilization in America.

      Thus, on January 8, 1892, an article in the San Francisco Chronicle
      quoted him censuring employers who opposed exclusion: "Standing
      behind them [i.e., the Chinese] are Christian employers of this
      land, who would rather import heathen willing to work for barely
      enough to sustain life than retain a brother Christian at a wage
      sufficient to live as becomes a Christian. We do not want opium or
      the Chinese who grow it . . . "

      In the same article, Powderly also aligned his concerns about
      Chinese immigration with those said to be worrying white laboring
      men, and, warming to his subject, to those frightened by the
      prospect of the destruction of the American polity itself.

      Thus, he warned his readers that "the substitution of the Mongolian
      slave for the American freeman, the abandonment of home for the
      street and slum and the final overthrow of the republic," were
      likely consequences of a weakened exclusion law.

      A decade later, Powderly, having become Commissioner-General of
      Immigration, and after 1900 in sole charge of enforcing Chinese
      exclusion, was still unsatisfied: "No graver danger has ever menaced
      the workingmen of America," he thundered, "than that which faces
      them when the possibility of lowering the bars at our seaports and
      border-lines to the Chinese is presented."

      Again seeking strengthening of the exclusion law, Powderly laid out
      his own version of a parade of horribles, a comprehensive and
      irrevocable indictment of the Chinese whether considered as a
      people, a sociological entity, or a civilization:
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