The Importance of “Whiteness” in American Legal History. Dr. Steiner Asian Americans and the Law. What is “race”?. U.S. Map. First Federal Congress. Naturalization Act of 1790.
Asian Americans and the Law
That any alien, being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof . . . .
Blumenbach used the word “race” in 1775 to classify humans into five divisions: Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American, and Malay.
The first difference which strikes us is that of colour. . . . [T]he difference is fixed in nature . . . . And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immoveable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race?
Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species. The circumstance of superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man?
Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. . . .
I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. . . . This unfortunate difference of colour, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people.
At the time of the amendment, in 1870, extending the naturalization laws to the African race, Mr. Summer made repeated and strenuous efforts to strike the word “white” from the naturalization laws, or to accomplish the same object by other language. It was opposed on the sole ground that the effect would be to authorize the admission of Chinese to citizenship. Every senator, who spoke upon the subject, assumed that they were then excluded by the term “white person,” and that the amendment would admit them . . . .
Senator Morton, in the course of the discussion said: “This amendment involves the whole Chinese problem. . . . The country has just awakened to the question and to the enormous magnitude of the question, involving a possible immigration of many millions, involving another civilization; involving labor problems that no intellect can solve without study and time. Are you now prepared to settle the Chinese problem, thus in advance inviting that immigration?”
Senator Sumner replied: “Senators undertake to disturb us in our judgment by reminding us of the possibility of large numbers swarming from China; but the answer to all this is very obvious and very simple. If the Chinese come here they will come for citizenship, or merely for labor. If they come for citizenship then in this desire to they give a pledge of loyalty to our institutions, and where is the peril in such vows? They are peaceful and industrious; how can their citizenship be the occasion of solicitude?”
The Japanese are “free.” They are, at least the dominant strains, are “white persons,” speaking an Aryan tongue and having Caucasian root stocks; a superior class fit for citizenship. . . . The Japanese are commonly called “The Yankees of the Orient.”
The American family reared along the lines of American traditions with the father managing the farm, the mother presiding in the home, and the children during their younger years attending school, cannot compete with the Oriental farm life wherein children and mother join with the father in the actual farm labor, and in addition do not enjoy conditions of life which are demanded by the American standard of living.