Harper’s Weekly, March 9, 1879, page 182 (Editorial)
Congress has announced to the world that the United States intend to break treaties at their pleasure. The peremptory abrogation of the Chinese treaty is a flagrant breach of public faith which sullies the good name of the country, and puts every other nation upon its guard in undertaking any dealings with us which depend upon our honor. It is not only the national honor, however, which is concerned, but a most important commercial interest. As we disregard the parts of the treaty that we do not like, China will do the same. The treaty is, therefore, at an end, if the bill be not vetoed. If it be vetoed, all other nations have, nevertheless, been notified that Congress holds all treaties subject to its discretion. It is true that a treaty has only the force of a law of the land, and that Congress may repeal any law. But a treaty in its nature is an honorable understanding between governments, made in a way which recognizes a certain method of withdrawal from the engagement. It is not contended that a nation is bound to adhere to a treaty when it proves to be seriously injurious to its welfare. But it is bound to deal with other nations as one honest man would deal with another in annulling a contract of honor. No treaty can be construed as holding us to submit passively while our civilization is overwhelmed by barbarism. But to argue that the presence of a hundred and ten or twenty thousand Chinese upon the Pacific coast is such an imminent peril to American society and civilization as to justify the peremptory abrogation of a treaty, without notice or attempted friendly modification, is insulting to common-sense. It was stated in the debate that the return of immigrants to China during the last year or two had been as great as the movement this way. Nothing whatever was said to show the need of urgency in the matter, even conceding the force of all that was said by Mr. Sargent. But such was the determination "to put it through" that even the very questionable amendment of Mr. Conkling, providing substantially for a delay of action until notice could be served on China, was rejected. There has been no debate in the Senate for a long time which was so earnest and so interesting. Mr. Edmunds’s protest just before the vote was very impressive and emphatic, and Mr. Hoar, in a few forcible sentences, described the situation precisely:
"Mr. President, I agree with the Senator from California in the desire to accomplish all that he says he desires to accomplish by this legislation. I agree that the cooly trade should be broken up. I agree that laborers imported—not coming in as immigrants, but imported by their employers—may properly be excluded from our ports. I agree that contracts for terms of time by capital for the employment of human beings—contracts in which the laborer has no volition—are illegal and immoral, and should be broken up. But this legislation does not undertake alone or simply to do that. It starts by a denial of the obligation of national faith. It starts by the abrogation at the mere will of one party of a solemn treaty. It starts by relieving the Emperor of China of obligations upon which depend the rights and the property and the business of large numbers of our own fellow-citizens, who are as much entitled to the protection of the government in their business as any other class of our fellow-citizens; and it does all these things without the slightest necessity. It does all these things because the people of California tell us that in some remote future a population which in thirty years has left with its immigration, according to their own account, but a hundred thousand excess of the immigrants who have staid above those of the emigrants who have returned, will some time in distant ages swamp their civilization."
The argument for the bill was a transparent pretense. It asserted that Chinese immigration was undesirable, and therefore that the treaty providing for it, and providing upon terms suggested by ourselves, should be summarily broken. But the argument does not hold together. Even if it be wise to restrain the immigration, it is neither wise nor honest to break faith. The general question of Asiatic immigration involves the most fundamental principles, and is not to be decided in a few hours’ hot debate. There is no doubt that the Chinese and the Anglo-Saxon do not readily assimilate. But our own national and local laws make the assimilation still more difficult. Mr. Blaine said that he was opposed to the admission of great numbers of people whom we forbade to become citizens. Yet the treaty permitting the admission was made after the prohibition of naturalization. From Mr. Blaine’s point of view his argument was a reason for urging the abrogation of the treaty in a fair and recognized manner, not for summarily breaking it without the pretense of reason for the indecent haste. Indeed, throughout the debate, there was no real reason whatever advanced for the action contemplated. The apprehension of a Chinese deluge of immigration is not new. Fourteen years ago, Dr. John W. Draper, in his Civil Policy of America, considered the subject carefully, and held that the Pacific coast was destined hereafter to be the scene of an active Asiatic immigration. The Chinese population of California in 1860 was nearly 35,000. Dr. Draper thought that their view of America as a temporary home sprang from the natural timidity of early adventurers. But as they came with more settled intentions, the universal but temporary antipathy between different races would yield, and the general principles of the republic powerfully prevail. The facility of acquiring land would be a temptation, he thought that no laboring class could withstand. But while Dr. Draper considered the Chinese advent inevitable, he regarded it with anxiety, and foresaw that with Eastern blood would come Eastern thoughts and Eastern habits. This was before the naturalization legislation of 1870 which prohibited the citizenship of the Chinese, or the school laws of California which forbade including Mongolian children in the apportionment. Dr. Draper’s advice was that the Chinese should be fused as rapidly as possible in the population. The policy adopted was the absolute prohibition of fusion. As to the actual number, the Alta Almanac, from which Mr. Howland quoted, gives as the annual increase of arrivals over departures between four and five thousand. During thirty years the gain of arrivals over departures has been less than 140,000, leaving about 100,000 as the present number on this continent.

A Matter of Taste
March 15, 1879, page 212

Blaine Language
March 15, 1879, page 216

These plain figures, in themselves an unanswerable argument against haste or any breach of international comity force the question home, what is the secret of this summary and hurried action? The answer is equally plain—the Presidential election. California is strongly opposed to the Chinese immigration, and the party that defeats the bill would be defeated in the election. This is the reason openly stated by well-informed observers on the spot, and made probable by the total want of force or point in the speeches for the bill. Mr. Eustis, the Democratic Senator from Louisiana, pointed out the singular position of Republican Senators who, in the actual Southern conflict between the black man and the white man, take the side of the black man, but in a contest not yet begun, and only to arise, if ever, in a remote future, take part with the white man against the yellow. It was one of the sayings of Mr. Douglas, in the old antislavery debate, that he was for the white man as against the negro, and for the negro as against the alligator. He was bitterly denounced for declaring that ours was a white man’s government. Was Douglas, then, after all, a Republican of the day after to-morrow? These, however, are questions that were not before the Senate. The sole question there was, shall a treaty solemnly ratified with a friendly power be violated, offensively, summarily, without taking any preliminary step which fair and honest comity requires? We are glad that, with two or three exceptions, the whole Republican weight of the Senate insisted upon fair dealing with the Chinese government. The bill was carried by a vote of 39, of which 18 were Republicans; and the minority was 27, of which 17 were Republicans.
Harper’s Weekly, March 9, 1879, page 182 (Editorial)

This site is brought to you by…
Website and all Content 1998-1999 HarpWeek, LLC
Please report problems to webmaster@harpweek.com