In the absence of federal laws that discriminated against immigrants, the state of California sought to favor immigrants of European origin by enacting special taxes that targeted the state’s Mexican and Chinese miners.
After the discovery of gold in northern California in 1848,
Responding to the demands of the Irish and Germans, the state of California enacted the Foreign Miners’ Tax in 1850. The tax was designed to discourage immigration by removing an economic incentive for moving to the United States or remaining in the country. The law, primarily directed at forcing Latinos out of the mines, required all persons who were not native born or who had not become American citizens under the
Chinese mine workers traveling on a railroad handcart in California.
The law did prove successful in its aim.
Despite their discriminatory treatment, both Mexican and Asian miners continued to play critical roles in the development of California. Apart from contributing to the population growth that allowed California in 1850 to become the first territory in the far West to achieve statehood, these “foreign” miners brought critical skills. The Mexicans, largely from the area of Sonora, possessed considerable experience and knowledge of mining techniques. They introduced the stair-step separator, known as the sluice box. They also utilized methods of dragging to crush ore. The Chinese did not have the same degree of mining experience but many displayed considerable resourcefulness in turning profits on mines that had been abandoned because of the difficulty in finding ore.
Brands, H. W. The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream. New York: Doubleday, 2002. Calderon, Roberto R. Mexican Coal Mining Labor in Texas and Coahuila, 1880-1930. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000. Hing, Bill Ong. Making and Remaking Asian America Through Immigration Policy, 1850-1990. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993. Holliday, J. S. The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.
California gold rush
Snake River Massacre