The Chinese Exclusion Case
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued March 28, 29, 1889. ; May 13, 1889, Decided
[*589] [**623] [***1070] MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the court.
The appeal involves a consideration of the validity of the act of Congress of October 1, 1888, prohibiting Chinese laborers from entering [**624] the United States who had departed before its passage, having a certificate issued under the act of 1882 as amended by the act of 1884, granting them permission to return. The validity of the act is [****17] assailed as being in effect an expulsion from the country of Chinese laborers, in violation of existing treaties between the United States and the government of China, and of rights vested in them under the laws of Congress.
It will serve to present with greater clearness the nature and force of the objections to the act, if a brief statement be made of the general character of the treaties between the two countries and of the legislation of Congress to carry them into execution.
[*590] The first treaty between the United States and the Empire of China was concluded on the 3d of July, 1844, and ratified in December of the following year. 8 Stat. 592. Previous to that time there had been an extensive commerce between the two nations, that to China being confined to a single port. It was not, however, attended by any serious disturbances between our people there and the Chinese. In August, 1842, as the result of a war between England and China, a treaty was concluded stipulating for peace and friendship between them, and, among other things, that British subjects, with their families and establishments, should be allowed to reside for the purpose of carrying on mercantile [****18] pursuits at the five principal ports of the empire. 6 Hertslet's Commercial Treaties, 221; 3 Nouveau Recueil General de Traites (1842), 484. Actuated by a desire to establish by treaty friendly relations between the United States and the Chinese Empire, and to secure to our people the same commercial privileges which had been thus conceded to British subjects, Congress placed at the disposal of the President the means to enable him to establish future commercial relations between the two countries "on terms of national equal reciprocity." Act of March, 1843, c. 90, 5 Stat. 624. A mission was accordingly sent by him to China, at the head of which was placed Mr. Caleb Cushing, a gentleman of large experience in public affairs. He found the Chinese government ready to concede by treaty to the United States all that had been reluctantly yielded to England through compulsion. As the result of his negotiations the treaty of 1844 was concluded. It stipulated, among other things, that there should be a "perfect, permanent and universal peace, and a sincere and cordial amity" between the two nations; that the five principal ports of the empire should be opened to the citizens of the United [****19] States, who should be permitted to reside with their families and trade there, and to proceed with their vessels and merchandise to and from any foreign port and either of said five ports; and while peaceably attending to their affairs should receive the protection of the Chinese authorities. Senate Document No. 138, 28th Cong. 2d Sess.
[*591] The treaty between England and China did not have the effect of securing permanent peace and friendship between those countries.British subjects in China were often subjected not only to the violence of mobs, but to insults and outrages from local authorities of the country, which led to retaliatory measures for the punishment of the aggressors. To such an extent were these measures carried, and such resistance offered to them, that in 1856 the two countries were in open war. England then determined, with the co-operation of France, between which countries there seemed to be perfect accord, to secure from the government of China, among other things, a recognition of the right of other powers to be represented there by accredited ministers, an extension of commercial intercourse with that country, and stipulations for religious freedom [****20] to all foreigners there, and for the suppression of piracy.England requested of the President the concurrence and active co-operation of the United States similar to that which France had accorded, and to authorize our naval and political authorities to act in concert with the allied forces. As this proposition involved a participation in existing hostilities, the request could not be acceded to, and the Secretary of State in his communication to the English government explained that the war-making power of the United States was not vested in the President but in Congress, and that he had no authority, therefore, to order aggressive hostilities to be undertaken. But as the rights of citizens of the United States might be seriously affected by the results of existing hostilities, and commercial intercourse between the United States and China be disturbed, it was deemed advisable to send to China a minister plenipotentiary to represent our government and watch our interests there. Accordingly, Mr. William B. Reed, of Philadelphia, was appointed such minister, and instructed, whilst abstaining from any direct interference, to aid by peaceful cooperation the objects the allied forces [****21] were seeking to accomplish. Senate Document No. 47, 35th Cong. 1st Sess. Through him a new treaty was negotiated with the Chinese government. It was concluded in June, 1858, and ratified in August of the following year. [*592] 12 Stat. 1023. It reiterated the pledges of peace and friendship between the two nations, renewed the promise of protection to all citizens of the United States in China peaceably attending to their affairs, and stipulated for security to Christians in the profession of their religion. Neither the treaty of 1844, nor that of 1858, touched upon the migration and emigration of the citizens and subjects of the two nations respectively from one country to [***1071] the other. But in 1868 a great change in the relations of the two nations was made in that respect. In that year a mission from China, composed of distinguished functionaries of that empire, came to the United States with the professed object of establishing closer relations between the two countries and their peoples.At its head was placed Mr. Anson Burlingame, an eminent citizen of the United [**625] States, who had at one time represented this country as commissioner to China. He [****22] resigned his office under our government to accept the position tendered to him by the Chinese government. The mission was hailed in the United States as the harbinger of a new era in the history of China -- as the opening up to free intercourse with other nations and peoples a country that for ages had been isolated and closed against foreigners, who were allowed to have intercourse and to trade with the Chinese only at a few designated places; and the belief was general, and confidently expressed, that great benefits would follow to the world generally and especially to the United States. On its arrival in Washington, additional articles to the treaty of 1858 were agreed upon, which gave expression to the general desire that the two nations and their peoples should be drawn closer together. The new articles, eight in number, were agreed to on the 28th of July, 1868, and ratifications of them were exchanged at Pekin in November of the following year. 16 Stat. 739. Of these articles the 5th, 6th and 7th are as follows: Read The Full CaseNot a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.
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130 U.S. 581 *; 9 S. Ct. 623 **; 32 L. Ed. 1068 ***; 1889 U.S. LEXIS 1778 ****
THE CHINESE EXCLUSION CASE.; CHAE CHAN PING v. UNITED STATES.
Prior History: [****1] APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA.
THE court stated the case as follows in its opinion:
This case comes before us on appeal from an order of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of California refusing to release the appellant, on a writ of habeas corpus, from his alleged unlawful detention by Captain Walker, master of the steamship Belgic, lying within the harbor of San Francisco.The appellant is a subject of the Emperor of China and a laborer by occupation. He resided at San Francisco, California, following his occupation, from some time in 1875 until June 2, 1887, when he left for China on the steamship Gaelic, having in his possession a certificate, in terms entitling him to return to the United States, bearing date on that day, duly issued to him by the collector of customs of the port of San Francisco, pursuant to the provisions of section four of the restriction act of May 6, 1882, as amended by the act of July 5, 1884. 22 Stat. 58, c. 126; 23 Stat. 115, c. 220.
On the 7th of September, 1888, the appellant, on his return to California, sailed from Hong Kong in the steamship Belgic, which [****2] arrived within the port of San Francisco on the 8th of October following. On his arrival he presented to the proper custom-house officers his certificate, and demanded permission to land. The collector of the port refused the permit, solely on the ground that under the act of Congress, approved October 1, 1888, supplementary to the restriction acts of 1882 and 1884, the certificate had been annulled and his right to land abrogated, and he had been thereby forbidden again to enter the United States. 25 Stat. 504, c. 1064. The captain of the steamship, therefore, detained the appellant on board the steamer. Thereupon a petition on his behalf was presented to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of California, alleging that he was unlawfully restrained of his liberty, and praying that a writ of habeas corpus might be issued directed to the master of the steamship, commanding him to have the body of the appellant, with the cause of his detention, before the court at a time and place designated, to do and receive what might there be considered in the premises. A writ was accordingly issued, and in obedience to it the body of the appellant was produced before [****3] the court. Upon the hearing which followed, the court, after finding the facts substantially as stated, held as conclusions of law that the appellant was not entitled to enter the United States, and was not unlawfully restrained of his liberty, and ordered that he be remanded to the custody of the master of the steamship from which he had been taken under the writ. From this order an appeal was taken to this court.
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