Project Proposal: Denis Kearney and the Anti-Chinese Movement

Sarah E Jones

History 298

Professor Moon

February 9, 2018

Project Proposal: Denis Kearney and the Anti-Chinese Movement

            This paper is going to look at Denis Kearney, an Irish immigrant, who eventually became the leader of the Workingmen’s Party of California in the late nineteenth-century. More specifically, the research will question what role Kearney played in the Anti-Chinese Movement of the late nineteenth-century, which promoted violence, negative caricatures, and discriminatory legislative against Chinese Americans and immigrants. Kearney, with his charismatic personality and with support from white working-class men, played a significant role in the Anti-Chinese Movement, including influencing the creation of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which excluded Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States.

There will be a number of primary and secondary sources used for this research paper. The primary sources used will mostly consist of newspaper articles written about Kearney and his Workingmen’s Party of California, and how they influenced hate-related attitudes towards the Chinese in California. One particular article gives the text of a speech that Kearney made in Washington D.C. and the crowd’s reactions. When Kearney used violent imagery to describe how the “workingmen of America are going to win,” even “if they had to wade knee deep in blood,” the author taking note of this speech also took note of the audience’s “laughter and applause.”[1] Another primary source is a newspaper article from the Daily Los Angeles Harold that is an opinion piece on Kearney and his campaigning.

The secondary sources to be used will include both academic books and academic journal articles. These sources will show a timeline of events that led up to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act and Kearney’s role in promoting it. Some works cover the history of the anti-Chinese movement in California, but they still manage to discuss how Kearney and his Workingmen’s Party had an influence in the anti-Chinese sentiment. Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer claims that the activities of Kearney and his party were “so spectacular that there has been a widespread tendency to look upon it as constituting the major part of the movement against the Chinese.”[2]

The significance of this project of is tied to the power of American nativism. Hate-filled rhetoric and violence from organizations or individuals can be found throughout American history. Throughout history, there have been and currently are pockets of hate-filled rhetoric from groups or masses of people in a nation. They usually target specific groups of people who are seen as “different,” since they namely are not white, male, Protestant, or heterosexual. Within these movements, there is typically a source that either sparks hatred, or fans the flames. Denis Kearney is one such person, who targeted Chinese Americans and blamed them for society’s problems. While there were other factors that lead to the Anti-Chinese Movement and the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Denis Kearney certainly had an effect.

[1] “Denis Kearney’s Speech in Washington.,” The Independent … Devoted to the Consideration of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature, and the Arts (1848-1921); New York, September 12, 1878.

[2] Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer, The Anti-Chinese Movement in California (University of Illinois Press, 1991), 63.



Primary Sources

“Daily Los Angeles Herald. [Microfilm Reel] (Los Angeles [Calif.]) 1876-1884, March 22, 1879, Image 2,” March 22, 1879.

“Denis Kearney’s Speech in Washington.” The Independent … Devoted to the Consideration of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature, and the Arts (1848-1921); New York, September 12, 1878.


Secondary Sources

Anonymous. “Racist Recalled.” Irish Voice; New York, N.Y. October 13, 2010.

Hsin-Yun Ou. “Chinese Ethnicity and the American Heroic Artisan in Henry Grimm’s The Chinese Must Go (1879).” Comparative Drama 44, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 63–84.

“Inside and Outside Chinatown: Chinese Elites in Exclusion Era California – ProQuest.” Accessed January 29, 2018.

Lee, Erika. At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

———. “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882-1924.” Journal of American Ethnic History 21, no. 3 (2002): 36–62.

Lu, Alexander. “Litigation and Subterfuge: Chinese Immigrant Mobilization During the Chinese Exclusion Era.” Sociological Spectrum 30, no. 4 (August 7, 2010): 403–32.

Marcus, Kenneth H., and Yong Chen. “Inside and Outside Chinatown: Chinese Elites in Exclusion Era California.” Pacific Historical Review; Berkeley 80, no. 3 (August 2011): 369–400.

Moore, Shirley Ann Wilson. “‘We Feel the Want of Protection’: The Politics of Law and Race in California, 1848-1878.” California History 81, no. 3/4 (2003): 96–125.

Sandmeyer, Elmer Clarence. The Anti-Chinese Movement in California. University of Illinois Press, 1991.

“The Workingmen’s Party of California, 1877-1882.” California Historical Quarterly 55, no. 1 (1976): 58–73.

Vasconcellos, Ramon. “Was Denis Kearney a Voice for Labor Or a Self-Serving California Agitator?” Wild West 25, no. 4 (December 2012): 24.

Wong, Edlie L. “In a Future Tense: Immigration Law, Counterfactual Histories, and Chinese Invasion Fiction.” American Literary History 26, no. 3 (September 1, 2014): 511–35.

Wong, Kevin Scott, and Sucheng Chan. Claiming America: Constructing Chinese American Identities during the Exclusion Era. Asian American History and Culture Series. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.