Miller's Speech

Newspaper Article

Background Notes

This newspaper article details a speech by California Senator John Franklin Miller (1831-1886). Senator Miller served his state from 1880 until his death in 1886. He was a strong anti-immigration proponent, and he supported a number of bills to limit the immigration of Chinese to the United States. Prior to his tenure as a Senator, Miller served in the Union Army.

Transcription of Primary Source

Washington, February 21st. --Today, when the Senate bill on Chinese immigration came up Senator Miller took the floor.

He said that substantially the same provisions contained in this bill had been before the Senate more than once, had passed both Houses of Congress, and but for a Presidential veto would have been the law. They were again presented under circumstances equally imperative, but in an unobjectionable form...

... No really great people should present themselves before the world, through their Government as a nation, irresolute, fickle, feeble or petulant-one day eagerly demanding of its neighbors an agreement or concession, which on the next it nervously repudiates or casts aside...

Referring to the declaration of the two great political parties and their candidates in 1880 in favor of restricting Chinese immigration, and as showing the unanimity of public sentiment on this question, Senator Miller quoted from Garfield's letter of acceptance that the movement of the Chinese to our Pacific Coast is one partaking but little of the qualities of an immigration, either in its purposes or results, and is too much like an importation to be welcomed without restriction, and too much like an invasion to be looked upon without solicitude.

Miller next argued that the effects of an adverse vote on the bill would be an invitation to the coolies to come; a shout of welcome across the Pacific to the myriad hosts of the strange people; a commission for speculators in human blood, and to the traffickers in human flesh to ply their infamous trade without impediment under the protection of the American flag, and to empty the teeming slave pens of China upon the soil of California.

[Miller] emphatically denied that the advocates of restriction were to be found only among the vicious and illegitimate elements of California society. He cited the vote of that State in 1872, which there were only 883 votes in favor of Chinese immigration to 154,638 against. In Nevada there were 183 votes to 17,259 against. Thus the people face to face with it, and who know what it is, are practically unanimous against it.

He next brought into full view the impossibility of their assimilation and the ultimate displacement of the one by the other, which history had shown to be the result of all attempts to merge the two. Wherever the Chinaman had been placed he had retained every peculiarity of the habits and modes of his life and of his ancestors for fifty centuries unimpressible. The offspring born on American soil and reared up under American influences, have grown up Chinese in mind, feature, form, character and method, the same as their parents. There was an irrepressible conflict between the civilization of the East and that of the West.

The effect of the presence of this persistent race upon the more impressible American, should be considered. Already, in California, the white farm laborer who is forced into competition with them, adopts their nomadic habits, and has no home in the family he serves, but is a "blanket man" who works in the fields during planting and harvest seasons, and roams the remainder of the year in search of other employment. His shelter is the straw stack and his food is anything that he can get. The great wheat growers, in their immense operations, are thus relieved from employing continuous labor, and the result is large farming to the exclusion of small American homes. In the manufacturing districts the result is hoodlumism, which drives the young of both classes to idleness in the street...

Unlike European immigrants, the Chinese are not free and independent men. They do not come here to become citizens. Until it can be shown that they are fit to take part in free government, they should not be allowed to supersede the Caucasian race. "Cheap labor," said Miller, "is not the cause of national wealth, but of national poverty. Temporarily, and under peculiar conditions, cheap labor might be an advantage; but where we are confronted by the fact that the introduction into our country of an alien race of men, who perform the cheap labor, operates as a displacement of the natives of the soil, man for man, and substitutes a non-assimilative, heterogeneous people, utterly unfit for and incapable of self-government, the question assumes proportions which are not to be measured by the application of mere economic theories."

... the Chinese laborers of to-day are men who, by long training, and by a heredity which has been stamped upon them and ground into them, through centuries of time, have become hardy, enduring, machine-like in every physical characteristic. To compete with the Chinese the white man must become such a man as the Chinaman is; he must work as the Chinaman works; subsist on cheap food, and inure himself to the same disgusting and parsimonious diet; he must adopt the packing habit, in which the shelter and space now required for one white man will be sufficient for ten Chinamen. The unmarried man must not marry, and those who have wives or children, must give up home and resort to a hovel; the school house door can no longer swing open to admit the American laborer's child, for under this grinding competition every human being out of puling infancy must work for means of subsistence...

Upon the point that the argument against the Chinese was an argument against all immigration, he contended that objections to the one instance were inapplicable as to European immigrants, who became producers and consumers, meet our laborers on an equality, and assimilate with us and become part of our Government. None of these things were true of the Chinese... Not only our naturalization laws, but the Burlingame Treaty contained express provision against their naturalization.

...[Miller] said that the number of men capable of bearing arms in California is about equally divided between Chinese and white people. If this condition existed in the Northern States, would it be imagined that no serious conflicts would ensue? Referring to the late war as the ultimate result of the introduction into this country of an alien and servile race, Mr. Miller asked: "With our memory still burdened with the horrors of that long agony of war, can it be possible that we shall longer permit a like policy to prevail, and tempt heaven or fate to scourge our posterity as we have been scourged for the mistake of our fathers?"

... we invoke the protection of the National Government, then we ask relief from invasion of which we ourselves, are not permitted by the Constitution to repel. If the people of California were free to act, you would not be troubled here by the Chinese question; they would have settled it long ago, not arbitrarily, nor in frenzy of passion, but peaceably and humanely, and by law...

If the Chinese should invade the Pacific Coast with arms in their hands, what a magnificent spectacle of a martial resistance would be presented to a startled world. The mere intention of an attempt to make a conquest of our western shore by force would arouse the nation to a frenzy of enthusiasm in its defense. But for years a peaceful, sly, strategic conquest has been in progress, and American statesmanship has been almost silent until the people have demanded help. The land which is being overrun by the Oriental invader, is the fairest portion of our heritage. It is the land of the vine and the tree, the home of the orange, the olive, and the pomegranate. Its winter is perpetual spring, its valleys are rich and glorious with delicious fruits and waving grain and its mountains, like giants stand to "sentinel the enchanted land." I would see its fertile plains, its sequestered vales, its vineclad hills, its deep blue canyons, its furrowed mountains, dotted all over with American homes, the abodes of a free, happy people, pleasant with the sweet voices of flaxen-haired children, and ringing with the joyous laughter of maidens fair, soft as her clime and sunny as her skies. Like the homes of New England, yea, brighter and better far, shall be the homes which are to be builded in that wonderland by the sunset sea-the homes of a race from which shall spring the flower of men, to serve as models for the mighty world, and be the fair beginning of a better time.


Solicitude - the state of being concerned and anxious

Inure - to accustom oneself to accept something that is undesirable

Parsimonious - being careful with money or resources, often seen negatively as being frugal to the point of stinginess

Puling - whining

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
Miller's Speech; Synopsis of an Earnest Appeal to Congress...
San Francisco Bulletin, published as Daily Evening Bulletin
Probable Date: 
February 28, 1882
Place of Publication: 
San Francisco, California
American Antiquarian Society
Catalog Code: 
America's Historical Newspapers