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US History - Lesser Known Facts, Analogies & Surmises Part 5

Reconstruction was sunk after the Civil War due to the desire of the Southern Whites to regain power and the distraction of Northern Whites. A bad recession afflicted the economy beginning with the failure of Jay Cook's bank. The north was worried about two other developments. The textile workers of New England predominantly female and the industrial workers of the eastern half of America were becoming more militant about women's suffrage and limiting the workday to eight hours instead of twelve to fourteen hours a day. In the west the ever present underlying American racism flared up against the Chinese. The gold rush was over and the recession threw many white workers out of work. The hard working lesser paid Chinese became the scapegoats of racist rage as would the Japanese during WW2 and in the seventies after Detroit's slide into automotive oblivion began. Gory details are available to interested readers in Iris Chang's book, "The Chinese in America".

Racism and sexism have been the latent obsessions of the majority of uneducated white Americans and they have been masterfully manipulated by the politicians, especially the Republican Party recently. The party of emancipation began its change a few years after Lincoln's death when the recession led to militant organization by Labor. The rich northern industrialists and bankers in the now supreme position after the devastation of defeated southern plantation owners, resented labor's just demands and the Republican party was co-opted by them. It became a rich oligarchy. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act under Lyndon Johnson, that took up the unfinished business of black equality after the Civil War, it was clearly a user of the race card under Richard Nixon. Few people are aware that Nixon for his decennial census invented the race categories Hispanic and Asian and Pacific Islanders to separate and keep better tabs on the mixed Mexican, South Asian, Pacific Island and East Asian populations which had been lumped under white or other in the black and white world that existed before.
The prejudice against the Chinese led to wanton violence, discriminatory business taxes, denial of citizenship and eventually exclusion of Chinese immigration. During the building of the transcontinental railroad Chinese laborers often got lower pay and worse working conditions than the whites, who were heavily Irish. The state of California passed numerous discriminatory and unjust laws. One was the Cubic Air Law that required lodging houses to provide 500 cubic feet of air per occupant, thus preventing poor Chinese laborers from shacking up ten to a room. The irony was that the tenants were then imprisoned in the local jail which had only fifty cubic feet of space per occupant. These discriminatory laws persist even today in many communities that forbid renting apartments to unrelated persons and the vagrancy and loitering statutes that give police the right to arrest and charge law abiding persons not gainfully employed for merely walking in a neighborhood, where they are not wanted mainly on the basis of race.

Other discriminatory laws included the sidewalk ordinance which forbade anyone to use the sidewalks while carrying baskets on a pole over the shoulder. This is even today a common mode of carrying in China and prevented the Chinese laundry owners who used this method of delivering to their clients in the nineteenth century. Horse drawn vehicle owners paid two dollars a quarter as a city license fee, while the poor Chinese laundrymen who delivered by walking were charged a license fee of fifteen dollars a quarter. The fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution passed in 1868 after the Civil War states that all persons born or naturalized in the US are citizens and no state can make laws that abridge their privileges or immunities or deprive them of life, liberty or property without due process of law or deny them equal protection under the law. The fifteenth amendment grants the undeniable right to vote irrespective of race, color or previous condition of servitude.

To circumvent these amendments the Chinese were denied the rights of naturalization and citizenship. Similar discrimination would be extended to Indian Sikh migrants a few decades later. They were denied citizenship, and in California often married Mexican women who had citizenship and passed on their property to their children who could not be denied citizenship on the basis of their birth in America. The Blacks were prevented from voting by literacy tests, poll taxes and brazen violent intimidation. Women were denied the vote and rights of property. As recently as the year 2000, the fourteenth amendment was used to illegally and unjustly gift the presidency to Bush Jr. by preventing the Florida recount. What a twist to use the amendment to redress the wrongs of the voting rights denied African Americans to enthrone and reward a privileged handicapped child born with a silver foot in his mouth! The US Supreme Court for a hundred years from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century has been an unending fount of injustice. It is a political animal filled with political appointees tarred often by obscenely unjust prejudices. We naturally expect elected legislators and executives to be scum-buckets, what makes America unique is the judiciary and the press, the two guardians of democracy and a just society are frequently unprincipled partisans often supine or self-serving, even today. America is redeemed by its small coterie of honest intellectuals comprising of a few rare reporters and many historians and academics.

To cite a few examples:

  1. The Dred Scott case in which the Supreme Court ruled for return of an escaped slave from the South as he was merely property and not a human being.

  2. The Cruickshank case which made null the reforms after the Civil War.

  3. The Lochner case where the Court ruled that the employer had the sole right to determine the working conditions to the exclusion of any rights of the workers.

  4. The Plessey case where segregation was declared legal on the basis of separate but equal.

  5. The Buck case where the much praised and quoted Judge Holmes quipped "three strikes and you are out" by ordering the forced sterilization of a poor but not retarded white woman on the false basis of being a third generation mentally handicapped. In fact Britain and America were the main source of Nazi and Scandinavian laws of eugenics.

  6. The equally infamous lying rationale of the same judge that the First Amendment permitting free speech does not give one the right to cry out fire in a crowded theater to suppress the activism of a writer to resist draft during WW1.

  7. The grant of the status of an immortal person to corporations leading to corrupt campaign finance and the present political mess that we are in the Delay era and lobbyist bribery scandals. 



More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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