By the time the Civil War began, many people were traveling to the West. Making that journey was not an easy task.
In order to reach California from the east, people needed to either travel on land by wagon or board ships that sailed around the southern tip of South America. Both of these options were extremely dangerous and very time consuming, a trip from the East Coast to California would sometimes take more than a year to complete. Railroads were well established during that time but had not yet become an option for traveling from the East coast to the West. Many people wanted the railroad to come to the West so that people and goods could easily make their way there. In the late 1800’s, the United States hired Chinese immigrants to build the transcontinental railroad.
Due to the general prejudices, the Chinese immigrants were criticized and discriminated against during the construction process, and even after the construction process, eventually leading up to the Chinese Exclusion Act.In 1862, Congress passed the Pacific Rail Bill allowing the creation of such a railroad that would enable goods and people to more easily be transported from the east coast to west coast. The Union Pacific and the Central Pacific were the two companies chosen to build the transcontinental railroad.
At first, the Central Pacific had trouble finding recruits for their workforce. According to the passage, “they needed 5,000 workers but only had 600 on the payroll by 1864.” (Doolittle) Then Central Pacific managers realized there were a lot of Chinese immigrants right where they were in Canada. But because of general prejudices at that time, Chinese were thought to be too small for the job among lots of other things. But Charles Crocker of Central Pacific had other ideas, he pointed out “the Chinese made the Great Wall, didn’t they?” So, they started hiring Chinese immigrants. These immigrants withstood extremely poor working conditions and fierce discrimination because of general prejudices at that time but their efforts were extremely important to the construction of the railroad. Without the aid of Chinese immigrants, the transcontinental railroad would not have been built or would have taken twice as long due to the fact that more than 70% of the Central Pacific workforce were Chinese immigrants.The vast majority of workers for Central Pacific were Chinese immigrants by the time the railroad was finished.
According to the article, “The first Chinese were hired in 1865 at approximately $24 per month” (Doolittle) whereas the Irish men, American soldiers and all others were paid around $31. According to the passage “Shifts in the tunnels were supposed to be eight hours because the tunnels were cramped were especially dangerous but they were often forced to work longer.” (Chinese Railroad Workers) The Chinese diet consists of rice, dried vegetables, dried oysters, dried abalone fish, some pork, and poultry. This type of diet reduced the outbreak of dysentery and other diseases.
On the other hand, the Irish men and white men ate meat and potatoes and whiskey which made them more prone to the diseases. According to the article “the Chinese had to provide their own shelter, food clothing, and even tools” (Chinese Railroad Workers) while these essentials were provided for the other men. In 1867 the Chinese went on a strike, 5,000 workers along the eastern slope of the Sierra put their tools down and returned to their camps refusing to work any longer.
According to an article “When Chinese workers were first hired in 1864 they earned $25 per day, but then wages were raised to $35 per month” (Chinese Railroad Workers) but this wasn’t enough for the Chinese workers “they demanded they were paid $40 a month and their work days reduced from 11 hours to 10 hours.” (Chinese Railroad Workers) “Shifts in the tunnels were supposed to be 8 hours” (Chinese Railroad Workers) but they were often forced to stay longer, so they demanded a decrease in work shifts in tunnels as well. When they tried to go find other work the overseer would whip or restrain them to stop them from leaving.
Charles Crocker cut off their food and other supplies. Facing starvation and coercion, the workers ended the strike. Because the government was paying them on the number of miles of track they laid Charles Crocker thought it was a sabotage from the Central Pacific so they could earn more money. What Charles Crocker didn’t realize was that the Chinese could have their own interests as well, and decided to rebel on their own having nothing to do with the Central Pacific.The short-term impact was that many Chinese were deported from the United States because of the Chinese Exclusion Act which was placed in an act in 1882. This was the first time there was a law prohibiting a race from a different country to enter the United States.
The article read “For the first time, Federal law proscribed entry of an ethnic working group”. (Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)) Their reason for this was “that it endangered the good order of certain localities” (Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)). The Chinese stood up for themselves, they used the system in the United States.
They sued and brought wrongdoers to court and won in multiple cases. In one case a Chinese girl wasn’t allowed to go to school in San Francisco, the Tape family sues the school principal and brings them to the supreme court in California. Its states in the passage that “The court decides in favor of the Tape family, creating one of the pioneering decisions in the fight for equality in education” (Anti-Chinese Legislation and Court Cases). This shows that even though there were a lot of general prejudices against the Chinese by using the system the Chinese could get justification.
The long-term impact was that after the Chinese Exclusion Act was put in place there were many barriers and obstacles preventing the Chinese from entering the United States. According to the Article after the Chinese Exclusion Act expired “Congress extended it for 10 years in the form of the Geary Act” (Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)) Later in 1943 Congress repealed all exclusion acts. Many Chinese still found it exceptionally difficult to enter the United States because of the many obstacles the United States had put up to exclude as many Chinese immigrants as possible. It also states in the passage “Effective July 1, 1968, a limit of 170,000 immigrants from outside the Western Hemisphere could enter the United States, with a maximum of 20,000 from any one country.” (Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)) The United States has a lot of barriers preventing immigrants from coming to the United States.In conclusion, the general prejudices, at that time made people criticize and discriminate against the Chinese during the construction process, eventually leading up to the Chinese Exclusion Act. Many Chinese people were deported, and many barriers were emitted to prevent them from coming back. The Chinese played a big part in finishing the Transcontinental Railroad, and without their help building the railroad would be twice or even three times as hard.
Thanks to the Chinese the Transcontinental railroad only took around 6 years to complete.