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Documents on the Foreign Miners Tax,


This 1851 editorial and this 1853 article from the Daily Alta California are available through the California Digital Newspaper Collection. Charles E. De Long's diary is reproduced in California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Dec., 1929), pp. 337-363 (available through JSTOR).

The 1850 Foreign Miners Tax was repealed, but similar laws were passed in 1852 and after, most requiring foreign miners to pay a fee of about $4 per month.  By then, tax collectors focused their efforts mostly on Chinese miners, who were victims of fraud and abuse of all sorts.

(NB: Paragraph numbers apply to these excerpts, not the original sources.  Also, minor corrections have been made to the originals. )


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"Foreign Miners Tax," editorial in the Daily Alta California, March. 7, 1851.

{1} No law can eventually prove beneficial which is not founded upon justice. It may promise advantages, may for a while appear to bestow them. But all things in nature are so bound by the principles of right, that they cannot be violated without eventually entailing injury. And seldom have we known an unjust act more signally fail than the one imposing a ruinous tax upon foreign miners. Its ostensible object was to put money into the treasury. It has not done so.  For the few dollars reported to have been paid in would not pay interest on the cost of making the law and the collateral expenses.

{2} The law was decidedly unconstitutional, unjust, impolitic, opposed to every principle of our free institutions, behind the age, illiberal and foolish. Its enactment showed an entire lack of necessary information respecting the placers, the miners, and the habits and customs of foreign miners especially. It has been the policy of the United States Government, and the State Governments also, and should have been particularly so of this State, to encourage immigration. We have said to the world, we are free, come and enjoy freedom with us. Induced by this generous, wise, and fortunate policy, millions have settled among us, and helped not only to clear away the forest, make the earth rich with teeming crops and glorious in improvements, but they have added also a full share of intellectual contribution to our mental progress.

{3} Knowing this, tens of thousands of miners came to California in the full belief that they would not only meet with gold, but what is far better, justice and kindness.  From Mexico and Peru and Chile they flocked here, better miners than our own people. They dug, they got gold, and they spent it freely. They purchased provisions and clothing and tools. We wanted people to work and to purchase, and they furnished the supply. They usually expended nearly all of their gold as they lived onward. Even those who occasionally left for their homes, generally purchased a good stock of various articles before leaving. For instance, in China goods, their trade was very great. Our own countrymen came here only to make a pile and carry it all out of the country. They seldom purchased anything to take away, and expended just as little as possible in the country while they remained here.

{4} A heavy trade sprang up in various parts of the state, which was supported principally by foreigners, and particularly by those of the Spanish blood. The country and times were prosperous. But the iniquitous law was passed. It amounted to virtual prohibition. It acted especially against the class above alluded to. They could not stand it. They left by thousands and tens of thousands. The southern mines especially felt the stunning blow. Stockton was knocked completely on the head. The Mexicans and Chilians, who were thus virtually banished, left in no very good state of feeling. The law gave to the unprincipled of our own countrymen and others claiming to be such, a wide scope for oppression, and they improved it. Each villain who chose called himself a tax collector, and robbed the poor Sonorian or others who had no recourse. Wrongs and robberies led to murders and anarchy, and general prostration of business. Our city felt the blow, and feels it yet. The state has been injured to the value of millions of dollars, and feelings of national antipathy have been planted and fostered in the breasts of Chilians and others, where before the best possible sympathies existed. And what good has been done? Not one particle. Even the tax collectors are said to have made nothing by their office.

{5} The law, as all monsters should, died. But the memory of it remains, as the memory of all monsters will. And that memory is likely to keep away many an industrious man. While the human devils who hail from the penal colonies are allowed all the rights of our own citizens because they speak the English language, a quiet and laborious people have been driven from among us because they did not speak that language. The law is dead, but it still stands on the statute book. It is there only to disgrace us. It is there only to serve as a cloak for another series of enormities to be perpetrated under its coloring during the present year, unless it be repealed.

{6} The law was unconstitutional when passed -- was an infringement of the treaty with Mexico, and even if the State had any right to legislate respecting public lands, that right ceased when California was admitted into the Union. Yet it has not been repealed, and even now, according to the Stockton papers, is made an excuse for robbing Mexicans, under the plea of tax collecting. We call upon the Legislature to repeal this obnoxious and ruinous law; or, if it will not do so, we believe the Governor has the right to pronounce it unconstitutional and illegal, and forbid every one from operating under it. A proclamation to this effect, in English, Spanish and French, and scattered broadcast wherever those languages are spoken, might, in a measure, do away with the odium which the law has created, and in a measure remedy some of its evils.

{7} There is much excitement upon the subject in the in the southern mines and in Stockton. A gentleman of that place writing to his friend in this city, William Hooper, Esq., expresses the opinion of thousands upon it. We give his letter entire.

Stockton, March 5, 1851.

{8} My Dear Sir -- I enclose you two of our Stockton papers and beg to call your attention to their editorials and a call for a public meeting, to be held to morrow evening, to memorialize the Legislature in relation to the tax on foreign miners.

{9} You remarked to me a few days ago, in San Francisco, that something might be done in your city to influence Gov. McDougall to issue a proclamation to the effect that this tax was unconstitutional and the collection of it a great wrong.

{10} If the collection of this tax is persisted in, the business of this place will be ruined, and its effect will also be felt in your city, as all our supplies are purchased there; and I feel certain that the scenes of robbery and bloodshed of last year will be renewed with tenfold violence.

{11} Foreigners know this tax to be illegal, and the poor Mexicans (who are the only ones that pay) constantly assert that the collectors dare not demand its payment of Frenchmen.

{12} One would naturally suppose that we, as a nation, boasting of our free institutions, our justice, and our liberality, would show some consideration for the people from whom this country was conquered. On the repeal of this law by the Legislature we gave notice to our friends in Mexico, inviting them to return and give American government another trial; but we fear that for want of definite action on the part of the Governor, the distinction between foreigners and American citizens will continue to exist in defiance of all treaty stipulations to the contrary.

{13} If the Governor does not choose to move in this matter, the people will take the matter into their own hands (in which movement they will be sustained) and drive out or Lynch every tax collector who dares present himself as such to the miners.

{14} The tax cannot be collected this season, and the Governor has now an opportunity to advance the interest of the southern mines and prevent the effusion of blood, or to drive us to anarchy and perhaps to seek relief by a division of this part of the State from the rest, as there is a strong feeling in favor of separation.

{15} I would feel much obliged by your advising me of any movement in your city in relation to this subject, and remain, dear sir,

Your obedient servant.


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"Killed," Daily Alta California, November 21, 1853.

On Sunday night last, a turbulent crowd were "going around" at Camp Seco, and among the amusements of the night, a principal feature, of course, consisted in abusing the Chinese and pulling down their houses. This had gone on for some time, and a few of the Chinese had got shelter in the store of Mr. Geo. W. Standard. As he was closing his store at bed time, a Chinaman rushed in past him, begged for protection and ran and hid himself. Just then a man in an excited state came up and pushed at the door, demanded admittance, or that the Chinese be turned out. This was refused, and the individual was advised to leave; this he would not do, and an altercation ensued. The balance of the party came up, an attack was commenced, the door forced open, and the crowd rushed in. Mr. Standard, apprehending danger from the conduct of the mob, ordered them to leave, which only increased their fury, and he was compelled, in defense of his life and property, to fire upon the party, when one of them, named Donaldson, fell mortally wounded. The mob then dispersed. The deceased, David Donaldson, was from Steubenville, Ohio.

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Excerpts from the 1855 diary of Charles E. De Long:

Tue. [February] 13 - Went and escorted Miss Hammon to town. Had a party in the evening.
Wed. [February] 14 - Attended a Ball at Youngs Hill with Miss Hammon.
. . .

Fri. [March] 2 - Went to Marysville to be qualified for Deputy Sheriff.  Went to M. Grey's residence with Judge Bliss.  Saw the whole family.  Very pleasant.
Sat. [March] 3 - Run around town with Bliss, F. Reis, &c.  Took dinner a la Francais with Reis & Varmun.  Was sworn in to my office.

Tue. [March] 20 - Came down to Atchison's Bar. Took dinner at Foster's. Collected all day. Done well. Returned home and met a drove [of Chinese men], searched and left them.
. . .
Thu. [March] 22 - Staid home waiting for licenses. Reced 200. Prepared for the road. Stopped three Droves in town. Most all broke
. . .
Sat. [March] 24 - Went down to the little Yuba, thence up, shot a Chinaman. Had a hell of a time. Returned home by way of Fosters.
. . .

Mon. [July] 30 - Went up the River to Hesse's. Bothered about there all day, hired Hiram Works, hunted Chinamen in the night, done very well. Collected about 80 Licenses, stopped all night at Hesse's

Sun [October] 21 - Loafing around doing nothing but picking up a few Chinamen whom their bad luck and my good threw in my way
Mon. [October] 22 - At the same business.
Tue. [October] 23 - Started with Dick Wade and Bob Moulthrop collecting. Went to Oregon Creek, thence to Middle Yuba. Eat supper at Hesses Crossing. Went down the river in the night, collected all of the way. Had a great time, Chinamen tails cut off.

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