The Workingmen’s Party of California (WPC)

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This Note reflects my research on the Workingmen's Party of California, particularly with regard to its relation to the anti-Chinese movement and the Workingmen's Party of the United States.

Rise and Composition of the WPC

See Babcock, Constitution-Maker, at 851-864, nn.8-49 for many more detailed sources. WALTON BEAN & JAMES R. RAWLS, CALIFORNIA: AN INTERPRETIVE HISTORY (7th ed. 1988) (especially chapter and bibliography on “The Terrible Seventies”) gives the generally accepted account of the conditions which gave rise to the WPC. ETHINGTON, THE PUBLIC CITY (1994) is a major modern work on the period. Ethington is one of the few historians of any period to examine the role of women, especially in his section Women as Orators, Lawyers, Politicians: Natural Rights Versus the Masculine Public Sphere, at 208 [hereafter ETHINGTON, PUBLIC CITY]. DARCY G.RICHARDSON, OTHERS, THIRD-PARTY POLITICS FROM THE NATION'S FOUNDING TO THE RISE AND FALL OF THE GEENBACK -LABOR PARTY(2004)has a chapter on the Workingmen's Party of the United States, with a good account of Dennis Kearney and the California offshoot 495-507.

The contemporary works I found most useful follow: Henry George, The Kearney Agitation in California, 17 POPULAR SCI. MONTHLY 433 (1880) best captures the atmosphere and temper of the times [hereafter, George]. The most widely known work is the chapter on Kearneyism in California, 3 JAMES BRYCE, THE AMERICAN COMMONWEALTH 223 (1888). Bryce relied heavily on Henry George for his interpretations. A distinguished English statesman and scholar, Bryce traveled to America in 1870, 1881 and 1883 to gather material for a book on the political character and behavior of Americans. In his effort to determine whether Kearney was “merely a rabble rouser,” Bryce talked mostly with newspaper editors and journalists, almost all opposed to Kearneyism. EDMUND S. IONS, JAMES BRYCE AND AMERICAN DEMOCRACY, 1870-1922, at 116 (1970).

Denis Kearney complained about the accuracy of the account, and Bryce slightly modified his descriptions of both Kearney and the WPC in response. The correspondence is reproduced in Doyce Blackman Nunis, The Demagogue and the Demographer: Correspondence of Denis Kearney and Lord Bryce, 36 PAC. HIST. REV. 269 (1967), and described also in Russell M. Posner, The Lord and the Drayman: James Bryce vs. Denis Kearney, 50 CAL. HIST. SOC’Y Q. 277 (1971). On the composition of the WPC, Lord Bryce noted that the party could never have achieved electoral success without the support “from the better sort of working-men, clerks and small shopkeepers.” 3 J. BRYCE, supra at 378. See also, ETHINGTON, PUBLIC CITY, at 309-12 (chapter entitled “Workingmen's Gothic: The Meaning of the Workingmen’s Party of California”) (containing a sophisticated analysis of meaning and composition of the WPC, arguing that it was essentially a political—rather than a labor—movement, and reached considerably beyond workingmen as such to include many middle-class occupations, as well as blue-collar workers in skilled occupations).

Other important contemporary sources on the WPC are 7 H.H. BANCROFT, HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA (1890); 2 H.H. BANCROFT, POPULAR TRIBUNALS (1887); 4 THEODORE HITTELL, HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA (1897); Hittell, The Legislature of 1880, 1 BERKELEY Q. 234 (1880); GEORGE H. TINKHAM, CALIFORNIA MEN AND EVENTS: TIME 1769-1890 (1915).

For examples of Kearney’s rhetoric, see 4 HITTELL, at 608 (references to “hemp” and to "Judge Lynch"); 2 BANCROFT, at 722 (“shoddy aristocrats” was shortened to “shoddys,” or the “shoddyites”); ETHINGTON, PUBLIC CITY, at 27; Speeches of Dennis [sic] Kearney, Labor Champion (1878) (pamphlet; found in Special Collections, Stanford University Library) (samples of Kearney's speeches on a tour of Eastern states in 1878).

WPC and the Anti-Chinese Movement

ALEXANDER SAXTON, THE INDISPENSABLE ENEMY: LABOR AND THE ANTI-CHINESE MOVEMENT IN CALIFORNIA (1971) is the most important single source. Saxton gives appropriate credit to Ira Cross, whose HISTORY OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT IN CALIFORNIA (1935) is a basic resource for understanding the contending forces within the Workingmen's Party. ELMER SANDMEYER, THE ANTI-CHINESE MOVEMENT IN CALIFORNIA 62-63 (1973) (originally published in 1939 in ILL. STUD. SOC. SCI.), is still the best source for the buildup of tension and prejudice that culminated in the depressed seventies. See also GUNTHER PAUL BARTH, BITTER STRENGTH: A HISTORY OF THE CHINESE IN THE UNITED STATES, 1850-1870 (1964); Ralph Kauer, The Workingmen's Party of California, 13 PAC. HIST. REV. 278 (1944); Michael Kazin, Prelude to Kearneyism: The “July Days” in San Francisco, 1877, 3 NEW LAB. REV. 5 (1980); Michael Kazin, The Great Exception Revisited: Organized Labor and Politics in San Francisco and Los Angeles, 1870-1940, 55 PAC. HIST. REV. 3 (1986); Neil L. Shumsky, San Francisco’s Workingmen Respond to the Modern City, 55 CAL. HIST. SOC’Y Q. 46 (1976).

For the depth of the anti-Chinese feeling in the West, see S. Rep. No. 689, 44th Cong., 2d Sess. (1877), recording the hearings, held in California, of a special U.S. Senate investigating committee. The extremes of racialized rhetoric involved in the testimony are explored in Luther William Spoehr, Sambo and the Heathen Chinese: Californians’ Racial Stereotypes in the Late 1870s, 42 PAC. HIST. REV. 185, 190-97 (1973). Indiana Senator Oliver P. Morton headed the Senate investigating committee. He was sympathetic to Chinese immigration but died before the report was written. See ARGONAUT, Dec. 19, 1877, at 4; Harry N. Scheiber, Race, Radicalism, and Reform: Historical Perspective on the 1879 California Constitution, 17 HASTINGS CONST. L.Q. 35 (1989) (the Chinese were railed against “with a savagery that transcended all limits of ordinary political discourse even in an age of harsh rhetoric.”) Id. at 43.

The position of Henry George was typical of those thinkers and reformers who were anti-Chinese. Saxton, supra, writes that George’s Letter to the Editor, The Chinese on the Pacific Coast, N.Y. TRIBUNE, May 1, 1869, was “a classic statement of the economic argument against Chinese immigration as it has been developed during the preceding five years by anticoolie clubs, trade unions, and the renascent Democratic party.” SAXTON, supra at 100. Later George recognized that the Chinese were being used politically to divert attention from real and radical reforms, but never completely gave up his “ethnocentric exclusivism," the "dark side of his intellectual background.” JOHN L. THOMAS, ALTERNATIVE AMERICA: HENRY GEORGE, EDWARD BELLAMY, HENRY DEMAREST LLOYD AND THE ADVERSARY TRADITION 62 (1983).

Relation with the Workingmen’s Party of the United States (WPUS)

In addition to CROSS, at 88-95, and SAXTON, at 113-16, on the relationship of the WPUS and the WPC, see ERIC FONER, RECONSTRUCTION, at 583-84 (1988) (the WPUS led “one of the bitterest explosions of class warfare in American history—the Great strike of 1877,” directed at the railroads. “Although in San Francisco the strike degenerated into anti-Chinese rioting, elsewhere it achieved… remarkable… solidarity… ”); see also PHILLIP SHELDON FONER, THE WORKINGMEN’S PARTY OF THE UNITED STATES (1984); WINFIELD J. DAVIS, HISTORY OF POLITICAL CONVENTIONS IN CALIFORNIA, 1849-1892, at 366-67 (1893) (WPC platform and expulsion of WPUS).

For a description of the power struggle between Frank Roney and Denis Kearney, see CROSS, at 110-20; FRANK RONEY, IRISH REBEL AND CALIFORNIA LABOR LEADER: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Ira B. Cross ed., 1931); F. FAHEY, DENIS KEARNEY, A STUDY IN DEMAGOGUERY 194-201 (1956) (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University) (an excellent account of the split in the Workingmen's Party); R. SHAFFER, RADICALISM IN CALIFORNIA 1869-1929, at 18 (1962) (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California at Berkeley) (Roney was “the outstanding labor leader of California in the 19th century”).

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