“Without exception, every Mexican in the county was implicated…” (Scraps of Newspaper, Olmsted)

Contemplated Servile Rising in Texas.

The Galveston News publishes the following in relation to the late contemplated negro insurrection in Colorado county:

Columbus, Colorado Co., Sept. 9, 1856

The object of this communication is to state to you all the facts of any importance connected with a recent intended insurrection.

Our suspicions were aroused about two weeks ago, when a meeting of the citizens of the county was called, and a committee of investigation appointed to ferret out the whole matter, and lay the facts before the people of the county for their consideration. The committee entered upon their duties, and in a short time, they were in full possession of the facts of a well-organized and systematized plan for the murder of our entire white population, with the exception of the young ladies, who were to be taken captives, and made the wives of the diabolical murderers of their parents and friends. The committee found in their possession a number of pistols, bowie-knives, guns, and ammunition. Their passwords of organization were adopted, and their motto, “Leave not a shadow behind.”

Last Saturday, the 6th inst., was the time agreed upon for the execution of their damning designs. At a late hour at night, all were to make one simultaneous, desperate effort, with from two to ten apportioned to nearly every house in the county, kill all the whites, save the above exception, plunder their homes, take their horses and arms, and fight their way on to a “free State” (Mexico).

[504] Notwithstanding the intense excitement which moved every member of our community, and the desperate measures to which men are liable to be led on by such impending danger to which we have been exposed by our indulgence and lenity to our slaves, we must say the people acted with more caution and deliberation than ever before characterized the action of any people under similar circumstances.

More than two hundred negroes had violated the law, the penalty of which is death. But, by unanimous consent, the law was withheld, and their lives spared, with the exception of three of the ringleaders, who were, on last Friday, the 5th inst., at 2 o’clock P.M., hung, in compliance with the unanimous voice of the citizens of the county.

Without exception, every Mexican in the county was implicated. They were arrested, and ordered to leave the county within five days, and never again to return, under the penalty of death. There is one, however, by the name of Frank, who is proven to be one of the prime movers of the affair, that was not arrested; but we hope that he may yet be, and have meted out to him such reward as his black deed demands.

We are satisfied that the lower class of the Mexican population are incendiaries in any country where slaves are held, and should be dealt with accordingly. And for the benefit of the Mexican population, we would here state, that a resolution was passed by the unanimous voice of the county, forever forbidding any Mexican from coming within the limits of the county.

Peace, quiet, and good order are again restored, and, by the watchful care of our Vigilance Committee, a well-organized patrol, and good discipline among our planters, we are persuaded that there will never again occur the necessity of a communication of the character of this.

Yours respectfully,

John H. Robson,
H.A. Tatum,
J.H. Hicks.
} Cor. Com.

The Galveston News, of the 11th nst. has also the following paragraph:

“We learn, from the Columbian Planter, of the 9th, that two of the negroes engaged in the insurrection at Columbus were whipped to death; three more were hung last Friday, and the Mexicans who were implicated were ordered to leave the country. There was no proof against these last beyond surmises. The band had a deposit of arms and ammunition in the bottom. They had quite a number of guns, and a large lot of knives, manufactured by one of their number. It was their intention to fight their way to Mexico.”

[From the True Issue, Sept. 5]

We noticed last week the rumor that a large number of slaves, of Colorado county, had combined and armed themselves for the purpose of fighting their way into Mexico. Developments have since been made of a much more serious nature than our information then indicated. It is ascertained that a secret combination had been formed, embracing most of the negroes of the county, for the purpose of not fleeing to Mexico, but of murdering the inhabitants–men, women, and children promiscuously. To carry out their hellish purposes, they had organized into companies of various sizes, had adopted secret signs and passwords, sworn never to divulge the plot under the penalty of death, and had elected captains and subordinate officers to command the respective companies. They had provided themselves with some fire-arms and home-made bowie-knives, and had appointed the time for a simultaneous movement. Some two hundred, we learn, have been severely punished under the lash, and several are now in jail awaiting the more serious punishment of death, which is to be inflicted to-day. One of the principal instigators of the movement is a free negro, or one who had been permitted to control his own time as a free man.

Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (New York: Dix, Edwards & Co, 1857), 503-504.


“the lower class or ‘Peon’ Mexicans… taking the likeliest negro girls for wives” and “a greaser” (Scraps of Newspaper, Olmsted)

“the lower class or ‘Peon’ Mexicans… taking the likeliest negro girls for wives” (Matagorda Co.) ‘a greaser’ / JTT p. 502

MATAGORDA.–The people of Matagorda county have held a meeting and ordered every Mexican to leave the county. To strangers this may seem wrong, but we hold it to be perfectly right and highly necessary; but a word of explanation should be given. In the first place, then, there are none but the lower class or “Peon” Mexicans in the county; secondly, they have no fixed domicile but hang around the plantations, taking the likeliest negro girls for wives; and, thirdly, they often steal horses, and these girls, too, and endeavor to run them to Mexico. We should rather have anticipated Lynch law, than the mild course which has been adopted.

A VOTER.–As an evidence of the capacity of the Mexican population to discriminate in matters of State importance, it may be mentioned that at one of the polls held in this city, a greaser, who was challenged, was asked incidentally by a bystander, “who he voted for, for Governor?”

“Sublett,” was the reply.

“Who for Lieutenant-Governor?”

“Sublett,” rejoined the Mexican.

“Who for Representative?”

“Sublett,” again muttered this bombshell freeman.

Voters like that swelled the Anti American majority in Bexar. Boast of your triumphs, gentleman Bombshells.

Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (New York: Dix, Edwards & Co, 1857), 502.

“Town Life” in San Antonio and “The Mexicans in Texas” (Olmsted, Journey Through Texas)

Town Life.

The street-life of San Antonio is more varied than might be supposed. Hardly a day passes without some noise. If there be no personal affray to arouse talk, there is some Government train to be seen, with its hundred of mules, on its way from the coast to a fort above; or a Mexican ox-train from the coast, with an interesting supply of ice, or flour, or matches, or of whatever the shops find themselves short. A Government express clatters off, or news arrives from some exposed outpost, or from New Mexico. An Indian in his finery appears on a shaggy horse, in search of blankets, powder, and ball. Or at the least, a stage-coache with the “States,” or the Austin, mail, rolls into the plaza and discharges its load of passengers and newspapers.

The street affrays are numerous and characteristic. I have seen, for a year or more, a San Antonio weekly, and hardly a number fails to have its fight or its murder. More often than otherwise, the parties meet upon the plaza by chance, and each, on catching sight of his enemy, draws a revolver, and fires away. As the actors are under more or less excitement, their aim is not apt to be of the most careful and sure, consequently it is, not seldom, the passers-by who suffer. Sometimes it is a young man at a quiet dinner in a restaurant, who receives a ball in the head; sometimes an old negro woman, returning from market, who gets winged. After disposing of all their lead, the parties close, to try their steel, but as this species of metallic amusement is less popular, they generally contrive to be separated (“Hold me! Hold me!”) by friends before the wounds are mortal. If neither is seriously injured, they are brought to drink together on the following day, and the town waits for the next excitement.

[159] Where borderers and idle soldiers are hanging about drinking-places, and where different races mingle on unequal terms, assassinations must be expected. Murders, from avarice or revenge, are common here. Most are charged upon the Mexicans, whose passionate motives are not rare, and to whom escape over the border is easiest and most natural.

The town amusements of a less exciting character are not many. There is a permanent company of Mexican mountebanks, who give performances of agility and buffoonery two or three times a week, parading, before night, in their spangled tights with drum and trombone through the principal streets. They draw a crowd of whatever little Mexicans can get adrift, and this attracts a few sellers of whisky, tortillas, and tamaules (corn slap-jacks and hashed meat in corn-shucks), all by the light of torches making a ruddily picturesque evening group.

The more grave Americans are served with tragedy by a thin local company, who are death on horrors and despair, long rapiers, and well oiled hair, and for lack of a better place to flirt with passing officers, the city belles may sometimes be seen looking on. The national background of peanuts and yells, is not, of course, wanting.

A day or two after our arrival, there was the hanging of a Mexican. The whole population left the town to see. Family parties, including the grandmother and the little negroes, came from all the plantations and farms within reach, and little ones were held up high to get their share of warning. The Mexicans looked on imperturbable.

San Antonio, excluding Galveston,[*] is much the largest city [160] of Texas. After the Revolution, it was half deserted by its Mexican population, who did not care to come under Anglo-Saxon rule. Since then its growth has been rapid and steady. At the census of 1850, it numbered 3,500; in 1853, its population was 6,000; and in 1856, it is estimated at 10,500. Of these, about 4,000 are Mexicans, 3,000 are Germans, and 3,500 Americans. The money-capital is in the hands of the Americans, as well as the officers and the Government. Most of the mechanics and the smaller shopkeepers are German. The Mexicans appear to have almost no other business than that of carting goods. Almost the entire transportation of the country is carried on by them, with oxen and two-wheeled carts. Some of them have small shops, for the supply of their own countrymen, and some live upon the produce of farms and cattle-ranches owned in the neighborhood. Their livelihood is, for the most part, exceedingly meagre, made up chiefly of corn and beans.

The Mexicans in Texas.

We had, before we left, opportunities of visiting familiarly many of the Mexican dwellings. I have described their externals. Within, we found usually a single room, open to the roof and invariably having a floor of beaten clay a few inches below the level of the street. There was little furniture–huge beds being the universal pièce de résistance. These were used by day as sofa and table. Sometimes there were chairs and a table besides; but frequently only a bench, with a few earthen utensils for cooking, which is carried on outside. A dog or a cat appears on or under the bed, or on the clothes-chest, a saint on the wall, and frequently a game-cock fastened in a corner, supplied with dishes of corn and water.

[161] We were invariably received with the most gracious and beaming politeness and dignity. Their manner towards one another is engaging, and that of children and parents most affectionate. This we always noticed in evening walks and in the groups about the doors, which were often singing in chorus–the attitudes expressive of confident affection. In one house, we were introduced to an old lady who was supposed by her grandchildren to be over one hundred years old. She had come from Mexico, in a rough cart, to make them a visit. Her face was strikingly Indian in feature, her hair, snow white, flowing thick over the shoulders, contrasting strongly with the olive skin. The complexion of the girls is clear, and sometimes fair, usually a blushing olive. The variety of feature and color is very striking, and is naturally referred to three sources–the old Spanish, the creole Mexican, and the Indian, with sometimes a suspicion of Anglo-Saxon or Teuton. The hair is coarse, but glossy, and very luxuriant; the eye, deep, dark, liquid, and well set. Their modesty, though real, we heard, was not proof against a long courtship of flattering attentions and rich presents. The constancy of the married women was made very light of, not that their favors were purchasable, but that they are sometimes seized by a strong penchant for some other than their lord. There was testimony of this in the various shades and features of their children; in fact we thought the number of babies of European hair and feature exceeded the native olive in number. We noticed, in a group of Mexican and negro women, when an indelicate occurrence took place, that the former turned away in annoyed modesty, while the latter laughed broadly. Their constitutions, in general, are feeble, and very many of both sexes, we were informed, suffered from scrofulous disease. [162] Nevertheless, with good stimulus, the men make admirable laborers.

The common dress was loose and slight, not to say slatternly. It was frequently but a chemise, as low as possible in the neck, sometimes even lower, with a calico petticoat. On holidays they dress in expensive finery, paying special attention to the shoes, of white satin, made by a native artist.

The houses of the rich differ little form those of the poor, and the difference in their style of living must be small, owing to the want of education and of all ambition. The majority are classed as laborers. Their wages are small, usually, upon farms near San Antonio, $6 or $8 a month, with corn and beans. That of the teamsters is in proportion to their energy. On being paid off, they hurry to their family and all come out in their best to spend the earnings, frequently quite at a lost for what to exchange them. They make excellent drovers and shepherds, and in work like this, with which they are acquainted, are reliable and adroit. A horse-drover, just from the Rio Grande, with whom we conversed, called them untiring and faithful at their work, but untrustworthy in character. To his guide, he paid $24 a month, to his “right bower,” $15, and to his “left bower,” $12 a month.

Their tools are of the rudest sort. The old Mexican wheel of hewn blocks of wood is still constantly in use, though supplanted, to some extent, by Yankee wheels, sent in pairs from New York. The carts are always hewn of heavy wood, and are covered with white cotton, stretched over hoops. In these they live, on the road, as independently as in their own house. The cattle are yoked by the horns, with raw-hide thongs, of which they make a great use.

[163] They consort freely with the negroes, making no distinction from pride of race. A few, of old Spanish blood, have purchased negro servants, but most of them regard slavery with abhorrence.

The Mexicans were treated for a while after annexation like a conquered people. Ignorant of their rights, and of the new language, they allowed themselves to be imposed upon by the new comers, who seized their lands and property without shadow of claim, and drove hundreds of them homeless across the Rio Grande. They now, as they get gradually better informed, come straggling back, and often their claims give rise to litigation, usually settled by a compromise.

A friend told us, that, wishing, when he built, to square a corner of his lot, after making diligent inquiry he was unable to hear of any owner for the adjoining piece. He took the responsibility, and moved his fence over it. Not long after, he was waited upon by a Mexican woman, in a towering passion. He carried her to a Spanish acquaintance, and explained the transaction. She was immediately appeased, told him he was welcome to the land, and has since been on the most neighborly terms, calling him always her “amigo.”

Most adult Mexicans are voters by the organic law; but few take measures to make use of the right. Should they do so, they might probably, in San Antonio, have elected a government of their own. Such a step would be followed, however, by a summary revolution. They are regarded by slaveholders with great contempt and suspicion, for their intimacy with slaves, and their competition with plantation labor.

Americans, in speaking of them, constantly distinguish themselves as “white folks.” I once heard a new comer informing another American, that he had seen a Mexican with a revolver. [164] “I shouldn’t think they ought to be allowed to carry fire-arms. It might be dangerous.” “It would be difficult to prevent it,” the other replied; “Oh, they think themselves just as good as white men.”

From several counties they have been driven out altogether. At Austin, in the spring of 1853, a meeting was held, at which the citizens resolved, on the plea that Mexicans were horse-thieves, that they must quit the country. About twenty families were thus driven from their homes, and dispersed over the western counties. Deprived of their means of livelihood, and rendered furious by such wholesale injustice, it is no wonder if they should take to the very crimes with which they are charged.

A similar occurrence took place at Seguin, in 1854; and in 1855, a few families, who had returned to Austin, were again driven out.

Even at San Antonio, there had been talk of such a razzia. A Mexican, caught in an attempt to steal a horse, had been hung by a Lynching party, on the spot, for an example. His friends happened to be numerous, and were much excited, threatening violence in return. Under pretext of subduing an intended riot, the sheriff issued a call for an armed posse of 500 men, with the idea of dispersing and driving from the neighborhood a large part of the Mexican population. But the Germans, who include among them the great majority of young men suitable for such duty, did not volunteer as had been expected, and the scheme was abandoned. They were of the opinion, one of them said to me, that this was not the right and republican way. If the laws were justly and energetically administered, no other remedy would be needed. One of them, who lived on the Medina, in the vicinity of the place of the occurrence, told us he had no [165] complaint to make of the Mexicans; they never stole his property, or troubled him in any way.

The following is the most reliable estimate I can obtain of the actual Mexican population in Texas, (1856):–

San Antonio 4,000
Bexar Co. 2,000
Uvalde Co. 1,000
Laredo 1,500
El Paso, with Presidio 8,500
Lower Rio Grande Counties 3,000
Goliad and Nueces Counties 1,000
Other parts of State 1,000
Floating, say 3,000
Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (New York: Dix, Edwards & Co, 1857), 158-165.
  1. [*]The two towns have nearly kept pace in growth. The yellow fever, it is said, has now given San Antonio the advantage.

“it appears that the word ‘white’ has been used in colonial practice, in the federal statutes, and in the publications of the government to designate persons not otherwise classified.” (Halladjian, qtd in Haney Lopez)

1909 – Halladjian: “the word ‘white’ has been used… to designate persons not otherwise classified” / WBL p. 99

Science failed to prove what was to the courts eminently obvious, the existence of natural racial differences. In the fifty-two reported prerequisite decisions, only one court concluded that the term “white person” referred not to a natural category but only to a legal one. In this anomalous 1909 case, a federal district court sitting in Boston examined and dismissed various anthropological and geographic definitions of a “white” race before adopting a textual approach to the question of whether Armenians could naturalize. Examining statutes and census documents dating back to the original colonies, the court said “it appears that the word ‘white’ has been used in colonial practice, in the federal statutes, and in the publications of the government to designate persons not otherwise classified.”[57] Since Congress had not designated Armenians as non-Whites, the court concluded, they were still legally White and eligible for naturalization. Every other court deciding a prerequisite case, including the Supreme Court, continued to believe that races were natural and self-evident.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 99.
  1. [57]Halladjiansupra, 174 F. at 843.

“That no judge naturalized a person identified as having dark skin suggests an unwillingness among the courts to find such persons White” (Haney Lopez)

??? What about Rodriguez, seems like an exception here ??? / WBL 69ff

Despite Judge Newman’s assertion in Najour that the term “white person” “refers to race, rather than to color, and fair or dark complexion should not be allowed to control” in questions of naturalization, no judge, not even Judge Newman, was particularly comfortable with this legal point. Instead, the decisions betray judicial antipathy toward allowing dark-skinned persons to naturalize as Whites, a predictable response of the times. This antipathy can be seen in the way the various courts discussed the applicants’ skin color. Consider two decisions denying petitions for citizenship issued by a federal court in South Carolina. In the first, the judge said of the petitioner, “in color, he is about that of a walnut, or somewhat darker than is the usual mulatto of one-half mixed blood between the white and negro races.”[58] In the next, the same judge described another ill-fated applicant as “darker than the usual person of white European descent, and that of tinged or sallow appearance which usually accompanies persons of descent other than purely European.”[59] Though the judge did not identify skin color as a determining factor in his decisions, that the court thought it necessary to describe the applicants’ complexions suggests that this factor contributed to the decisions to deny them naturalization. Concern over skin color also manifests itself, albeit in different form, in those decisions allowing applicants to naturalize. Courts ruling for naturalization either noted the applicants light skin color or remained silent as [69] to physical features. That no judge naturalized a person identified as having dark skin suggests an unwillingness among the courts to find such persons White. This is true even of Judge Newman. In Najour, he wrote of the applicant: “He is not particularly dark, and has none of the characteristics or appearance of the Mongolian race, but, so far as I can see and judge, has the appearance and characteristics of the Caucasian race.”[60] Similarly, another federal court admitting several Armenian applicants remarked that they were “white persons in appearance, not darker in complexion than some persons of northern European descent traceable for generations.”[61] Najour‘s holding that color was legally irrelevant to race proved highly troublesome to the courts considering prerequisite cases, both to those deciding upon the application of persons perceived as dark-skinned, and, to a lesser degree, to those finding the petitioners before them White.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 69ff.
  1. [58]Shahidsupra, 205 F. at 813.
  2. [59]Ex parte Dowsupra, 211 F. 486; In re Dowsupra, 213 F. 355.
  3. [60]Najoursupra, 174 F. at 735.
  4. [61]Halladjiansupra, 174 F. at 835.

“Shall We Have Mexico!” (New York Times, December 26, 1860)

416. Shall We Have Mexico!

(New-York Times [Lincoln], December 26, 1860)

In view of the threatened dissolution of the Union, and the consequent derangement of commercial and business enterprises, we are gratified to learn from Washington that leading members of the Republican Party are already beginning to look forward to the acquisition or annexation of Mexico, as a ready means of at once indemnifying the North for the partial loss of Southern trade, and of marring the schemes of Slavery propagandism, which is one great incentive to disunion. This policy has been heretofore hinted at by the Press, but was formally foreshadowed in the recent speech of Mr. Wade in the Senate. We happen to know that this idea of acquiring Mexico, first under the forms of a protectorate, but eventually as a component part of the Confederacy, is no merely casual suggestion of an individual senator; but that it has been seriously and favorably considered by leading minds, which will exercise an important influence upon the incoming Administration.

There are many obstacles to the adoption of the policy of a protectorate over Mexico, which the dissolution of the Union would remove. Deeply as we should deplore the disruption of the Confederacy, as it now exists, it is a consolation to know that that sad event would remove the last obstruction to the consummation of the obvious policy of the American Republic. The whole question of Slavery will then be out of the way, and the Mexican people can receive a guaranty of a stable government at our hands, without incurring the risk of being overrun by Slavery. Ignorant and degraded as they are, the Mexicans cherish a wholesome prejudice against an institution which would reduce them to the level of slaves. It is on this account that a strong repugnance exists among the masses to the Southern portion of this Union. But they would regard the people of the free North as benefactors and deliverers from anarchy and revolution, as well as from invasion by a Slaveholding Confederacy. All classes and parties in that distracted country–or at any rate, the Liberal Party, which constitutes the great majority, would [958] fly to the free Northern Confederacy, for deliverance from the intolerable ills of the present, and the hateful subjugation of the Southern fillibusters [sic].

A protectorate would be the initiatory measure, accompanied with free trade, and a right of Colonization. But it is evident that the effect of this intimate intercourse with the free people of the North, accompanied by an infusion of a large element of Northern freemen, would be to Americanize Mexico in its ideas of Government and civil freedom; so that after a few years of pupilage the Mexican States would be incorporated into the Union on equal terms with the original States. The South would thus be surrounded by States and Territories in which the idea of civil liberty in its widest application will become the great bond of Union.

Mexico is about the size of the Slave States of this Union, and not a great way behind them in population. The trade of that most misgoverned country is even now valuable to the commercial nations of the world, and especially to England. We last year gave some interesting statistics on this subject, which demonstrate that the American Government has been singularly blind to the importance of cultivating more intimate relations with Mexico. But this trade, under the reign of anarchy which has lasted for forty years past, is as nothing when compared with what it may become when Anglo-Saxon energy, intelligence and freedom, shall have brought order out of chaos, and have converted the Guerilla bands–which now make war upon society because they have no protection in their homes–into industrious laborers.

When Mexico belonged to Spain, it was for three centuries an invaluable dependency, from which she derived fabulous wealth. The Mexican silver and gold mines for ages yielded millions to the hand of industry, while the manufactures and commerce of Spain reaped a perennial harvest in the markets of her transatlantic possession. It is useless to say that the resources of Mexico remain unexhausted. Her mines have ceased to turn out untold millions, because the hand of industry has been paralyzed by anarchy; and her soil has refused to yield rich harvests from the same cause. Under American auspices there can be no doubt that new life can be infused into Mexican industry–that treasures will again stream forth from her mines in greater profusion than ever; and that a commercial intercourse will spring up not inferior to that which we may lose by the secession of the Southern States. To doubt it, would be to doubt that the energies of American freedom are superior to those of Spanish despotism.

The secession of the Southern States would still leave the Federal [959] Government intact. It would retain every feature of its organization, and every resource for its preservation. The Army and Navy would remain in possession of the Government, and might be increased to any needful extent. There can, therefore, be no impediment to the consummation of this policy. No force which the seceding States could raise would interpose a serious obstacle. Without organization, without government, without money, without arms, without ships, without sailors, and at best, immeasurably the weaker party, the Slave States could do nothing to resist the Northern protectorate over Mexico. England and France, and all commercial nations owuld thank us for the service we should do the cause of civilization and commerce, and the Mexicans themselves will open their arms to receive us.

Here, then, is a policy which must enlist the ardent support of every Northern man, and especially those engaged in manufactures and commerce. It opens up a limitless field of enterprise, and cannot fail to restore any temporary loss we may sustain by the disruption of the Union. Should that dreaded event happen, it would undoubtedly damage and injure the commerce and trade of the North; but we have already shown that, whether in the Union or out of it, the South cannot dispense with Northern manufactures, Northern ships, Northern sailors and ship-builders, and Northern capital; and when we consider the facilities and inducements which Southern secession will give to the acquisition of Mexico by the North, we may console ourselves with the reflection that, much as disunion is to be deprecated on grounds of patriotism and national honor, it would not essentially and permanently injure the commercial and industrial prosperity of the North.

Howard Cecil Perkins, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession, Vol. II (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964), 957-959.

“Race is often seen in fixed terms, either as a biological given or a static social category. However, as the debates about race at the turn of the century demonstrate, racial categorization is a fluid process that turns not only on prejudice, but also on factors ranging from dubious science to national honor.” (Haney Lopez)

fluidity & contested nature of racial categories / WBL p. 63

Not everyone agreed with Wigmore in his willingness to support Japanese but not Chinese naturalization. Wigmore’s preference for the Japanese contrasts with the preference articulated by the editor of the Fresno Republican, Chester Rowell, in 1909. While against both Chinese and Japanese immigration in principle, as a businessman Rowell favored the Chinese: “Taking for the moment this [businessman’s] viewpoint, we find the Chinese fitting much better than the Japanese into the status which the white American prefers them both to occupy–that of biped domestic animals in the white man’s service. The Chinese [63] coolie is the ideal industrial machine, the perfect human ox.”[41] Rowell’s argument demonstrates that views regarding the race of Japanese and Chinese persons and their fitness for citizenship turned on racial prejudice. Wigmore’s determined advocacy, however, shows that many other factors also entered into debates about who qualified as White. Race is often seen in fixed terms, either as a biological given or a static social category. However, as the debates about race at the turn of the century demonstrate, racial categorization is a fluid process that turns not only on prejudice, but also on factors ranging from dubious science to national honor.

An extraordinary number of rationales surfaced as criteria in the prerequisite decisions. However, in the complex task of racial definition, judges deciding prerequisite cases relied principally on four distinct rationales: (1) common knowledge, (2) scientific evidence, (3) congressional intent, and (4) legal precedent….

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 62-63.


  1. [41]Chester Rowell, Chinese and Japanese Immigrants–A Comparison, 34 ANNALS OF AM. ACAD. 223, 224 (July-Dec. 1909).

In re Rodriguez and “the favorable ruling for Rodriguez even though the court did not believe him to be White” (Haney López)

In re Rodriguez. Nach Haney López, court rules RR non-white but eligible anyway (?). Rodriguez as exception in early cases, decision treaty-driven. WBL 61.

Rationalizing Race: The Early Cases

Between 1878 and 1909, courts heard twelve prerequisite cases, rejecting the applicants’ claims in eleven of them. The courts barred the naturalization of applicants from China, Japan, Burma, and Hawaii, as well as that of two mixed-race applicants. Given the virulent anti-Asian prejudice of the times, these results are not surprising. In the one case during this period in which the petitioner did prevail, In re Rodriguez, a federal court in Texas in 1897 admitted to citizenship the “pure-blooded Mexican” applicant, but remarked that “[i]f the strict scientific classification of the anthropologist should be adopted, he would probably not be classed as white.”[35] the court allowed the applicant to naturalize on the basis of a series of treatise conferring citizenship on Spaniards and Mexicans in the wake of U.S. expansion into Florida and the Southwest.[36] Rodriguez was thus admitted despite the court’s belief that he was not White.[37] As the exception, Rodriguez proves the rule. In this initial period, courts virtually always opposed claims of Whiteness.

These early prerequisite cases are important, however, not in the results they reached, but because of the rationales offered by the courts in making racial assignments. The task of deciding who was White may at first glance [62] seem a simple one. However, the evidence suggests otherwise: the favorable ruling for Rodriguez even though the court did not believe him to be White; the tentativeness of the court in Ah Yup; and the naturalization of some Chinese such as Gee Hop even in the face the [sic] “white person” bar….

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 61ff.
  1. [35]In re Rodriguez, 81 F. 337, 349 (W.D.Tex. 1897).
  2. [36]Id. at 354. Despite the admission of Rodriguez to citizenship, Mexicans in the Southwest suffered considerable legal repression in the decades after the U.S. conquest of that region. See generally RODOLFO ACUÑA, OCCUPIED AMERICA: A HISTORY OF CHICANOS (3rd. ed. 1988). The history of legal resistance to such repression is examined in George Martínez, Legal Indeterminacy, Judicial Discretion and the Mexican-American Litigation Experience: 1930-1980, 27 U.C. DAVIS L. REV. 555 (1994).
  3. [37]The Supreme Court subsequently drew into question the holding in Rodriguez. Morrison v. California, 291 U.S. 82, 95 n.5 (1933). The Court wrote: “Whether a person of [Mexican] descent may be naturalized in the United States is still an unsettled question. The subject was considered in Matter of Rodriguez, but not all that was there said is consistent with later decisions of this court.” For a commentator’s criticism of Rodriguez on the grounds that Mexicans are not “white persons,” see Gold, supra., at 499-501.

“the intermediate and much-better-qualified red and yellow races” (In re Po, qtd. in Haney López)

‘red’ and ‘yellow’ races as ‘intermediate’, WBL p. 57

In contrast to such openly racist views, some judges writing in the racial prerequisite cases proclaimed fair-mindedness on the issue of race as well as solicitude for the petitioners. For example, in 1894, Judge Danaher of the City Court of Albany, New York, barred a Burmese petitioner from naturalization in In re Po, but not before remarking that he “appears to be a man of education,” [57] adding, “if there is no obstacle, it would give the court great satisfaction to grant his petition, and admit him to citizenship.”[17] Such solicitude, however, often seems disingenuous, or at least incapable of overcoming the strong taint of racism in these opinions. Thus, the same judge who expressed this high sentiment regarding Po manifested his subscription to the racist hierarchies of the time only a few lines further on. In sympathy for the excluded applicant, Judge Danaher complained of the 1870 revision allowing the naturalization of persons of African descent: “A Congo negro but five years removed from barbarism can become a citizen of the United States, but his more intelligent fellowmen… of the yellow races… are denied the privilege.”[18] The judge in Po was not alone in seeing a contradiction between admitting to citizenship Blacks but not Asians. A federal district judge sitting in Oregon lamented in 1880 that Congress should have “profer[red] the boon of American citizenship to the comparatively savage and strange inhabitants of the ‘dark continent,’ while withholding it from the intermediate and much-better-qualified red and yellow races.”[19] A generation later and across the continent, a federal district judge in South Carolina, perhaps more pragmatic, resigned himself to the dictates of Congress thus: “It may be that a highly educated and cultivated Japanese or Chinese or Malay or Siamese is better calculated to make a useful and desirable citizen than a savage from the Guinea coast, but it is not for the courts to give effect to such reasoning.”[20]

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 56ff.
  1. [17]In re Po, 28 N.Y. Supp. 383, 384 (City Ct., 1894).
  2. [18]Id.
  3. [19]In re Camille, 6 F. 256, 258 (C.C.D.Or. 1880)
  4. [20]Ex parte Shahid, 205 F. 812, 815 (E.D.S.C. 1913).

“All Negroes and Indians … shall be incapable of being a witness in any case whatever, except for or against each other” (Oldham and White, 1859)

Art. 448 [65] from Oldham and White (1859), 120, also gives a standard for racial definition.

Witnesses, who are incompetent.

Art. 448. [65] All Negroes and Indians, and all persons of mixed blood, descended from negro ancestry, to the third generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each generation may have been a white person, shall be incapable of being a witness in any case whatever, except for or against each other.[b]

George W. White and Williamson S. Oldham, eds. A Digest of the General Statute Laws of the State of Texas (Austin, Tex.: Printed by J. Marshall & Co., 1859), 120 (link).



  1. [b]Negro testimony is inadmissible in all cases, except for and against each other. Rice v. Lemon, 16 Tex. Rep. 593.