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7.1: Japanese Segregation

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By 1906, Chinese people had been immigrating to San Francisco for decades, but Japanese immigrants were few and had arrived only recently. In 1906 the San Francisco Board of Education ordered Japanese students to attend Chinese schools. President Theodore Roosevelt opposed this decision and attempted to have the decision reversed. It was unusual for the president to intervene in such a local issue.

Public Speech – Theodore Roosevelt

Source: Public speech by Roosevelt, December 1905.

It is unwise to depart from the old American tradition and to discriminate for or against any man who desired to come here as a citizen. We cannot afford to consider whether he is Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Gentile; whether he is Englishman or Irishman, Frenchman or German, Japanese, Italian, Scandinavian, Slav, or Magyar.

The class of Chinese laborers are undesirable immigrants to this country, because of their numbers, the low wages for which they work, and their low standard of living.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: What kind of document is this?
  2. Sourcing: What do you think the intended audience was?
  3. Do you trust what Roosevelt says in this document?

Letter to Friend – Theodore Roosevelt

Source: Letter from Roosevelt to a friend on May 6, 1905, in which he criticizes the California Legislature’s recent move to restrict immigration from Japan.

The California Legislature has the right to protest against the immigration of Japanese laborers. Their cheapness and clannishness make them a challenge to our laboring class, and you may not know that they have begun to present a serious problem in Hawaii—all the more serious because they keep entirely to themselves. Furthermore, I understand that the Japanese themselves do not permit any foreigners to own land in Japan.

I would not have objected at all to the California Legislature passing a resolution, courteous and proper in its terms, which would really have achieved their goal. But I do object to, and feel humiliated by, the foolish offensiveness of the resolution they passed.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: What kind of document is this?
  2. Sourcing: What do you think the intended audience was?
  3. Do you trust what Roosevelt says in this document?

Message to Congress – Theodore Roosevelt

Source: Roosevelt’s annual message to Congress, December 4, 1906.

Here and there a most unworthy feeling has manifested itself toward the Japanese [such as] shutting them out of the common schools of San Francisco [and] mutterings against them in one or two other places, because of their efficiency as workers. To shut them out from the public schools is a wicked absurdity.

It’s absurd that the mob of a single city may at any time perform acts of lawless violence that would plunge us into war. A city should not be allowed to commit a crime against a friendly nation.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: What kind of document is this?
  2. Sourcing: What do you think the intended audience was?
  3. Do you trust what Roosevelt says in this document?

Roosevelt Letter to Secretary Metcalf

Source: Letter from Roosevelt to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, Victor Metcalf, who went to San Francisco to investigate the Japanese segregation crisis, November 27, 1906.

The White House

Washington, Nov 27, 1906

My Dear Secretary Metcalf:

....I had a talk with the Japanese Ambassador and told him that in my judgment the only way to prevent constant friction between the United States and Japan was to keep the movement of the citizens of each country into the other as restricted as possible to students, travelers, business men and the like. It was necessary that no Japanese laboring men—that is, of the coolie class—come into the United States.... The Ambassador agreed with this view and said that he had always been against Japanese coolies going to America or Hawaii. Of course, San Francisco’s action will make it difficult for most Japanese to agree with this view. But I hope my message will smooth over their feelings....

Sincerely yours,

THEODORE ROOSEVELT

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: What kind of document is this?
  2. Sourcing: What do you think the intended audience was?
  3. Do you trust what Roosevelt says in this document?

Do Not Embarrass the Administration - Political Cartoon

Source: This cartoon was published in Harper’s Weekly, a New York-based magazine, in November 1906. It shows Secretary of Commerce and Labor Metcalf speaking to a young schoolboy, who represents San Francisco. (Figurebelow).

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: What kind of document is this?
  2. Sourcing: What do you think the intended audience was?
  3. How does this source information influence your interpretation of the document?

Section Question:

  1. Based on the documents provided, why did President Roosevelt intervene in Japanese segregation? Support your answer with specific evidence from the documents.

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