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People v. Hall

People v. Hall


Foreign Miners Tax. As a result of the Gold Rush in 1849, people from all over the world flocked to California. In part as a result of the fierce competition in the gold fields, the state legislature and court system structured the law to socially and financially benefit Anglo-Americans. One example was the Foreign Miners Tax of 1850, which forced nonwhitesusually varying Hispanic groups (local californios as well as Mexicans) and Chinese immigrantsto pay sixteen dollars per month on their mining claims. Racist violence of Anglo-American miners against nonwhite miners was also common.

The Case. People v. Hall (1854) reflected the racist climate of Californias early settlement. A white defendant was convicted on the basis of the testimony from a Chinese witness. On appeal the defendants lawyer argued that a nonwhite witness could not testify against a white person. The legal basis for this claim was a California law that stated that blacks, mulattos, and Indians could not testify in any case against a white person. This law did not specifically mention the Chinese. However, in People v. Hall California Supreme Court justice John Murray decided that since all nonwhite peoples were similarly degraded, no one of nonwhite blood, including the Chinese, could ever testify against a white. Such a court decision mirrored the prejudice, especially anti-Chinese racism, prevalent in California well into the twentieth century.


Patricia Nelson Limerick, Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York: Norton, 1987);

Cheng-Tsu Wu, ed., Chink! A Documentary History of Anti-Chinese Prejudice in America (New York: World, 1972).

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