After the Civil War, immigrants again began to stream to the United States. Between 1870 and 1900, nearly 12 million immigrants arrived--more foreign-born people than had come to the country in the preceding 70 years. During the 1870s and 1880s, the majority came from Germany, Ireland, and England--the principal source of immigration before the Civil War. Even so, a relatively large group of Chinese immigrated to the United States between the start of the California gold rush in 1849 and 1882, when federal law stopped their immigration.
While the majority of immigrants came to settle in the United States permanently, many worked for a time and returned home with whatever savings they had set aside from their work. The majority of Chinese immigrants, for example, were single men who worked for a while and returned home. At first, they were attracted to North America by the gold rush in California. Many prospected for gold on their own or labored for other miners. Soon, many opened their own businesses such as restaurants, laundries, and other personal service concerns. After the gold rush, Chinese immigrants worked as agricultural laborers, on railroad construction crews throughout the West, and in low-paying industrial jobs.
With the onset of hard economic times in the 1870s, other immigrants and European Americans began to compete for the jobs traditionally reserved for the Chinese. With economic competition came dislike and even racial suspicion and hatred. Such feelings were accompanied by anti-Chinese riots and pressure, especially in California, for the exclusion of Chinese immigrants from the United States. The result of this pressure was the Chinese Exclusion Act, passed by Congress in 1882. This Act virtually ended Chinese immigration for nearly a century. As the following documents suggest, there were many opinions about this issue.