Home -> James H. Barry Press -> Story of the Session of the California Legislature of 1909 -> Chapter 20

Previous Page Home Up One Level Next Page

Chapter XX.

Defeat of the Anti-Japanese Bills[86].

Stir Storm in the Assembly, But All the Bills Were Finally Defeated - Grove L. Johnson Denounces Action of Governor Gillett and President Roosevelt - Speaker Stanton Places Himself in a Very Embarrassing Position - His Effective Speech Becomes a Joke.

The Japanese problem under the bludgeoning of the big stick in the skilled hands of President Roosevelt, and free application of the organization switch in the hands of Governor Gillett, was kept fairly well under control during the entire session. That the problem is real was demonstrated by the numerous resolutions and alien-regulation bills which were introduced in both Houses. The Assembly, however, was the scene of the final defeat of the anti-Japanese element. There the legislative campaign against the Japanese was fought out, and there it was lost.

The contest in the Assembly narrowed down to three measures, Assembly Bill 78, introduced by Drew of Fresno, known as the "Alien Land Bill"; Assembly Bill 14, known as the "Anti-Japanese School Bill," and Assembly Bill 32, known as the "Municipal Segregation Bill," both introduced by Johnson of Sacramento. The final defeat of these bills settled the Japanese question so far as the legislative session of 1909 was concerned.

Drew's Alien Land bill was by far the most important of the three. It was in effect a copy of the alien land law at present in force in the State of Illinois, and generally known as the "Illinois Law." Under its provisions an alien acquiring title to lands situate in this State, was given five years in which to become a citizen of the United States; failing to become a citizen, he was required to dispose of his holdings to a citizen; failing so to do, the necessary machinery was provided for the District Attorney of the county in which the land was situated to dispose of it, and turn the proceeds of the sale over to the alien owner. Ample protection was provided for alien minors who might possess or might become possessed of California real property. Furthermore, under the provisions of the law, the leasing of land to aliens for a longer period than one year was prohibited.

Though the word, "Japanese," did not appear, the bill's introduction was a shot which if not heard round the world, at least reached Washington on the East and Tokio on the West. Finally, on January 25, Governor Gillett made the Alien bills pending before the Legislature subject of a special message to Senate and Assembly, in which he urged the Legislature to do nothing that would disrupt the pleasant relations existing between America and Japan, and recommended that an appropriation be made to enable the Labor Commissioner to take a census showing the number of Japanese now in the State, with such other information regarding them as could be used in making a proper report to the President and Congress[87a].

Governor Gillett in the paragraph of his message[87] which dealt with the Alien Land bill, stated that the measure might be amended so that its passage would not embarrass the Federal Government. Mr. Drew promptly sent the Governor a note, inquiring "how amended." The Governor replied[88], stating that, in his judgment the best possible law that could be passed on the question of alien ownership of land would be the law which had been adopted by Oklahoma. Furthermore, the Governor expressed the opinion that such a law would be satisfactory to President Roosevelt and Secretary Root.

Mr. Drew was quick to act on the suggestion. He not only yielded to the Governor's wishes[89], but in the teeth of the severest opposition from the San Francisco delegation, forced delay of the passage of his bill until the Oklahoma law could be substituted for that taken from the Illinois Statutes.

The substitute measure provided that "no alien shall acquire title or own land in the State of California," but the provisions of the act further provided that the law "shall not apply to lands now owned in this State by aliens so long as they are held by their present owners."

The substitute measure was introduced on February 1st; it came up for passage on February 3rd. In the two days which elapsed between the introduction and final action on the bill, the high State authorities decided to oppose it. Speaker Phil Stanton employed his influence against it; one by one its supports who could "be reached" were "pulled down." Drew found himself at the final with slight following. The bill was defeated by the decisive vote of 28 to 48. Mott gave notice of motion to reconsider, but the next day reconsideration was denied.

The day following the defeat of the Alien Land bill, February 4th, the "Anti-Japanese School Bill" and the "Municipal Segregation Bill" came up for final action. There was also Assembly Bill 15, classed as an anti-Japanese measure, which came up on the same day. It, as in the case of the two others, had been introduced by Johnson of Sacramento, by far the ablest parliamentarian in the Legislature. Drew had used facts and figures when arguing for his alien land bills; Johnson seasoned his statistics with a sarcasm[90] as peppery as one of Mr. Roosevelt's ingenuous opinions on "nature fakers." But while Mr. Johnson entertained with his wit and his invective, he failed to overcome the tremendous influence, State and Federal, that had been brought to bear against his bills. Assembly Bill 15, denying aliens the right to serve as directors on California corporations, was defeated by a vote of 15 for to 53 against. Assembly Bill 32, the "Municipal Segregation Bill,"[91] was defeated by the close vote of 39 for to 35 against, 41 votes being required for its passage.

And then the Assembly took another tack, and by a vote of 45 to 29, passed Assembly Bill 14, the Anti-Japanese School bill. Leeds changed his vote from no to aye to give notice that he would the next legislative day move to reconsider the vote by which the bill had been passed. The Assembly then adjourned. The day had been eventful. A more eventful was to follow.

The passage of Assembly Bill 14, after the defeat of the other so-called anti-Japanese measures, brought a characteristic telegram from President Roosevelt to Governor Gillett. "This (Assembly Bill 14) is the most offensive bill of them all," telegraphed the President, "and in my judgment is clearly unconstitutional, and we should at once have to test it in the courts. Can it not be stopped in the Legislature or by veto?"

Governor Gillett incorporated that telegram in a message which he sent to Senate and Assembly the next day. "A telegram so forcible as this," said the Governor, "from the President of the United States, is entitled to full consideration, and demands that no hasty or ill-considered action be taken by this State which may involve the whole country. It seems to me that it is time to lay sentiment and personal opinion and considerations aside and take a broad and unprejudiced view of the important question involved in the proposed legislation, and in a calm and dispassionate manner pass upon them, keeping in mind not only the interests of our State, but of the Nation as well, and the duty we owe to it in observing the treaties entered into by it with a friendly power."

"I trust," concluded the Governor, "that no action will be taken which will violate any treaty made by our country or in any manner question its good faith. I most respectfully submit this message to you with the full hope and belief that when final action shall be taken nothing will be done which can be the subject of criticism by the people of this Nation, and that no law will be enacted which will be in contravention of the Constitution or any treaty of the United States."

The Governor's message was not at all well received[92]; in fact, Governor and message were denounced by both Republican and Democratic Assemblymen.

From the hour that the bill had been passed, the Governor had been in consultation with his lieutenants in the Assembly. Speaker Stanton made canvass of the situation. But little headway was made. That reconsideration would be denied was evident. Leeds, to save the situation, moved that reconsideration be postponed until February 10th. An amendment was made that it be re-referred to the Judiciary Committee. It was on this amended motion that the issue was fought out.

"I know what you want," declared Johnson of Sacramento in his opening speech, "and you know it. You want to bury this bill. You want time to hold another caucus on the question and decide what you will do. You want time to take another canvass of this Assembly."

Had the question been put when Johnson had concluded, reconsideration would unquestionably have been denied. In the emergency, Speaker Stanton left his desk and took the floor to plead for delay. For once in his life, at least, Phil Stanton was impressive. He did not say much, - and as the sequel showed he had little to say - but there was a suggestion of thundering guns and sacked cities and marching armies in his words, that caused the listening statesmen to follow him with unstatesmen-like uneasiness.

"It was not my intention," said Stanton, "to take the floor unless we were confronted by some grave crisis. Such a crisis is, in my opinion, upon us. I not only believe it, but I know it. But my lips are sealed."

"I would that I could tell you what I know, but I cannot for the present. But I can tell you that we are treading upon dangerous ground. I can feel it slipping from under my feet."

"In my judgment this matter should be postponed. I believe that further information will, within a few days, be given you."

The psychological moment had come in the history of Assembly Bill 14. All eyes were turned on Johnson of Sacramento. It was for him to say whether the postponement asked should be granted. Had Johnson said "no," such was the attitude of the Assembly at that moment, reconsideration of the measure would unquestionably have been denied, and Assembly Bill 14 declared passed by the House of its origin.

But Johnson did not say "no."[93] Instead, he entered upon a rambling excuse for advocating acquiescence in Stanton's request for delay. He rambled on that he believed that Governor Gillett had been indiscreet; that he (Johnson) did not propose to be dictated to by a "fanatical President eternally seeking the limelight."

"But," concluded Johnson, "I have listened to the words of our Speaker, and I see that he is profoundly moved. For this reason I am willing that the bill go over until Wednesday, but out of respect to our Speaker, and for no one else on earth."

When Johnson sat down, one could have heard a pin drop. Not a dissenting voice was heard. Further consideration of the measure was postponed until February 10.

The day preceding final action on the bill was given over to conferences and caucuses. The Democrats caucused and agreed to stand as a unit for the bill. Grove L. Johnson's immediate followers rallied to its support. On the other hand, a conference of those opposing the measure was held in Governor Gillett's office. Grove L. Johnson is alleged to have been called to the carpet. He was asked to withdraw his support of the measure. Johnson is quoted as replying:

"Show me why I should not support it. Give me the reasons, the facts
and figures, why Roosevelt has any right to interfere with this
measure. I want something definite. I have heard these suppositions
and insinuations for years and years. Let me know, gentlemen, what
information you have confided to you that should induce me to
withdraw my support and bow to the telegram from Roosevelt."

The hour for reconsideration of the bill, 11 a. m. of February 10, arrived with the situation practically unchanged. Assemblyman Transue, Stanton's right hand man in the fight against the bill, presented an elaborate resolution, laboriously prepared by the opponents of the measure, setting forth why it should be defeated[94]. In it the right of the State to pass such school-regulating laws as it may see fit was affirmed, and the constitutionality of the pending measure alleged, but the Assembly was urged to do nothing to disturb the relations existing between this Government and a friendly power. The resolution did not strengthen the position of the opponents of the bill in the least. In fact, several of their number were estranged. So worked up had the Assemblymen become, that Beardslee of San Joaquin moved that Transue's resolution be considered in executive session, but the motion was lost. The resolution was later withdrawn.

The debate turned principally on demands from the supporters of the bill, that Speaker Stanton tell why he had felt "the ground slipping from under his feet" in his speech of six days before. But Stanton wouldn't or couldn't tell. He leaned on his gavel through it all looking very foolish indeed.

These speeches of denunciation pleased the supporters of the bill immensely, but the luxury of denouncing Stanton defeated the bill. Had the vote been taken at the forenoon session, reconsideration would undoubtedly have been denied. But so much time was taken in making Stanton feel foolish, that the hour of recess arrived, and the Assembly scattered until two o'clock.

This brief respite gave the opponents of the measure a last opportunity. They improved it by bringing over to their side enough members of the San Francisco delegation to win reconsideration, and the measure's defeat. When the Assembly re-convened after the noon recess, the members by a vote of 43 to 34 granted the bill reconsideration, and by a vote of 37 ayes to 41 noes defeated it[95].

Although the Senate escaped the sensational scenes that attended the suppression of the Japanese problem in the Assembly, nevertheless Japanese bills and resolutions, with attending debates, made their appearance there. Caminetti, for example, introduced a duplicate of the Johnson anti-Japanese School bill, which was referred to the Senate Committee on Education and never heard from again.

Senate Bill No. 492, introduced by Senator Anthony, made more trouble. This measure gave the people of the State an opportunity to express themselves at the polls on the Japanese question. The Committee on Labor, Capital and Immigration recommended the measure for passage, and it was finally forced to a vote, being defeated by twelve votes for and twenty-two against[96].

A series of Senate anti-Japanese resolutions which were finally included in Senate joint Resolution No. 6[97], almost led to a riot in the Assembly. After a deal of pulling and hauling in the Senate the resolution was finally adopted and went to the Assembly. In the Assembly, Speaker Stanton, as "a select committee of one," took the resolution under his protection. The indications being that the "select committee of one" would fail to report, a storm was started by an attack on Stanton's authority to be a "select committee of one" at all. The assailants were repulsed. Nevertheless, "the select committee of one," after holding the measure a week, recommended that it be referred to the Committee on Federal Relations. The measure was finally adopted and went to the Governor.

[86] The Assembly vote on the four principal Japanese issues will be found in Table I of the Appendix.

[87a] A bill providing funds for such a census was introduced and became a law.

[87] The paragraph in Governor Gillett's message which deals with the Alien Land bill, read as follows:

"If you believe the general policy of this State and its future development demands that all aliens, that is, citizens of other countries, should be discouraged in making investments here, and that no alien should be permitted to become the owner in fee simple of any lands within this State - agricultural, grazing or mineral, or of any city property for the purposes of trade, commerce or manufacturing - then enact a law forbidding the same, but see to it that it affects the subjects of all nations alike, and that under its provisions the citizens of Japan shall have equal privileges with those of England and other favored nations; otherwise you might create a situation which may prove to be embarrassing to the Federal Government. Mr. Drew's bill might be so amended, but in its present form it clearly, as no doubt was intended, discriminates against the citizens of China and Japan. Whether any bill should pass at this time which will discourage foreign capital from seeking investments in our State is a most serious question and one not lightly to be considered. But that is a question I leave for you to solve."

[88] The Governor's letter was in full as follows:

Hon. A. M. Drew: Your little note was received.

"I am inclined to think that the best possible law that can be passed on the question of alien ownership of land would be the law adopted by Oklahoma. You will find it in the session laws of the State of Oklahoma, 1907 and 1908. The book is on file in the State Library. The Act is on page 481.

"I would strike out of the first line the words 'who is not a citizen of the United States,' because that is useless. No alien is a citizen of the United States, and cannot be.

"Then I notice the second line of Section 3, instead of having 'devise,' the word is 'device.' I suppose this must be a typographical error.

"To this bill might be added the last section of your bill, extending the time in which leases can be given - so many years on agricultural property and so many years on city property. I think one year is rather short; inasmuch as this would apply to all aliens alike, I would be reasonable as to the length of time for which leases should be granted.

"I am also of the opinion that President Roosevelt and Secretary Root would agree that this bill would be all right - in fact, I have telegrams from them which would indicate such to be the fact. Of course, the question whether or not it would be policy to pass an alien law in this State is something that the Legislature would have to consider, but if such a law is to pass, as I say, I am inclined to believe that one like the Oklahoma law would probably be the best."

[89] Assemblyman Drew's reply to the Governor's letter suggesting that the Oklahoma law be substituted for the original bill, was as follows:

"Your esteemed favor of the 26th inst., is before me, and I can assure you that I appreciate the spirit in which you have considered the Alien Land bill, presented by myself in the Assembly. I am strictly in accord with the changes you suggest. The words 'who is not a citizen of the United States' are surplusage and could easily have been left out, but they are found in both the Illinois and Oklahoma laws. I am glad the President takes the view of the matter that he does, and you may rest assured that I will work in harmony with yourself. However, I deem it advisable that some law should be enacted at this session of the Legislature. I think it will be wisdom on our part to take this step, and surely our neighbor, Japan, cannot complain so long as the bill is applicable to all aliens alike. I will submit to you a draft of the amended bill as soon as I can get it in shape."

[90] Johnson addressed himself directly to President Roosevelt and Governor Gillett. The following paragraphs are taken at random from his speech:

"I expect some member of the Assembly to introduce a bill here, the first section of which shall read: 'Before any legislation is enacted it shall bear the approval of James N. Gillett and President Roosevelt and if it is denied, the bill shall be withdrawn.' "

"Some of you think legislation is like patent medicine. It must bear on the bill, the label: 'None genuine without the note, This is a good bill, James N. Gillett.' "

"What right have we, mere Assemblymen, to have an opinion on any matter? Why should we, who were sent here by the people for the sake of convenience and formality, have any independence in our thought? What right have we to do anything but listen in awe and reverence to the words of wisdom that drop from the tongues of Governor James N. Gillett and Theodore Roosevelt?

"Of course we must surrender our individual opinion, and bow to the superior intellects of the 'Imperial Power,' which Mr. Beardslee loves so well. Since we must vote, as a matter of course, what right have we to vote otherwise than as the distinguished Governor and President say in their infinite certainty?"

Johnson complained bitterly of the interference of the President with the State and of the Governor with the Legislature.

"I have," said Johnson, "all respect for the intellect of James N. Gillett, Governor of California, and for his superior, President Roosevelt. But I am sent into this Chamber by my constituents and not by Governor James N. Gillett. I have been returned here again and again, and not because I bowed to the authority of James N. Gillett. I am here for the good of my people, the people who supported me, and who expect me to support them. I know more about the Japanese than Governor Gillett and President Roosevelt put together. I am not responsible to either of them."

"I am responsible to the mothers and fathers of Sacramento County who have their little daughters sitting side by side in the school rooms with matured Japs, with their base minds, their lascivious thoughts, multiplied by their race and strengthened by their mode of life."

"I am here to protect the children of these parents. To do all that I can to keep any Asiatic man from mingling in the same school with the daughters of our people. You know the results of such a condition; you know how far it will go, and I have seen Japanese 25 years old sitting in the seats next to the pure maids of California. I shuddered then and I shudder now, the same as any other parent will shudder to think of such a condition."

[91] The purpose of the Municipal Segregation bill, as set forth in its title, was "to confer power upon municipalities to protect the health, morals and peace of their inhabitants by restricting undesirable, improper and unhealthy persons and persons whose practices are dangerous to public morals and health and peace to certain prescribed limits, and prescribing a punishment for a violation of this Act."

The bill in full was as follows:

"Section 1. Whenever in the opinion of the governing body of any municipality the presence of undesirable, improper and unhealthy persons, or the presence of persons whose practices are dangerous to public morals and health and peace is deemed to exist in the said municipality and to be dangerous to the public morals and health and peace of said municipality and its inhabitants, the said governing body is hereby empowered to so declare by ordinance and is hereby empowered and authorized to prescribe by ordinance the district and limits within which said persons shall reside in said municipality, and thereafter it shall be unlawful for any person of the class so declared to reside in any other portion of said municipality than within the said district and limits so fixed.

"See. 2. A violation of the provisions of this Act shall be deemed a misdemeanor and shall be punished as such."

[92] "Never before have I heard of a time," said Assemblyman Cronin, "when a Governor has sent such a message to a Legislature. I am responsible to my constituents for my actions on this floor and I resent such interference. I hold the Governor's action to be indiscreet. He has no more right to send such a message to this House than have we to dictate to the Supreme Court a policy on any action pending before it, on the ground that the best interests of the State depend upon their regarding our Instructions.

"Can we dictate to the Governor the course that is to be pursued in an executive matter? Let us stand by our guns."

"If the men change their votes on account of this fanciful talk from the President and the Governor," said Johnson of Sacramento, "I shall certainly be pained and surprised. They do not know the conditions as I know them. We have a right to protect our State, and it will not interfere with any international relations, and they know it. Their specious argument will not change my vote one bit. I know what The People want - what I want. I know influence has been brought to bear. It will be further brought to bear. Now I trust this vote will not suffer by you men changing your minds for such groundless reasons."

"Since yesterday," said Assemblyman Gibbons, "I have changed my views. I thought there were three departments in this Government, but I find I was mistaken. I recognize the error of my youthful belief. I know now that the Legislative and the Executive are one, or, rather, that the Executive is the Legislative."

[93] The question has been asked - was Johnson sincere in his advocacy of the Anti-Japanese measures? The writer does not presume to answer; the workings of Grove L. Johnson's mind and conscience are, for the writer at least, too intricate for analysis. But Grove L. Johnson voted for anti-racetrack gambling bills for years, spoke for them and fought for them as keenly as he did for the Anti-Japanese bills, always on the losing side. But when an anti-racetrack gambling bill was before the Assembly with some prospect of passage, Grove L. Johnson was found the leader of those opposed to its passage. In the case in point, to Grove L. Johnson, and not President Roosevelt or Governor Gillett, or even Phil Stanton, is due the credit for postponement of consideration of Assembly Bill 14, a postponement which meant its defeat.

[94] The Transue resolution will be found in full In the appendix.

[95] Speaker Stanton very modestly took much credit for the defeat of the bill. The following telegram was on its way to Washington almost before the vote had been announced:

"Sacramento, February 10.-Theodore Roosevelt, White House Washington, D. C. - The Assembly just reconsidered and refused passage of the Japanese School bill. My congratulations.


The reply was as follows:

"Washington, February 10.-Hon. P. A. Stanton, Speaker of the Assembly, Sacramento, Cal. - Accept my heartiest thanks and congratulations for the great service you have rendered on behalf of The People of the United States. I thank the people of California and their representatives in the Legislature.


A further telegram was sent to Governor Gillett:

"Washington, February 10. - To Governor J. N. Gillett, Sacramento Cal. - Accept my heartiest congratulations. All good Americans appreciate what you have done. Pray extend my congratulations individually to all who have aided you. I feel that the way in which California has done what was right for the Nation makes it more than ever obligatory on the Nation in every way to safeguard the interests of California. All that I personally can do toward this end, whether in public or private life, shall most certainly be done. THEODORE ROOSEVELT."

[96] The vote on Senate Bill 492 was as follows:

For the bill - Anthony, Black, Burnett, Caminetti, Campbell, Cartwright, Finn, Hartman, Holohan, Reily, Sanford, and Welch - 12.

Against the bill - Bates, Bell, Bills, Birdsall, Boynton, Curtin, Cutten, Hurd, Leavitt, Lewis, Martinelli, McCartney, Miller, Price, Rush, Savage, Strobridge, Thompson, Walker, Weed, Willis, and Wright - 22.

Absentees - Estudillo, Hare, Kennedy, Roseberry, Stetson, and Wolfe - 6.

[97] Senate Joint Resolution No. 6, which, as finally adopted, was a committee substitute for Senate Joint Resolution Nos. 6, 7, 11 and 17. It follows:

Whereas, The progress, happiness, and prosperity of the people of a nation depend upon a homogeneous population;

Whereas, The influx from overpopulated nations of Asia of people who are unsuited for American citizenship or for assimilation with the Caucasian race, has resulted and will result in lowering the American standard of life and the dignity and wage-earning capacity of American labor;

Whereas, The exclusion of Chinese laborers under the existing exclusion laws of the United States has tended to preserve the economic and social welfare of the people;

Whereas, We view with alarm any proposed repeal of such exclusion laws and the substituting therefor of general laws;

Whereas, The interest of California can best be safeguarded by the retention of said exclusion laws, and by extending their terms and provisions to other Asiatic people;

Whereas, The people of the Eastern states, and the United States generally, have an erroneous impression as to the real sentiment of the people of the Pacific Coast relative to the Asiatic question;

Whereas, We think it right and proper that the people of this country should be advised as to our true position on that question; therefore, be it

Resolved, by the Senate and Assembly jointly, That we respectfully urge the Congress of the United States to maintain intact the present Chinese exclusion laws and instead of taking any action looking to the repeal of said exclusion laws, to extend the terms and provisions thereof so as to apply to and include all Asiatics;

Resolved, That our Senators be instructed and Representatives in Congress requested to use all honorable means to carry out the foregoing recommendation and requests;

Resolved, That the Governor of California be, and he is, directed to transmit a certified copy of these resolutions to the President and Speaker, respectively, of the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, and to each of our Senators and Representatives in Congress.

The resolution was adopted in the Senate by the following vote:

Ayes - Senators Anthony, Bates, Bills, Birdsall, Black, Boynton, Burnett, Caminetti, Campbell, Cartwright, Curtin, Cutten, Finn, Hare, Hartman, Holohan, Kennedy, Leavitt, Lewis, McCartney, Miller, Reily, Rush, Sanford, Savage, Walker, Welch, and Wolfe - 28.

Noes - Senators Bell, Price, Roseberry, Stetson, Thompson, Weed, and Willis - 7.

The resolution was adopted in the Assembly on March 23. There was no call for the ayes and noes, and no record was made of the vote.

Previous Page Home Up One Level Next Page