Outlawing "coolies": Race, nation, and empire in the age of emancipation

  • Jung M
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Exploring the ambiguous status of "coolies" in nineteenth-century American culture and law, "Outlawing ÔCooliesÕ" proposes an alternative interpretation of the first federal laws restricting immigration into the United States. Rather than focusing on the modern immigration system that the Page Law (1875) and the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) inaugurated, Jung examines their legal and political precedents: slave trade prohibitions. Through diplomatic correspondence from China and Cuba, proslavery propaganda from the Old South, and antislavery legislative efforts in Congress, he demonstrates how "coolies" came to embody coerced labor in the age of emancipation. The antebellum equation of "coolies" with enslaved plantation labor in the Caribbean eventually drove Republicans to prohibit American participation in the international trafficking of "coolies" during the Civil War. This little known law of 1862, he suggests, reflected and established a racial logic that would enable the passage of anti-Asian immigration restrictions as antislavery, pro-immigrant measures. Outlawing "coolies" also allowed the U.S. nation-state to deepen and defend its imperial presence in Asia and the Americas under the banner of freedom.

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  • Moon Ho Jung

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