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Women Get the Vote

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Native Americans and Chinese
    Get the Vote

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The Promised Land

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8.05 Native Americans and Chinese Get the Vote

Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado is the only American Indian in teh Senate. He is one of forty-four chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Indians.

The United States has historically excluded groups based on race, gender, and nationality from voting. African Americans and women were not allowed to vote by state laws. Native Americans and Chinese have also been excluded.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1831 that "Indians" were a "domestic dependent nation." As such, Native Americans lacked citizenship rights as long as they remained within their nation. In 1906, the Burke Act granted citizenship to those Native Americans who privately farmed their land and left the jurisdiction of the reservation. But it would not be until 1924 that Congress would pass the Indian Citizenship Act granting all Native Americans, on or off the reservation, citizenship and the possibility of suffrage. In 1956 Utah was the last state to give Native Americans the vote.

Chinese Americans faced similar barriers to voting. Three hundred thousand Chinese arrived in the U.S. between 1854 and 1882, drawn to the California gold rush and jobs in mining and railroad construction. Chinese immigrants quickly became targets for white workers, who blamed them for driving down wages. Riots against Chinese in California were commonplace in the 1870s and 80s. Pressure for action grew so great that the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the first anti-immigrant act in U.S. history. The law ended Chinese immigration and prevented Chinese and later other Asian immigrants from becoming naturalized citizens, thus disfranchising that population.

This flier for a Tacoma, Wash., anti-Chinese mass meeting shows the great fear of Chinese and their purported threat to American civilization.

Children of Chinese born in the United States were also excluded from citizenship until an 1896 law established their rights as citizens. Not until 1926 would California's suffrage provision, allowing "no native of China" to vote be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Chinese Exclusion Act would remain in effect until 1943, when the United States lifted the immigration ban.

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