Ticket Voting
Identification of Voter Choice:  Slogans

1881 California Workingmen’s Party Ticket, San Francisco

Courtesy of the California Historical Society, San Francisco

The panic of 1873 and the ensuing depression were hatched in the East but quickly proved devastating in California particularly during the years 1877-1879. The California Workingmen’s Party formed in 1877, distinct from the organization of the same name in the East which ultimately became the Socialist Labor Party. As a labor organization the California party’s goal was to maintain wage standards for white men with cheap Chinese labor quickly becoming a visceral target. This is the Party’s 1881 San Francisco city and county ticket, mainly endorsing candidates of the Democratic Party.
The ticket carries three slogans. 
The first is the sketch of “Columbia” who is “Awarding the Labor of America to Freemen.” Her skirts proclaim that she will “Safeguard Wages” and protect “8 Hour Days.” She faces the immigrants whom she welcomes, her right arm and open hand extended to Frenchmen, Germans, Scandinavians and “American” Irishmen, making a point about leaving behind old loyalties for American commitments. Among those being welcomed is a woman with a baby in swaddling clothes. Columbia’s back is turned to those whom she rejects and her left fist is extended to “Chinese or Coolie Slave Labor.” Columbia is a familiar image, modeled, once again, on the Freedom statue standing atop the US Capitol.
The California Workingmen’s Party is sometimes seen as pushing for more direct regulatory powers by the California Railroad Commission, a development also supported by businesses interests such as the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, farmers generally and specifically the California Grange movement which was well represented in the state legislature. But the main concern of the revised Commission, as suggested by its principal backers, was not railroad labor but railroad shipping rates, especially the predatory rate structure of the Southern Pacific. Moreover, the member of the Workingmen’s Party on the Railroad Commission (C. J. Beerstecher, a 27 year old German immigrant with a law degree from the University of Michigan) appeared, as a commissioner, to support the rate structures of the Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific railroads. He was unable to explain to a subsequent legislative inquiry into the Commission his sudden acquisition of wealth while a Commission member and was accused of accepting bribes. 
It is perhaps best to see the California Workingmen’s Party as a virulent white labor organization which, as the depression deepened and white unemployment increased, became strongly anti-Chinese. Adding fuel to this ethnic and racial fire was increasing Chinese labor competition with white American labor and Chinese organizational power.
The second symbol is caught in the words “6 Companies” under which Chinese laborers are coming ashore.  The “6 Companies” were six large Chinese merchant companies (“huiguans”) in areas of California with large Chinese laboring populations: the Sam Yup Company, the See Yup Company, the Kong Chow Company, the Ning Yuen Company, the Hop Wo Company, and the Yeung Wo Company. They were very powerful in San Francisco’s Chinatown and in 1882 they combined to create the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, pursuing many interests but also assisting Chinese laborers and responding to American anti-Chinese movements. 
The steamship pictured on the horizon, the Ho Chung, is the third motivating symbol on the ticket. The fact that the “6 Companies” were also involved in organizing sea passages for Chinese migrants, overwhelmingly male, gave rise in this major economic depression with accompanying high unemployment to rumors of a secret plan to flood California with cheap Chinese labor. Competition would spread to all areas of employment. The steamship Ho Chung arrived in San Francisco in 1878 from Honolulu with a cargo of male Chinese laborers and quickly became a potent symbol of the threat to white labor. The use of the term “slavery” reminded white men of the threat which had been posed, not so long ago, by the spread of African American slavery to the territories, including California.

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