Memorandum by the Adviser on Political Relations (Hornbeck)

The question of there being taken action by the American Government toward removing or relaxing the discriminatory features of this country’s legislation and practices in regard to immigration of Chinese is one which now and henceforth until appropriate action has been taken this Government is and will be compelled to face. The Chinese have reached a point in their political evolution, and the spirit of nationalism has developed among them to a point from which it naturally and inevitably flows that they are taking and will increasingly take exception to situations and action in and on the part of other countries the implications of which are a political assessment of the Chinese race as “inferior” and of Chinese persons as “undesirables.”

During the past forty years the Japanese, increasingly smarting under the grievance, as they saw it, of our discrimination against them as a race, made of this discrimination a diplomatic issue and used the fact of this discrimination as a springboard and a projectile of propaganda among their own people against the white race in general and the United States in particular. The burning hostility of such men as the late Admiral Yamamoto toward the United States, and the desire and intention and plans and efforts of such men to make war upon and defeat the United States were animated in no small part by their view of and emotions regarding this matter of discrimination on our part against the race of which they were and are members.

Until recently, the Chinese did not permit themselves greatly to be agitated on this subject. They had other and more practical problems, [Page 778] questions and issues over which to worry and with which to try to cope. They were conscious of their own comparative helplessness. They were confident of their inherent capacities and of the substantial quality of their culture. They regarded themselves as a “have” nation and, believing that they had it, they were not looking for a “place in the sun.” Now, however, the Chinese are becoming increasingly conscious of various and sundry of the disagreeable realities of international relationships; they are becoming aware of disabilities which flow from discriminations; they are becoming desirous of wider, more effective, more influential contacts with and among the governments and peoples of other countries; they are taking stock of the potentialities of their huge manpower and their relatively rich resources; they have seen it demonstrated that liberty and freedom and equal rights, etc., etc. accrue to those who demand and insist upon having them; and they are fully committed to a course wherein they will increasingly resent and contend against discrimination against their race by other countries.

The sooner we, the Government and people of the United States, face this issue, the easier will it be, in terms of reasonable costs, for us to handle it in a manner least disadvantageous to ourselves and most politically advantageous to all concerned. The question, between ourselves and the Chinese, has not yet reached the stage where embitterment and inflamed prejudice stand in the way of arriving at a mutually acceptable solution.

The immediate problem so far as this country is concerned is that of so revising our laws and procedures as to eliminate discrimination against the Chinese and at the same time safeguard ourselves against a large influx of Chinese immigrants. It is readily possible to produce a legislative formula which will accomplish simultaneously both of these two objectives.

The practical political problem that confronts us is that of bringing about adoption by the Congress of such a formula.

Scrutiny of the contemporary situation leads to an impression that there is at present widespread popular opinion favorably disposed toward China and the Chinese; and that both the public and the majority of the members of Congress are favorably disposed in principle toward some action indicative of this country’s admiration of and well wishes toward the Chinese as a fighting group whose interests and efforts are linked with ours in the conflict with the Axis powers and particularly with Japan. Further, there appears to be a substantial number of the members of the Congress, especially in the House, who would like to do something effective toward revising our legislation in the direction of removing our discriminations against [Page 779] the Chinese. In the Committee on Immigration of the House there appears to be a majority of opinion favorable to removal of discriminations but apprehensive of a possible influx of a considerable number of Chinese and apprehensive of other aspects of the question of Oriental immigration; and in that Committee there is no majority of opinion favorable to any one specific proposal; and in that Committee there is a minority which is opposed to any revision whatever of our immigration legislation. There have come a number of indications that the Committee would welcome and appreciate guidance from the executive branch of the Government; especially from the Department of State and the Department of Justice. There has thus far been given more indication of willingness on the part of the Department of Justice than on the part of the Department of State to give guidance in this matter.

It is believed that this question is of importance from point of view of the current and the future influence of the United States in our relations not only with China but with other countries of Asia and of the world in general. It has been traditional in American pronouncements on the subject of foreign policy and international relations for us to talk of “equality of opportunity” and “equality of treatment”. In recent years, and especially during the régime since 1933, we have especially emphasized those two principles. We have featured the concept underlying them by our participation in the formulating of the Atlantic Charter13 and the Declaration of the United Nations.14 We constantly refer to them either expressly or by implication in statements regarding postwar policy and intended practices. The Chinese are beginning to quote us in terms of “deeds are more important and more conclusive than words”; they are watching and scrutinizing our acts, our action of commission and our action of omission; they are calling upon us for performance. Their attitude toward us is going to be affected more and more by their view of the treatment which we accord or fail to accord them. This question of Chinese exclusion and of revision of or failure to make revision of our immigration laws in so far as the Chinese are affected is, therefore, of importance from point of view of foreign relations. It therefore would seem that the executive branch of the Government, and, in this situation, the Department of State in particular, should give an indication to the Congress of its views as to what it would be best for the Government of the United States to do in these premises.

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It is believed that with proper guidance from the two agencies best informed on the subject it could be brought about that the Committee on Immigration would produce and submit a bill which, in turn, could be discussed in the two Houses of Congress without arousing a great storm of opposition and with reasonable assurance of passage. Evidence with regard to consideration and discussion of this subject up to date is indicative of failure on the part of those who have expressed themselves in opposition to have considered on the one hand the limitations and safeguards which might be provided and on the other hand the advantages which might be obtained by open minded consideration of and passage of a well conceived bill.

It is believed that the administration’s leaders in the Congress could without great effort be given, could easily grasp, and could easily impart an exposition of the ins and outs of the subject which would enable the majority to grasp the essential facts and cause them to give their voting support to a committee proposal favored by the administration for a meeting of the needs of the existing situation.

What the Chinese want has been well stated in public by Dr. Sze, formerly Minister and Ambassador to this country: “they … desire that they be not denied, as a race, rights that are granted by American law to nearly all the other races of the world. Thus, as regards immigration, the Chinese desire only that they be placed upon the quota basis of the general immigration policy which the United States has established for the coming of foreigners to this country. And, as regards naturalization, the Chinese Government … hopes that those Chinese who desire to become loyal American citizens may be permitted to do so as are permitted the nationals of other countries to do. So far as concerns the entrance of Chinese into this country, the matter has now become almost wholly one of national respect, since the placing of the Chinese upon a quota basis would result in the yearly admission of no more than an additional hundred of them.…”15

In regard to a formula, there has been made a draft the features of which are: repeal of those provisions of our laws which prohibit expressly and by name immigration of Chinese, and establishment of a quota (which would make possible entry of about 105 persons) for Chinese.—We have intimations to the effect that such an arrangement would be acceptable to Chinese officialdom. And, arrangement of that sort certainly would establish an adequate safeguard against the various evils regarding which opponents thus far of action in this direction have expressed apprehensions.

S[tanley] K. H[ornbeck]
  1. Joint declaration by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill, August 14, 1941, Department of State Bulletin, August 16, 1941, p. 125, or 55 Stat. 1603.
  2. Dated January 1, 1942, Department of State Executive Agreement Series No. 236, or 55 Stat. 1600.
  3. Omissions in this paragraph indicated in the original.