Violent Resistance to Foreign Miners Tax

A news dispatch from 1850:

Murder of a Sheriff.

Resistance to the Tax on Foreigners in Tuolumne County.

It is reported in this city, on authority not to be doubted, that the foreigners in Tuolumne county have presented a strong resistance to the enforcement of the late tax law. The sheriff of the county, in attempting to compel the foreigners to yield, was killed by them, and one or two of his posse wounded. This caused the American miners to turn out en masse, and at the last accounts about a hundred of the foreigners had been arrested.

Sacramento Transcript, .

The “Foreign Miners Tax” of 1850 required all miners who were not American citizens to pay $20 per month. The tax was not so much a revenue raising instrument as a way of allowing citizens to monopolize mining and take over sites being worked by Chinese and Mexican miners. The resistance of the foreign miners was successful. The tax was repealed by the end of 1850, though a smaller ($4/month) tax was reapplied to Chinese miners in 1852, and some particularly unscrupulous tax collectors continued to extort the tax from foreign miners even when it was no longer legal to do so.

A while back, Bob Norris transcribed a letter from Bernard J. Reid, a citizen miner from the area.

…The legislature has imposed a monthly tax of $20 on every foreigner digging gold. The law was to operate from the Within 10 miles of Sonora there is a large marjority of foreigners. They thought the tax oppressive and were deliberating resistance. The ringleaders and fomeneters of trouble were chiefly French Socialists — Red Republicans… “They collected the simple and ignorant Mexican and Chilian peasantry — harangued them with inflammatory speeches — denounced the tax as “unjust” and “tyrannical” — and said if it must be paid, pay it in powder and ball. Frenchmen from all quarters collected about Sonora [] all armed to the teeth, and affairs grew serious. The excitement was heightened by an American who rashly undertook to cheat a Chileno out of his hole — by representing himself the Collector and demanding the tax. The Chileno said he had not then enough money to pay it. “Then you must quit work.” The Chileno quietly left the hole — but no sooner was he out than the perfidious scoundrel jumped into it in his place. This exasperated the Chileno who with one blow cut the jugular vein of the American and he died in a few minutes.

The Americans in and about Sonora felt apprehensive for their safety and sent runners to Mormon Gulch and Jamestown for reinforcements. That night about 400 Americans there under arms — they remained next day which was the last “day of grace” given by the Collector — and owing no doubt to the determined front they presented, no difficulty took place, except that a Mexican drew a knife on the Sheriff (newly elected) but was killed on the spot by the Sheriff’s deputy. One Frenchman was arrested for inciting the mob by inflammatory harrangues.

Thus ended, or rather was prevented, the war which if begun would have raged furiously in this quarter. It would have become a war of extermination, for the want of any power on either side to arrest it, and it would have swept to its end so quickly. For several days a painful suspense prevailed, and we were all in readiness to march at a moment’s warning to the assistance of the authorities and our fellow citizens in danger. Now all is quiet and many of the foreigners have left. I am sorry to say that several Americans who reap a rich harvest of profit off the foreigners, encouraged the disaffection, denounced the law, and preached actual treason…

One of the people who was forced off of his mining claim by the Foreign Miners Tax was Joaquin Murieta, whose story became a Robin Hood-like myth in California. (A myth that also bears some resemblance to the “Rebecca” mythos from Wales a decade before, in that it appears there were many vengeful banditos at the time who all called themselves “Joaquin.”)


An Associated Press dispatch from put some numbers on Joan Baez’s war tax resistance:

Tax Lien Filed Against Singer.

, Calif. (AP) — The federal government filed today in Monterey County Superior Court a $36,083.97 tax lien against folk singer Joan Baez.

Miss Baez annually refuses to pay 60 per cent of her tax bill because she says she does not wish to support the nation’s war efforts.

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