In the latter part of the 19th century, California farmers had to pay high railroad rates and unfair taxes. Nonfarm workers were also bitter about low wages and high unemployment, which they blamed on the large number of Chinese workers in the state. Many of the Chinese had been brought to California as railroad construction workers because they were willing to work for lower wages than were Americans. Severe nationwide economic depressions in the mid-1870s and again in the early 1890s increased the problems of all farmers and workers. In addition, the state government was dominated by politicians who, allied with railroad companies and other corporations, often showed little concern for the issues raised by farmers and laborers.
In the 1870s a number of violent riots were directed against the Chinese. In 1877 the Workingmen’s Party of California was organized after riots in which Chinese-owned laundries were burned. Most of the party’s support came from workers and small farmers. Led by the fiery speaker Denis Kearney, the party ultimately encouraged both state and federal anti-Chinese legislation. When a second California Constitution was adopted in 1879 the Workingmen’s Party made sure it included anti-Chinese articles. The U.S. Congress followed that in 1880 by passing a law regulating Chinese immigration, and in 1882 Congress banned it completely for ten years. The Workingmen’s Party also encouraged the creation of a state railroad commission to oversee railroad activities, but railroad companies quickly gained control of the commission. After the demise of the Workingmen’s Party in 1880, large railroad companies and corporations dominated state politics.
In the first decade of the 20th century a group of progressive Republicans, who believed in more government action to stamp out corruption and to meet the needs of citizens, took over the state government. In 1910 Republican Hiram W. Johnson was elected governor, and during his administration sweeping political and economic reforms were passed by the state legislature. Among the most important of these were the initiative, the process of enacting legislation by means of public petition or a popular vote; the referendum, the practice of submitting an issue to a public vote; and the recall, the ability to remove officials from office by popular vote. In addition, California created a new and effective railroad commission, allowed women to vote in state elections, and required employers to participate in a plan that would compensate workers for work-related injuries. In 1912, when former President Theodore Roosevelt ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket, Johnson was his vice-presidential candidate, but Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the election. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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