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Denis Kearney

Kearney, Denis (kärˈnē) [key], 1847–1907, American political agitator, b. Co. Cork, Ireland. He was a sailor and then a San Francisco drayman. When California suffered a depression in 1877, Kearney began addressing workers and the unemployed in vacant San Francisco sand lots. He denounced the Central Pacific RR monopoly, political and economic abuses, and particularly Chinese labor, ending many of his speeches with the words, "The Chinese must go." His inflammatory harangues attracted many followers, and after organizing the Workingmen's Party of California—often called the "Sand-Lotters"—he led in the 1870s in driving the Chinese from their factories, in burning their laundries, and in threatening violence to those who employed Asian workers. The party united with the Granger organization and sent a large number of delegates to the California constitutional convention of 1878, where their influence brought about many new laws. The state judicial system was reformed, a railroad commission was established, and home rule was set up in San Francisco. The Chinese were forbidden to hold property and to engage in specified occupations. The provisions denying the Chinese civil liberties were later voided by the courts. His anti-Chinese stance was influential in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). Kearney went East to popularize the Workingmen's party, but, gaining little success, he dropped back into obscurity after 1884.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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