Bureaucratic Violence: Chinese Civil Rights, Racial Capitalism, and the Rise of Corporations in Nineteenth-century California


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


American Studies


The United States Supreme Court ruled on two Fourteenth Amendment cases on the same day in 1886: “Yick Wo v. Hopkins” and “Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad.” “Yick Wo” declared that San Francisco laundry laws discriminated against Chinese laundries and violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, which expanded the amendment’s protections to all persons instead of protecting only US citizens. “Santa Clara County,” in turn, adjudicated a California railroad tax dispute and asserted that corporations were considered persons under the Fourteenth Amendment. These cases together extended the influence of the legal doctrine known as corporate personhood. In doing so, the terms of sovereignty, citizenship, and racial capitalism became bound to the rise of corporate power from the late nineteenth century onwards. Studying these cases together shows how the law reflected, secured, and embedded nineteenth-century racial thinking into the basic foundations and structures of the economy.