Congress authorized construction of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1862, during the upheavals of the Civil War, intending that this major infrastructure project would solidify the connection between the eastern and western halves of the United States at a time when the north and south were at war. Labor shortages delayed the project by years, a serious problem that was resolved when the Central Pacific Railroad began recruiting Chinese workers, eventually in numbers reaching well over ten thousand at a time. The U.S. government sought to secure access to Chinese workers, many of whom worked on three-year contracts, despite Chinese laws banning emigration by Chinese. The Burlingame Treaty was the first international agreement signed since the Opium War (1839-42) that dealt with Chinese on equal terms and secured the rights of Chinese to free immigration and travel within the United States and most favored nation status in trade.
Treaty signed at Washington July 28, 1868, supplementing treaty of June 18, 1858 . . . Entered into force November 23, 1869; Proclaimed by the President of the United States February 5, 1870 . . . .
- ARTICLE V
- The United States of America and the Emperor of China cordially recognize the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance, and also the mutual advantage of the free migration and emigration of their citizens and subjects respectively from the one country to the other, for purposes of curiosity, of trade, or as permanent residents. The high contracting parties, therefore, join in reprobating any other than an entirely voluntary emigration for these purposes. They consequently agree to pass laws making it a penal offence for a citizen of the United States or Chinese subjects to take Chinese subjects either to the United States or to any other foreign country, or for a Chinese subject or citizen of the United States to take citizens of the United States to China or to any other foreign country, without their free and voluntary consent respectively.