Contract Labor Law

Contract Labor Law

Contract Labor Law

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The 1885 Contract Labor Law was an act to prohibit the importation and migration of foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor in the United States, its Territories, and the District of Columbia.


The late 19th century in American history marked a period of expanding industrialization and national security concerns. In the north manufacturing was growing at an unprecedented rate while the south took over the textile industry. The United States was feeling a virtually never ending demand for cheap labor. The process of industrialization and urbanization was a main attraction for immigrants to the US. The contract labor law of 1864 established a policy of encouraging immigration by supporting companies who would provide passage to their workers in exchange for labor. The law was soon repealed but demonstrates the national support of what was called at the time a “flood” of immigrants.

In the 1880s immigration from south, central, and eastern Europe rose dramatically and immigrant populations from this region became more influential in American public policy. A once welcomed group, the Chinese, became the target of restrictive immigration policy, including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. With the dramatically increasing numbers of all immigrants but most specifically a reaction to Chinese “coolie” labor...
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