James Marshall’s discovery of gold along the American River on January 24, 1848 forever transformed California. Nearly one hundred thousand migrants rushed to the Mother Lode region of the Sierra Nevada in search of riches, including Americans, African-Americans, Mexicans, South Americans, Europeans, Australians, Hawaiians, and Chinese.
By 1850, the substantial increase in the number of miners present at the diggings meant that claims became smaller and more difficult to obtain. The pressure of a growing population, coupled with the mounting costs and complexity of mining operations, produced rising tensions among the miners. This strain was often expressed as anti-foreigner sentiment on the part of the American miners.
California’s legislature passed the Foreign Miner’s License Tax in April 1850 (Chapter 97). The law required people not “native to or natural born citizens of the United States” to pay a monthly $20 fee for the right to mine in California. The legislature repealed the law in 1851, but later reinstated a monthly $4 tax on foreign-born miners. The tax forced many foreigners out of the gold mines entirely.