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Denis Kearney

  • Denis Kearney (1847–1907)

Denis Kearney (1847–1907), a San Francisco leader, called for the expulsion of Chinese immigrants.

Denis Kearney (1847–1907) was a popular political leader in San Francisco known for his stand against Chinese immigrants. Kearney was born in County Cork, Ireland, in 1847 and emigrated to the United States in 1868, coming directly to California. He worked as a sailor and then in shipping in San Francisco, where he gained great notoriety as an orator and politician.

During the Long Depression of the 1870s, Kearney claimed to speak on behalf of the unemployed white workingman in San Francisco. In his speeches, he inveighed against railroad monopolies and cheap Chinese labor. “The Chinese must go” was Kearney’s slogan.

Social critic Henry George offered a critical overview of what he calls “Kearneyism,” characterizing it as a cynical political movement largely begun by Kearney. George claims that Kearney, rather than being interested in addressing real problems facing Californians, was focused on advancing his own stature and power. Politically powerless Chinese immigrants were collateral damage in this effort.