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The Club Woman
and Law Enforcement

June 29, 1922 — General Federation of Women’s Clubs Biennial Convention, Chautauqua NY


I am supremely glad to talk with you about a subject that is your responsibility and mine — our laws and their enforcement. My text is furnished by the chief law enforcement official of the Government — the Attorney General of the United States.

I want to bring to you the thought he set in motion last August at the American Bar Association Convention in Cincinnati:

“This nation will either survive on the rock of law enforcement or perish in quicksands of lawlessness.”

The foundation of Civic Life is Law Enforcement.

In a democracy such as ours, respect and obedience‘ to law is the foundation upon which the whole structure of Government rests. Forces that undermine that foundation must be recognized and combated vigorously. No greater duty faces American women. No greater opportunity is offered their organized groups.

Mr. Justice Holmes of the Supreme Court of the United States, a philosopher in the realm of law, has said:

“The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience, the felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions and public policy avowed or unconscious”” . . . “have had a great deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed.”

If that is true, then in your hands lie the weapons of your own deliverance when you complain of lawlessness, for there is no maker of moral theories and public policy greater than the Federated Women’s Clubs of America. Your influence is bounded only by the limitation you place on your interests.

Every locality must in the last analysis bear the burden of law enforcement for itself. We have reached a critical point in the recent tendencies to load responsibilities of law enforcement on the Federal Government. It is a serious question whether the greater uniformity of enforcement by a central authority is worth the loss of local interest it causes. Many activities that should logically be handled by state courts now‘ congest the Federal dockets. Stealing of packages from com- mon carriers, fraudulent stock selling schemes, dissemination of obscene literature, prostitution and the white slave traffic, sale of narcotics, violation of food inspection laws, and, most noticeably, the violation of the National Prohibition Act and other liquor laws, are some well known examples. Of the latter, over 15,000 cases are now pending in Federal courts. Many of them  are for small violations that could be punished in the county or police courts if the state would do its duty. The local officers that your votes elect should be made by you to do their full duty by enforcing local infractions of law.

For you, as an organized group of women, the question of Whether you will bring about a needed reform through state or federal law is a live issue. You are much interested in the questions of child labor, a uniform law protecting motherhood, marriage and divorce and support of minor children, enabling the defaulting parent to be brought out of another state back to his duties. You also are interested in uniform educational ad- vantages for the mountain and the city child. All these are good and it is high time the thought of the world turned to them.

It is alarming to lovers of Constitutional Government that so many matters purely local in their nature are turned over to the Federal Government. The American Constitution is perhaps the greatest document in the world in its purity and .simplicity of governmental conception. Remember the central government of itself has no power whatever. All real control is in the state where you vote. However, by common consent each state has pated with some of its sovereignty and placed it in the central government at Washington. Such are called delegated powers. In connection with the regulation of interstate commerce the Federal Government has its greater strength.

In recent years our people have become so closely acquainted by conventions; by the unifying influence of the war and by the many means of rapid communication, that distances are largely eliminated. Hence, the increasing and alarming tendency to centralize powers formerly exclusively exercised by the states.

The woman living in a state where the mother hasn’t even the right of guardianship of her own children wants the privileges of her sisters in more enlightened communities. Two means ‘are open to secure her rights: one to go into the community and patiently mould public sentiment to bring about the local reform county by county; the other to work in Washington for some federal action. The latter puts the law on the statute books but it is a hopeless error to believe that passing the law accomplishes the reform.

Law, properly, should follow a little behind public sentiment on a question. It is in its highest sense crystallized public conscience. It is your job and that of all good citizens to rouse the public conscience and the law will follow. Therefore though it is tempting to “have something to show for your work,” by getting action in Washington, the wiser course and the harder and longer but ultimately the most effective one, is to arouse local sentiment until the passage of the law comes in natural sequence.

I know I’m not saying a popular thing. It’s much more stimulating to feel that you are doing a “big” thing by lobbying day after day in the Senate halls and winning senatorial votes for a new reform. But I say that work is futile in comparison with the longer process of working in the communities from which these legislators come, until sentiment from home pushes the law through. That is the only effective way of bringing about legal reforms. Those so built are erected upon the sure rock of law enforcement — the public conscience.

That is why in spite of present unrest I feel confident that Prohibition is here to stay. It will never be repealed. I say that in spite of the fact that as Assistant Attorney General I ‘am in touch with myriad examples and alarming effects of its violation and disregard. But my faith in the permanency of the law arises from the fact that I know it was not hastily passed. It arose out of the slow growth of public sentiment represented by the county option movement.

Do you realize that before the Eighteenth Amendment was adopted out of the 2,540 counties in the United States only 305 had not declared themselves dry? A law then that has such a basis of local sentiment is built upon a rock and will prevail. It is the edict of our American Monarch — the conscience of the majority.

The bootlegger is the pirate of today. So organized have these rodents of underground life become that they have their own system of transportation extending from ports of entry into many states. They commit all allied crimes. In many instances they have their own counterfeiting devices to produce the Government seal of purity of bonded liquors on their wares. They have their own intelligence system that in many cases is more expert than that of the Government and is so well organized that they have paid agents in many departments of the Government so that rulings are flashed by bootleggers actually before they are passed from one Government department to another.

But remember this, Mr. Average Citizen, there are two other classes that make the actual bootlegger possible and the shame is that these two other classes are usually Americans and they are often your and my friends and they’re the best citizens with whom we don’t like to disagree. One is the man willing to finance the bootlegger, furnish him a car or a ship and gamble for the large but unlawfully made returns. The other is he who will use the bootlegger’s product, who laughs and sympathizes with his evasion of the law. Both of these classes have lost the vision of American patriotism, I don ’t care how high in the community they may stand.

In your hands is a sure punishment for such a one, be he banker or bondsman or property owner who closes his eyes to the uses to which his premises are put. Public scorn will run him to cover. Rouse from your political sleeping sickness and be a civic force in every community, broadcasting your support for law and order and condemning every agency that obstructs it.

Perhaps some of you have seen the cartoon recently appearing in the Chicago Tribune where the criminal sits at ease with his long cigar reviewing his staff of henchmen who are always working for him. They stand at salute. There ’s “Delay” and beside him “Miss Sentimentalism.” Then comes the “Professional Bondsman,” the “Crooked Lawyer” and “Old Man Pull.” Finally, and father to them all, is “Public Indifference.”

Past that phalanx of defenders can the arm of justice ‘reach the criminal? Swiftly it will if you fall to work to remove the greatest support and breeder of all of them, “Old Public Indifference.” Suppose in your locality right back in your home club a committee set to work to find how many of these fellows are protecting the criminals in your own “main street.” Suppose I ask you now. You probably can ’t tell, which proves that “Old Public Indifference” has put you to sleep, too.

Delay is largely caused by too great congestion in the Federal courts and can be greatly helped by local authorities taking over the prosecution of cases that are local in character. Sentimentalism is typified in this cartoon by a woman though there are as great sentimentalists among men. When they appeal to you for support get in all the facts. I knew one woman — a prominent citizen whose standing was high — who had signed her name to ten different applications for leniency for criminals without, in a single instance, investigating the facts further than to listen to the ad story of the one who presented the applications for her to sign. That woman is a public menace because sentimentalism like charity is dangerous unless carefully used.

Instead of spending so much energy in sickly sentimentalism over the wrongdoer in’ society how much greater it would be to direct your agencies to praise and appreciation of the official or citizen who performs his duties faithfully and well.

Devotion to law is the highest expression of patriotism in times of peace.

Close your eyes and picture what the word patriotism calls up. With most of us it is waving flags and marching feet and a row of hero crosses on a shell-scarred battlefield. But I say to you, as surely should patriotism call before your closed eyes the rows of underpaid clerks in threadbare garments tramping to and from work in the winter wind, who refuse bribes for love of duty and integrity of character and sacred honor. It should also picture to you the army of petty officials with neither medals nor recognition but who guard our ports of entry and face dangers as real as the battlefield to administer our laws but who never throughout the years of a lifetime, in the face of greatest temptation, forget their oath of office to uphold our law and support our Constitution. Most of them receive pitiful salaries and their duties lead them into constant temptation and exposure. They lie often for hours in the snow waiting for a still to start operating or a bootlegger’s car to pass, or the stealthy meeting of bomb throwers. These positions are insecure, underpaid and no pension falls to their families if they lose their lives in line of duty.

It is mute tribute to the patriotism of the common citizenry of our country that sterling character to resist bribery and physical bravery to risk danger is purchased so cheaply. It is shame to you and me that we never give medals or headlines to such heroism and value it so lightly. 

Such an official is a soldier in the patriotic army of peace. He is fighting a hard fight. I believe that you ought more often to praise a faithful official. His position and status should be one of high dignity and you should work to have him paid adequately.

I tell you the opportunity of criminals is public indifference. You have the vote. How will you use it? How also will you use your influence of leadership in your community? You say your club is interested in art, not civics; you may be an artist but you are a citizen first. You may be a musician but first you are a voter and a woman of education and leadership. You have no right to live to yourself. Nor has your club a right to be one of pleasure merely. What would it mean for law enforcement in your country if you stood firmly behind that program? What a broadcasting of right if this convention would follow in the footsteps of the Bar Association at its last annual meeting when by the judicial section the following report was unanimously adopted:

“The judicial section of the American Bar Association, venturing to speak for all the judges, wished to express this warning to the American people: Reverence for law and the enforcement of law depend mainly upon the ideals and customs of those who occupy the vantage ground of life, in business and society. The people of the United States, by solemn constitutional and statutory enactment, have undertaken to suppress the age-long evil of the liquor traffic. When, for the gratification of their appetites or the promotion of their interest, lawyers, bankers, great merchants and manufacturers, and social leaders, both men and women, disobey and scoff at this law, or any other law, they are aiding the cause of anarchy and promoting mob violence, robbery and homicide, they are sowing dragons’ teeth, and they need not be surprised when they find that no judicial or police authority can save our country or humanity from reaping the harvest.”

And what would it do for the locality of each club represented here if the stand of this body was followed by similar acts on the part of local clubs? And then how much more it would mean to follow that by an active study of the agencies of law enforcement in your community waging war against these recruits of the criminal, Delay, Sentimentalism, the Professional Bondsman, the Crooked Lawyer, Pull and Public Indifference.

Prohibition has not been a failure. In fact most note- worthy good has resulted from it thus far. The amount of whisky consumed has decreased to a striking extent. In 1913 there was consumed 2,225,000,000 gallons of spirituous liquors. In 1915, due to state and county prohibition, this had dropped to 2,000,000,000. In 1919 the figures dropped to 1,000,000,000, and 1920, the first year of prohibition, this was cut to 325,000,000 gallons in all. Of course these figures do not include smuggled liquors or moonshine. Both smuggling and moonshine is being brought under control and the disastrous results following the use of liquors of unknown origin furnishes the greatest check to their consumption.

It is sometimes said that the deprivation of alcohol has led to increased use of narcotics. Cora Frances Stoddard, Ex-Secretary of the Scientific Temperance Federation, has collected the information that conclusively refutes such a statement. She collected data from all the states of the Union and for all cities having a population of 80,000. An article by her appears in a recent issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Her findings indicate that the users of narcotics are usually young and the habit is acquired from association with other addicts and peddlers, not for the cravings of alcoholism.

Another objection so often voiced to this law is the great cost of its enforcement. In listening to that you forget the enormous amounts in fines and penalties the Government collects. Ten million dollars have been asked to enforce the law this coming year, but the levies of penalties and forfeitures for the first six months of this administration would pay two and one-half times the estimated cost of enforcing prohibition for the coming year.

Finally no one expected a law with powerful financial interests against it, one that caused change in the habits of large numbers of the people, and called further for the organization of a completely new set of governmental and enforcement machinery to be smoothly enforced at once. However, in two years the saloon is abolished and the increasing use by United States attorneys of injunction proceedings is condemning property for a period of a year where blind pigs have been permitted to operate. Injunction is proving to be the most effective weapon of law enforcement and one that meets with hearty public approval, for no one any more has a good word to say for the saloon. If prohibition had done nothing better than to unify hatred of that inexcusable destroyer of the home it would be well worth while.

Furthermore the use of spirituous liquors has been greatly reduced and best of all the determination of the people has been aroused, their moral fibre strengthened, and their interest in the, most vital question to national life, to-wit: that of law enforcement, has been awakened.

It is not a question as to whether in personal convictions we are “wet” or “dry.” It is only whether we respect the Constitution of the United States and reverence and obey her laws. Anyone has the right under American liberties to hold personal views on these questions as he pleases, and to vote as his conscience dictates upon any law, but no one worthy to be a citizen will mock or evade the Constitution of our country.

In the splendid statement of President Harding:

“Whatever breeds disrespect for the law of the land, in any particular department of our community relations, is a force tending to the general breakdown of the social organization. If the people who are known as leaders, as directing influences, as thoroughly respected and respect- able members of society, shall in their respective communities become known for their defiance of some part of the code of law, then they need not be astonished if presently they find that their example is followed by others, with the result that presently the law in general comes to be looked upon as a set of irksome and unreasonable restraints upon the liberty of the individual. Every law involves more or less of this element of restraint. Nearly every individual will find some part of the code that to him seems an unreasonable inhibition upon his personal freedom of action. Our only safety will be in inculcating an attitude of respect for the law, as on the whole, the best expression that has been given to the social aspiration and moral purpose of the community.”

Again the Secretary of State puts the duty of the citizen in a different but no less pertinent way:

“Everybody is ready to sustain the law he likes. That is not in the proper sense respect for law and order. The test of respect for law is where the law is upheld even though it hurts.”

Finally the Attorney General of the United States, one of whose assistants I am proud to be, has, in speaking of the enforcement of prohibition and all other laws, said:

“My duty is clear. As long as I am the responsible head of the Department of Justice, the law will be enforced with all the power possessed by the Government which I am at liberty to call to my command.”

That statement makes my duty also not only clear but easy. There is something also that I am glad to be able to tell you. You hear much of influence, pull and favoritism practiced by high governmental officials, but I can attest that it is not true. Limited in ability they may sometimes be — I am one of them but they are consumed with the purpose and desire to discharge the duties their office imposes. Every official in the Department of Justice works from ten to fourteen hours. The lights burn well into the evening. I am telling this of the present personnel because of that I personally know but I am very sure it has been true of other administrations. Patriotism is not dead; personal honor and high fidelity to duty still illumine the official life at Washington.

Perhaps no man in the country has so wide a personal acquaintance as the Attorney General of the United States. Hardly a big prohibition case has arisen in any part of the United States that someone interested in it might not come in to request favors as a friend of his. But he has placed me in charge of prohibition cases. Although, of course, he has the power, never once has he exercised it, to take a case out of my hands and set aside justice to favor a friend. Never has my freedom to follow my best judgment of right under the law been curtailed. I know that you want to know that. I know you need to know it, that your faith in our government may be re- doubled and that you may reconsecrate your efforts to protect the very foundation of our national life which is respect for its laws and its government.

The nation cannot live without you. Since the 19th Amendment the women are an integral part of civic life. Yours is a distinct contribution. Look back through the years and threading all civic progress has run growth of the spiritual ideal. It has crystallized here and there into some outward manifestation like welfare laws, improved methods of handling convicts, abolishment of red light districts and prohibition, always with in- creased force neutralizing materialism, worship of money, and selfishness.

You are the world’s exponents of spiritual insight. You are educated, enlightened, cultured women, most of you mothers, and most of you rooted deeply in the communities from which you come. You are the communities potential leaders of thought. Will you make your aim the organization of your club into an active agency for law enforcement? Establish a live civic bureau from which you can broadcast respect for our government and combat the propaganda of the violator and the anarchist. Never was there a time when the world so needed spiritual leadership. Politics has been likened to a muddy pool but the current of spiritual faith passing through will clear it.

Our great visioned Lincoln voiced the call to civic spirituality when he said:

“Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the revolution never to violate in the least particular the laws of the country, and never to tolerate their violation by others. Let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own and his children ’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in primers, spelling books and almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in the legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. In short, let it become the political religion of the nation.”

“The political religion of the nation.” Will you help to make it so? Clubwomen, you stand on the threshold of civic opportunity.  



Source:  General Federation of Women’s Clubs Biennial Convention, June 20-30, 1922, Chautauqua, New York (Washington DC, 1922), pp. 619-630.