Legislation of the 1920s>James Wadsworth to James Johnson
James W. Wadsworth, Jr. 's Letter to James Weldon Johnson (August
NAACP Papers, Library of Congress
am in receipt of your favor of August 5 th with reference to the
so-called Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill in which you ask if I will vote
for it and if I will exert my efforts for its prompt consideration.
In reply permit me to say that in spite of the opinions of some
prominent persons that the bill would be constitutional I have
grave doubts on the question. I do not want to vote for a bill
that I believe to be unconstitutional. The Congress has gotten
into the very bad habit, in recent years, of deliberately passing
bills which a large share of the membership believe to be unconstitutional
and relying upon the Supreme Court to declare them null and void.
This is a demoralizing practice. It excites among the ignorant
hostility toward the Supreme Court and that tremendously vital
feature of our Constitution which establishes the courts as the
guardians of the Constitution and the rights of the States and
of individuals. I am not a lawyer and I am, therefore, more than
willing to listen to arguments concerning the constitutionality
of the bill. I say frankly, however, that I am now inclined to
believe that the Federal Government has not the power to take
jurisdiction over crimes against the person in violation of State
laws— crimes which do not involve interference with those
Federal prerogatives specifically set forth in the Constitution.
Nor can I believe that the Federal Government has a right to assess
a fine against a municipality. This, to my mind, is the most extraordinary
proposal in the bill.
abhor lynching. Its frequency is a disgrace to the country. If
the Federal Government can help in stopping it, well and good;
we must be careful, however, to preserve our form of Government.
We are a Federal union of states. Let us not destroy that Union.
At least the Congress should not pass acts which will destroy
the federal union, on the theory that the Supreme Court may come
to the rescue with an adverse opinion.