Digital History>eXplorations>Lynching>Anti-Lynching Legislation of the 1920s>James Wadsworth to James Johnson


James W. Wadsworth, Jr. 's Letter to James Weldon Johnson (August 9, 1922)

Source: NAACP Papers, Library of Congress

I 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.

I 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.

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