The Constitution and Civil Rights

By Milton R. Konvitz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Lynching as a Federal Crime

*THE OPINION may be ventured that the decision in the Screws case 1 provides an effective answer to the opponents of federal antilynching legislation. Before we consider this point, however, it may be well to place the movement for antilynching legislation in its broad historical and legal setting.


PROPOSED FEDERAL ANTILYNCHING LEGISLATION

The movement for a federal antilynching bill first received official support in 1891, in the recommendation of President Harrison that Congress pass a law to protect aliens from mob violence. 2 The recommendation came as the result of difficulties arising from an outbreak that year in New Orleans, when eleven Italians awaiting trial were taken from jail and lynched. The state made no effort to apprehend the mob leaders. The Italian government protested under the terms of a treaty; the Federal government answered that it had no power under our federal system; strained relations ensued, until the Secretary of State offered compensation to the families of the victims.

A bill was submitted to Congress in 1892, providing that when acts which were crimes under the laws of the states were committed against aliens in violation of treaty rights, the offenders should be prosecuted in the federal courts, but the state statutes should define the crime, prescribe the punishment, regulate the rules of evidence and procedure; in other words, the act made criminal by state law shall be tried and punished in a federal court if the act committed was a violation of treaty rights.

____________________
1
Screws v. U.S., 325 U.S. 91 ( 1945).
2
History of proposed antilynching legislation in David 0. Walter, " Proposals for a Federal Anti-Lynching Law," 28 Amer. Pol. Sc. Rev.436 ( 1934).

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