The Wickersham Commission
I have an incorrigible belief in reason, provided reason is made manifest by impressive evidence.1
Presidents learn much about domestic and foreign policy after they take office.2 From the first days at the pinnacle of executive power, they begin to close the "separation between brain and state."3 Commissions are tools for closing the separation by distributing the burdens of information management and for establishing priorities among equally demanding issues. The complexity of criminal justice administration demands a commission comprising representatives from many academic disciplines and operating agencies. At minimum, a federal crime commission is obligated to determine the impact of crime on federal justice administration and to suggest innovations to state and localities.
Appointed in May 1929, Hoover's congressionally funded elevenmember Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (hereafter called the Wickersham Commission after its chairman, George W. Wickersham) was the first occasion in thirty administrations on which a federal commission was formed to examine comprehensively federal criminal justice. This chapter outlines some of the key topics and policy concerns of the commission. Extensive archival records of the commission cannot be fully reflected here, but an attempt can be made to offer perspective on major elements of the commission's work.4