Wickersham Commission

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U.S. President Herbert Hoover established the Wickersham Commission, officially called the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, on May 20, 1929. Former Attorney General George W. Wickersham (1858–1936) headed the 11-member group charged with identifying the causes of criminal activity and to make recommendations for appropriate public policy.

During the 1928 presidential campaign Herbert Hoover supported the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution but recognized that evasion was widespread and that prohibition had fueled the growth of organized crime.

Contents

Findings

The Commission focused its investigations almost entirely on the widespread violations of national alcohol prohibition to study and recommend changes to the eighteenth amendment, and to observe police practices in the states. They observed police interrogation tactics and reported that "the inflicting of pain, physical or mental, to extract confessions or statements... is widespread throughout the country." They released a second report in 1931 that supported prohibition but found contempt among average Americans and unworkable enforcement across the states, corruption in police ranks, local politics and problems in every community that attempted to enforce prohibition laws.

August Vollmer was the primary author of the Commission's final report, commonly known as the Wickersham Report, which was released on January 7, 1931. It documented the widespread evasion of prohibition and its negative effects on American society and recommended much more aggressive and extensive law enforcement to enforce compliance with anti-alcohol laws.

The report castigated the police for their "general failure... to detect and arrest criminals guilty of the many murders, spectacular bank, payroll and other holdups and sensational robberies with guns."

Criticism

Franklin P. Adams, a columnist for the New York World, summarized his opinion of the Commission's report with this poem:[1]

Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can't stop what it's meant to stop.
We like it.
It's left a trail of graft and slime,
It don't prohibit worth a dime,
It's filled our land with vice and crime.
Nevertheless, we're for it.

Notes

  1. ^ David E. Kyvig, Repealing National Prohibition (Kent State University Press, 2000), 114

Sources