The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

How Costigan-Wagner turned out

Of inter-war antilynching bills presented to Congress, the first was the Dyer bill - kiboshed in 1922 (February 8).

Then [1] came the Costigan-Wagner bill, I can find no timeline: but it seems that a version of the bill was introduced in the 73th Congress, and got precisely nowhere [2].

The bill (as S 24) was reintroduced in the 74th on January 3 1935 (December 8 2002) [3] and at least got a floor debate (again, no timeline [4]) and a vote on April 26 1935 on a motion to adjourn moved by Majority Leader Joseph Robinson of Arkansas.

The Voteview gizmo allows one to compile [5] some details.

The vote, according to Voteview, was 34-33 [6]. In fact, the Confederacy comes up short: neither Walter George (GA) nor Huey Long (LA) are shown as voting [7]. And Kenneth McKellar's Volunteer State bunk-mate, Nathan Lynn Bachman [8], voted with the Yankees!

Dems opposing the motion included Pat McCarran. But famous names are AWOL: Harry Truman, William Gibbs McAdoo (the dry, Klan-friendly Democratic presidential hopeful in 1924), Claude Pepper (last discussed here on January 6) and future Majority Leader and Vice President Alben Barkley of Kentucky.

The voting GOP (in its depleted state) also opposed except for James Couzens of Michigan and George Norris of Nebraska - on states rights grounds, I surmise.

Other Sons of the Wild Jackass - including Burton Wheeler (D-MT) and William Borah (R-ID) - are not recorded as voting; on similar grounds, perhaps.

Farmer-Labor's Henrik Shipstead, rated in March 1934 by the NAACP as uncertain in his support of Costigan-Wagner (Feb 8 piece), voted against the motion.

There was, of course, never any chance that an antilynching bill would pass at that or any other stage right up until the Dems' Southern Strategy kicked in in 1963, and the Senate's Southern Caucus crumbled to dust (those 1964 Civil Rights Act roll calls are rather pathetic); nor, I suspect, was there any expectation, in the Caucus, the NAACP or anywhere else, that such a bill ever would pass.

Rather like Bush's homo-marriage amendment, in fact...

  1. Keith Finley is the source, natch.

  2. From the Negro paper the Charlottesville Reflector (just up the road from Walton's Mountain!), one has this from June 30 1934, which says
    Senator McKellar of Tennessee and Senator Smith of South Carolina resorted to parliamentary tricks that killed the bill.
    McKellar's namecheck is interesting: he was, I recall, the Foreign Minister of the Edward Crump machine, based in Memphis, which relied to a fair extent on the Negro vote (it famously patronised WC Handy for a campaign song); and McKellar was succeeded by the liberal Albert Gore. Few Negroes and mountain independence made TN less highly strung on Jim Crow, one theorises. But not on antilynching bills, it seems [but see Note 8]. (This from the same source.)

    A Walter White interview mentions that Costigan-Wagner would be reintroduced in the next (74th) Congress.

    This piece on Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights says it was introduced in early 1934.

  3. This purports to give the text of the bill; unfortunately, it's not clear whether it's the 73rd or 74th version.

  4. How in Sam Hill did it get reported out by the Judiciary Committee, you may ask. Chairman at the time was apparently Henry Ashurst (D-AZ). Ashurst was in the state's first delegation sent in 1912 - that's all I've got!

  5. Not without effort: not so much plug and play as get out and get under! There is also a technical problem with the roll call numbers: the yea/nay shown for each senator includes pairs and Ann votes (I think it means - announced votes, though, to judge from Riddick, this is not a technical term. It's not in the C-SPAN glossary) which are not included in the official tally. So you can't tell whether any particular senator cast an actual vote, was paired, or simply said he was in favour or against without voting.

  6. Perhaps Robinson was operating the Tom DeLay catch and release system.

  7. Beware of leaping to conclusions: Long was still alive at the time!

  8. Bachman was appointed in 1933 to replace Cordell Hull, won a special election in 1934, re-elected in 1936 - and died in 1937. Clearly, going his own way on anti-lynching was not fatal to his career.


The DW-NOMINATE 1st coordinates [1] for the 74th Congress are not without interest:

The most 'liberal' is Guffey (PA) [2] at -0.579. Wagner is rated at -0.287, Costigan at -0.156. But the same list shows Bilbo batting at -0.371 and Jimmy Byrnes of SC at -0.461!

Some mistake surely?

  1. I take (without attempting to understand the maths) from this explanation that the 1st coordinate is supposed to be a liberal/conservative measure ranging from 1.00 (extreme conservative) to -1.00 (extreme liberal).

  2. Of Bituminous Coal Conservation Act fame - struck down by the Supreme Court in Carter v Carter Coalin 1936. (It's the word bituminous that's memorable.)

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