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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Friday, July 08, 2005

Convict labor and FDR's would-be assassin

Having got mildly interested in Hugo Black (July 5), I mooch around Voteview for his first Congress (the 70th) to check on his voting record.

And come across HR 7729, which became the Hawes-Cooper Act of 1929: the effect of this bill was to allow states to bar goods produced by convicts in other states. From what I can gather (not much), the concern was rather more the unfair competition than inmate exploitation.

Black voted for the bill, which passed 65-11 on December 19 1928; one might expect that Georgia's senators - what with its notorious chain-gang - would have united against it. But not so: Walter George voted for, William Harris (Graveyard) [1] was paired for.

Of the rest of the Confederacy, only three (Stephens (MS); and Blease and Smith (SC)) voted against. Most of the opposition was Northern: both the NH and CT delegations voted against!

Now, a movie about the New Hampshire chain-gang, I'd really like to see. It'd have a Murder, She Wrote sensibility, perhaps...

There are namechecks but nothing substantial online on Hawes-Cooper, that I can see. End of the road.

Meanwhile, I come across a Florida corrections page with a snippet on Giuseppe Zangara, the guy who aimed at Franklin Roosevelt but shot Chicago mayor Anton Cermak.

Cermak, host of the Democratic National Convention in 1932, had made the fatal error of backing Al Smith [2], for which FDR made him a non-person. He was in Miami fighting his way through the crowds of supplicants to offer the Prez-elect some vigorous rimming when Zangara decided to take his best shot.

The tale as told is touching:
On the way to the hospital he cradled Anton Cermak's head on his shoulder and kept talking to him -- "Tony, keep quiet, don't move, Tony" -- a steady murmur of encouragement that doctors later said kept Cermak from going into shock.

But FDR was a hard bastard: when operatives ceased to be effective for the cause (the cause of the life-presidency of FDR, that is) the knacker-van was called. Cermak was already dead before Zangara pressed the trigger.

Though, evidently, the Great Man was a sentimentalist. As many hard bastards are.

Lyndon Johnson springs to mind.

  1. Harris had the seat later taken by Richard Russell - who as governor demanded the return of Robert E Burns, the fugitive from a chain gang.

  2. This (PDF) looks interesting on FDR in February 1933.


A reprint of a WSJ piece on convict leasing in Alabama. The practice was finally banned in 1928, apparently.

A review of a tome on convict leasing generally.

An article from the Alabama Review on State convict road gangs in Alabama which grew to replace the convict leasing regime.

There is a 20 page section on Hawes-Cooper (p128ff) in a thesis (PDF) Hard Time in the New Deal: Racial Formation and The Cultures of Punishment in Texas and California in the 1930s by Ethan Blue. It is, I suspect, the most comprehensive treatment of the legislative history of the act available online.

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