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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Sunday, July 10, 2005
 

Hawes-Cooper Act and convict labor - again


Picking up from my July 8 piece:

The thesis I linked of Ethan Blue's is well worth the bandwith [1].

The author of bill, Harry B Hawes (MO) [2], it says,
framed his bill as a part of the long progressive movement away from barbarism and brutality.

And
Hawes argued that the bill was “supported by three great elements of society”: labor, manufacturers, and Women's Clubs and philanthropists.

Bearing in mind the current union struggle, it's interesting to note that, in 1929, the, then more than a little reactionary, AFL called the Act
the most effective legislation ever secured by Labor.

Blue, whose angle generally is pretty much race and sex throughout, notes the reference by Hawes (echoing the AFL) to
the labor of free American citizens....
as pointing the contrast with slave labor.

The idea that the regime of convict control was the successor-in-title to slavery (the 13th Amendment can be perversely read that way), and the comparison between Free Soil (the heart of Republican ideology in the period up to the Civil War) and Free Labor, are both interesting to contemplate.

The Women's Clubs and philanthropists claimed that
proper reform in the prisons of the Nation were being frustrated" by commerce in inmate-made goods.
And the blind suffered in particular from competition in broom manufacture.

Amazingly enough - this was, after all the decade, par excellence, of business in the country whose business is business - the Hawes bill proponents wanted government to take control of prison work from private contractors and, in particular, end convict leasing.

The bill, however, said nothing about the way prison work was organised; it merely allowed one state to bar entry to the prison-made goods from other states. Unfortunately, there were no polls to determine what the public gathered of the true nature of the bill [3].

Opponents were prison officials, on discipline grounds, and Southern pols, on revenue grounds. But there was also the suggestion (p133) that, if H-C passed, more labor bills would be pressed [4].

We have evidence of anti-bill lobbying of one senator (Blease - MS) by ER Cass, President of the American Prison Association (APA). Blease seems to have given a speech against the bill that recalls the paeans of praise once showered on the institution of slavery by citizens of his state:
I think the convicts would welcome some kind of wholesome, clean work.

Mining the Big Rock Candy Mountain, say.

This being the US Congress, there was some dickering to be done. Some of most hard-line opponents of the bill were those whose revenues included the sale of convict-produced cotton (p140).

They could be accommodated if agricultural products were excluded from the bill. Rep Lowrey (MS) had a nice line [5]:
Free labor wants labor in the factories. It is to their advantage for factories to be abundantly provided with raw materials.

That cotton would never go short of manure with the Honorable Mr Lowrey on hand!

Farm state members - and Rep LaGuardia - loathed the amendment, but both Hawes and Cooper [6] were happy to let it pass.

There was also a comparison made (p147) between prisoners and immigrants as potential competitors for citizens' jobs. (The argument from Rep Busby (MS) - out of step with his state's delegation, I think.)

Blue's suggestion (p148) is that was a definition of full or functional whiteness from which prisoners and immigrants and, later, white trash internal migrants (Woody Guthrie's Okies, say) were excluded. A definition that narrowed during the 1920s and 30s.

Changing definitions of race reminds me of the Daniel Sharfstein article (discussed here several times) on the complex process (over the period from 1865 to around 1920) whereby those with mixed racial ancestry were categorised as white or Negro.

The Missouri Senate delegation is worth a quick squint: Hawes' colleague James Reed (a Kansas City man, like Harry Truman) served three terms and retired [7] with the 70th Congress.

Reed's seat was won by a Republican, Roscoe Patterson, who was defeated in the 1934 general by the said Harry Truman.

Hawes did not stand in 1932; his seat was won by Bennett Clark (of St Louis), who was swornin when Hawes resigned a month early in February 1933.

Truman and Clark served together until 1945: Clark lost in the 1944 primary. (Thenceforward, of MO senators, only Stuart Symington, Thomas Eagleton and John Danforth have managed three terms.)

What with the Pendergast and FDR connection, the Truman/Clark combo is a fascinating area to explore (even as a very-latecomer); the way that, when FDR saw Pendergast might be unreliable in delivering the state's EVs, he finally let the DOJ get him on tax evasion; and then ditched Truman for Lloyd Stark; and found himself fucked by the fickle finger of fate when Truman, despite suffering foreclosure, won the election - it's all tempting stuff.

For another time.

  1. As well as the section on Hawes-Cooper, it has much detail on prison life in Texas and California in the 1930s and 40s.

    Most of it is pretty grim. There is a section (p285ff) that details brutality in San Quentin and Folsom - the subject of hearings instituted by Governors Cuthbert Olson (1939) and Earl Warren (1943/44 - the Alco Committee) respectively.

    On the lighter side, there is a chapter (p312ff) on the radio show Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls broadcast from the Texas State Prison at Huntsville for several years from 1938 which featured prisoners doing party turns!

  2. Hawes has a vanishingly small online footprint. Something here on his early career; this (PDF) an example of his work for wildlife (the furtherance of which was his reason to quit the Senate after one term); a graf in a piece in the November 1 1926 Time rating the chances of those running for US Senate:
    Missouri. Harry B. Hawes, Democrat, v. Senator George H. Williams, Republican. It is a battle of personalities, with scarcely a wink separating the candidates. Both are Wet; both flay the World Court. Mr. Hawes has the blessing of Senator "Jim" Reed, who, Republicans say, is no blessing to any one. Missouri and Massachusetts are the two most doubtful states in this autumn's elections.
    (It seems that Time is allowing free access to some of its archive. Fight the churlishness!)

  3. The comparison with the PIPA survey of last year springs to mind - the general view that Saddam aided Al Qaeda, created by sedulous disinformation from USG.

  4. There is some information on AFL lobbying activity in Congress in the late 1920s in the useful thesis Confirmation Denied: The Senate Rejects Judge John Parker (p13ff). It counted as an achievement balking the Equal Rights Amendment. The major bugbear of the time was the yellow dog contract - Henrik Shipstead (MN) had introduced a bill in 1927, but it was badly drawn and got nowhere. The AFL had to wait till the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 outlawed such contracts.

  5. Lowrey failed to be re-nominated in 1928. I've no idea whether Hawes-Cooper had anything to do with it.

  6. There are two Coopers in the House: give me a break!

  7. Thanks to the Founding Fathers, damn them!, you can't say retired in 1928 because the man served out his term to March 1929! Odious circumlocutions are required if inaccuracy is to be avoided. Bastards!


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