"Reverence for the Laws"


By FRANK J. LAUSCHE, Mayor of Cleveland, Ohio

Delivered before the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Cleveland, Ohio, August 14, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 756-757.

BACK in 1837 when Abraham Lincoln was only 28, and a novice member of the State Legislature of Illinois, he delivered a speech of capital importance before the Lyceum in Springfield, dealing with the danger and wickedness of mobs and the vital necessity of maintaining law and order. This more-than-a-century old speech is worthy of being read by all Americans today, and I especially commend it to you who are charged with the sacred duty of enforcing law and order in your communities.

Mob violence was widespread in that period, especially due to the agitation of the Abolitionists. Lincoln's address was inspired by the brutal murder of an Abolitionist editor in Alton, Illinois, and the lynching of three professional gamblers by a mob at Vicksburg, Mississippi. The wave of mob violence was sweeping over the land. To an alarming degree, men were taking the law into their own hands.

Lincoln was outspoken in his condemnation of mob violence. He declared that in the supremacy of the law alone is security, and that the first duty of every citizen is to maintain that supremacy—whoever may oppose it and whatever may be the hazard.

"* * * I know the American people are much attached to their government;" Lincoln said, "I know they would suffer much for its sake; I know they would endure evils long and patiently before they would ever think of changing it for another—yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws , be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come."

Lincoln, therefore, pleaded: "Let reverence for the laws * * * become the political religion of this nation."

Today again we find it necessary to urge upon our people a "reverence for the laws".

Today we again live in a period of violence and uncontrolled emotional strain. The impact of war has affected every phase of the social life of our community. The alarming increase of juvenile delinquency, the rise of boom towns and camp towns, with their hundred of attendant problems, the furious tempo of the times and the general turbulent state of the social order are the natural consequences of international gangsterism more ruthless and destructive than anything the human race has ever experienced.

In a sense, the war we are engaged in is a gang-buster expedition on a global scale.

The world is paying a fearful price today because good men and good nations tolerated the open flaunting of international law by wicked men and wicked nations. Criminologists can learn a lesson from the manner in which nations control or fail to control international relations.

When the international bandit nations, led by the gangs of Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo, violated the laws of nations, we used what J. Edgar Hoover calls "powder puff" methods of dealing with the problems they raised. We let them get away with it.

Had we stopped Japan when she invaded Manchuria; and Mussolini, when in defiance of world opinion he attacked defenseless Ethiopia; and Hitler when in violation of solemn treaties, he marched into the Rhineland, and later destroyed Czechoslovakia, mankind might have been spared its terrible Ordeal.

By the same token, we dare not remain indifferent to lawviolations going on in our communities—be they perpetrated by petty racketeers or hardened criminals.

Thank God, the war has been going very well for the cause of America and her Allies. If the United Nations do not abate their present efforts, victory appears as certain as tomorrow's sunrise. We are now confident that we shall win the war. Unfortunately, at the present moment, we cannot be as certain that we shall also win the peace.

It is a truism that peace creates more problems than it solves.

When the war ends there will be a reaction. There always is. The part of wisdom, therefore, is to recognize the inevitability of the backward swing of the pendulum and to be prepared for it.

J. Edgar Hoover stated recently, "Crime is definitely on the increase."

History is witness to the fact that a crime wave has followed every war.

There is now every indication that the most widespread and bloodiest crime wave in all the history of mankind will follow this present global war—unless we have the vision, foresight and courage to take the proper preventive measures.

Wars, whether successful or not, always produce organic changes in the structure of belligerent nations and the after effects of war are accompanied by increased social friction, unrest, re-adjustment, unemployment—all promoting the growth of criminality.

The safety of the person and the security of property are cardinal principles of civilized "society.

There must be no laxity in law enforcement on the home front now or at any time.

The decent American has no reason to fear honest law enforcement. The decent American citizen demands intelligent and courageous enforcement of the law at all times.

There is no substitute for the proper performance of duty on the part of the responsible public officials.

The people of America are everlastingly grateful to the policemen of this nation for the splendid manner in which the internal security of this land has been protected during these critical war years.

While our brave soldiers, sailors and marines have been pushing forward on the battle fronts throughout the world to destroy the enemies of our liberties and our institutions, it has been the job of the local law enforcement officers to protect the home front. This has been done successfully in the face of a badly depleted personnel, inadequate and obsolete equipment and in an atmosphere of tension and excitement and emotional strain, and when life has become so cheap and destruction so commonplace.

The future calls for even greater vigilance, courage and ability to meet unprecedented problems head-on. Already we can foresee the troubles of tomorrow. Clear thinking and wise action are imperative. We must be prepared to cope with today's ever growing class of juvenile delinquents graduating into the criminals of tomorrow. Now is the time to plan the Police Department of tomorrow. In this respect I point to the discharged military policemen as excellent material for the post-war police force.

To cope with the forthcoming problems, police departments must prepare to utilize the latest improvements and innovations known to the science of criminology. The war has given us improved radio communication, swifter travel and television. All of these will have to be used for the speedier apprehension of criminals and for the identification of prisoners and detection of crime.

Much of our crime of the past was traceable to the unholy alliance of a corrupt political machine with the underworld in control of the lucrative gambling racket.

From my experience as a judge on the criminal court bench of Cuyahoga County, I can say that gambling, next to poverty, is the chief cause of crime. The fruits of organized syndicate gambling are protected racketeering and murder. From commercialized gambling graduate grafters, embezzlers, forgers, pickpockets, confidence men, robbers and burglars. It is the cause of broken homes and neglected or abandoned families. It brings misery to countless thousands.

Organized gambling and commercial vice can exist only when our responsible officials permit them to thrive. They can exist only because the public chooses to remain indifferent, pathetic or ignorant of the true state of affairs.

An authority on juvenile delinquency makes this significant observation:

"After nearly 15 years with maladjusted youth, I am convinced that the greatest single cause of juvenile delinquency may be found in the growing spirit of contempt for the apparent laxity of our law enforcement system."

I repeat, the people demand intelligent and courageous law enforcement. I repeat, there is no substitute for honest law enforcement.

To make democracy really work at home, life and property must be made secure, and clean government must prevail. Laws enacted by the people for the protection of their lives and property must be applied to all alike, rich and poor, weak and strong, white and colored.

Unfortunately, we have witnessed in our land in recent months, shameful manifestations of racial strife. The riots in Detroit and Harlem and the recent street car strike in Philadelphia are cases in point.

For years before Pearl Harbor, Axis agents operated in the United States to divide our population by creating racial and religious prejudices. The poison thus spread is bound to leave its effect on segments of our people long after the war is won. It will be used again and again as a weapon to incite strife and foment discontent.

Race prejudice is un-American and un-Christian. It must be struck down whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head.

We must be vigilant and prepared for such eventualities. Techniques must be devised in each community where possible race uprisings might occur.

A democracy can be only as secure as its weakest minority. There can be no true democracy—no true liberty—anywhere in the world unless there is law and honest law enforcement, for all alike.

This applies both in our local communities and in international affairs.

The right to be secure in our homes, the right to earn a livelihood without paying tribute to racketeer or hoodlum, and the right to bring up our children free from fear all depend on law enforcement.

This applies equally in the case of citizens coping with Dillingers of their communities and in the case of nations dealing with international gangsters like Hitler.

Among citizens and among nations there can be no liberty unless men courageously police their communities, and nations, the world, and enforce the laws without fear of consequences.

And finally, there can be no true democracy—no genuine liberty—in this great land of ours unless there is developed among our citizenry, what Lincoln called, a reverence for the laws.

In our hearts must be re-born Lincoln's abiding faith that in the supremacy of the law alone is security, and that the first duty of every citizen is to maintain that supremacy—whoever may oppose it and whatever may be the immediate hazard.

Now as ever "obedience to law is the price of liberty".