Wickersham Commission

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The National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (also known unofficially as the Wickersham Commission) was a committee established by then U.S. President, Herbert Hoover, on May 20, 1929. Former attorney general George W. Wickersham (1858–1936) chaired the 11-member group, which was charged with surveying the U.S. criminal justice system under Prohibition, and making recommendations for appropriate public policy.

During the 1928 presidential campaign Herbert Hoover supported the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (which had introduced nationwide alcohol prohibition) but he recognized that evasion of the law was widespread and that prohibition had fueled the growth of organized crime.


Commission members included Henry W. Anderson, Newton D. Baker, Ada Comstock, William Irwin Grubb, William S. Kenyon, Monte M. Lemann, Frank J. Loesch, Kenneth Mackintosh, Paul John McCormick, and Dean Roscoe Pound of the Harvard Law School. Pioneering American criminologist August Vollmer wrote portions of the report.[1][2]

From 1929 to 1930, Alger Hiss worked a year in legal research for the general counsel of the "Wickersham Committee" (as William L. Marbury, Jr. described it in a 1935 letter, in which he sought the support of U.S. Senator George L. P. Radcliffe for the appointment of Alger Hiss to the U.S. Solicitor General's office).[3]


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."

Monte M. Lemann was the only commission member who refused to sign the report, issuing a separate opinion, where he concluded that there was "no alternative but repeal of the [Eighteenth] Amendment."


Franklin P. Adams, a columnist for the New York World, summarized his opinion of the Commission's report with this poem:[4]

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.

See also[edit]

Bureau of Prohibition
Preparedness Day Bombing
Thomas Mooney
Warren K Billings
Edwin Atherton


  1. ^ "Captioned photo of Wickersham Commission". Library of Congress. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  2. ^ "United States. Wickersham Commission. Records, 1928-1931: Finding Aid". Harvard University Library. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  3. ^ Marbury, William L. (30 July 1935). "Personal letter to the Honorable George L. Radcliffe". Maryland Historical Society. Retrieved 16 February 2017.
  4. ^ David E. Kyvig; Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (2000). Repealing National Prohibition. Wick Poetry First Book. Kent State University Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-0873386722. OCLC 44039297.
  5. ^ Boyer, Paul S. The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.

Commission Reports Historical Bibliography[edit]