Hatton W. Sumners

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Hatton W. Sumners
Hatton Sumners.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's At-Large district
In office
March 4, 1913 – March 3, 1915
Preceded by new district
Succeeded by A. Jeff McLemore
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1915 – January 3, 1947
Preceded by James Andrew Beall
Succeeded by Joseph Franklin Wilson
Personal details
Born May 30, 1875
Fayetteville, Tennessee
Died April 19, 1962(1962-04-19) (aged 86)
Dallas, Texas
Political party Democratic
Profession Attorney
Religion Methodist

Hatton William Sumners (May 30, 1875 – April 19, 1962) was a Democratic Congressman from the Dallas, Texas area, serving from 1913 to 1947. He rose to become Chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.

Early life and career[edit]

Hatton Sumners was born near Fayetteville, Tennessee on May 30, 1875. He attended local schools.

In 1893 he moved to Garland, Texas, near Dallas, at a time when the city was beginning to industrialize and was a booming business center. In 1895, as a 20-year-old newcomer to Dallas County, Sumners persuaded the Dallas City Attorney to let him "read law" in his office, a common alternative to law school.[1] Sumners was admitted to the bar in 1897 and commenced practice in Dallas.

Sumners was elected as prosecuting attorney of Dallas County in 1900, serving two non-consecutive terms. As prosecutor, he brought charges against gamblers in an attempt to clean up Dallas. As a result of his investigations and his campaign against drinking and vice, Sumners was not re-elected in 1902.[2] He continued his campaign against gambling and voting irregularities in Dallas, ultimately influencing state legislation enacted to reform the system. After that Sumners was elected Dallas County prosecutor again. Instead of continuing in that position for additional terms, he accepted the presidency of the district and county attorneys’ association of Texas in 1906 and 1907, where he campaigned against betting interests.[2]

Service in Congress[edit]

Sumners ran for and was elected in 1912 to an at-large seat as a Democrat to the Sixty-third Congress, taking office on March 4, 1913. He was the first of the 132 freshmen congressmen in that Congress to get a bill through the House; the bill made Dallas a port of entry for US Customs.[2] In 1914, he ran for the seat from Texas's 5th congressional district, which included Dallas, Ellis, Rockwall, Hill, and Bosque counties, and he was elected.[2]

In the 1920s, Sumners spoke out against the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, introduced by a Republican congressman from Saint Louis, Missouri. Sumners said that the bill's sponsors did not have adequate statistics to prove their case (that lynching should be a federal crime), that the bill would increase racial mob violence, and that the bill ultimately impinged on states' rights.[3] Most southern states and jurisdictions had established their determination not to prosecute anyone for lynching murders.

Speaking on the House floor while some African Americans watched from the balcony, Sumners attacked the bill using racial stereotypes: "Only a short time ago... their ancestors roamed the jungles of Africa in absolute savagery…[Y]ou do not know where the beast is among them. Somewhere in that black mass of people is the man who would outrage your wife or your child, and every man who lives in the country knows it." [4][5] Note: Ida Tarbell in her extensive study of lynchings had already established that few lynchings were of black men who attacked white women; many more were committed to defeat an economic competitor or suppress a man behaving too independently.

Sumners served on the powerful Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives and was appointed regularly to investigate allegations of corruption among federal judges. He served on the impeachment committees for three federal judges.[6] Sumners became Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 1932.[2] As a loyal Democrat, he supported much of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal legislation.

But he drew the line at Roosevelt's plan to expand the US Supreme Court, after the Court began to rule that key parts of the New Deal were unconstitutional. Roosevelt announced his so-called court-packing plan in 1936. As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sumners discreetly worked in opposition. When the plan's bill was in trouble, Sumners reportedly said, "Boys, here's where I cash in my chips," referring to his waning support for the President.[2] Ultimately, Chairman Sumners came out formally against the Court-packing plan. He faced two serious opponents in the 1938 election, but was re-elected and was not seriously challenged again. In 1946, Sumners announced he would not seek re-election; he served seventeen consecutive terms.

He was a member of the Miller group in Washington.[7]

Final years[edit]

After leaving Congress, Sumners was the Director of Research for the Southwestern Legal Foundation. Sumners formed the Hatton W. Sumners Foundation in 1949, which still awards loans and scholarships to worthy students. The foundation is also a sponsor of the Internet project 'Vote Smart.'[8]

Sumners received an honorary doctor of laws from Southern Methodist University and the American Bar Association Medal. He died on April 19, 1962. After services in the Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas, he was interred in the Knights of Pythias Cemetery in Garland, Texas.[2]

Books authored[edit]

Sumners wrote The Private Citizen and His Democracy in 1959.

References[edit]

Sources[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
District created
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's at-large congressional seat

1913-1915
Succeeded by
A. Jeff McLemore
Preceded by
James Andrew Beall
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 5th congressional district

1915-1947
Succeeded by
Joseph Franklin Wilson
Preceded by
George S. Graham
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
1931–1947
Succeeded by
Earl C. Michener