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
Spouse(s) unmarried
Profession Attorney
Religion Methodist

Hatton William Sumners (May 30, 1875 – April 19, 1962) was a Congressman from Texas from 1913—1947 and served as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Early life and career[edit]

Sumners was born near Fayetteville, Tennessee on May 30, 1875. He moved to Garland, Texas, near Dallas in 1893. 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, an alternative to law school.[1] Sumners was admitted to the bar in 1897 and commenced practice in Dallas, where he was elected 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 irregularaties in Dallas, ultimately influencing state legislation enacted to reform the system, after which, Sumners was elected Dallas County prosecutor again. Instead of continuing in that position, he instead was elected president of the district and county attorney’s association of Texas in 1906 and 1907 where he campaigned against betting interests.[2]

Service in Congress[edit]

Sumners ran for and was elected 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 customs.[2] In 1914, he ran for the 5th District congressional seat which included Dallas, Ellis, Rockwall, Hill, and Bosque counties and he was elected.[2]

Early in his career, he spoke out against the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, claiming that the bill's sponsors did not have adequate statistics to prove their case, that the bill would increase racial mob violence, and that the bill ultimately impinged on states' rights.[3]

Speaking on the House floor while some African-Americans watched from the balcony, Sumners continued to attack the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill with racist tropes. "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]

Sumners served on the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives and was appointed regularly to investigate allegations of corruption among federal judges, serving on the impeachment committees for three federal judges.[6] Sumners became Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 1932,[2] and as a loyal Democrat supported much of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. However, when the Supreme Court began invalidating key parts of the New Deal, Roosevelt proposed a plan to expand the Court, his so-called Court-packing plan was announced in 1936. As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sumners discreetly worked in opposition, but as the plan was clearly 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. As a consequence of this, he faced two serious opponents in the 1938 election, but Sumners was re-elected and was not seriously challenged again. In 1946, Sumners announced he would not seek re-election, therefore, in all, 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. Having never married, 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, and after services in the Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas 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.



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

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

Succeeded by
Joseph Franklin Wilson
Political offices
Preceded by
George S. Graham
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
Succeeded by
Earl C. Michener