Below I present the May & June 1968 correspondence of Durward G. Hall (R-MS) with Kentucky Democrat Fred Vinson of the Department of Justice on the treatment of certain emigrants. It was first published at page 22149 of the Congressional Record for 18 July 1968, just days short of the 100th anniversary of President Andrew Johnson’s signing of the Expatriation Act of 1868.
In 1868, men stood on the floor of the House and quoted philosophers from the Roman Republic, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands in support of the proposition that emigration and change of citizenship are basic human rights. In 1968, men stood on that same floor and spluttered that Americans who emigrated and changed their citizenship were traitors who should never be allowed to return for a visit.
I’m posting this a bit late for the Act’s 145th anniversary, but I suppose if I had posted it on time it would have just ruined the mood. Instead I hope that it was a happy day that we all celebrated properly even without knowing the significance of the date: by continuing to exercise our right to live contentedly in the lands of our choosing, regardless of what people in the United States might have to say.
Hall’s introductory speech
Counselors Who Advise How To Avoid Service Multiply
Mr. Speaker, the April 18, 1968, issue of the Wall Street Journal carried an article entitled “Counselors Who Advise How To Avoid Service Multiply, Draw Youths.” This article was a matter of some concern to me as a member of the House Committee on Armed Services and I initiated an inquiry with the Attorney General inquiring what action he has taken to prosecute draft evaders who flee our national borders.
I received a vague and unresponsive reply from Assistant Attorney General Fred M. Vinson, Jr., and initiated further correspondence in an effort to secure from the Justice Department the number of draft evaders who have returned to the confines of the United States and their status of prosecution. I received another reply from the Department of Justice — the implications of this reply, as I see it, is that the Justice Department is doing nothing to forcefully crack down on draft evaders and deserters who flee to foreign countries for assistance.
I insert at this point in the Record my exchange of correspondence with officials of the Justice Department.
I haven’t been able to find an online copy of the Wall Street Journal article mentioned, but my guess is that it had something to do with the government’s then-ongoing prosecution of five men — including Yale University chaplain William Sloane Coffin and paediatrician-turned-writer Benjamin Spock — for telling students how they could avoid military service; media at the time termed it “counseling”, while the government claimed it was conspiracy to commit draft evasion. Incidentally, Vinson (Hall’s correspondent at the Department of Justice) was head of the DOJ’s criminal division at the time, though I’m not sure how much role his input played in the decision to prosecute Spock and the others — one article blames it mostly on General Hershey instead.
Anyway, the four were indicted in January 1968; the case went to trial in May that year, and a jury convicted four of them in June, including Spock. However, all of them appealed the ruling of guilt to the First Circuit, which heard their case in January 1969 and ultimately overturned the lower court’s conviction in a July 1969 ruling. The First Circuit directed the district court to acquit Spock and one other man, while ordering new trials for the other two. By the following month, the Department of Justice still hadn’t decided what to do with Coffin and his fellow defendant; they ultimately dropped the charges against the two in April 1970. Hall and his ilk had lost.
Hall’s first letter
House of Representatives
Washington, DC, May 6, 1968.
Hon Ramsey Clark,
U.S. Department of Justice.
My Dear Mr. Attorney General: Allow me to introduce myself as a Representative from the Seventh Congressional District of Missouri who for the past eight years has been primarily assigned to the Committee on Armed Services of the House in the Legislative Branch of our Government.
I am writing you in the interest of the infamous subversion and treason of the draft evaders who are fleeing our national borders into sister states to “evade the draft”. I have had many suggestions that bills be introduced to deal with this situation. I have heard your Under Secretary testify that he would not do so in view of the incoded law and statutes versus his opinion of his rights under the First Amendment of the Bills of Rights and our Constitution. I am not a lawyer, but have same on my Committee and personal staff, and we have researched and find existing laws most adequate if prosecuted with ample precedence and tradition. I know the statute of limitations does not apply. I know that If we were in a declared war, the military “Articles of War” would apply. I know the only way citizenship rights of such “ex-convicts,” if convicted, could be restored, would be by Executive Pardon. I am advised that they are not being prosecuted.
I know you are familiar with the Wall Street Journal‘s Mr Frederick Taylor’s article on “Beating the Draft” dated 18 April 1968. I will not belabor the situation further, but would like you to reduce to writing for me an answer to this, your pensive and considered opinion as to my statement above and your plans to enforce the existing law. Please detail the number of cases that have returned to the confines of the United States and their status of prosecution.
Durward G. Hall,
Member of Congress.
Response from the Assistant Attorney-General
Department of Justice.
Washington, May 16, 1968.
Hon. Durward G. Hall.
House of Representatives,
Dear Congressman: Further reference is made to your letter dated May 6, 1968 to the Attorney General regarding persons who leave the United States to evade service in the Armed Forces.
There is no statute prohibiting a person subject to the requirements of the Military Selective Service Act from leaving the country, but unless such a person obtains permission from his draft board to leave for a specified period, he becomes delinquent and subject to criminal prosecution.
It is our general policy to obtain indictments against offenders under the Act even though they may be residing abroad. Although these persons cannot be extradited from any foreign country, there are instances in which the State Department may revalidate their passports for return to the United States only. In any event, lookouts are posted at all ports of entry, and the wanted persons are prosecuted upon their return.
There are also instances in which these delinquents under the Act become expatriated by renouncing their American citizenship. If they do become expatriated and if they left the United States or remained outside thereof to avoid the draft, they may be barred forever from re-entering this country as visitors.
We have no statistics as to the number of persons who leave this country to avoid the draft. This is for the reason that when they are declared delinquent by the Selective Service System they are reported direct to the proper United States Attorney for consideration of prosecution. We do not, therefore, maintain a central list of such persons.
Fred M. Vinson, Jr.,
Assistant Attorney General.
Hall excoriates Vinson for his insufficiently zealous response
House of Representatives.
Washington, D.C., June 3, 1968.
Hon. Ramsey Clark,
U.S. Department of Justice,
My Dear Mr. Attorney General: On 6 May 1968, I wrote you inquiring as to what the Department of Justice is doing in initiating the apprehension of and pressing the prosecution of draft evaders and deserters who are finding refuge in foreign countries. At that time, I stated “I’m advised that they are not being prosecuted.” I also asked that you “detail the number of cases that have returned to the confines of the United States, and their status of prosecution.”
I had an interim reply, and on 16 May ’68, Assistant Attorney General, Fred M. Vinson, Jr. replied in a manner I consider distinctly evasive and unresponsive to the basic letter. He expounded generalities, but carefully avoided any specifics. For example: Mr. Vinson stated “It is our general policy to obtain indictments against offenders under the Act even though they may be residing abroad.” But, the Assistant Attorney General did not state how many such indictments have been obtained, where and when, or any other details about such enforcement. Certainly, there is no reason for secrecy about that, so why not state clearly and explicitly how many such indictments have been obtained? If there have been prosecutions, your Department must have or could easily assemble a record of them from the various District Attorneys. I would like that information very much.
On Monday, 27 May ’68, I’m sure your conscious of the Supreme Court’s decision on a seven to one basis reversing an appellate court’s decision, and finding it entirely within the legislative prerogative, and thoroughly constitutional to have our codified law against aiding and abetting draft evasion or burning draft cards. This makes me all the more anxious to be assured, and have the above information to the effect that our Department of Justice is vigorously prosecuting the codified law.
Mr. Secretary, these are troublous and trying days, and as an American citizen, plus a Representative in Congress, I deem it of utmost importance that the proper authorities make it unmistakably clear and explicit to the peoples of the United States that treason, subversion, draft evasion, and even desertion will not be countenanced, and will be dealt with sternly and aggressively to the maximum extent of the existing law. I would like to insist on your further cooperation and response.
Durward G. Hall,
Member of Congress.
Clark lets Vinson respond again a month later
Department of Justice,
Washington, July 11, 1968.
Hon. Durward G. Hall,
House of Representatives,
Dear Congressman: This is in response to your letter dated June 3, 1968 to the Attorney General requesting specific information regarding the prosecution of draft evaders and deserters who seek refuge in a foreign country. I would be glad to furnish the information that you requested if it were available, or if it could be compiled within a reasonable period of time. However, the great majority of prosecutions for violations of the Military Selective Service Act result from a registrant’s failure to perform one or more of the primary duties of registration, submission to specific directions to report (as for physical examination), and submission for induction; and the United States Attorneys maintain no particularized lists of any type regarding prosecutions under the Act. All offenders are treated In the same manner, and we have never found any sufficiently useful purpose for keeping statistics as to the number of persons who have been prosecuted after return to this country.
Our records reflect that there were 642 prosecutions commenced in the fiscal year 1966 for violations of the Act, and in 1967 the case load Increased to 1,388. In the first nine months of 1968 there have been 1,326 cases filed. In order to determine how many of these defendants had sought asylum in a foreign country and later returned and were prosecuted would require the examination of each of these thousands of files and the investigative reports therein. We do not have the resources to undertake such a task at this time. However, I assure you that we will continue to take prompt prosecutive action whenever it appears that the evidence will support a successful prosecution.
We have no information regarding persons who desert from the Armed Forces, since violations of that type are solely within the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense.
Fred M. Vinson, Jr.,
Assistant Attorney General.
One detail that struck me about Hall’s words: not just in content but even in form, he proved himself the complete opposite of the men who spoke out in favour of the Expatriation Act of 1868. Malapropisms such as “the Bills of Rights” and “incoded law and statutes” being “prosecuted with tradition” dripping freely from his tongue and his pen, accompanied by grammatical disasters ranging from “I’m sure your conscious” to “the implications is”. He covered up his pathetic command of the English language only by replacing clear and simple words with grandiloquent bureaucratic phrases: witness “initiated an inquiry inquiring” where the five-letter Anglo-Saxon word “asked” could suffice, or “initiating the apprehension of and pressing the prosecution of” instead of the simple verbs “capturing and trying”.
Today’s anti-emigrant politicians are the intellectual heirs to Hall: men who in the most recent case have proven that they can’t even distinguish “-patriate” and “patriot”, nor “principal” and “principle”. And the errors overflow from their semi-literate private scribblings and threaten to become the law of the land as they continue in their efforts to punish those who dare to live abroad and change their citizenship, one hundred and forty-five years after Congress announced that “that any declaration, instruction, opinion, order, or decision of any officers of this government which restricts, impairs, or questions the right of expatriation, is hereby declared inconsistent with the fundamental principles of this government”.
One other minor historical irony: Fred Vinson was the man who spoke out the most strongly in the 1930s in support of retaliatory tax code provisions to punish any other countries which imposed “discriminatory or extraterritorial taxes” on U.S. citizens.
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@Eric Thank you for your well-written piece on efforts to stop subversive elements in the US during the Vietnam War.
My great-grandfather avoided compulsory military service in northern Europe 150 years ago by emigrating to America and I thank him for that. The US benefited from this decision and his ancestors have been productive members of society since then. On the other hand, in the family tradition, at least two draft-age ancestors were ready to move north in 1970 if their selective service lottery numbers came in too low. This is still an occasional topic.
Norway experienced significant emigration in the 19th century to North America and elsewhere. In the 1840s Norwegian politicians were confronted with this phenomenon and a commission was appointed to study it and make recommendations. According to this 1925 research article, the Norwegian commission concluded: “it is impolitic and not right to put legal hindrances in the way of emigration, for it will not serve the state to force people to stay in their own country.”
In spite of this statement, the commission made a number of recommendations to the Norwegian king and Storting (parliament)which were mostly rejected. The decision was to take a mostly laissez-faire approach to emigration, reasoning that it was economic and could not be stopped. A number of laws were passed to regulate emigration to ensure that creditors and family members left behind were taken care of and that emigrants traveled safely. In time of war, the king could also prevent draft-age men from emigrating (which is when my great-grandfather left another Nordic country).
By the end of the 19th century, Norway would lose around 700,000 of its citizens to emigration. In spite of this, it dealt with the issue in a reasonable way. Some countries deal with emigration more maturely than others. I can think of countries such as India, which generally thinks highly of its NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) or France, whose overseas citizens are represented in Parliament. US politicians need to accept the fact that emigration from the US is occurring and probably growing, that there is probably little that they can do about and that they need to get off the backs of the American diaspora.
Corrections to above:
Line 1: subversive should be “subversive” (in quotation marks)
Lines 5 & 6: the word “ancestors” should be “descendents” (two times)