Franklin D. Roosevelt

Letter to a Conference of Law Enforcement Officials on National Defense.

July 31, 1940

My dear Mr. Attorney General:

I appreciate very much being asked to say a few words at the opening of your Conference, but I shall not be in Washington at that time and am, therefore, taking this opportunity to express to you how important I consider this meeting, which is the first in the history of our country, to discuss common problems of national defense.

The Governors' Conference and the Association of State Attorneys-General, in cooperation with the Interstate Commission on Crime, sponsored the idea; and the Department of Justice eagerly fell in with the plan of such a mutual exchange to obtain a better understanding of what can be done to strengthen our lines of defense.

The Governors and Attorneys-General from forty States are generously giving their time and thought to make this effort bear results. Such vital cooperation between the States and the Federal Government is highly gratifying, for national unity in our country is essential as well for the preservation of democratic rights as for the defense of those rights. It is the heart of our problem, the test of our Americanism.

There can, there must, be no political considerations in our approach to these discussions. The Federal Government must not and will not dictate to the States what procedures they should pursue. The sovereign prerogatives of the States are fully admitted; they have invited us to discuss with them problems common to both. Some can best be left entirely to the States. Registration of aliens, for instance, would seem definitely to be a matter exclusively for Federal control. In other fields State or local action is clearly indicated. But there are many policies where joint control can be effectively worked out.

I have in mind, as an example, the enactment by Congress and the State legislatures of laws dealing with subversive activities, with seditious acts, with those things which slow up or break down our common defense program. These mutual objectives can be reached by carefully considered legislation, free from the prejudice and emotional haste which characterized much of similar legislation during the last world war.

Information relating to such subversive activities was scattered in a variety of Government agencies during that war. This proved not to be efficient; and I have asked that all information of this nature be referred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation so that it can be handled efficiently and with the singleness of treatment that such material demands. I emphasize again unity of spirit, unity of purpose, and unity of action in approaching the practical means to a common end.

And the common defense should be through the normal channels of local, State and national law enforcement. The untrained policeman is as ineffective as the untrained soldier. The amateur detective soon becomes a fussy and malicious busybody. We must be vigilant, always on guard, and swift to act. But we must also be wise and cool-headed, and must not express our activities in the cruel stupidities of the vigilante. There is where the Fifth Columns form the line.

This conference is but the first, I sincerely hope, of many similar exchanges of points of view. Concrete and immediate results cannot be expected. But the problems can be more clearly seen by looking at them steadily and together; and techniques of future cooperation can be adopted. Your problems are difficult; your generous response and sympathetic approach to them are greatly heartening to the American people.

Very sincerely yours,

Honorable Robert H. Jackson,

The Attorney General,

Washington, D. C.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter to a Conference of Law Enforcement Officials on National Defense. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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