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Crossing over the Line: Legislating Morality and the Mann Act (Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society (Paperback))

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
ISBN-13: 978-0226468709
ISBN-10: 0226468704
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Langum, a professor of law and a historian, discusses the underlying basis of the Mann Act (1910), which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for "immoral purposes," and the difficulties that past and present governments have in enforcing "morality codes." He provides an excellent analysis of broader purposes of the legislation and its effects upon American culture through the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Arguing that this law was "at odds with the American system of limited government," Langum points out that women, who were supposed to be protected under the act, ironically became its chief victims. He also suggests that the Mann Act was a classic example of government tyranny against the moral standards of dissident minorities and that this form of repressive legislation was a failure of the liberal, democratic society. Readers interested in American history, cultural movements, and government enforcement of moral standards will find this book thoughtful and provocative. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.
Steven Puro, St. Louis Univ.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

A well-wrought cautionary tale about the dangers of trying to impose morality by law. Langum (Law/Samford Univ.; Law and Community on the Mexican California Frontier, not reviewed) traces the history of the Mann Act of 1910, which prohibited the transportation of women across state lines for ``prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.'' Under this law, people were arrested and imprisoned or fined simply for having sex out of wedlock after crossing into another state, or for asking someone to come visit in another state for the purpose of having pre- or extramarital sex. Those convicted became federal felons who were consequently unable to vote, closed out of jobs, denied naturalization. Langum shows how the law grew out of the early 20th century's ``white slavery'' scare, a mixture of antimodernism, racism, and an all but pathological fear of sexuality, as well as a frenzied response to immigration and urbanization. The author argues convincingly that, like Prohibition, which came in 1919, the Mann Act was a classic example of the Progressive movement's social engineering propensities and notes that it did not produce the effects Progressives desired; people didn't stop having sex outside of marriage, and prostitution didn't fade away. The white slavery hysteria abated (because it never existed), but the law left in its place a new opportunity for blackmail of unsuspecting men and a potential for new kinds of prosecutorial misconduct in the service of a ``morals crusade.'' The act was instrumental in the growth of the FBI and the rise of J. Edgar Hoover, and Langum thoroughly exposes Hoover's use of it as a club to beat suspected ``radicals'' like Charlie Chaplin. A trifle repetitive in a lawyerly way, but a thorough, often wryly funny, and closely argued work of legal and social history. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Series: Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society (Paperback)
  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (January 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226468704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226468709
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,269,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

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I got this book because I needed it for a class examining American legal history, so needless to say, I did not start reading it with high expectations. I expected it to be dry, fairly boring, and dense to an almost arcane degree, as books on such topics typically are. To my surprise and delight, the book turned out to be none of these things. Langum writes with fire and conviction about a topic that was interesting and significant at the time, and continues to be to this day.

The book focused on the White-Slave Traffic Act, also known as the Mann Act of 1910, and discusses the way the law came to be, how it was passed, how it was used, the consequences of its existence, and its eventual demise, covering the greater part of the 20th century in the process. The language of the statute, its judicial history, and some anecdotal examples of particularly important figures that were prosecuted under it are also presented. By discussing the topic in this manner, Langum paints a very clear picture of its history, its scope, and its use. But perhaps most importantly for Langum, who comes off as having fairly libertarian views, it gives a poignant account of how good intentions and public outcry can lead to legislation that restricts freedoms, curtails rights, and goes against the very spirit of the Constitution. Langum clearly feels strongly about the topic, and on occasion critiques not just the Mann Act but all types of morality legislation. No matter the personal views of the reader, it is this very conviction and the vigor with which Langum expresses it that gives the book its eloquence and accessibility.
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