Crossing Over the Line: Legislating Morality and the Mann Act (Hardback)

by David J. Langum

Format: Hardback 324 pages

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This work describes the folly of the Mann Act of 1910 - a United States law which made travel from one state to another by a man and a woman with the intent of committing an immoral act a major crime. Spawned by a national wave of "white slave trade" hysteria, the Act was created by the Congress of the United States as a weapon against forced prostitution. This book provides a history of the Mann Act's often bizarre career, from its passage to the amendment that finally laid it low. Langum recounts the colourful details of numerous court cases to show how enforcement of the Act mirrored changes in America's social attitudes. He shows how federal prosecutors became masters in the selective use of the Act: against political opponents of the government, like Charlie Chaplin; against individuals who eluded other criminal charges, like the Capone mobster "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn; and against black men, like singer Chuck Berry and boxer Jack Johnson, who dared to consort with white women. In addition, the Act engendered a thriving blackmail industry and was used by women like Frank Lloyd Wright's wife to extort favourable divorce settlements.

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University of Chicago Press


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