May 15, 1890
IN the Sunday-law campaign of last year Mr. Crafts urged everywhere the argument that a national Sunday law would be constitutional because the Supreme Courts of twenty-five States had held that such laws were constitutional. That argument never had enough real worth to pay for the breath that it took to make it, because the decisions of State courts have no bearing upon a national question. This year Mr. Crafts is passing off an argument that is just as worthless; but he presents it with such an air of authority as to make it appear as though it was of some force. The argument is so entirely his own that he has copyrighted it and has sent it out with other of his “syndicate” matter, to be printed in such of the “patent inside” papers as will publish it. It is as follows:—
The judicial department of the National Government is represented by a decision of very great importance, though little known, which declares the constitutionality of Sunday laws. The decision was a unanimous one, delivered by Mr. Justice Field, March 16, 1885 (113, U. S. 710), and is as follows: “Laws setting aside Sunday as a day of rest are upheld, not from any right of the Government to legislate for the promotion of religious observances, but from its right to protect all persons from the physical and moral debasement that comes from uninterrupted labor. Such laws have always been deemed beneficent and merciful laws, especially to the poor and dependent, to the laborers in our factories and workshops, and in the heated rooms of our cities; and their validity has been sustained by the highest courts of the States.”
This is given by Mr. Crafts as a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States upon the question of Sunday laws.
Rev. Dr. J. H. Elliott referred to the same thing, in his argument before the House Committee on District of Columbia, in behalf of the Breckinridge Sunday Bill, and said, “This is a case in the Supreme Court,” thus also passing it off as a decision upon the question of Sunday laws.
Even if it were such, it would not prove what they try to make it prove. It does not say that Sunday laws are constitutional by the United States Constitution. It does not say that their validity is sustained by the highest court of the United States. It says, “Their validity has been sustained by the highest courts of the States.” So that, taking this very statement which they offer, it proves simply what it has already taken them so long to understand, that is, that the States have sustained such laws, which action has no bearing whatever on a national question.
But that is not all there is to this matter. As we have stated, Mr. Crafts and his fellow-workers are passing this argument as a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States upon the question of Sunday laws, while in truth it is no such thing.
The decision distinctly says, “The prohibition against labor on Sunday is not involved.” So that the decision is not in any sense what Mr. Crafts attempts to make it.
Now for the facts in the case. The case is known as one of the Chinese Laundry cases, brought up from San Francisco—the case of Soon Hing v. Crowley. The City of San Francisco passed an ordinance regulating laundries and public wash-houses. The fourth Section declared that “No person owning, or employed in, a public laundry, or a public  wash-house within the prescribed limits, shall wash or iron clothes between the hours of ten in the evening and six in the morning, or upon any portion of Sunday.”
Soon Hing was arrested by the police of San Francisco, and he applied to the United States Circuit Court for a writ of habeas corpus upon the plea that this section was in contravention of the provisions of the Burlingame Treaty, and of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in that it deprived “the petitioner of the equal protection of the laws.” The judges of the Circuit Court were divided in opinion, that of the presiding justice prevailing, and the case was certified to the Supreme Court “for review.” In rendering the decision the Court referred to a case that it had decided only seventy-one days before, and said:—
The fourth section is identical in both. The prohibition against labor on Sunday in this section is not involved here, as it was not in that case; and the provision for the cessation of labor in the laundries, within certain prescribed limits of the city and county during certain hours of the night, is purely a police regulation, which is, as we there said, within the competency of any municipality possessed of the ordinary powers belonging to such bodies.
To get a full understanding of the matter it is necessary to quote from the case to which the Court here referred. It is the ease of Barbier v. Crowley. The Court said:—
That fourth section, so far as it is involved in the case before the Police Judge was simply a prohibition to carry on the washing and ironing of clothes in public laundries and wash-houses, within certain prescribed limits of the city and county [of San Francisco], from ten o’clock at night until six o’clock in the morning of the following day. The prohibition of labor on Sunday is not involved. The provision is purely a police regulation within the competency of any municipality possessed of the ordinary powers belonging to such bodies; and it would be an extraordinary usurpation of the authority of the municipality if a Federal tribunal should undertake to supervise such regulations. It may be a necessary measure of precaution in a city composed largely of wooden buildings, like San Francisco, that occupations in which fires are constantly required should cease after certain hours at night until the following morning; and of the necessity of such legislation the municipal bodies are the exclusive judges; at least any correction of their action in such matters can come only from State legislation, or State tribunals…. Neither the [Fourteenth] Amendment, broad and comprehensive as it is, nor any other amendment, was designed to interfere with the power of the State, sometimes termed its police power, to prescribe regulations to promote the health, peace, morals, education, and good order of the people, and to legislate so as to increase the industries of the State, develop its resources, and add to its wealth and prosperity.—113 U. S. 30, 31.
Thus it is proved by the very words of the decision which Mr. Crafts quotes that the question of Sunday laws, or of Sunday labor, was not involved at all. The question was simply whether a city, or a State if need be, could regulate the time in which public laundries or wash-houses should be opened.
But did the Court use the words quoted by Mr. Crafts? Yes, and this is how it came about: The petitioner had argued that the said section was “void on the ground that it deprived a man of the right to work at all times,” and in the same line of the decision throughout, the Court held that this objection was “without force” because such regulations are properly within the police power of cities and municipalities. The Court said:—
On few subjects has there been more regulation. How many hours shall constitute a day’s work in the absence of contract, at what time in our cities shops shall close at night, are constant subjects of legislation.
And then it was that, continuing, the Court said:—
Laws setting aside Sunday as a day of rest are upheld, not from any right of the Government to legislate for the promotion of religious observances, but from its right to protect all persons from the physical and moral debasement which comes from uninterrupted labor. Such laws have always been deemed beneficent and merciful laws, especially to the poor and dependent, to laborers in our factories and workshops, and in the heated rooms of our cities; and their validity has been sustained by the highest courts of the States.
This reference to Sunday laws is used by the Court only as an illustration of the exercise of the police power of the States and municipalities. And even if it were not so used, even if it were used with direct reference to the question of Sunday labor, the force of the decision, so far from showing any power of the United States Government to enact Sunday laws, would show on the contrary that such laws are wholly within the jurisdiction of the States, as a part of what the Court called the police power of the States and of which it declared “it would be an extraordinary usurpation of the authority of the municipality if a Federal tribunal should undertake to supervise such regulations.”
But it is not even this; for decisions are of legal force “only so far as regards the subject matter then involved.” The decisions of counts are expressions of law upon the points involved, and upon these only, and whatever may be said with reference to any subject which is not involved is of no legal force. Especially is this so when the court plainly says that such subject is not involved in the case. Put in the form of a syllogism the case quoted by Mr. Crafts, stands thus:—
Decisions are of force “only so far as regards the subject matter then involved.”
This decision plainly says, “The prohibition of labor on Sunday is not involved here.”
Therefore the decision cited by Mr. Crafts in support of Sunday laws, is of no force whatever with reference to any question of labor on Sunday.
The use which Mr. Crafts and his fellow-workers make of the reference to Sunday laws in this case, is false,
1. In that they make it a decision on the question of Sunday laws, whereas the decision plainly was, virtually twice, that the question of labor on Sunday is not involved.
2. Their use of it is false in that they make it binding in subject-matter which is not involved.
3. Their use of it is false, in that, even though it had the force which they would give it, they make it a question of national jurisdiction; whereas the effect would be to confine it exclusively to the limits of the police power of the States, with which it would be “an extraordinary usurpation” for the national power to interfere.
4. Mr. Crafts’s use of it is understandingly false, in that as he must have read the decision in order to write of it as he did, he certainly must have read there the positive statement that “The prohibition against labor on Sunday is not involved;” yet he makes it involve that very question and uses it as authority upon that question. Under the circumstances how he can honestly make that a decision upon the national constitutionality of Sunday laws, is more than we can understand, and is in order for him to explain.
The sum of the whole matter is, that the use which Rev. Wilbur F. Crafts makes of the decision which he cites it utterly and inexcusably false.
It is simply another vain effort of the Sunday-law workers to create authority for Sunday laws where there is none, and illustrates that the further they go, the harder they are pushed to find valid arguments with which to support their wicked cause. And thus may all their efforts perish.
A. T. J.