Harry J. Anslinger PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 20 March 2011 18:33

Harry AnslingerHarry Jacob Anslinger

Born: May 20, 1892

Died: November 14, 1975

Age: 83

Cause of death: Heart failure.

Notable because: The man who changed use of a naturally occurring weed into a criminal offense and in doing so created untold misery for Millions of people subject to his self-serving malevolent ignorance. A serial liar and a fraud, the extent of  whose damaging legacy to the fabric of society is difficult to fully appreciate.

"There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."    Harry J. Anslinger, testimony to Congress, 1937

Harry Jacob Anslinger held office as the Assistant Prohibition Commissioner in the Bureau of Prohibition, before being appointed as the first Commissioner of the Treasury Department's Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) on August 12, 1930.

He held office an unprecedented 32 years in his role holding office until 1962. He then held office two years as US Representative to the United Nations Narcotics Commission. The responsibilities once held by Harry J. Anslinger are now largely under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. Anslinger died at the age of 83 of heart failure in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

Anslinger's father, Roberton J. Anslinger, was born in Bern, Switzerland and had worked in that country as a barber. His motheHarry Anslingerr, Rosa Christiana Fladt, was born in Baden, Germany. In 1881, the family emigrated to the United States. Robert Anslinger worked in New York for two years, before settling in Altoona, Pennsylvania. In 1892, the same year his son Harry was born, Anslinger went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Harry Anslinger later claimed that he had witnessed a scene that affected his life. When he was 12, he heard the screams of a morphine addict that were only silenced by a boy returning from a pharmacist to supply the addict with more morphine. He was appalled that the drug was so powerful and that children had ready access to such drugs. However, the experience didn't stop Anslinger, while acting as the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, from authorizing a druggist near the White House to fill a morphine prescription for an addicted Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Anslinger enrolled at Altoona Business College at the age of 17. He also went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1913, he was granted a furlough so he could enroll at Pennsylvania State College, where studied in a two-year associate degree program in engineering and business management.

He married Martha Kind Denniston (Sept 1886 - Oct 10, 1961) in 1917. In 1930, at age 38, when he was appointed as the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, he was renting an apartment at 16th & R Street in Washington, DC for $90 per month, where he lived with his wife Martha and son Joseph L. Anslinger (May 24, 1911 - Nov 1982), who were 44 and 18, respectively. Martha Denniston was the niece of Andrew W. Mellon, the Secretary of the US Treasury who would appoint Anslinger to his 32 year post as Commissioner.

Anslinger gained notoriety early in his career. At the age of 23 (1915), while working as an investigator for the Pennsylvania Railroad, he performed a detailed investigation that found the claim of a widower in a railroad accident fraudulent. He saved the company $50,000 and was promoted to captain of railroad police.

From 1917 to 1928, Anslinger worked for various military and police organizations. His tour of duty took him all over the world, from Germany to Venezuela to Japan. His focus was on stopping international drug trafficking, and he is widely blamed for shaping not only America's domestic and international drug policies, but for having influence on drug polices of other nations, particularly those that had not debated the issues internally.

By 1929, Anslinger returned from his international tour to work as an assistant Commissioner in the United States Bureau of Prohibition. Around this time, corruption and scandal gripped Prohibition and Narcotics agencies. The ensuing shake-ups and re-organizations set the stage for Anslinger, perceived as an honest and incorruptible figure, to advance not only in rank but to great political stature.

In 1930, Anslinger was appointed to the newly-created FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics) as its first Commissioner. The FBN, like the Bureau of Prohibition, was under the auspices of the US Treasury Department. At that time the trade of alcohol and drugs was considered a loss of revenue because as illegal substances they could not be taxed. Anslinger was appointed by Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew W. Mellon, and given a budget of $100,000.

Restrictions for cannabis as a drug, often called Indian Hemp in documents from 1900 to 1930s, started in District of Columbia 1906 and was followed by state laws in other parts of the country in the 1910s and 1920s. The early laws against the cannabis drugs were passed with little public attention. Concern about marijuana was related primarily to the fear that marijuana use would spread, even among whites, as a substitute for the opiates. In 1925 United States supported regulation of Indian hemp, Cannabis for use as a drug, in the International Opium Convention. Recommendations from the International Opium Convention inspired the work with The Uniform State Narcotic Act between 1925 and 1932. Harry J. Anslinger become an active person in this process from about 1930.

Anslinger received as head of The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) (from his point of view) an alarming increase of reports about smoking of marijuana in 1936 continued of a spread at an accelerated pace in 1937. Before, smoking of marijuana had been relatively slight and confined to the Southwest, particularly along the Mexican border. The Bureau launched two important steps. First, the Bureau prepared a legislative plan to seek from Congress a new law that would place marijuana and its distribution directly under federal control. Second, Anslinger run a campaign against marijuana oanslinger.jpg (8195 bytes)n radio and at major forums.Some of his critics allege that Anslinger and the campaign against marijuana had an hidden agenda, DuPont petrochemical interests and William Randolph Hearst together created the highly sensational anti-marijuana campaign to eliminate hemp as an industrial competitor. Indeed, Anslinger did not himself consider marijuana a serious threat to American society until in the fourth year of his tenure (1934), at which point an anti-marijuana campaign, aimed at alarming the public, became his primary focus as part of the government's broader push to outlaw all drugs.

Members of the League of Nations had already implemented restrictions for marijuana in the beginning of the 1930s and restrictions started in many states in U.S years before Anslinger was appointed. Both president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Attorney General publicly supported this development in 1935.

An alternative explanation for Anslinger's opinions about hemp is that he believed that a tax on marijuana could be easier to supervise if it included hemp.

Around 1931 advertising started for hemp as the new billion dollar crop. Anslinger had reports from experiments with mechanical harvesting of hemp in 1936, reporting that the machines were no success.

"they were able to cut only a part of the Tribune Farm crop by machine, two thirds of it they did by hand with a sharp hand cutter...".

By using the mass media as his forum (receiving much support from William Randolph Hearst), Anslinger propelled the anti-marijuana sentiment from the state level to a national movement. Writing for The American Magazine, the best examples were contained in his "Gore File", a collection of quotes from police reports, by later opponents described as police-blotter-type narratives of heinous cases, most with no substantiation, linking graphically depicted offenses with the drug. Anslinger used sometimes the very brief and concise language in many police reports when he wrote about drug crimes:

"An entire family was murdered by a youthful addict in Florida. When officers arrived at the home, they found the youth staggering about in a human slaughterhouse. With an axe he had killed his father, mother, two brothers, and a sister. He seemed to be in a daze… He had no recollection of having committed the multiple crime. The officers knew him ordinarily as a sane, rather quiet young man; now he was pitifully crazed. They sought the reason. The boy said that he had been in the habit of smoking something which youthful friends called “muggles,” a childish name for marijuana."

“By the tons it is coming into this country — the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms…. Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him….”

Anslinger has been accused responsible for racial themes in articles against marijuana in the 1930s.

"There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."

"Colored students at the Univ. of Minn. partying with (white) female students, smoking [marijuana] and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result: pregnancy"
"Two Negros took a girl fourteen years old and kept her for two days under the influence of hemp. Upon recovery she was found to be suffering from syphilis."

"The first Federal law-enforcement administrator to recognize the signs of a national criminal syndication and sound the alarm was Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics in the Treasury" (Ronald Reagan 1986)

When Anslinger was interviewed in 1954 about drug abuse (see below), he did not mention anything about race or sex. In his book The Protectors (1964) Anslinger has a chapter called "Jazz and Junk Don't Mix" about the black jazz musicians Billie Holliday and Charlie Parker, who both died after years of heavy drug abuse:

"Jazz entertainers are neither fish nor fowl. They do not get the million-dollar protection Hollywood and Broadway can afford for their stars who have become addicted - and there are many more than will ever be revealed. Perhaps this is because jazz, once considered a decadent kind of music, has only token respectability. Jazz grew up next door to crime, so to speak. Clubs of dubious reputation were, for a long time, the only places where it could be heard. But the times bring changes, and as Billy Holiday was a victim of time and change, so too was Charlie Parker, a man whose music, like Billie's is still widely imitated. Most musicians credit Parker among others as spearheading what is called modern jazz."(p.157)

Later in his career, Anslinger was scrutinized for insubordination by refusing to desist from an attempt to halt the ABA/AMA Joint Report on narcotic addiction, a publication edited by the sociology Professor Alfred R. Lindesmith of Indiana University. Lindesmith wrote, among other works, Opiate Addiction (1947), The Addict and the Law (1965), and a number of articles condemning the criminalization of addiction. Nearly everything Lindesmith did was critical of the War on Drugs, specifically condemning Anslinger’s role. The AMA/ABA controversy is sometimes credited with ending Anslinger's position of Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

In fact, Anslinger was surprised to be re-appointed by President John F. Kennedy in February 1961. The new President had a tendency to invigorate the government with more youthful civil servants and by 1962 Anslinger was 70 years old, the mandatory age for retirement in his position. In addition, during the previous year he had witnessed his wife Martha's slow and agonizing death due to heart failure and is said to have lost some of his drive and ambition. He submitted his resignation to President Kennedy on his 70th birthday, May 20, 1962. Since Kennedy did not have a successor, Anslinger stayed in his $18,500 a year ($125,535 in 2007 dollars) position until later that year. He was succeeded by Henry Giordano. Following that, he was the United States Representative to the United Nations Narcotics Commission for two years after which he retired.

By 1973, Anslinger was completely blind, had a debilitatingly enlarged prostate gland, and suffered from angina.

On November 14, 1975, at 1 pm, Anslinger died of heart failure at Mercy Hospital (now known as Bon Secours Hospital Campus of the Altoona Regional Health System) in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He was 83. He was survived by his son Joseph L. Anslinger and a sister. According to John McWilliams' 1990 book The Protectors, Anslinger's daughter-in-law Bea at that time still lived in Anslinger's home in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

Anslinger is buried in Hollidaysburg Presbyterian Cemetery, Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, USA Plot: Sec. C, Lot 320


Assassin of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History of Harry J. Anslinger’s War on Drugs

Author: Alexandra Chasin
Manufacturer: University Of Chicago Press
Amazon Price: $35.00
Offers - Buy New From: $17.88 Used From: $17.72
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Editorial Review:
Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from its establishment in 1930 until his retirement in 1962, Harry J. Anslinger is the United States’ little known first drug czar. Anslinger was a profligate propagandist with a flair for demonizing racial and immigrant groups and perhaps best known for his zealous pursuit of harsh drug penalties and his particular animus for marijuana users. But what made Anslinger who he was, and what cultural trends did he amplify and institutionalize? Having just passed the hundredth anniversary of the Harrison Act—which consolidated prohibitionist drug policy and led to the carceral state we have today—and even as public doubts about the drug war continue to grow, now is the perfect time to evaluate Anslinger’s social, cultural, and political legacy.

In Assassin of Youth, Alexandra Chasin gives us a lyrical, digressive, funny, and ultimately riveting quasi-biography of Anslinger. Her treatment of the man, his times, and the world that arose around and through him is part cultural history, part kaleidoscopic meditation. Each of the short chapters is anchored in a historical document—the court decision in Webb v. US (1925), a 1935 map of East Harlem, FBN training materials from the 1950s, a personal letter from the Treasury Department in 1985—each of which opens onto Anslinger and his context. From the Pharmacopeia of 1820 to death of Sandra Bland in 2015, from the Pennsylvania Railroad to the last passenger pigeon, and with forays into gangster lives, CIA operatives, and popular detective stories, Chasin covers impressive ground. Assassin of Youth is as riotous and loose a history of drug laws as can be imagined—and yet it culminates in an arresting and precise revision of the emergence of drug prohibition.

Today, even as marijuana is slowly being legalized, we still have not fully reckoned with the racist and xenophobic foundations of our cultural appetite for the severe punishment of drug offenders. In Assassin of Youth, Chasin shows us the deep, twisted roots of both our love and our hatred for drug prohibition.


The Protectors: Harry J. Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1930-1962

Author: John C. McWilliams
Manufacturer: Univ of Delaware Pr
Amazon Price: $40.00
Used From: $170.95
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Brotherhood of Evil; the Mafia. with a Foreword by Harry J. Anslinger

Author: Frederic Sondern
Manufacturer: New York : Farrar, Straus, And Cudahy
Used From: $6.27
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Editorial Review: 1959. Fifth Printing. Hardcover with dust jacket. 243 pages.


Brotherhood of Evil: The Mafia - 1st US Edition/1st Printing

Author: Frederic Sondern
Manufacturer: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy
Used From: $4.39
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Editorial Review: Fine cloth copy in an equally fine, very slightly dust-dulled dw. Particularly and surprisingly well-preserved; tight, bright, clean and especially sharp-cornered. ; 243 pages; Description: 243 p. Illus. 22 cm. Photo illustrated. Subjects: Mafia. Criminals --United States


The Protectors, Narcotics agents, citizens and Officials Against Organized Crime in America

Author: Harry J. Anslinger
Manufacturer: Farrar, Straus & Co.
Used From: $34.95
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Last Updated on Sunday, 20 March 2011 18:50

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