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History might be written by the winners, but presidential politics is often shaped by the Long Shots. In a new podcast series from Inside Voices, veteran journalist Conor Powell and executive producer Gary Scott explore eight presidential candidates who lost the race for the White House but permanently changed America’s political landscape – right up to today.

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Eugene V. Debs: The Original Socialist

Eugene V. Debs won almost a million votes for president while sitting inside a federal prison. This is the story of the original democratic socialist.

American presidential candidates aren’t supposed to be convicted criminals, let alone socialists. But in 1920, nearly one million Americans cast their vote for the Socialist Party nominee as he campaigned from a U.S. federal prison: Eugene V. Debs, prisoner 9653. This was Debs fifth presidential run and his last. Incarcerated on charges of sedition, Debs committed an act of political defiance that shook America and he set the stage for a new kind of Democratic Party, one that would embrace Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders a century later.

Eugene V. Debs: The Original Socialist Transcript

EUGENE DEBS 1920: Convict No. 9653

PART I:

IMAGINE THE U-S IS INVOLVED IN MASSIVE GLOBAL CONFLICT, AND TENS THOUSANDS OF YOUNG AMERICANS, KIDS REALLY, ARE DYING IN PLACES MOST AMERICAN HAVE NEVER HEARD OF, LET ALONE CAN FIND ON A MAP.

TO QUELL ANY DISSENT CONGRESS PASSES SOMETHING CALLED THE ESPIONAGE ACT.

DESPITE ITS NAME, THIS STRICT SET OF LAWS IS NOT MEANT TO PREVENT FOREIGN SPIES FROM INTERFERING IN U-S AFFAIRS,
BUT INSTEAD TO PREVENT AMERICANS FROM VOICING THEIR OPPOSITION TO THE WAR.

NOW IMAGINE A FOUR TIME PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE OF ONE OF THE LARGEST POLITICAL PARTIES IN THE COUNTRY IS ARRESTED FOR VOICING HIS OPPOSITION.

HE IS CONVICTED AND SENTENCED TO TEN YEARS IN PRISON – JUST FOR SAYING THE U-S SHOULDN’T BE ENGAGED IN A BLOODY OVERSEAS CONFLICT.

MAYBE YOU THINK TODAY THE U-S IS INCHING EVER CLOSER TO THIS POSSIBILITY.

OR MAYBE YOU THINK THIS COULD NEVER HAPPEN IN AMERICA BECAUSE WELL, THIS IS AMERICA AND THINGS LIKE THIS JUST DON’T HAPPEN HERE.

DURING WORLD WAR ONE, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, CONVICT NUMBER 9-6-5-3 RAN FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. IT WAS HIS FIFTH TIME RUNNING BUT FIRST FROM BEHIND BARS.

HIS NAME WAS EUGENE DEBS, HIS SLOGAN, “FROM ATLANTA PRISON TO THE WHITE HOUSE.’

HIS HEALTH WAS FAILING.
HIS CANDIDACY WAS DESTINE TO GO NOWHERE.

FROM A JAIL CELL IN GEORGIA, DEBS RECEIVED NEARLY A MILLION VOTES FROM AMERICANS WHO WERE ANGRY WITH THEIR GOVERNMENT.

***Terence McArdle***
“Many of the campaign buttons didn’t even say Eugene Debs they just said prisoner 9-6-5-3 and there were pictures of him in his prison fatigues.”

PART II:

THE AFTERMATH OF THE CIVIL WAR WAS A TIME OF EXTRAORDINARY ECONOMIC GROWTH IN AMERICA.

RAILROADS OPENED NEW OPPORTUNITIES.

TECHNICAL ADVANCES SPURRED MASSIVE INDUSTRIAL ADVANCEMENT

AMERICA RAPIDLY MOVED AWAY FROM ITS AGRICULTURAL ROOTS.

THIS GILDED AGE, AS IT WAS DUBBED, CREATED UNPRECEDENTED WEALTH IN THE COUNTRY.

ESPECIALLY FOR A FEW FORTUNATELY FAMILIES.

YOU KNOW THEIR NAMES, THESE INDUSTRIAL BARONS. THE ROCKEFELLERS, THE CARNEGIES, THE VANDERBILTS.

THEY WERE RICH, REALLY RICH. OUR CURRENT BILLIONAIRES LOOK DOWN RIGHT MIDDLE CLASS IN COMPARISON.

THE TOP ONE PERCENT OWNED ROUGHLY HALF OF AMERICA’S WEALTH BY THE END OF THE 19TH CENTURY.

THE ONLY THING THAT GREW FASTER THAN THEIR FORTUNES IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY -WAS THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE LIVING IN POVERTY.

THE GILDED AGE WAS, SAYS SHAWN GOOD-DEE AN EDITOR AT JACOBIN MAGAZINE, A FRACTIOUS TIME- WITH MASSIVE ECONOMIC INEQUALITY.

*** Shawn Gude***
“This was a time that industrial capitalism was really getting off the ground in the US and really wreaking a lot of havoc but also creating a lot of possibility I guess in the lives of Americans.”

MILLIONS OF IMMIGRANTS – MOSTLY FROM EUROPE- POURED INTO THE COUNTRY VIA ELLIS ISLAND IN NEW YORK SEEKING OPPORTUNITY.
ACCORDING TO TERRENCE MCARDLE OF THE WASHINGTON POST, MOST FOUND WORK IN DANGEROUS JOBS, OFFERING LOW WAGES, LONG HOURS AND LITTLE SECURITY.

***Terence McArdle***
“If you are a railroad worker got hit by a train or injured there was no way to pay the medical bills. If you were killed there was no money for your family.”

THIS WAS THE WORLD THE TALL, LANKY AND BLUE-EYED EUGENE VICTOR DEBS WAS BORN INTO.

*** Michael Kazin ***
“He was named after two of the most important socially conscious novelist of the 19th century. Eugene Sue and Victor Hugo.”

THAT WAS THE HISTORIAN MICHAEL KAZIN OF GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY ONE OF SEVERAL EXCELLENT GUESTS WHO ARE GOING TO HELP US TELL DEB’S STORY.

DEBS WAS BORN IN 1855, IN TERRA HAUTE, INDIANA TO FRENCH IMMIGRANTS, HE LIVED THE QUINTESSENTIAL AMERICAN LIFE FOR THE TIME.

*** Shawn Gude***
“Terra Haute was a really important part of his life. So growing up in Terra Haute In this pretty close knit community. He had a sort of sense of basic social egalitarianism that was instilled in him.”

LIKE SO MANY OF HIS GENERATION, HE LEFT SCHOOL EARLY AT THE AGE OF FOURTEEN TO GO TO WORK- FINDING A JOB ON THE RAILROADS MAKING A FEW CENTS A DAY.

*** Michael Kazin ***
“Debs began to work on the railroads first as a fireman then he became one of the head major railroad brotherhoods. One of the fairly powerful unions of craft workers on the railroad.”

IT WAS IN THE BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE FIREMEN – A SORT OF EUROPEAN STYLE SKILLED TRADE GUILD – THAT DEBS FIRST MADE A NAME FOR HIMSELF AS A LABOR ACTIVIST.

HE SERVED IN VARIOUS LEADERSHIP POSITIONS BEFORE ENTERING IN TO POLITICS.
DEBS WAS DUBBED “THE BLUE EYE BOY OF DESTINEY” WHEN HE WAS ELECTED AT 23 THE CITY CLERK OF TERRA HAUTE.
A FEW YEARS LATER, HE WON A SEAT IN THE INDIANA GENERAL ASSEMBLY.
DEBS WAS WELL ON HIS WAY TO BEING A RESPECTABLE, AND, UTTERLY CONVENTIONAL POLITICIAN.

*** Michael Kazin ***
It seemed like he was going to have career as a mainstream labor leader as a United States Senator or Governor

DEBS BELIEVED DEEPLY IN THE PROMISE AND POWER OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY.

*** Shawn Gude***
He was actually fairly conservative. In the 1880s he was basically, he had an idea of trade unions as sort a way to produce the best worker possible for the employer.

BUT HE LEFT THE LEGISLATURE AFTER JUST ONE TERM- FINDING THE HORSE-TRADING AT THE STATE CAPITAL, UNSEEMLY.

INITIALLY, DEBS WAS ANYTHING BUT A RADICAL.

***Eugene Debs***
Let us persevere in our objects, let us organize more fully, and we shall become more of what we are already: a power in the land for good. Brothers, gird on the armor, the whole world is a battlefield, and we must be the heroes in the fight for our rights.

AS THE UNITED STATES INDUSTRIALIZED IN THE 1880S AND CHEAP IMMIGRANT LABOR FLOODED THE COUNTRY-
HE SOON REALIZED THAT WORKERS BOTH — NATIVE AND IMMIGRANT — NEEDED STRONGER REPRESENTATION BEFORE EMPLOYERS TO SECURE BETTER WAGES AND WORKING CONDITIONS.
BOTH OF WHICH WERE PRETTY AWFUL AND ONLY GETTING WORSE AS THE ROCKEFELLERS, CARNEGIES AND THEIR ILK WERE GETTING RICHER.

*** Shawn Gude***
The realization that he came to was, if you believed in the basic principles of American democracy. The idea that the people should be sovereign, that people should have control over their lives that there shouldn’t be unaccountable hierarchies in political economic and social life then you really had to grapple with the changes industrial capitalism was bringing.

AS INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM CHANGED AMERICA, DEBS CHANGED HIS POLITICS TO MEET IT.
IN 1893 HE HELPED ESTABLISH ONE OF THE FIRST LARGE INDUSTRIAL UNIONS IN THE U-S.

UNLIKE THE SMALLER CRAFT GUILDS, THE AMERICAN RAILWAY UNION, OR A-R-U FOR SHORT BROUGHT TOGETHER ALL RAILROAD WORKERS REGARDLESS OF THEIR SKILLS. WELL ALMOST ALL.

*** Michael Kazin ***
“That is union that involved all railroad workers potentially no matter what their craft was. No matter what there ethnic background was, except the union against Debs’s wishes excluded black workers.”

THE A-R-U WAS DESIGNED TO BE LARGE ENOUGH TO CONFRONT EMPLOYERS, BY STRIKES IF NEED BE.

SHORTLY AFTER ITS CREATION, THE A-R-U SUCCESSFULLY MOUNTED AN EIGHTEEN DAY STRIKE AGAINST THE GREAT NORTHERN RAILWAY AFTER IT DRASTICALLY CUT WORKER’S WAGES.

THE VICTORY EMBOLDEN A-R-U -AND DEBS – THE GROUP’S PRESIDENT.
IT SUCCESS WOULD SET UP ONE OF THE MOST CONSEQUENTIAL AND VIOLENT SHOWDOWNS IN AMERICAN ECONOMIC HISTORY

PART III:

AS CHEAP IMMIGRANT LABOR FLOODED THE WORKFORCE, THE U-S ECONOMY BOOMED IN THE 1880S
BUT WORKING CONDITIONS FOR LABORERS, INCLUDING CHILDREN WHO MADE UP ROUGHLY FIFTEEN PERCENT OF WORKERS, ONLY DETERIORATED -WITH MANY TOILING ON THE FACTORY LINES FOR TWELVE HOUR DAYS, SIX OR EVEN SEVEN DAYS A WEEK.

AS THE 1890S NEARED, EMPLOYER-LABOR TENSIONS REACHED A BOILING POINT.
ORGANIZED STRIKES WERE INCREASINGLY COMMON -AND BLOODY.

*** Michael Kazin ***
“Late 19th century was the most violent period in labor capital relations in American history by far.”

*** Shawn Gude***
They were violent affairs because of the means employers and the state used to try to crush workers, self organization.

AS BOYCOTTERS WERE OFTEN MET BY ARMED RESISTANCE.

WHEN THE U-S ECONOMY CRASHED IN 1893, CORPORATIONS LIKE THE PULLMAN PALACE CAR COMPANY, MAKER OF LUXURY RAILWAY SLEEPING CARRIAGES, LAID OFF WORKERS AND CUT WAGES TO PRESERVE PROFITS.

PULLMAN, WAS ALSO A NEIGHBORHOOD LOCATED ON THE SOUTHSIDE OF CHICAGO, IT WAS LITERALLY COMPANY TOWN.
WORKERS RENTED FROM, AND LIVED IN, PULLMAN PROVIDED APARTMENTS AND WERE FORCED TO SHOPPED AT COMPANY OWNED STORES.

IT WAS DESIGNED AS A MODEL COMMUNITY.
IN REALITY, EMPLOYEES WERE TOTALLY RELIANT ON THEIR EMPLOYERS FOR ALMOST ALL ASPECTS OF LIFE.

WHEN THE FOUR THOUSAND HIGHLY SKILLED PULLMAN WORKERS DEMANDED CUTS IN RENT IN THE SPRING OF 1894, GEORGE PULLMAN, THE COMPANY’S FOUNDER, REFUSED, AND FIRED THEM.

PULLMAN WORKERS WENT ON STRIKE, AND ASKED DEB’S AMERICAN RAILWAY UNION TO HELP THEM.

*** Michael Kazin ***
“American Railway Union voted to support this boycott and that meant their members were going to boycott pretty much every long-distance train in the country. Which not surprisingly caused havoc in the economy.

THE STRIKE SENT A SHOCK WAVE THROUGH THE U-S ECONOMY SINCE NEARLY EVERY LONG-HAUL TRAIN HAD A PULLMAN SLEEPING CAR ATTACHED.

BY SUMMER, MORE THAN A HUNDRED THOUSAND RAILROAD WORKERS ACROSS THE COUNTRY HAD JOINED THE BOYCOTT.

***Eugene Debs****
Pullman stands before you a self-confessed robber…the paternalism of Pullman is the same as the self-interest of a slave-holder in his human chattels. You are striking to avert slavery and degradation.

THE AMERICAN ECONOMY CAME TO A SCREECHING HALT.

***Michael Kazin***
The railroads were the pivotal, the essential American industry in the late 19th century. You couldn’t get any business done of any size if you didn’t use the railroads.

DEBS GAINED NATIONAL ATTENTION AS PRESIDENT OF THE A-R-U AND WAS CALLED -A DICTATOR- BY THOSE WHO OPPOSED THE STRIKE.

THE BOYCOTT WAS SO SUCCESSFUL THAT THE DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENT GROOVER CLEVELAND … TOOK THE UNUSUAL STEP OF GOING TO FEDERAL COURT TO STOP IT.
USING THE ARGUMENT THAT IT PREVENTED THE MAIL FROM BEING DELIVERED AND WAS THEREFORE ILLEGAL

*** Michael Kazin ***
The government got an injunction in Federal court to crack down on the strike. They send in Federal Troops to break the strike and arrested Debs for breaking the injunction and other leaders in the Union.

THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE WAS AS SWIFT AS IT WAS FORCEFUL.
12 THOUSAND-ARMED U-S TROOPS AND AN ASSORTMENT OF FEDERAL AGENTS MOVED IN, AND CRUSHED THE STRIKE.
IN ALL, 30 WORKERS WERE KILLED, DOZENS MORE INJURED- PROPERTY DAMAGE EXCEEDED 80 MILLION DOLLARS.
AS HEAD OF THE A-R-U, DEBS WOULD END UP SPENDING SIX MONTHS IN JAIL FOR ORGANIZING AND DIRECTING THE UPRISING.
HE WOULD EXIT PRISON, A CHANGED MAN

*** Shawn Gude***
“The Pullman strike was really formative in moving him in a more radical direction.”

*** Michael Kazin ***
“He came out of jail a convinced socialist.”

PART IV:

BY THE TIME EUGENE DEBS WAS ARRESTED FOR HIS ROLE IN THE PULLMAN STRIKE, HIS POLITICAL CONVERSION FROM CONVENTIONAL DEMOCRAT TO RADICAL SOCIALIST WAS WELL UNDERWAY.

PULLMAN AND THE GOVERNMENT’S VIOLENT CRACKDOWN REPRESENTED A PHILOSOPHICAL TURNING POINT FOR HIM -THAT WAS LONG IN THE MAKING.

*** Michael Kazin ***
“This sort of turned Debs off, not surprisingly to of the idea of enteral partnership of unions and their employers.”

AT THE WOODSTOCK COUNTY JAIL, DEBS READ, DINNED NIGHTLY WITH THE SHERIFF AND HIS FAMILY, AND RECEIVED NEAR DAILY VISITORS.

AMONG HIS GUESTS, THE MILWAUKEE SOCIALIST VICTOR BERGER, WHO BROUGHT DEBS A COPY OF KARL MARX’S ‘DAS KAPITAL.’

DEBS, HOWEVER, DIDN’T LURCH TOWARD THE EUROPEAN REVOLUTIONARY STYLE SOCIALISM, INSTEAD HE BELIEVED THE U-S POLITICAL SYSTEM, WITH ITS TWO POLITICAL PARTIES BACKED BY CORPORATIONS, WOULD HAVE TO CHANGE FOR WORKERS TO SEE ANY IMPROVEMENTS.

*** Shawn Gude***
He sort of realized the state is in the hands of the wealthy and the powerful. And you can’t really appeal to the benevolence of the employer or rely on the political class.

DRAMATIC CHANGE FACED A KEY PROBLEM- WORKERS WEREN’T SUFFICIENTLY ORGANIZED.

*** Michael Kazin ***
Unions are the building blocks of any worker controlled society from their point of view.

*** Michael Kazin ***
They want to make it easier to organize and make it easier to join unions.

*** Shawn Gude***
The way he thought about it, was you have to organize workers in the workplace and you also have to unite workers at the ballot box.

DEBS EMERGED FROM JAIL IN NOVEMBER OF 1895 A NATIONAL FIGURE AND CONVINCED THE BALLOT BOX WAS KEY TO DELIVERING A MORE DEMOCRATIC UNITED STATES.

IN FRONT OF 100-THOUSAND EAGER SUPPORTER WHO MET HIM AT THE CHICAGO TRAIN STATION AFTER HIS RELEASE, DEBS QUOTED THOMAS PAINE AND INVOKED THE SPIRIT OF REVOLUTIONARY WAR AND THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE -NOT MARX – TO DRIVE HIS NEW PHILOSOPHY HOME.

*** Michael Kazin ***
“Convinced that there was no way the capitalist class, as he called it, was ever going to compromise with the workers. The workers had to have their own party, win elections and take over.”

DEBS’ POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY MAY HAVE SHIFTED
BUT HE WAS STILL A CAUTIOUS ACTIVIST AND RESISTED ANY PUBLIC ASSOCIATION TO SOCIALISM.

IN 1896 HE ENDORSED THE POPULIST, WILLIAMS JENNINGS BRYAN, WHO HAD THE BACKING OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY, FOR PRESIDENT.
THE TWO MIDWESTERNERS SHARED A SIMILAR DISTASTE FOR NORTHEASTERN ELITES AND THEIR FINANCIAL INFLUENCE OVER THE AMERICAN THE POLITICAL SYSTEM.
THE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE, WILLIAM MCKINLEY, BACKED BY THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY EASILY DEFEATED BRYAN.
A FEW WEEKS LATER, ON JANUARY FIRST 1897, DEBS PUBLICLY DECLARED HIMSELF A SOCIALIST AND SET OUT TO FORM A NEW POLITICAL MOVEMENT.

***Eugene Debs***
“I am for Socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough.

PART V:

AT THE BEGINNING OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICAN WORKERS WERE SEETHING WITH ANGER AND FRUSTRATION.

CORRUPT POLITICAL BOSSES AND INDUSTRIAL BARONS HAD ENRICHED THEMSELVES AT THE EXPENSE, MANY BELIEVED, OF THE WORKING MAN.

*** Shawn Gude***
Workers weren’t really being represented necessarily by the major parties. So there was an opening for the Socialist Party there, just because of the economic straights workers were in.

BUT THE SOCIALIST MOVEMENT WAS FAR FROM UNIFIED.

GERMAN IMMIGRANTS PUSHED FOR A EUROPEAN STYLE POLITICAL REVOLUTION.
CHRISTIAN SOCIALISTS ASKED WHAT WOULD JESUS DO, WHILE ANARCHISTS SEEMINGLY WANTED TO TEAR DOWN EVERYTHING.

THE CHARISMATIC EUGENE DEBS AVOIDED THESE INTERNAL BATTLES

*** Shawn Gude***
He stayed above fray in the Socialist Party. I mean he was aligned with the center and left wing of the party but he didn’t really engage in factional battles or anything.

AS THE MOST WELL KNOWN SOCIALIST IN THE COUNTRY, DEBS WAS PRESSED TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT IN 1900.

*** Shawn Gude***
He was kind of a natural pick at that point

DEBS AT FIRST REFUSED- HE SAID THE VARIOUS SOCIALIST FACTIONS WOULD NEED TO MAKE COMMON CAUSE UNDER A SINGLE PLATFORM BEFORE HE’D RUN.

SETTING ASIDE THEIR DIFFERENCES, THEY DID. AND DEBS RAN UNDER THE BANNER OF THE FLEDGLING SOCIALIST PARTY.

HIS- WAS A UNIQUELY AMERICAN FORM OF SOCIALISM.

WHEN ASKED TO DEFINE IT, DEBS REFERENCED SCRIPTURE AND SOUNDED MORE LIKE WALT WHITMAN THAN KARL MARX.

***Eugene Debs***
SOCIALISM IS MERELY CHRISTIANITY IN ACTION. IT RECOGNIZES THE EQUALITY OF MEN.

*** Shawn Gude***
It was perhaps a somewhat naive view in retrospect.

SOME CRITICS IN THE SOCIALIST MOVEMENT DERIDED HIS MORAL VISION CALLING IT -IMPOSSIBILISM. AND WANTED A MORE REVOLUTIONARY STYLE LEADER.
STILL MOST SOCIALISTS LOOKED TO DEBS.

***Terence McArdle***
People who found him to be misguided at the same time found him to be a likable person.

*** Shawn Gude***
“He was a brilliant orator and was able to speak to people’s needs and that was really where his power lay.

IN 1900 NO ONE EXPECTED HIM TO WIN
BUT HE BEGAN TO LAY THE FOUNDATION FOR A PARTY INTENT ON TRYING TO WIN AT EVERY LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT -AND TO INFLUENCE THE LARGER POLITICAL CONVERSATION.

*** Michael Kazin ***
“He saw these campaigns as a way to recruit more people to think of socialism as a popular thing.”

IN HIS FIRST CAMPAIGN FOR THE WHITE HOUSE DEBS RECEIVED NEARLY 90-THOUSAND VOTES.
THAT IS BARELY A BLIP IN VOTE TOTALS OF AMERICAN POLITICAL HISTORY.

OVER THE COURSE OF THE NEXT TWELVE YEARS DEBS WOULD RUN FOR PRESIDENT THREE MORE TIMES.

HE CRISS CROSSED THE COUNTRY, GIVING SPEECHES -ARGUING FOR HIS VISION OF A MORE PERFECT AMERICA.

DEBS URGED THE ADOPTION OF NOW COMPLETELY MAINSTREAM REFORMS LIKE A 40 HOUR WORK WEEK AND THE RIGHT TO UNIONIZE – WHILE SUPPORTING A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO VOTE.

HE RAILED AGAINST THE CHILD LABOR, JIM CROW LAWS AND BIG BUSINESS WHICH SUPPORTED BOTH DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS.

*** Michael Kazin ***
He used to tell his audience, You can vote for what you want an not get it. That is a vote for me. Or vote for what you don’t want and get that.

MILLIONS WOULD HEAR THE POWERFUL ORATOR SPEAK. BUT FEW WOULD GIVE HIM THEIR VOTE.

***Michael Kazin***
“Many more people actually like to hear him speak than voted for his socialist party.”

IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY SOCIALISTS SCORED VICTORIES IN LOCAL ELECTIONS AND RAN SEVERAL LARGE CITIES INCLUDING MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN, SCHENECTADY, NEW YORK AND BUTE, MONTANA.

BY THE TIME 1912 ELECTION ARRIVED, BOTH DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS HAD BEGUN ACTIVELY SUPPORTING POLICIES AIMED AT IMPROVING THE LIVES OF WORKERS.

DEBS ONLY GREW MORE RADICAL ON THE STUMP- IN FRONT OF FIFTEEN THOUSAND PEOPLE IN NEW YORK CITY HE CALLED FOR WORKERS TO RISE UP –

***Eugene Debs**
“THE REPUBLICAN, DEMOCRATIC AND PROGRESSIVE PARTIES ARE ALL BRANCHES OF THE SAME CAPITALIST TREE. THEY ALL STAND FOR WAGE SLAVERY.”

HE WON NEARLY A MILLION VOTES IN 1912.
RIDING DEB’S COATTAILS, SOME ONE THOUSAND SOCIALIST CANDIDATES WON ELECTIONS ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

*** Shawn Gude***
The vote total basically increased steadily from 1900 to 1912. 1912 was the highwater point in terms of percentage.

DEMOCRAT WOODROW WILSON WOULD WIN THE PRESIDENCY ECHOING MANY OF DEB’S PREVIOUS POSITIONS.

SOCIALIST PARTY MEMBERSHIP BEGAN TO DECLINE- AS MANY GRAVITATED TO THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY.

*** Michael Kazin ***
“Deb’s campaigns and the ideas of the socialists who followed Debs did help I think to nudge in some ways both parties but especially the Democrats who saw themselves to be the working class party.”

WHILE DEBS NEVER CAME CLOSE TO COMPETING FOR THE PRESIDENCY HIS VOICE- SAYS THE PROGRESSIVE ACTIVIST **NO-MI-KEY KONST** CHANGED AMERICAN POLITICS.

***Nomiki Konst***
“What Debs was able to do was captivate a country, raise awareness around issues. But he also showed the viability of these issues in electoral politics.”

PART VI:

WHEN WORLD WAR ONE ERUPTED IN THE SUMMER OF 1914 ON THAT FAR AWAY CONTINENT, PRESIDENT WOODROW WILSON VOWED TO KEEP THE U-S OUT OF THE CONFLICT.
IT WAS A POPULAR MOVE, FEW AMERICANS WANTED ANY PART OF THE GREAT EUROPEAN CONFLICT.

LIKE MANY SOCIALISTS AROUND THE WORLD, DEBS ALSO OPPOSED THE WAR.

ARGUING THAT THE WORKING CLASS WOULD BE NOTHING BUT CANNON FODDER FOR THEIR CAPITALIST RULERS.

***Eugene Debs***
Capitalists wars for capitalist conquest and capitalist plunder must be fought by the capitalists themselves.
So far as I am concerned, and upon that question there can be no compromise. And no misunderstanding as to my position.
I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth; I am a citizen of the world

*** Shawn Gude***
It was the criticism they would have had of pretty much any war but in particular that it was pitting worker against each other. Workers in different countries against each other. And that elites were the only ones who would gain from something like this.

BUT ONCE THE FIGHTING BROKE OUT, SOCIALISTS IN OTHER COUNTRIES QUICKLY DROPPED THEIR OPPOSITION

*** Michael Kazin ***
All socialist parties around the world have been opposed to supporting their capitalist government going to war before the war began in 1914. But then these socialist parties turned out were full of Nationalist as well. Who were afraid of their countries being taken over by foreign powers.

AT FIRST IT LOOKED AS IF THE U-S WOULD AVOID THE CONFLICT.
BUT THAT WAS BEFORE GERMAN SUBMARINES BEGAN SINKING AMERICAN SHIPS IN THE ATLANTIC OCEAN.
IN APRIL OF 1917, THE U-S DECLARED WAR ON GERMANY AND QUICKLY INSTITUTED A DRAFT TO GROW THE U-S MILITARY.
DAYS LATER THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF AMERICA RATIFIED AN ANTIWAR PLATFORM.

*** Michael Kazin ***
They said this is a war only between Empires, Between Capitalist powers who wanted more territory, more wealth for themselves and we can’t support this war. This is not a war that workers are going to benefit from.

CONGRESS ALSO PASSED THE ESPIONAGE ACT- THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF LAWS AIMED AT CRUSHING OPPOSITION TO THE WAR.

THE WILSON WHITE HOUSE ALSO LAUNCHED AN AGGRESSIVE PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN TO BOLSTER SUPPORT FOR THE WAR- ARGUING IT WAS A FIGHT TO SAVE DEMOCRACY.

*****Woodrow Wilson***
The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.

WHILE MEMBERS OF AMERICAN PROTECTIVE LEAGUE – WITH THE BLESSING OF THE U-S ATTORNEY GENERAL THOMAS GREGORY, SEARCHED PEOPLE’S HOMES AND MAIL.

DISSENTERS OF ALL SORTS – INCLUDING SOCIALISTS, SUFFRAGISTS AND PACIFISTS – WERE ROUNDED UP AND JAILED FOR RESISTING THE WAR EFFORT.

PART VII:

NOT LONG AFTER THE U-S ENTERED WORLD WAR ONE, CONGRESS PASSED AND WOODROW WILSON SINGED ONE OF THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL LAWS IN AMERICAN HISTORY.

THE ESPIONAGE ACT OF 1917 WAS DESIGNED TO PREVENT CRITICS FROM SUBVERTING U-S MILITARY OPERATIONS AND INTERFERING WITH THE MILITARY DRAFT.

A YEAR LATER, THE LAW WAS AMENDED AND STRENGTHEN FURTHER WITH THE SEDITION ACT OF 1918.

IT BANNED ANY SPEECH AIMED AT THE U-S GOVERNMENT DEEMED ‘DISLOYAL, PROFANE, SCURRILOUS OR ABUSIVE.’

*** Shawn Gude***
“Anti-war organizing was not acceptable in any way. And so any sort of impediment to the war effort was just unacceptable.”

THESE LAWS MADE IT A FEDERAL CRIME- TREASON REALLY – TO CRITICIZE THE WAR AND IMPEDE THE DRAFT.

BUT OPPOSITION TO THE WAR EFFORT WAS WIDESPREAD AND NOT JUST AMONG UNIONS AND LABOR GROUPS.

MOST AMERICANS VIEWED THE CONFLICT AS ESSENTIALLY A EUROPEAN DISPUTE.
WHILE THE NEWLY INSTITUTED DRAFT SPARKED ORGANIZED RESISTANCE.

ACROSS THE COUNTRY, YOUNG MEN SKIPPED DRAFT PHYSICALS.
IN INDIANA, ONE COUNTY’S ENTIRE CACHE OF DRAFT CARDS DISAPPEARED. BOYCOTTS OF BUSINESSES THAT SUPPORTED THE WAR WERE ORGANIZED.

DESPITE HIS FAILING HEALTH, DEBS ONCE AGAIN CRISS-CROSSED THE COUNTRY -THIS TIME RAILING AGAINST THE WAR.

*** Shawn Gude***
He didn’t pull any punches he really kind of eviscerated the idea this was a war for democracy.

WHEN FEDERAL AGENTS BEGAN ARRESTING DISSENTERS, PEACE ACTIVISTS AND SOCIALISTS, IT WAS CLEAR DEBS WAS FIRMLY IN THEIR CROSSHAIRS AS WELL.

UNDAUNTED, DEBS, CONTINUED TO SPEAK OUT AGAINST THE WAR AND IN SUPPORT OF RUSSIA’S BOLSHEVIKS WHO HAD TAKEN POWER A YEAR BEFORE.

KNOWING THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WAS TRACKING HIS LANGUAGE DEBS WAS CAREFUL WITH HIS WORDS. HE NEVER CRITICIZED THE WAR DIRECTLY.

ON JUNE SIXTEENTH, 1918, IN CANTON OHIO, WEARING A TWEED JACKET DESPITE THE SUMMER HEAT, DEBS DENOUNCED THE QUOTE “JUNKERS OF WALL STREET” COMPARING THEM TO THE ARISTOCRATS IN GERMANY THAT CONTROLLED GERMAN SOCIETY.

***Terence McArdle***
“He did make the point during the speech that he believed that the war only benefited as he put it the capital masters, meaning the ruling class.”

DRIPPING IN SWEAT, DEBS WENT ON TO TELL THE 12-HUNDRED OR SO YOUNG MEN IN THE CROWD:

***EUGENE DEBS***
“THE WORKING CLASS HAVE NEVER YET HAD A VOICE IN DECLARING WAR. IF WAR IS RIGHT, LET IT BE DECLARED BY THE PEOPLE- YOU HAVE YOUR LIVES TO LOSE.”
“YOU NEED TO KNOW YOU ARE GOOD FOR SOMETHING MORE THAN SLAVERY AND CANNON FODDER.”

THESE WERE DANGEROUS WORDS. FOR AS DEBS SPOKE, FEDERAL AUTHORITIES WERE IN THE CROWD TAKING NOTES

*** Shawn Gude***
It was a pretty unremarkable speech in a lot of ways. Because it was the kind of speech he delivered in a lot of other places

***Terence McArdle***
But the bottom line is to oppose the war, to oppose conscription, the draft and that was the underlying issue, forced conscription would make you guilty of sedition.

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE HEADLINE THE NEXT DAY READ: DEBS WAKES UP HOWLING AT WAR: U-S MAY GET HIM

OTHER NEWSPAPERS CALLED DEBS THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA.

HE WAS ARRESTED TWO WEEKS LATER.

DURING HIS TRIAL-DEBS OFFERED NO DEFENSE ONLY TELLING THE JURY DURING CLOSING ARGUMENTS:

***EUGENE DEBS***
“I HAVE BEEN ACCUSED OF HAVING OBSTRUCTED THE WAR. I ADMIT IT. I ABHOR WAR. I WOULD OPPOSE THE WAR IF I STOOD ALONE. I BELIEVE IN FREE SPEECH, IN WAR AS WELL AS IN PEACE.”

ON NOVEMBER EIGHTEENTH, 1918 JUST AS WORLD WAR ONE WAS ENDING, A JURY FOUND EUGEN DEBS GUILTY AND SENTENCED HIM TO TEN YEARS.
SUFFERING FROM A HEART CONDITION, AN AGING AND FRAIL DEBS WENT OFF TO PRISON AS AMERICA’S MOST FAMOUS POLITICAL PRISONER.

PART VIII:

IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN POLITICS, THERE MAY HAVE BEEN NO LONGER LONG SHOT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE THAN PRISONER 9-6-5-3

AN AGING SOCIALIST IN A CAPITALIST COUNTRY, AND FOUR TIME PRESIDENTIAL LOSER INCARCERATED ON CHARGES OF SEDITION.

BUT THAT IS WHO THE SOCIALIST PARTY NOMINATED IN 1920

IN SOME WAYS IT WAS A POLITICAL STUNT BY A PARTY THAT NEEDED ATTENTION.
IT WAS ALSO A GENUINE EFFORT TO SPARK A NATIONAL CONVERSATION ABOUT AMERICAN FREEDOMS DURING WARTIME.

REMEMBER THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WERE LOCKED UP FOR OPPOSING THE WAR. AND WILSON’S PROMISE OF A WAR FOR DEMOCRACY LOOKED LESS AND LESS SUCCESSFUL AS EUROPEAN EMPIRES JUST REDREW THEIR BORDERS.

*** Michael Kazin ***
The war is in retrospect beginning to be rather unpopular by 1920. Those who were put in jail for opposing the war began to look better to a lot of Americans during the war itself when a lot of Americans were fighting and dying in Europe.

DEB’S UNCONVENTIONAL CAMPAIGN CAUGHT THE ATTENTION OF THE COUNTRY AND FORCED A DEEPER DISCUSSION ABOUT AMERICAN RIGHTS AND VALUES

***Terence McArdle***
I don’t think he had any illusions that he was going to win. I think he was really trying to raise the profile of socialism and also raise the issue of the Sedition Act.

*** Michael Kazin ***
This was a way of opposing Woodrow Wilson’s policy during the war of locking people up for opposing the war. Most of whom had been radicals of one kind of another. Anarchists, Socialists. Communists.

THE PRESS DUBBED IT –THE JAIL HOUSE TO THE WHITE HOUSE CAMPAIGN.
UNABLE TO GIVE PUBLIC SPEECHES, NONETHELESS DEBS BECAME A NATIONAL FOLK HERO AS NEWSPAPERS CARRIED HIS WEEKLY STATEMENTS.

THE GOVERNMENT SENT DEBS TO PRISON TO SILENT HIM. A CELL ONLY ENDED UP AMPLIFYING HIS DISSENT.

REPUBLICAN WARREN G. HARDING WOULD GO ON TO WIN THE 1920 ELECTION ON A PROMISE OF RETURNING TO NORMALCY.

DEBS RECEIVED NEARLY A MILLION VOTES.

FOLLOWING THE ELECTION, DEBS’ FATE CONTINUED THE NATIONAL DEBATE WITH THE NEW PRESIDENT STUCK IN THE MIDDLE.

DEB’S SUPPORTERS WANTED HARDING TO PARDON HIM.
THE AMERICAN LEGION AND THE KU KLUX KLAN – YES THE KKK HAD ACTUAL INFLUENCE HERE — ARGUED RELEASING DEBS WOULD UNDERMINED THE BATTLE AGAINST THE GROWING THREAT OF COMMUNISM.
REMEMBER THE BOLSHEVIKS NOW CONTROLLED RUSSIA.

DEBS WAS ULTIMATELY RELEASED, BUT NOT PARDONED AND WALKED OUT OF PRISON TO THUNDEROUS CHEERS ON CHRISTMAS DAY 1921.
HE WOULD DIE A FIVE YEARS LATER IN SANITARIUM IN ELMHURST, ILLINOIS WHEN HIS HEART GAVE OUT.

***Michael Kazin***
He was a real phenomenon, I think. One of the most popular radicals in American history.

PART IX:

SHORTLY BEFORE HE DIED, DEBS REMARKED THAT THE SOCIALIST PARTY WAS AS NEAR A CORPSE AS A THING CAN BE.

HIS SUCCESSOR IN THE SOCIALIST PARTY, NORMAN THOMAS WOULD RUN FOR PRESIDENT SIX TIMES, THOUGH HE NEVER ACHIEVED ANYWHERE NEAR THE SUCCESS DEBS HAD.

BUT WHILE DEBS AND HIS PARTY FAILED AT THE BALLOT BOX, HIS IDEAS LIVED ON AND INFLUENCED THE PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRATIC POLICIES OF FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT’S NEW DEAL AND LYNDON JOHNSON’S GREAT SOCIETY.

***Terence McArdle***
It led to reforms in government and it led to you know things like the New Deal ultimately have some elements of socialism in their programs

MANY OF HIS CAMPAIGN IDEAS ULTIMATELY BECAME STAPLES OF AMERICAN ECONOMIC LIFE- 40 HOUR WORK WEEK, CHILD LABOR LAWS AND BASIC PROTECTIONS FOR EMPLOYEES.

***Terence McArdle***
He raised the issues that needed to be raised and we have a much better life because of people like him.

IT IS ALSO NOT SURPRISING THAT DEBS IS BACK EN VOUGE THESE DAYS GIVEN OUR BITTER POLITICAL FIGHTS OVER THE IRAQ WAR, CIVIL RIGHTS, AND INCOME INEQUALITY.

***Nomiki Konst***
If you think about the two time periods Monopolies were running amuck when he was running. And it is the same thing now.

*** Shawn Gude***
I think Debs’s vision is still very appealing because we still live in an highly undemocratic country.

THE MOST POPULAR SOCIALIST THESE DAYS IS OF COURSE VERMONT SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS, FOLLOWED BY NEW YORK CONGRESSWOMAN ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ

THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A SECOND. FIFTEEN YEARS AGO COULD YOU NAME ONE NATIONAL SOCIALISTS POLITICIAN? LET A LONE TWO?

COULD ANYONE?

NOW FOR THE RECORD, BOTH SANDERS AND A-O-C DESCRIBE THEMSELVES AS DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISTS AND MEMBERS OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY.

BUT SANDERS HAS LONG TAKEN INSPIRATION FROM DEBS.

HE EVEN DID FILM ABOUT HIM BACK IN 1979.

IN ALL HONESTLY ITS NOT GREAT, BUT WHAT FROM THE 70S IS?

STILL THAT IS HOW MUCH DEBS MEANS TO SANDERS POLITICALLY.

*** Shawn Gude***
His message really is a Debsian message sort of updated today’s political environment

SANDERS IS VERY MUCH IN THE DEBSIAN POLITICAL TRADITION IN TERMS OF HIS VIEW OF CAPITALISM’S FINANCIAL STRUCTURE AND THE FAILURES OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY TO ADDRESS INEQUALITY.

*** Shawn Gude***
He sees the same divide in society that Debs did. He sees business titans and political elites on one side and he sees workers on the other and he thinks that in order to bring about a more democratic country you have to organize workers in the work place, at the ballot box and people have to come together to challenge people with power in the country.

SANDERS DIFFER FROM DEBS IN ONE KEY AREA HOWEVER,

***Terence McArdle***
Bernie Sanders has by and large been a democrat and he has been a very successful politician he hasn’t been a quixotic politician using the presidential races as a stalking horse for a 3rd party. He has actually been a very successful democratic politician.

*** Michael Kazin ***
Shows he learned something from Debs, if you want to promote the ideas of socialism much smarter to do it from within a mainstream organization rather than do it as Debs did from outside the mainstream political system

JUST BEING A FIVE TIME PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, AN ADVOCATE FOR MANY NOW COMMON PLACE ECONOMIC IDEAS, AND A POLITICAL INSPIRATION OF ANOTHER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IS A PRETTY STRONG LEGACY FOR A POLITICIAN WHO NEVER CAME CLOSE TO WINNING THE WHITE HOUSE.

HIS MOST IMPORTANT LEGACY, ONE COULD ARGUE, WAS HIS WILLINGNESS TO TAKE ON GOVERNMENT POLICIES IN WARTIME, AND IN THE FACE OF LAWS DESIGNED TO SQUASH FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS.

***Terence McArdle***
The thing I would take out of Deb’s legacy is he fought for free speech. He ran from prison after he was arrested for sedition. He raised this issue about the draft that was that was counter to the White House and that was counter to our government policies.

DISSENT IS THE VERY BEATING HEART OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY.
DISSENT GIVES OUR DEMOCRACY LIFE, IT ALLOWS THE U-S TO GROW STRONGER, AND MOVE CLOSER TO A MORE PERFECT UNION.

DEBS FOUGHT FOR OUR RIGHT TO VOICE OUR OPPOSITION WITH OUR LEADERS. TO STAND UP TO THE POWERFUL AND SAY YOU ARE WRONG.

***Terence McArdle***
In doing that he came across as a man of great conscious and courage

***END**************END*****

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