Sunday, February 12, 2012

Eugene V. Debs

Eugene Victor "Gene" Debs (November 5, 1855 – October 20, 1926) was an American union leader, one of the founding members of the International Labor Union and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies), and several times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States. Through his presidential candidacies, as well as his work with labor movements, Debs eventually became one of the best-known socialists living in the United States.

In the early part of his political career, Debs was a member of the Democratic Party. He was elected as a Democrat to the Indiana General Assembly in 1884. After working with several smaller unions, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Debs was instrumental in the founding of the American Railway Union (ARU), the nation's first industrial union. When the ARU struck the Pullman Palace Car Company over pay cuts, President Grover Cleveland used the United States Army to break the strike. As a leader of the ARU, Debs was later imprisoned for failing to obey an injunction against the strike.

Debs educated himself about socialism in prison and emerged to launch his career as the nation's most prominent socialist in the first decades of the 20th century. He ran as the Socialist Party's candidate for the presidency in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920, the last time from his prison cell.

Noted for his oratory, it was a speech denouncing American participation in World War I that led to his second arrest in 1918. He was convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 and sentenced to a term of 10 years. President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence in December 1921. Debs died in 1926 not long after being admitted to a sanatorium.

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