History Nearing, Scott: The Debs Decision. IMP. 08 Nov 2007
#1  RWood 11-08-2007, 09:33 PM
Eugene V. Debs was a socialist organizer, eternal Presidential candidate, and all around rabble-rouser in the US during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW also known as the "Wobblies"), Debs was often involved in strikes from the early Pullman car strike to the later Lawrence textile strike.

This book centers on the events following his opposition to the US involvement in WW-I. From the Wikipedia:
On June 16, 1918, Debs made a speech in Canton, Ohio in opposition to World War I and was arrested under the Espionage Act of 1917. He was convicted, sentenced to serve ten years in prison and disenfranchised for life.

Debs made his best-remembered statement at his sentencing hearing:

“ Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. ”

Debs appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court. In its ruling on Debs v. United States, the court examined several statements Debs had made regarding World War I. While Debs had carefully guarded his speeches in an attempt to comply with the Espionage Act, the Court found he still had the intention and effect of obstructing the draft and recruitment for the war. Among other things, the Court cited Debs's praise for those imprisoned for obstructing the draft. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. stated in his opinion that little attention was needed since Debs' case was essentially the same as that of Schenck v. United States, in which the Court had upheld a similar conviction. In the decision Holmes wrote that free speech does not include "the right to shout 'fire' in a crowded theater."

He went to prison on April 13, 1919. In protest of his jailing, Charles Ruthenberg led a parade of unionists, socialists, anarchists and communists to march on May 1 (May Day) 1919, in Cleveland, Ohio. The event quickly broke into the violent May Day Riots of 1919.

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