Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

Meet Eugene Debs, the 1920 presidential candidate and convict

By 37ci3 Jun1,2024



Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the November election, has joined an unusual club: presidential candidates who have also been convicted of a felony.

Before Trump convicted of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records In Thursday’s historic ruling, the most famous convict to seek the Oval Office was Eugene Debs, a socialist who ran his 1920 presidential campaign behind bars.

An ardent labor activist, Debs established himself as a popular public speaker before being arrested for outspoken anti-war sentiment. Although Republican Warren Harding won that year’s election by a wide margin over Democrat James Cox, Debs was able to collect nearly 1 million votes from his Atlanta jail cell, according to Allison Duerk, director of the Eugene W. Debs Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana. “noticeable.”

“He couldn’t even use his most powerful tool, his voice,” he said, adding that he was allowed to issue a short weekly press release during the campaign season but otherwise relied on other members of the socialist party. word for him. His supporters wore pins with his photo and prisoner number: “Convict No. 9653 for President.”

Historians say there are key differences between Debs and Trump. For starters, Debs was serving what he expected to be 10 years in prison when he ran for president, and Trump may avoid prison altogether: When he is sentenced on July 11, he faces penalties ranging from a fine to four years in prison.

The crimes the two men were charged with and their responses to the allegations also differed significantly. Trump has pleaded not guilty to allegations that his former lawyer paid hush money to adult film star Stormi Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Debs, on the other hand, admitted what he did and was proud of it.

A founding member of the Socialist Party, who had already run for president four times since 1900 on the party’s ticket, Debs’ turning point came in June 1918 at a rally in Canton, Ohio. The country was still engaged in World War I, and Debs knew that criticizing US wartime policies or then-President Woodrow Wilson would run afoul of the Sedition Act of 1918, an amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917 that restricted free speech rights.

And so he delivered an elegantly worded but provocative address protesting the war, claiming that American men “suitable for something better” rather than “cannon fodder”. His testimony was not careful enough: Debs was later arrested and tried as a traitor.

Debs appealed the case and the case went to the US Supreme Court. He never regretted his anti-war, pro-free speech stance. During the sentencing, he told the judge that he will not back down from any of his addresses. “I don’t ask for any mercy, I don’t ask for immunity,” he said.

After several months in West Virginia, Debs was transferred to a federal prison in Atlanta to serve the remainder of his sentence. He was fired by then-President Harding in December 1921 after leaving the facility after inmates cheered him on.

“He was loved and loved by his fellow inmates,” said Lisa Phillips, a labor historian and history professor at Indiana State University. “He believed that people were imprisoned because of outside circumstances beyond their control — poverty or whatever. In his case, it was to make his point.

There are lesser-known individuals who tried to shoot for the presidency from behind bars: the founder of the Church of Latter-day Saints Joseph Smith In 1844, he escaped while awaiting trial for treason and Lyndon LaRouche campaigned from a prison cell in 1992 after being convicted in 1988 of conspiracy and mail fraud, among other charges.

Life after prison was not easy for Debs. He died in a sanitarium in 1926 at the age of 70, more physically and mentally broken than he had been before going to prison.

Duerk, director of the Debs museum, said the effort he was so passionate about continued.

“At least there isn’t a person working for a living in the United States who hasn’t directly benefited from the movements Debs was involved in,” he said. “He campaigned for president and organized workers around the eight-hour day, child labor laws, workers’ compensation, minimum wage security. “He campaigned on what would be social security.”

“He was able to combine different struggles,” Duerk said. “The legacy is huge.”



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