1918 June 16

Eugene V. Debs Gives Anti-War Speech, Gets 10 Years in Prison

 

Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs delivered an anti-war speech in Canton, Ohio, at a meeting of the local Socialist Party on this day. Aware of the danger of federal prosecution (U.S. agents were in the audience), he carefully did not mention World War I or criticize President Woodrow Wilson. The speech was a generic Socialist criticism of war. Nonetheless, he was prosecuted for violating the Espionage Act and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction in Debs v. United States on March 10, 1919.

The Socialist Party, which had considerable strength across the country before the war, was one of the principal targets of government repression during the war. It officially opposed U.S. entry into the war on April 13, 1917, and was arguably the most powerful organizational voice against the war. The government raided the party’s offices and banned its publications from the mails on September 5, 1917.

While in prison, Debs ran for President in the 1920 elections and received about 1 million votes. President Woodrow Wilson, who was deeply embittered over opposition to the war, rejected pleas to pardon Debs, who was in bad health in prison. President Warren G. Harding, however, pardoned him on December 25, 1921.

Read the speech: http://debsfoundation.org/pdf/canton-and-court.pdf

Watch actor Mark Ruffalo read Debs’ famous 1918 Canton speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuGp-0G1p4M

Read: Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Socialist and Citizen (1982)

Learn more about the Debs trial: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/parties/spusa/1918/1100-eastman-debstrial.pdf

Visit The Debs Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana: http://debsfoundation.org/

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