1919 November 10

Victor Berger Expelled From House of Representatives for Socialist, Anti-War Views


Wisconsin Representative Victor Berger was a leading American Socialist and vocal opponent of American involvement in World War I. On this day, the House of Representatives expelled him, denying him his seat, because of his anti-war and socialist views.

Berger had many struggles because of his political views. In 1910, he was the first Socialist ever elected to Congress. After being defeated in 1912, 1914 and 1916, he was reelected in 1918, despite the fact that he and four other Socialists had been indicted for violating the Espionage Act. Convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison, Berger was denied his seat in Congress on this day. His conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1921.

During World War I and the Red Scare, there was an all-out assault on the Socialist Party and its members because of the party’s opposition to the war. See the party’s official statement opposing U.S. involvement in the war: April 13, 1917. (By contrast, all of the Socialist parties in Europe enthusiastically supported their countries’ participation in the war.) Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs was convicted under the Espionage Act for a speech in Canton, Ohio, on June 16, 1918, that did not even mention the current war, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. And on April 1, 1920, the New York Legislature refused to seat five Socialist Party members who had been duly elected to those seats.

Read: Sally Miller, Victor L. Berger and the Promise of Constructive Socialism (1973)

Learn more about Berger at the Wisconsin Historical Societyhttp://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=845

Read the House of Representatives essay on Berger here.

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