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In Re Debs: 1895

Debs' Political Career Continued

Although his strike was crushed, Debs left prison with his political reputation intact. He became the leading spokesman for the American left, and was the presidential candidate for the American Socialist Party in every election (except 1916) from 1900 to 1920. He lost every election.

When the United States entered World War I, Debs was outraged. He criticized President Woodrow Wilson in the harshest terms, and in U.S. v. Debs was charged with treason. For the most part, the charges against Debs were the result of his support of the International Workers of the World, known as the "Wobblies." This time, however, a court found Debs guilty. Debs' appeals to the Supreme Court were unsuccessful. While in prison, Debs ran for the fifth and final time as the Socialist Party's candidate for president. Again, he was unsuccessful in his bid to become the nation's chief executive.

Stung by Debs' criticism, President Wilson refused to pardon him. Among Debs' choicer comments about Wilson were such gems as:

No man in public life in American history ever retired so thoroughly discredited, so scathingly rebuked, so overwhelmingly impeached and repudiated as Woodrow Wilson.

Warren G. Harding, who won the 1920 presidential election, was more charitable. Harding pardoned Debs in December 1921 and even invited him to the White House on Christmas Day. But Debs found that the Socialist Party had lost its political force. He spent his final years with his wife in quiet retirement and died in 1926.

Stephen G. Christianson

Suggestions for Further Reading

Ginger, Ray. The Bending Cross. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1949.

McHugh, Clare. "Why Has Socialism Never Caught on in the U.S.?" Scholastic Update (September 1986): 12.

Noble, Iris. Labor's Advocate. New York: Julian Messner, 1966.

Selvin, David F. Eugene Debs. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1966.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917In Re Debs: 1895 - The "debs Rebellion", Debs Tried For Conspiracy, Debs' Political Career Continued