April 13, 1919: Eugene V. Debs Is Sent to Prison

April 13, 1919: Eugene V. Debs Is Sent to Prison

April 13, 1919: Eugene V. Debs Is Sent to Prison

“How can you punish a man with so compelling a consciousness of the right?”


After President Grover Cleveland sent the Army into Chicago to crush the Pullman Strike of 1894, The Nation wrote that there would always be men like Debs, then head of the American Railway Union, those who are “greedy of notoriety and crazy to show their power.” But by 1919, when Debs was sent to prison for obstructing the military draft, The Nation had changed its tune. A year later, in a book review of Debs’s authorized biography, the critic and art dealer Harry Salpeter assailed the Wilson administration for its imprisonment of the socialist leader.

The conviction and imprisonment of Eugene V. Debs was the symbol of our war madness. His imprisonment may have been necessary to silence a propagandist whose accusations the Administration would not or could not answer. His continued imprisonment now must serve to silence any who proclaim that democracy is the governing motif of the present Administration. There are hundreds of persons in the prisons of this republic because they committed the “crime” for which Debs was convicted. Their names are unknown; the world is indifferent to their existence. They, too, are witnesses to the false pretense of our democracy. But Debs is the flaming witness. Was the purpose of Debs’s imprisonment to impress upon his mind the fact that he had committed a crime and that he must pay the legal penalty? But how can you punish a man with so compelling a consciousness of the right? In what way can you impress the thousands of his followers with the fact that he is a felon, not a martyr? Imprisonment has neither degraded him nor diminished his influence. Once more in the remorseless conflict between lovers of liberty and the state the lovers of liberty have proved that the state is powerless against them so long as it tries to suppress and destroy their ideals.

April 13, 1919

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

Thank you for reading The Nation

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply-reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Throughout this critical election year and a time of media austerity and renewed campus activism and rising labor organizing, independent journalism that gets to the heart of the matter is more critical than ever before. Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to properly investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories into the hands of readers.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Ad Policy