Eugene V. Debs

Eugene Victor "Gene" Debs (November 5, 1855 – October 20, 1926) was an American socialist, political activist, trade unionist, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and five times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States.[1] Through his presidential candidacies as well as his work with labor movements, Debs eventually became one of the best-known socialists living in the United States.

Eugene V. Debs
Debs, c. 1912
Member of the Indiana House of Representatives
from the 17th district
In office
January 8, 1885  January 6, 1887
Serving with Reuben Butz
City Clerk of Terre Haute, Indiana
In office
1879–1883
Personal details
Born
Eugene Victor Debs

(1855-11-05)November 5, 1855
Terre Haute, Indiana, U.S.
DiedOctober 20, 1926(1926-10-20) (aged 70)
Elmhurst, Illinois, U.S.
Political party
Spouse(s)
Kate Metzel
(m. 1885)
Signature

Early in his political career, Debs was a member of the Democratic Party. He was elected as a Democrat to the Indiana General Assembly in 1884. After working with several smaller unions, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Debs led his union in a major ten-month strike against the CB&Q Railroad in 1888. Debs was instrumental in the founding of the American Railway Union (ARU), one of the nation's first industrial unions. After workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company organized a wildcat strike over pay cuts in the summer of 1894, Debs signed many into the ARU. He led a boycott by the ARU against handling trains with Pullman cars in what became the nationwide Pullman Strike, affecting most lines west of Detroit and more than 250,000 workers in 27 states. Purportedly to keep the mail running, President Grover Cleveland used the United States Army to break the strike. As a leader of the ARU, Debs was convicted of federal charges for defying a court injunction against the strike and served six months in prison.

In prison, Debs read various works of socialist theory and emerged six months later as a committed adherent of the international socialist movement. Debs was a founding member of the Social Democracy of America (1897), the Social Democratic Party of America (1898) and the Socialist Party of America (1901). Debs ran as a Socialist candidate for President of the United States five times, including 1900 (earning 0.6 percent of the popular vote), 1904 (3.0 percent), 1908 (2.8 percent), 1912 (6.0 percent), and 1920 (3.4 percent), the last time from a prison cell. He was also a candidate for United States Congress from his native state Indiana in 1916.

Debs was noted for his oratorical skills, and his speech denouncing American participation in World War I led to his second arrest in 1918. He was convicted under the Sedition Act of 1918 and sentenced to a ten-year term. President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence in December 1921. Debs died in 1926, not long after being admitted to a sanatorium due to cardiovascular problems that developed during his time in prison.