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108 3. Debs v. United States (1919); Gitlow v. New York (1925) I One week after Schenck v. United States (1919), the United States Supreme Court confirmed the conviction (pursuant to the Espionage Act of 1917) of Eugene V. Debs for attempting to obstruct recruitment for the armed forces of the United States during the First World War. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes again wrote for a unanimous Court, observing, “The chief defenses upon which the defendant seemed willing to rely [included] that based upon the First Amendment to the Constitution, disposed of in Schenck v. United States.” Debs had been sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment , Schenck to six months. Debs was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1855; he died in Elmhurst , Illinois, in 1926. He is identified in the Encyclopedia Britannica as a “labor organizer and Socialist Party candidate for U.S. President five times between 1900 and 1920.” Debs, after “conduct[ing] a successful strike against the Great Northern Railroad (April 1894) for higher wages,” “was further projected into the [national] limelight when sentenced to six months in jail (May–November 1895) after a federal injunction halted the Chicago Pullman Palace Car Company Strike, which he was helping to direct.” “During his [1895] prison term at Woodstock, Illinois,” we are further told, “Debs was deeply influenced by his broad reading—including the works of Karl Marx—and subsequently became increasingly critical of traditional political and economic concepts, especially capitalism.” It is also said, “Neither an intellectual nor a hardheaded politician, Debs won support through his personal warmth, integrity, and sincerity.” The character of the man is suggested by the final exhortation in his June 16, 1918, speech at Canton, Ohio, which was critical to his indictment and which Justice Holmes quotes, evidently without sensing the nobility thereby re- 3. Debs v. United States; Gitlow v. New York 109 vealed: “Don’t worry about the charge of treason to your masters; but be concerned about the treason that involves yourselves,” echoing thereby sentiments voiced in perilous times by such worthies as Thomas More. II The education of Debs, it seems, was advanced by his 1895 jail term, during which he could do some “broad reading.” This contributed to his development as a leader in the Socialist movement in this Country. As such, he must have been much more influential than Schenck or Abrams ever could have been. Particularly troubling for the authorities, of course, was Debs’s opposition to the war, and especially to any involvement by the United States in it. His fateful June 16, 1918, Canton speech included the observation (quoted by Geoffrey Stone), “The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles.” Justice Holmes, in his Debs Opinion, paraphrased as follows what had been said in the speech, “[T]he subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose, including their lives; . . . the working class, who furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in declaring war.” What Debs said about the working class “furnish[ing] the corpses” may apply to our Vietnamese and Persian Gulf engagements, but it certainly did not apply to the First World War or, for that matter, to the Second World War. Indeed, the First World War probably would have been far less devastating for Western Civilization if the privileged classes in Europe had been able to shield their sons from combat, allowing them to revive their countries once the slaughter stopped. Instead, one “master class” after another, in various European countries, had been left in ruins by the war, all too often allowing the worst among the survivors to seize power. III There was, we have noticed, widespread evasion of the draft in this Country during the First World War. Primarily responsible for this, it seems, was not the agitation here and there of antiwar speakers but rather the apparent futility of that war. It must have been difficult for some in this Country to believe that the United States had been immediately threatened by the years of senseless carnage in Europe. Part Two 110 In fact, many citizens would come to believe instead that the great risk for the United States came from becoming involved in such a pointless war, not from avoiding it—and they evidently voted that way in reelecting President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Therefore, the people primarily responsible for obstruction of recruitment in this Country were probably the thousands of reporters and editors who kept...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813131979
Related ISBN
9780813124247
MARC Record
OCLC
607701092
Pages
336
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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