Democracy's Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent

Ernest Freeberg, Author . Harvard Univ. $29.95 (380p) ISBN 978-0-674-02792-3

This account of the trial and jailing of Eugene V. Debs for sedition in opposing WWI will be read by many as a warning for our times, yet it stands on its own as solid history. Remarkably, in 1920 Debs ran—from prison—a clever presidential campaign that gained him almost one million votes. Freeberg, associate professor of history at the University of Tennessee, relates this tale in a fast-paced narrative that underplays the irony. Debs—a firebrand orator and radical Socialist Party chieftain whom Woodrow Wilson and others considered a security threat—became a model federal prisoner who worked to alleviate the situations of fellow inmates. He also issued biting criticisms of American policy and never left off denouncing capitalists for having caused WWI. Not surprisingly, Debs's stance long delayed his pardon, first by Wilson, then by Warren Harding, who eventually commuted his sentence in 1921. But it gained Debs the wide hearing he sought. The most enduring consequence of this whole affair is the fuel it contributed to the growth of civil liberties consciousness and organization in the United States. Not for the first time, administrations brought about the very results they most opposed. 17 b&w photos. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/03/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008
Paperback - 392 pages - 978-0-674-05720-3
Ebook - 393 pages - 978-0-674-03723-6
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