• In an effort to avoid having to spend several weeks at a very dreary task, I have been writing brief biographical footnotes for Debs Volume 1 as I go — it’s a pretty painless way to break up the work. There is lots of commentary on strikes and labor leaders, which makes sense, since EVD was a labor leader who was involved in and around several major strikes. There are two other things I have been dealing with again and again and again: poetry and bible verses.
Eugene V. Debs was first and foremost an orator. He practiced and studied the craft of public speaking and learned from the best: Robert Ingersoll was his go-to guy. He had a certain earnestness and personal magnetism that was attractive to a live audience, a voice that could fill a room, and a smooth and polished style, laced with quips and jokes and stories. Virtually every account of a Debs speech that one reads, even those written by bitter opponents of Debs’s ideas, acknowledges his skill in holding a room and his craftsmanship as a public speaker.
This skill was developed and well recognized from very early in his life. In September 1877, Debs attended the 4th Annual Convention of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen — a fledgling organization that he was happy to discover earlier in that same year. Debs was only 21 years old and was employed as a warehouseman in a wholesale grocery operation. According to the official minutes of the gathering, the Grand Master (President) of the organization, W.R. Worth, was unable to arrive prior to the start of the convention. The 2nd ranking officer, John Broderick, was in attendance. So, too, was the important Secretary-Treasurer and magazine editor, William N. Sayre. Yet despite the presence of these elected worthies, the task of giving the keynote speech of the first day, the Grand Lodge Report, fell to the young grocery warehouseman from Terre Haute, who hadn’t even been in the B of LF for a year.
Again: prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1913, US Senators were not directly elected by the people, but were rather chosen by a vote of the various state legislatures. As you might imagine, this was a key task — a matter of absolutely top level political importance. Debs won election to the Indiana State Legislature in November 1884, part of a Democratic majority in the state, and one of the first actions of the new session was to nominate and elect a United States Senator.
To which Indiana politician was the honor of making the formal speech of nomination for the reelection of Sen. Daniel W. Voorhees, the choice of the Democrats? You guessed it, they tapped the 29-year old freshman legislator whose entire political career consisted of two two-year stints as the elected City Clerk of Terre Haute — Gene Debs.
These are absolutely certain indicators that Debs was recognized by his peers as a highly superior public speaker even during the youthful years of his 20s.
So, what did the polished, proficient public speakers frequently do during this period of primacy of the spoken word? The silver-tongued spellbinders of the day simply adored quoting wise aphorisms and inspirational and relevant poetic lines as part of the tapestries of erudite prose which they wove.
Debs spread poetic rhyme extremely liberally; the footnotes I have been churning out are pocked with poetic quotations, each of which I have attempted to trace back to the original source to make certain of accuracy of quotation. James Russell Lowell, William Cullen Bryant, Robert Burns, Thomas Moore, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and on and on, Debs never skimped with the poetic outpourings in his speeches and his best writings. The numerous quotations of William Shakespeare which Debs employed can be considered closely akin.
The second main pillar of quotation in the spoken and written work of Debs, at least in the early period, related to allusions to and quotations of the bible. I have religiously (speaking figuratively here!) traced back every allusion and quotation to the illustrious King James Version and provided cites in the footnotes. I don’t even own a bible these days but have nevertheless spent more time in the “good book” these past few months than I did when I was a kid going to Sunday school.
One piece I completed this week, a March 1894 Firemen’s Magazine article called “The Equality of Men and Women,” set some kind of record. In it he quoted or alluded to: “Thanatopsis” (1817) by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878); 1 Timothy 1:2, 1 Timothy 2:11 and in another place 1 Timothy 2:12; “Love’s Young Dream,” from Irish Melodies No. IV, by Thomas Moore (1779-1852); 1 Timothy 2:13-14 (continuing his biblical commentary); 1 Corinthians, 14:34-35; and an article from Popular Science Monthly, “Mental Differences of Men and Women, by George J. Romanes.
Suffice it to say that I am getting some sort of education doing this project, it’s not all correcting typographical errors in the OCR output… Poetry and bible verses, bible verses and poetry…
• I managed to spend a couple hours reviewing once again the Papers of Eugene V. Debs microfilm for the 1877-1896 period. No real gems found, Bob Constantine did an excellent job of selection for the three volumes of Letters of Eugene V. Debs that he produced for University of Illinois Press in 1990. One thing struck me though, something about which I never gave much thought: Debs’s father Daniel and he corresponded exclusively in English, as nearly as I can tell. My reveal that EVD was “French-American” since both of his parents came from there shortly before his birth probably shouldn’t be oversold.
This is a similar phenomenon that I saw in the case of Jay Lovestone, who was actually born in Lithuania and came to the US at about the age of 8: there wasn’t really that much of the Yiddish- or Russian-speaking Jew about him, he was fully immersed in the English-speaking world.
• The text accumulation phase of Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 1: Railway Populist, 1877-1896 is drawing to a close, right on target for my July 1 planned completion date. I was hoping to scam a week to revisit the microfilm, but it looks like I’m going to have to settle for stealing a few hours here and a few hours there and maybe a day or two at the very end to spin film. No matter, David and I already have a plethora of material from which to work and I feel like I’ve read it all for the period — or at least skimmed it. But there are always other things out there to be discovered, and that is a process that just takes time.
For the record, here are the Debs items that I believe are extant somewhere in some form that I am so far unable to locate for this project:
- Speech In Indianapolis, c. Jan. 8, 1884
Representative Debs’ Speech, Jan. 8, 1885 (notice the similarity of dates, may be one 1885 item)
The Organization of Working Men; Speech in Chicago, Aug. 30, 1893 at a “Labor Congress” held unofficially but in conjunction with Columbian Exhibition. This is a very rare pamphlet that is not listed in WorldCat but I have seen it cited and know it exits — somewhere. Debs got the invitation to speak at this event from muckraking journalist Henry Demarest Lloyd, who would be one his friends and chief supporters in the People’s Party.
And, umm, uh, that’s it. That makes 1,531 items found and accounted for, 2 or 3 items at large.
I will take that percentage of found materials, I’ve got to think it compares favorably with any academic “Works” project out there — although I really would like to track down a scan of that pamphlet. I have a hunch the content is really good.
• A couple pretty cool pamphlets for my boxes this week. The first is a relic from the Pullman Strike of 1894 — a company document featuring the (brief) testimony of George M. Pullman and the (somewhat more expansive) testimony of Pullman Palace Car Company 2nd VP T.H. Wickes before the US Strike Commission that was set up by Congress in the immediate aftermath of the strike. This content is readily available in book form; of somewhat greater interest to me for my purposes are the 14 pages of “public statements of the company during the continuance of the strike” which follow.
These include a public statement by the Pullman Co. at the time of the strike, a statement of the General Managers’ Association which served as the gathering body of railway corporation decision-makers, and several Pullman interviews published in the newspapers of the day — back when newspapers actually published things like newsworthy interviews instead of half page color pictures and 14-point type for the entertainment of their aging readers. (Who, me bitter?)
Judging by the number of these that survived in university libraries (vast) versus the number that are available on the open market (tiny), it’s pretty easy to imagine that the Pullman Co. sent these out as freebies to every library extant. Maybe they never sold them or distributed them any other way, who knows… Even my copy, purchased from a rare book seller, has ex-libris marks from the Public Library of Concord, New Hampshire.
• Another one to appear in the mailbox is the 1919 Debs “book” Pastels of Men — a quick-and-sleazy one-off by Frank Harris of Pearson’s Magazine that brings together five Debs-written biographies that first appeared in the magazine in 1918 — all reproduced on gloriously terrible high-acid wartime quality paper.
Harris, in a short introduction headlined “The Beloved Disciple” heralds Debs as “the most Christlike man I have ever had the honor of knowing.” Your word for the day is hagiography; from “hagio” meaning “holy” — “writing of the lives of saints,” used as a pejorative to indicate one-sided and blindly adulatory prose.
Yep, Debs hagiography was a thing.
Owing in large measure to the craptastic paper that was used, combined with the fact that Debs sat in Federal prison and socialist stuff was being banned from the mails with impunity, there aren’t too many copies of this thing around, all things considered. WorldCat is showing 30 in university libraries and a total of 3 more currently out there for sale in the used book world. That makes this at less than $40 a pretty good “get” for the collection, since Debs stuff draws a premium because of who he was.
• A really exciting addition was “The River Ran Red”: Homestead 1892, a collective work produced by more than 25 scholars and published by University of Pittsburgh Press in 1992 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the event. The book is absolutely gorgeous, with a slightly oblong quarto page size, slick paper, and chockablock with graphics. Content is a mixture of primary source material and intelligent commentary. It’s a slim volume, weighing in a 232 pages, but crafted so well that it could serve as a coffee table book. The content is intelligent to the point that this title needs to be cited by anybody writing on anything tangential to the topic. It is truly one of the best books that I’ve blundered into in 2017 — just in time for the 125th anniversary of the event…
• Paul W. Glad’s The Trumpet Soundeth: William Jennings Bryan and his Democracy, 1896-1912 touches part of the tail end of the Volume 1 Debs story. EVD was floated as a prospective People’s Party nominee in 1896 by the radical wing of that party — counterintuitively calling themselves the “Middle of the Road” faction (as in: staying true to the party’s principles, keeping to the straight and narrow, the middle of the road), as opposed to the conservative wing which sought to Just Win, Baby in fusion with the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party’s surprise nominee, Bryan, got the nomination as the fusion candidate and Just Lost, Baby, leaving the People’s Party shattered by the defeat and crippled as a political force forever after.
One of the fundamental principles of early Socialist Party orthodoxy was summarized by this slogan: “No Compromise, No Political Trading.” The People’s Party-Bryan fusion debacle of 1896 is why that idea had legs…
Anyway, Debs doesn’t even figure in the index of this particular book, first published in 1960 by University of Nebraska Press and given new life in 1986 by Greenwood. That means this will probably be relegated straight away to the shelf, to be there in case I need it when I’m writing in August.
A lot of books are like that, god knows they’re quicker and easier to buy than they are to read.
• “Speech to the Indiana Legislature Nominating Daniel W. Voorhees for the United States Senate,Jan. 20, 1885” — Jan. 1885 speech — 1,250 words [I discovered I forgot to count this in my tally of words].
• “A Workingman’s Congress” — April 1893 article — 665 words
• “The Teaching of Christ” — November 1893 article — 1,140 words
• “Who Pays Taxes?— November 1893 article — 1,090 words
• “The Columbian Exposition” — November 1893 article — 1,090 words
• “European Military, Money, and Misery” — December 1893 article — 525 words
• “‘The Commercial and Political Considerations Involved in Sympathetic Railroad Strikes” — December 1893 article — 1,750 words
• “The Value of the Ballot” — January 1894 article — 1,630 words
• “Debate between J.C. Nolan and Eugene V. Debs, Jan. 21, 1894” — January 1894 speech — 880 words
• “T.V. Powderly and the Knights of Labor” — February 1894 — 500 words
• “Arbitration” — February 1894 article — 3,275 words
• “A Free Press” — March 1894 article — 465 words
• “The American Protective Association” — March 1894 article — 1,925 words
• “The Despotism of Judge Dundy” — March 1894 article — 1,910 words
• “Equality of Men and Women” — March 1894 article — 2,280 words
• “Liberty and the Courts” — March 1894 article — 2,150 words
….Word count = 557,880 words in the can + 21,315 this week = 579,445 words
• 2 more Saturdays to go until the July 1 target for the end of output of editable text. There are still 32 article pdfs remaining to be processed (or rejected at second reading).
As always, the above material is either now up or will be up within the next week or so at the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive on MIA, curated by David Walters.