Working in the Coal Mine (18-06)


It’s looking like it will be three weeks to get finished with 1898 despite a lesser load of fare to type up compared with 1897 — a year which also took three weeks. The reason for this, I am finding, is that a great percentage of my time is used in the discovery process rather than in the actual production of editable type for the book.

First I run a search for the entire year, and I run through it day by day. Once I figure out what part of the country Debs is in for a given week or month, I narrow my focus to papers from that immediate region. If I find a lot of things, if I find not very many things — it’s all basically the same. I wouldn’t say the time typing is incidental, but it is a minor fraction of the time spent on the search itself.

Then comes the microfilm. There are two reels of Debs papers film that needs to be spun, one reel with his writings proper, one reel for the scrapbook material — which is actually where the best stuff is located. Interestingly, the content of the scrapbooks were not included in the main written bibliography accompanying the microfilm. It’s a goldmine of “new” material.

Then comes the film of the journals. For 1898 this means: The Coming Nation (weekly newspaper of the Ruskin cooperative colony, tight with the SDA), The Social Democrat (official organ of the SDA, the colonist wing after the split), The Social Democratic Herald (official organ of the Social Democratic Party after the split). I also spent a little time working The People (official organ of the Socialist Labor Party) and paid special attention to issue by issue examination of the Appeal to Reason and Industrial Freedom (official organ of the Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth) through

That, my friends, is three weeks of work by the time the searching and typing is over.

Fortunately, this pace should work out fine in terms of hitting the completion date for Volume 3 (Oct. 15, 2018).

•          •          •          •          •


Rare illustrated ad for EVD’s Feb. 1898 speech in Topeka. Early speeches were usually promoted only by news reports and word of mouth.

One bit of esoteric Debsiana I discovered this week was details of a brief exchange in the press between EVD and Peter S. Grosscup, his judicial nemesis in the 1894 Pullman case. In January 1898 Judge Grosscup was in Topeka to speak to a convention of the Kansas State Bar Association and was asked about the Pullman strike by a reporter for a local daily newspaper.

Grosscup used the opportunity to unleash on Debs, who, let us recall, had spent the better part of the previous two years traveling the country and slamming the ethics of Grosscup and the federal judiciary to tens of thousands of listeners. Grosscup characterized the Terre Haute orator a demagogic misleader and charged that he had raised an “incipient insurrection” by followers who “attempted to seize the government and throttle it.” This effort at revolution had inevitably failed and those who had gone on strike had now universally come to the grim realization that they had been deceived by the “malcontent” and “agitator” Debs, Grosscup declared.

Passing through Topeka on his way to Denver about a week later, Debs fired back a public reply in an interview by the same newspaper, taunting Grosscup for having suspended the 1894 trial after a juror became ill rather than resuming the prosecution’s losing conspiracy case against him and noting Grosscup’s bias and hypocrisy for not having found George M. Pullman in contempt of court for having hooked up his private rail car and run away to New York after being served a subpoena to appear in connection with the Pullman case.

If there has been a public functionary who has been the potent factor of the money power in the reduction of the common people to helpless and hopeless slavery, it is Judge Grosscup,” Debs charged.

Those two did not like one another.

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Drawing of Gene Debs from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1898

I found a really great first-hand account of the split of the Social Democracy of America on the Debs microfilm, written by Gus Hoehn for the St. Louis newspaper Brauer-Zeitung [Brewers’ News]. The article was saved for posterity in one of the copious scrapbooks that the Debs brothers kept throughout their political lives. Theodore and Gene mantained a very serious archive of newspaper articles covering speeches by EVD or miscellaneous stories that Gene Debs found interesting and potentially useful as source material for speeches and articles.

I’m not sure whether the Hoehn piece was incorporated into Nick Salvatore’s Debs biography or not and I really doubt there are any other bios that located the rare source, so I thought it might be a good thing to kick some the Hoehn historical memoir into print here and now.

(1) Details of the political jockeying in the convention before the split:

Immediately following the report of the Credentials Committee, Secretary [Sylvester] Keliher announced that on Saturday, June 4, and Sunday, June 5, not less than 11 new branches of the Social Democracy of America were organized in Chicago, all of which had applied for charters Monday, June 6; i.e., just one day before the opening of the convention. In his opinion at least 9 out of the 11 were not entitled to representation in the convention, for which reason he refused to grant them the charters applied for. However, he would put this matter into the hands of the convention for final settlement.

[William E.] Burns and [James] Hogan declared that the 11 branches were entitled to representation, at the same time attacking Secretary Keliher for his refusal to grant charters. Comrade [Isaac] Hourwich of New York moved that the delegates of the new Chicago branches be not admitted, [J.] Phillips of New York, [Victor] Berger of Milwaukee, [James] Carey of Massachusetts, [Gus] Hoehn of St. Lois, Margaret Haile of Boston, [William] Mailly of Tennessee, [F.S.R.] Gordon of New Hampshire, [Morris] Winchevsky of New York, and [C.F.] Meier of St. Louis bitterly opposed the admission of the new Chicago delegates, claiming that at leas 9 out of 11 new branches were organized at the very last moment for no other purpose than to pack the convention, the 11 delegates representing less than 60 members in all. Mailly ridiculed the idea that these “brave Chicagoans” did not discover the grandeur of the Social Democracy until 24 hours before the opening of the national convention.

Cook, [John] Lloyd, Osborne, Ingalls, and Hogan spoke in favor of admitting the delegates of the new Chicago branches. The discussion lasted the whole day [June 7, 1898] and was continued Wednesday morning [June 8]. There being no prospect of transacting any business, the delegates were finally admitted by a close vote.

The election of the various committees then took place. On Thursday morning [June 9] the Committee on Organized Labor submitted its report, which was adopted. Thursday afternoon Chairman Debs delivered his annual address, stating, among other things, that on his agitation trip to the Eastern states he addressed 148 public meetings in 77 days. Comrade Debs said the time had come when the working people must make use of the political power and inaugurate a political movement on strictly socialist lines. “In regard to colonization,” he said, “I have not changed my mind since our last year’s convention [Chicago: June 15-21, 1897], and I still believe that something good could be accomplished by working in the direction indicated in our constitution.”

So here we see the “Woodstock Mafia” that had dominated the ARU and the successor SDA split up at this point, with Hogan and Burns going with the Colonists and Debs and Keliher with the Political Actionists.

(2) As for the moment of the split itself:

On Friday afternoon [June 10] the Committee on Platform submitted its reports — a majority report signed by Margaret Haile and Victor Berger, and a minority report signed by John Lloyd. The latter report was read by delegate Ingalls; it was a very lengthy document, full of firework rhetoric and phrases and making the colony scheme the most important feature of the convention. A hot discussion followed. Hourwich, Phillips, [A.S.] Edwards, Mailly, Miller, Hoehn, Carey, Haile, [Seymour] Stedman, Gordon, and others spoke against the minority report, claiming that its adoption would put the Social Democracy in a most ridiculous position. Special reference was made to last year’s work of the Colonization Commission, that nearly $2,000 had been expended, and nothing whatever accomplished, and that this kind of business should be promptly stopped. Frank, Osborne, [C.F.] Willard, Lloyd, Ingalls, Cook, and others defended the minority report, some of them speaking against political action and advocating the colony scheme as the salvation of the American people.

The discussion continued until 2:30 [am] Saturday morning [June 11]. The vote on the minority report was then taken with the following result: 53 for, 37 against the adoption of the minority report.

The delegates of the [political actionist] minority, seeing they could no longer cooperate with the majority without disgracing the cause of Social Democracy and the international labor movement, at once adjourned to the Revere House, and organized temporarily with Jesse Cox of Chicago as chairman, and William Mailly of Nashville, Tennessee, as secretary.

The [defeated majority] report of the platform committee was then unanimously adopted, except that the organization was named the “Social Democratic Party of America.”

The organization of the Social Democratic Party of America was effected between 5:00 and 6:00 o’clock Saturday morning, the golden rays of the rising sun greeting the delegates as they were enthusiastically and unanimously cheering the birth of the new clearcut and clean Social Democratic movement.

(3) There is also some excellent detail on Debs being sick at this key moment of inner party crisis — which seems to have been a recurring phenomenon in his life…

One word in honor of our brave Comrade Debs. When the hour of decisive action had come, he cut loose from old friends whom he still holds to be honest and good, and cheered the new Social Democratic Party as the hope of the American people.

On Saturday afternoon a scene was witnessed in a little room at the Revere House which all those present will never forget. There lay our brave Comrade Debs on his bed, still very sick and weak. The next moment the door opened and in came the New York and New England comrades to bid their friend and leader goodbye and congratulate him on his brave and courageous action for international socialism.

One of the New York delegates, with his strong arms, raised Comrade Debs up in his bed, embraced and kissed him like a child; all the rest of the delegates thronged to the sick man’s bedside embracing and kissing him and urging him to take care of himself so he may live and be spared to our glorious movement for years to come. Tears were flowing freely from the eyes of all men and women present and all of them felt that the true socialist is something more, something better and nobler, than a soulless machine that may at any time be put into motion or stopped by any heartless, reckless individual who happens to get control of a part of the party machine. This scene in Debs’ little room reflected the noble spirit underlying the new movement of the Social Democratic Party of America.

Debs was truly a charismatic personality.



The deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 3 is October 15, 2018. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 20 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “Statement to the Press about Judge Peter S. Grosscup ” — Feb. 4, 1898 — 642 words
  • “I Love Humanity Better Than I Do Gold”: Speech at Coliseum Hall, Denver — Feb. 6, 1898 — 1,319 words
  • “Speech at the Third Anniversary Celebration of Myron Reed’s Broadway Temple” — Feb. 6, 1898 — 871 words
  • “Against Fusion” — May 14, 1898 — 727 words
  • “The Coming Nation: Speech at the Grand Opera House, Terre Haute” — May 31, 1898 — 3,766 words
  • “Declination of Office in the Social Democracy of America Made at the First National Convention” — June 8, 1898 — 172 words
  • Total Words this week: 7,793 ******************* Total Words to date: 73,507

I also typed up an excellent firsthand account of the events of the June 1898 convention of the Social Democracy of America by SDP bolter G.A. Hoehn of St. Louis, who would be an important force in the Socialist Party for the next two decades. Much of this appears above.


whatsnewinthelibraryz-greene★ Well, I’m nothing if not persistent. There just has to be a serious monograph on the 1897 Lattimer Massacre out there somewhere, I figure. And so the quest begins. One title that I have seen cited that looked very promising was Victor R. Geene’s The Slavic Community on Strike: Immigrant Labor in Pennsylvania Anthracite (Notre Dame University Press, 1968). I consider it a bad sign when the author of a monograph begins their book with the words, “Essentially the work is a condensation of my doctoral dissertation written at the University  and readers who wish more extensive discussion and documentation are referred to it.” (pg. ix)

No, you should be polishing, refining, and focusing your doctoral work — not gutting it and dumbing it down Readers’ Digest style… But then again, it is all about the intent of the project, I suppose. This was apparently conceived as a book to be “taught” to undergraduate history students in 400-level college classes rather than a top level monograph directed at specialists, and its placement in 430 WorldCat libraries indicates that Notre Dame University Press was fairly successful fulfilling this primary objective.

Muttering about wide page margins and 12- or 13-point type aside, we do at least have here a serious historian who has worked on what is for me the money question, the Lattimer body count. Greene writes:

“The exact number shot is unknown, but the casualty list eventually reached about nineteen dead and thirty-nine wounded. Their backgrounds were an East European mixture: twenty-six Poles, twenty Slovaks, and five Lithuanians [with the others of undetermined ethnicity].” (pg. 138)

In the footnotes Greene indicates his tally is an estimate, working from one contemporary newspaper and three later secondary sources; three of the four are non-English. So it does appear that there is a legitimate alternative path to the bizarre death-total-by-headstones figure of 19 advanced by Novak in his book The Guns of Lattimer.

I’m still not sold.

blatz★ If Michael Novak’s The Guns of Lattimer is lightweight dramatic history for a general readership and Victor Greene’s The Slavic Community on Strike is a dumbed down dissertation for classroom use by college kids, Perry K. Blatz’s Democratic Miners: Work and Labor Relations in the Anthracite Coal Industry, 1875-1925 (New York University Press, 1994) is the real deal: a serious work of economic history, dealing exhaustively with the labor process, demographics of workers in the industry, wage rates, and the interaction between workers, unions, and management over the course of half a century in the Pennsylvania hard coal mining industry.

Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a better book on the topic being written, with a particular focus and strength being the administration of the United Mine Workers under John Mitchell and the epochal coal strikes of 1900 and 1902. Surely then, this is the scholar who would have spent time on the Lattimer massacre of 1897 to come up a definitive tally of shooting deaths of immigrant miners in connection with that work stoppage.

Sadly, not. Blatz’s laser focus begins with the next strike, that of 1900. With respect to Lattimer, Blatz merely uses the death total of 19 presented by Novak, accepting his figure as axiomatic. (pg. 59)




Well, we’ve received word that Haymarket Books is willing to making this Debs Selected Works thing into a six volume series instead of five, so I’ve re-upped for a one year extension of this altogether fascinating chore. I’m pleased that Haymarket has given us the pages we need, I think it’s important to do this project right.

The extra volume moves the periodization for Volume 3 from 1897-1907 (old version) to 1897-1904 (tentative new version). This means more time before deadline to work on each year — and that is a very, very good thing.

About carrite

Independent scholar from Corvallis, Oregon with a strong interest in early 20th century political history.
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