The Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth (18-03)


Debs addresses the founding convention of the Social Democracy of America, June 1897.

One error of mine that I’ve discovered over the past couple weeks relates to the founding of the Social Democracy of America by Debs and his Woodstock Jail and American Railway Union associates Sylvester Keliher, James Hogan, Roy M. Goodwin, and William E. Burns. I had previously believed that the organization was formed through merger with the socialist colonist organization known as the Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth. In reality, these remained two distinct groups working in close alliance during 1897 and the first half of 1898. Full organic unity was never achieved.

The Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth (BCC) was organized in September 1896, with three stated objectives: (1) to educate the people in the principles of socialism; (2) to unite all socialists in a single “fraternal association;” and (3) to establish cooperative colonies and industries “in one state until said state is socialized.” As such it reflected almost perfectly Debs’s own perspective on strategy and tactics at that particular moment. He, however, remained committed to the atrophying and dying American Railway Union until the last moment — even when the BCC attempted to draft him into their organization by naming him their national organizer, there is no evidence that he took the first step in this regard.


Rev. Myron W. Reed (1839-1899)

During the first few months of 1897, we recall, Debs spent about ten weeks touring the states of the Mountain West at the invitation of the Western Federation of Miners, which was then embroiled in a long and bitter strike of the silver mines of Colorado. One of the places at which Debs spoke — on the afternoon of Jan. 10, 1897, to be completely precise — was at the Denver church of Myron W. Reed (1839-1899), regarded as one of the foremost Christian socialists in America. Reed was also, not coincidentally, the President of the BCC, and it is certain that he and Debs had at some point a deep discussion and a meeting of the minds, as Debs quickly evolved the idea that his moribund industrial union should be transformed into an explicitly socialist organization with an altogether similar program. It was hoped that the two groups would formally join forces in the near future.

•          •          •          •          •

In the spring of 1897, Debs began teasing the idea that a forthcoming special convention of the ARU, called for a June 15 start in Chicago, would be an eventful gathering. It would be, indeed, with the ARU going into session just long enough to wrap up its affairs and shut itself down before reconvening in a larger hall under a new banner — that of the Social Democracy of America. Not coincidentally, the officials of this new organization would be the same as those of the old: a “Woodstock Mafia” of Debs, Keliher, Hogan, Goodwin, and Burns.


Victor L. Berger (1860-1929)

But this was a new organization, too, and it attracted fairly massive and enthusiastic coverage in the American daily press. Loyalists of the Socialist Labor Party of America — far and away the biggest and most influential Marxist political party in the United States — were on the scene, as was Victor Berger (1860-1929), a former schoolteacher and German-language socialist newspaper publisher from Milwaukee. Independent radicals from Chicago and elsewhere were there, too, including Lucy Parsons and a circle of likeminded revolutionary socialists (called “Anarchists” in the lingo of the day) from Chicago.

The program of the new organization was muddled. On the one hand, it posited that the trade union struggle was ultimately fruitless, with the armed force of the state and the entire judicial system in the pocket of capital. Only a capture of the state through the ballot box and transformation of the entire political and judicial structure would make just change possible. It also sought to advance the rather contradictory agenda of transformation by economic example, though the formation of a connected set of cooperative colonies in a single, sparsely-populated state in the West, which would attract a massive influx of people of good will. The political “take over” would start small, in this one place, inspiring emulation which would ultimately result in a victory at the Congressional and Presidential level and a new constitutional convention that would usher in the socialist millennium.

It sounded good on paper. In real life: not so much. There were plenty of people to go to meetings, but coming up with sufficient capital to fund communal cooperation was a bit more difficult.

Regardless, the effort was made. The founding convention of the Social Democracy of America established a three member “Colonization Commission” consisting of one civil engineer — Richard J. Hinton of Washington, DC — and two journalists. These were Cyrus Field Willard of Boston, editor of The New Time (the monthly forerunner of International Socialist Review published by radical Unitarian Charles H. Kerr), and W.P. Borland of Bay City, Michigan, a prolific socialist propagandist.

The relationship between the SDA and the BCC was close but remained independent. The actual leader of the BCC was not Reed, who was largely a figurehead, but rather the group’s Secretary, Norman Wallace Lermond (1861-1944) of Thomaston, ME. Lermond paid a visit to Chicago in anticipation of the ARU convention and had additional talks with Debs, building an almost embarrassing enthusiasm in him for the colonization idea as the be all and end all of the movement, a giddy glee that lasted about six weeks, judging by the published record.

•          •          •          •          •


In the September 1897 faction fight between moderate Chicago Local Branch No. 1 and radical Local Branch No. 2, Debs came down forcefully on the side of the former.

There would be infighting in the SDA — the battle between the revolutionary left and the reformist center in the American socialist movement predated the organization by almost a generation, and it unsurprisingly reemerged within months of establishment of the new organization. The pretext for a purge related to certain inflammatory resolutions passed by Chicago Local Branch No. 2 calling for physical retaliation against capitalists and their property in the aftermath of the Lattimer Massacre — a premeditated bloodbath in which 21 striking coal miners were shot to death (and dozens more wounded) by a county sheriff’s posse.

The massacre took place on September 10. Branch 2 passed it resolutions on September 12. The President of moderate Branch 1 made a similar pronouncement to the press on September 12 — which he expeditiously retracted when it made print. Debs wrote an editorial on September 12 which he mailed out to certain newspapers provocatively declaring “Were I not unalterably opposed to capital punishment I would say that the Sheriff and his deputy assassins should be lynched.”

Then on September 18 Debs presided over the 4 hour midnight meeting of the SDA executive which drummed Lucy Parsons and her Branch 2 comrades out of the movement. It’s a dirty little episode of sectarianism and opportunism that really hasn’t been previously documented in the literature.

•          •          •          •          •

spicyHere’s another good little story. At a regular Sunday night meeting of Local Branch No. 1 in October 1897, the President of the branch disparaged the President of now-expelled Local Branch No. 2, falsely claiming that he was a Pinkerton agent. Those were fighting words, and the wife of the defamed head of the expelled revolutionary socialist group apparently went after the Branch 1 chief with a buggy whip, with at least some success. A near riot ensued, as one might imagine.

Bad blood, bad blood.

•          •          •          •          •

The BCC, which regularly published exact figures, recorded 2,268 paid members in 135 “Local Unions” as of the end of July 1897, with the fledgling SDA adding an unspecified number of additional members in “Local Branches” scattered across 16 states. Coming in the wake of the ARU — which consistently exaggerated its membership figures on the way up and suppressed discussion of them on the way down — the SDA never matched the openness of the BCC. I’ve never seen anything that resembles an honest tally of actually paid membership for the group. In round numbers, 10,000 would probably not be a bad guess.

Ultimately Debs was swayed by the cynical sniping of the SLP (he read their newspaper, his scrapbooks indicate), the ongoing criticism by Berger and the Milwaukee crew, and the realization that no great wave of funds was coming to enable the purchase of a vast tract of land and the establishment of socialist industries thereon. Debs moved back into a more conventional political channel. Nor did he give up on trade unionism, for all the defeatist bluster, spending the second half of 1897 agitating in conjunction with a massive coal mine strike that captivated the nation — which is part 3 of the “Debs in 1897” saga.



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 23 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “‘No Hope Except Through the Back Door of Suicide’ : Speech on the Coal Strike at Wheeling, West Virginia” — July 26, 1897 — 2,724 words
  • “Open Letter and Call for National Miners’ Day” — July 28, 1897 — 521 words
  • “The Social Democracy” — Aug. 1, 1897 — 1,228 words
  • “‘It is Something More Than a Strike’ : Speech in Chicago at Kuhn’s Park” — Aug. 1, 1897 — 4,276 words
  • “‘Reduced to a Walking Hunger Pang’ : National Miners’ Day Speech at the Duquesne Wharf” — Aug. 5, 1897 — 1,534 words
  • “Labor Day is Near at Hand” — Aug. 28, 1897 — 1,452 words
  • “Statement to the Press on the Forthcoming St. Louis Conference of Labor Leaders” — Aug. 28, 1897 — 228 words
  • “To the Hosts of the Social Democracy: A Message for Labor Day” — Aug. 30, 1897 — 2,874 words
  • “‘I Plead Guilty to Being a Radical’ : Speech to the St. Louis Conference of Labor Leaders” — Aug. 31, 1897 — 1,705 words
  • “The Lattimer Massacre” — Sept. 12, 1897 — 882 words
  • “Statement to the Press Regarding the Suspension of Local Branch No. 2, Social Democracy of America” — Sept. 19, 1897 — 452 words
  • “Keynote Speech to the Chicago Conference of Labor Leaders” — Sept. 27, 1897 — 469 words
  • “Workingmen and Social Democracy” — Oct. 28, 1897 — 2,160 words
  • “The Indiana Coal Miners” — c. Nov. 30, 1897 — 366 words

Total Words this week: 21,022 ******************* Total Words to date: 50,114

I also typed up for background a major section of the constitution of the Social Democracy of America and a lesser 1,200 word version of the Aug. 31 St. Louis speech that will end up on the cutting room floor.



★ Rev. Myron Reed, one of the preeminent American Christian socialists of the late 19th century, was the President of the Brotherhood of the Cooperate Commonwealth during its early optimistic phase and was a key figure in winning Gene Debs over for the idea of colonization, however briefly. This book by James A. Denton, Rocky Mountain Radical: Myron W. Reed, Christian Socialist was actually published back in 1997 but seems to have been recently dumped on the market by University of New Mexico Press, as copies are cheap and plentiful at the moment. The timing of their catalog deletion is thus excellent for me, as this book is a fairly essential source for my background reading on the BCC and Debs.

I’m a little bit disappointed by the lack of graphics as I’m going to need to come up with a useable copy of a good Reed portrait for volume 3. The picture of Reed at the top of this blog I heisted from elsewhere on the internets, so I reckon I will just have to follow that one back to its source for permission to publish. Using the image in a shitty little blog that nobody reads, no issue — a book, rather more.

Jones★ Also tangentially related to the 1897 Debs  story is this new biography about revolutionary socialist orator Lucy Parsons. This 2017 book is actually the second full length biography on Parsons, the multiracial widow of Haymarket martyr Albert R. Parsons — the chief target of the trial that decapitated the leadership of the Chicago radical movement. Parsons was a prominent member of Chicago Local Branch No. 2 of the Social Democracy of America from the time of its founding and was one of the five leaders of the branch that were called on the carpet and ultimately expelled in the aftermath of the Lattimer massacre by Debs and the executive of the SDA. This appears to be a well-crafted book and I look forward to exploring it in the coming week. There is at least some coverage of the 1897 Social Democracy of America affair, judging by the index.


Volume 1: Building Solidarity on the Tracks, 1877-1892 is now going through the editing process at Haymarket, with Amelia Iuvino crushing commas and perfecting prose as our copyeditor. Nisha Bolsey is our general project manager and point of contact with the Haymarket editorial board. The book will be released in both hardcover and paperback formats sometime in 2018.

Volume 2: The Rise and Fall of the American Railway Union, 1892-1896 (unofficial title) is completed and is in house with Haymarket. It should appear in both formats late in 2018 or early in 2019.

• There is still no decision on our eleventh hour request that the Debs Selected Works include a sixth volume. If the project remains set for five volumes, Volume 3 will probably be for the time interval 1897-1907. If a sixth volume is granted, the most likely period is 1897-1904.

• In an ideal world, I think Haymarket would like to publish one volume each season (two books a year), but since the compilation and writing process takes more than six months there will almost certainly be a couple “empty” seasons. However, I am going to try to slam and get the interval between manuscripts down from a planned 12 months to 9 or so with a view to speeding this project towards the finish line.

• I’m actually starting to think about what I want to do when the Debs Selected Works are finished — although that is several years away. A new Debs biography while the material is fresh in my memory is one potential play. If I decide to leave Debs I’m pretty certain that I want to do a hefty one book treatment of the Morris Hillquit Selected Works before turning my attention to a planned three volume magnum opus on American radicalism, 1916-1924.

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Colorado Miners and Cooperative Colonies (18-02)


posted Feb. 10, 2018

The activities of Eugene V. Debs in 1897 are particularly fascinating to me. Debs publicly declared himself a socialist during the very last days of 1896, and news that the controversial labor leader was leaving the People’s Party (the so-called “Populists”) to make his way as a “straight socialist” swept the wires over the first two weeks of January, with the news making print in scores of newspapers around the country. Debs had only fairly recently left the Democratic Party for the Populists and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen for the American Railway Union, you will recall, so rumblings began to be heard that Debs was a fickle flounderer racing from movement to movement in an unsatisfying search for basic principles.

The trend of jumping from organization to organization would only continue through the next decade — a period of time which would see him closely align with the Western Federation of Miners and the Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth, lead his American Railway Union into merger with the BCC to form a new colonization group called the Social Democracy of America, join a split of the SDA to help establish a new political party called the Social Democratic Party of America, squabble over unity efforts before becoming a founder of the Socialist Party of America, help publicize the American Labor Union, move with the ALU into the Industrial Workers of the World, and leave the IWW to become an independent commentator on the labor movement.

The years of his early- and middle-40s were a period of seeking, searching, thinking, and building for Gene Debs. His biographer Nick Salvator has a rather more harsh interpretation, more along the lines of “clueless and floundering.”

•          •          •          •          •

Home at last from his relentless touring in support of Democratic-Populist fusion Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, Gene Debs found he had a surprise visitor for Christmas 1896 — Edward Boyce (1862-1941), President of the Western Federation of Miners. We are accustomed to think of the WF of M as a union; it was not, but rather an umbrella organization of affiliated local miners’ unions, just as the American Federation of Labor is an umbrella organization of affiliated craft unions.


At an altitude of more than 10,000 feet, Leadville (“Cloud City”) remains the highest elevation incorporated town in America.

Boyce had a favor to ask of the ARU chief: there was an expensive and increasingly violent strike in need of resolution in the mining town of Leadville, Colorado — a place where Boyce had himself labored in the mines for four years previously. As the Panic of 1893 hit a double dip recession in 1896; unemployment remained at double-digit levels, business closings swept the land, and commodity prices such as that for silver had fallen precipitously. Mining was distinctly less profitable than it had been and some local operators used the bad economy and weak bottom line as an excuse to slash wages, one after another reducing the basic daily  rate for a Leadville miner from $3 a day to $2.50. Those who had not moved the scale were threatening it.

Feeling themselves unable to live on $2.50 a day in the comparatively costly community of Leadville (then the second largest town in Colorado after Denver, believe it or not) miners sought a restoration of the $3 daily rate, or at least make such a case to an impartial board of arbitration. The mine operators would neither budge on the wage rate or the matter of arbitration — and  suspicions were rife that this intransigence was a mere pretext for the real object: busting the union. The result was a massive strike that lasted for months.

Boyce decided to reach out to Debs in the hope that he would pay the town visit, make a speech or two, and see if he could help bring the strike to a more or less successful conclusion.


The Colorado National Guard was called out during the Leadville Mining Strike of 1896-97

Debs came, Debs saw, Debs spoke.

Debs ended up spending two months on the road with Boyce throughout the West in an effort to publicize the miners’ plight. It was all for naught. The miners didn’t heed the advice of either Debs or the Governor of the state by agreeing to a compromise wage scale based on the market price of silver. The costly work stoppage (every member of the WF of M was paying $1 a month for strike relief) festered for another several months, by which time the offer was off the table and the union came away with nothing.

The Western Federation of Miners would end up being radicalized by the affair, eventually emerging as the American Labor Union — one of the chief movers for establishment of the Industrial Workers of the World. So the story of this somewhat forgotten Colorado mining strike popping up at the beginning of Volume 3 does eventually come around full circle by the end of the book.

•          •          •          •          •

Here’s a Debs anecdote that I had never previously heard. On January 27, 1897, Gene and Ed Boyce were sharing a horse-drawn buggy, riding down Gold Hill in Leadville. Suddenly, something spooked the horses and they bolted down the rugged trail, the cart wildly bouncing behind. Both Debs and Boyce were knocked from the buggy, fortuitously, it would seem, as the panicked horses soon smashed the small cart to pieces racing over jagged rocks beside the road. Neither Gene nor Ed was hurt, but they both could just as easily have been seriously injured or killed.

Being dead in a buggy wreck would have been quite the career ender for EVD.

•          •          •          •          •

While Debs was getting involved in the Western hard rock miners’ movement, his mind was wandering in a vaguely parallel direction. He started moving towards Utopian Socialism — the idea that like-minded individuals could band together in a cloistered, non-exploitative community, and through their joint, cooperative efforts, raise manna from dirt clods while living in log cabins. Actually, their vision was more pretty than that, but the reality of the situation is as I have drawn it up — agricultural pioneering is an arduous, tedious task performed with dismal physical accommodations. Not exactly an optimum situation for middle class intellectuals, no matter how pure their motives…

Still, Debs became obsessed with the notion. A few successful colonies would inspire mass emulation, and together the colonists could exert political weight at the state level, taking over state government and using tax policy to put wealthy exploiters out of business, to make way for a return to honest, small-scale economy.

Returning to Terre Haute from a trip as a guest of the Western Federation of Miners to its 5th Annual Convention in Salt Lake City late in May, Debs met with Norman Lermond (1861-1944), National Secretary and leading spirit of the Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth (BCC) in Terre Haute to discuss possible joint action in establishing  socialist colonies. The BCC had favored a location in Tennessee or Arkansas, sufficiently rural that land prices were not exorbitant; Debs had in mind the newly minted state of Washington, which had only come into the union in 1889 and which not only had cheap land but which was relatively unpopulated and thus ripe for political takeover if thousands of unemployed workers could be persuaded to move across the country to join the socialist colony movement.

A special convention of the now moribund American Railway Union had already been scheduled June 15 in Chicago; Lermond agreed to postpone any further search for land in the Southeast pending the outcome of the Chicago conclave……….

[to be continued…]


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 24 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “The Individual vs. Socialism” — Jan. 6, 1897 — 378 words
  • “‘I Am With the Miners in Their Present Trouble’ : Speech in Leadville, Colorado” [excerpt] — Jan. 13, 1897 — 2,393 words
  • “Questions and Answers: Speech to Striking Miners in Leadville, Colorado” — Jan. 14, 1897 — 2,487 words
  • “‘The World is Not Right’ : Speech in Butte Montana” — Feb. 8, 1897 — 3,760 words
  • “Special Convention Forthcoming: From ARU Circular Letter No. 3 (1897)” [excerpt] — April 1, 1897 — 133 words
  • “Strike Lessons: A Dispassionate Review of the Great Leadville Struggle” — April 5, 1897 — 1,505 words
  • “The New Commonwealth: Letter to the New York Journal” — April 16, 1897 — 970 words
  • “‘The Constitution Says People May Bear Arms’ : Statement to the Press in Salt Lake City” — May 11, 1897 — 512 words
  • “The Coming Republic: Letter to the New York Journal” — May 30, 1897 — 2,260 words
  • “Lesson of the Great Leadville Strike” — May 31, 1897 — 1,088 words
  • “A Bright, Happy Spot in Civilization: Interview with the Chicago Chronicle” — June 14, 1897 — 1,023 words
  • “Opening Address at the Special Convention of the American Railway Union in Chicago” — June 15, 1897 — 4,131 words
  • “‘All That Will Be Done is To Perhaps Change the Name’ : Statement to the Chicago Inter Ocean” — June 16, 1897 — 343 words
  • “‘The First Colony Will Be Composed of Picked Men’ : Interview with the New York World — June 16, 1897 — 466 words
  • “‘Farmers Will Form the Vanguard’ : Statement to the Chicago Chronicle” — June 18, 1897 — 357 words
  • “Interview with James Creelman of the New York Journal” — June 18, 1897 — 4,471 words
  • “Open Letter to John D. Rockefeller” — June 19, 1897 — 497 words
  • “Closing Speech at the Founding Convention of the Social Democracy of America in Chicago” [excerpt] — June 21, 1897 — 413 words
  • “Letter to the Editor of the Chicago Tribune” — June 21, 1897 — 316 words
  • “‘The Hour Has Struck to Call a Halt’ : Call for the St. Louis Convention of Coal Miners — Aug. 23, 1897 — 656 words
  • “‘We Cannot Hope to Succeed by Violence’ : Speech to Branch 1, Social Democracy of America” — Sept. 19, 1897 — 931 words

Words this week: 29,092 * * * * * * * * * * Total words to date: 29,092

I also located and made a 1,200 word addition to a piece from Volume 2 and tagged and typed up a 1,550 word Chicago Record news story for background.


skahill★ I usually hate hate, hatey hate, hate hate hate to add books to my shelves that have formerly been in public libraries. They are damaged beyond collectibility and sometimes even beyond use with stickers and stamps and cemented borrowers’ cards and marked pages and underlining and damaged bindings and what have you. But I tell you, this particular addition to the book hoard is especially cool precisely because it has ex-library markings showing!

The title is The Socialist Party: Eugene V. Debs and the Radical Politics of the American Working Class, by Carolyn M. Skahill, a self-described “freelance writer.” Published in 2006 and barely moving the scales as a 32 page pamphlet, at a glance you just KNOW that this is unacademic fluff. Ah, gloriously so, gloriously so — for you see, this turns out to be a children’s book with about 16-point type and a vocabulary seemingly targeted to precocious third graders. As such it is a fascinating thing to behold.


As to content: hey, a couple little mistakes here and there but an altogether passable job of telling the big story of the rise and fall of the Debsian Socialist Party. I mean, jeez, the author name-checks the Conference for Progressive Political Action and the Non-Partisan League, for goodness sakes, and this in a book that also tells us to pronounce those big words “KAHM-yuh-nist” and “SOH-shu-list PAR-tee.” That’s absolutely fantastic, is it not? I’ll betcha twenty bucks that the author used my website very heavily in producing this little book (freelance writers dropping in on a topic aren’t otherwise apt to pick up that the CPPA and the NPL were even things, after all), but alas, no printed credit for me — which makes an otherwise jolly Santa slightly sad. That truly would have been the bleached-and-food-colored cherry on top of the ice cream sundae…

“Leftists are people who generally oppose war, push for political change to broaden freedoms, and want to improve the status of the common man.” (pp. 18-19). Bingo.

So, yeah, the ex-library damage is in its own way glorious. This copy hails from an actual elementary school library in Bothell, Washington… (Bonus points: I used to live in Bothell, a suburb of Seattle, for a year.) Of course, it would be better if it was still part of that elementary school library instead of being deaccessioned, but it just goes to prove what I’d be happy to tell you about librarians…

travelingcard★ Speaking of cool Debs-related ephemera, I managed to score a Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen “traveling card” from eBay this past week. It is dated June 1893, so I just missed having the Debs facsimile signature by a few months (he refused re-election as Secretary-Treasurer in September 1892, which is when this card blank would have been printed), but still a very slick item from the time when EVD was still editing the brotherhood’s monthly magazine.

Traveling cards, as I understand them, were issued to members who were on the road a great deal so that they could attend the otherwise closed meetings of local lodges in other towns as the occasion presented itself. They were issued annually and according to the printed conditions on the back they were supposed to be returned to the issuing lodge for destruction at the end of that time. This probably helps explain why there are so few of them around. For the record, this ran me about $20. A card with a Debs signature instead of Frank Arnold’s could easily have punched through the $100 barrier.

Labor ephemera collector Vince Kueter says I got a good deal.

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Two down, three or four to go… (18-01)


It has been a few months since I’ve had time to work on the site. I discovered that being able to debrief once a week is very helpful for the compilation phase of the work but a detriment to the nitty gritty of editing.

The project started as a four volume thang but the publisher agreed to split the early, pre-socialist material into two volumes, one of which deals with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen material and the second of which deep-dives into the American Railway Union material from late 1892 to 1896. Both of those manuscripts are now in house, the first being copyedited currently. They will release six months apart.

Work now begins on the socialist phase, starting Jan. 1, 1897. We’ve pitched for a fourth volume of the socialist material — which would further extend the five volume series to a sixth volume — and are still waiting to hear from the Haymarket editorial board as to whether they want to commit to doing that. It’s about a 50-50 probability, in my estimation. The project is already pretty huge from a publishing perspective, as each volume is going to be about 750 pages in print.

The title of the first volume is now finalized: Volume 1: Building Solidarity on the Tracks, 1877-1892 is the winning name. The suggestion was the publisher’s and it is totally fine with both David and me. A little more “action packed” than the more mundane title that I favored, Volume 1: The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, 1877-1892.


The second volume is likely to be called Volume 2: The Rise and Fall of the American Railway Union, 1892-1896, although Haymarket still has not signed off on that. I’m a little bit more adamant about that than I was the title for the first volume. We shall see.

I don’t have a clue what the third volume will end up being called; the name will probably depend to some extent on what the terminal date is — a six volume series will have a shorter time interval. The working title is Volume 3: Movement Builder, 1897-1907, but that’s almost 100% guaranteed to change as we move along, especially since volume 1 has “build” in the title.

I worked pretty hard on the introductions for volumes 1 and 2 and am happy enough with them, I suppose. Combined, they total about 24,000 words, which is a pretty good chunk towards a Debs biography if you think about it that way. My co-editor David Walters has expressed a strong desire to split the writing of the introduction for the next volume so we’ll be writing that collectively. David will concentrate on the trade union material — the American Labor Union and the Industrial Workers of the World — and I will concentrate on the political stuff — founding the Social Democracy of America, the Social Democratic Party of America, and the Socialist Party of America. If you get the sense that there is a lot of ground to cover in a smallish amount of introductory space, you are on target.

If we get a sixth volume, we will probably cut the third volume off with the election of 1904, leaving the IWW material, such as it is, for volume 4. This is 100% a matter of Haymarket’s willingness or lack thereof to expand the scope of the project — and to stretch out the timeline another year. These volumes are going to take about a year each to compile and finish.

Anyway, I’m breathing a deep sigh of relief at being finished at last with the pre-socialist period. It’s a fairly enormous contribution to American labor history, only something like 4 of the more than 350 Debs pieces have seen print in other collections of his material, so it’s going to be completely new fare for most readers.

More to follow, of course.



backwoodsutopias• Rolling in the door yesterday was a clean hardcover copy of the enlarged second edition of Arthur Bestor’s Backwoods Utopias: The Sectarian Origins and the Owenite Phase of Communitarian Socialism in America, 1663-1829 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970). I’ve actually already had a paperback of this title but any time I’m able to upgrade from a paperback to a real book on the cheap, I try to do that. I’ll rehome the paper trading it in with Bolerium Books in San Francisco.

Debs started out his socialist career as a “Utopian socialist” — an advocate of like-minded individuals getting together in one place and carving out a cooperative society from the wilderness. The scheme has a long tradition in American history, as the title of this book intimates, and has almost never worked for more than a few years before the cooperatives blow apart from internal pressure. Religious communes have had only a slightly better record of longevity, to which the history of the Shakers and the Oneida Community lends testimony.

There’s actually a pig-ton of books on Robert Owen and Owenism. Bestor’s remains one of the best.

Thanks to Vince Kueter and Gene Dillman for the graphics.
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Almost Started (17-20)


July 1 is here — the deadline I set for myself several months ago for completion of the first phase of the first volume of the 4 book Eugene V. Debs Selected Works project. I began the week with only 4 more article pdfs to be processed from printed pages into editable text and quickly burned through those, leaving me a full week to ad lib.

Locomotive Firemen's MagazineThe assembly of my database of Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine articles took a number of weeks, as you might recall, and generated a chronological listing that was very transparent in showing what was and was not chosen. As things transpired, there proved to be a couple gaps of coverage — runs of two or three or four consecutive issues during which very few or no articles were selected. I decided to look back and take another look at these “blank spots,” figuring that I may well have worked sloppily or overly fast on those issues and inadvertently skipped material that should otherwise have been included.

I concentrated on 1889, which seemed to significantly underrepresented in the article mix compared with other similar years. While that was true, now it is no longer the case. I may have rushed through this particular year before, but I feel that now the Debs material from 1889 has been carefully and consistently selected.

I’m not sure how many, if any, of the pieces I added this week will make the final cut for the book, probably one or two, but I certainly feel that the time has been very well spent pulling useful items from the trash heap, as a glance at the list of new titles created since last Saturday will indicate. All in all, it has made for an extremely productive week — a nice finish to the first phase of Debs Volume 1.

 On Thursday I goofed off for a couple hours in the afternoon spinning a random reel of Papers of Eugene V. Debs microfilm. (Never let it be said that middle aged men in Corvallis, Oregon do not know how to party!)


This 1906 ad from the Chicago Tribune begs the question: Where exactly was “Alton Park”?

The result was my grabbing a very interesting article detailing the Socialists of Local Cook County, Illinois getting the “Red Special” train ready for the first time at the end of August 1908. A huge picnic featuring a speech by Gene Debs at Chicago’s Alton Park was planned, which would launch the SPA’s fall election campaign and Debs’s third run for the Presidency. Lots of interesting fine detail, here’s the piece if anyone wants it. Note that the Young Socialists were parading around in matching political armbands in 1908, a couple decades before such behavior gained decidedly noxious overtones.

Things got weird when I tried to figure out exactly where “Alton Park” was located. Virtually no references to any such place in Chicago exist, I found an account of a singing society that gathered four or five thousand people there and found an ad for a group called the “Free Sons of Israel” that were holding a picnic there in 1906.

Alton Park? There is a town by that name in Tennessee. Nope. The city of Alton, Illinois and village of East Alton, Illinois had and has parks — but those would have been about 250 miles away from Chicago, all the way across state on the Mississippi River, not too far from St. Louis. Too far away for a massive day excursion — so that’s out, too. The town of Portland, Michigan has an “Alton Park” — but that’s not in the right part of the state to be a quick hop from Chicago either. Adding to the mystery, The Encyclopedia of Chicago, which is stuffed full of detail about all things Cook County, provided nary a word of illumination.

Fortuitously, I’ve been corresponding with Jim Farr, a political science professor and historian from Chicago, over the last couple weeks about his project dealing with an obscure Chicago communist named Eugene Bechtold (I’m an expert on some of the weirdest things). I was able to turn the tables by asking him a question about his hometown: “So, where was Alton Park?”

The pop quiz stumped him, too! As of this writing, he sent out a query to local history-types for their input. We’ll figure this out, there has to be an answer…

ADDENDA: Carl Smith of Northwestern University responded to Jim’s query and has located Alton Park in the village of Lemont, Illinois — a suburb of Chicago located about 25 miles to the southwest. It seems to have been a privately-operated picnic grounds and was only around for a limited number of years, it would seem. Mystery solved.

 A total of 626,525 words of editable Debs text and footnotes has been generated for Volume 1 — with the available space limited to 260,000 words. A massive reading-and-chopping job lies ahead for David and me in July. In anticipation of this, I have been marking the ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL Keeper material in red on my database. I just ran a tally of these titles: they total 298,475 (!!!) words. This would indicate a need to chop 10% of the “absolutely essential” material and to completely ignore everything else just to get down to size.

I don’t really doubt that some of the “absolute essentials” will prove to be not such upon further review. And review them we must… That’s where I am starting — getting that material through the first reformatting and converted to a gigantic pdf.

David is in Chicago at the ISO’s annual Socialism USA conference this week and I’m gonna be the busy Corvallis file conversion beaver… I’m already hard at work on the task even as we speak, working on 1887 at the moment.




“Railroad Kings” — Dec. 1885 article — 1,510 words

 “Legislation, Law, and Free Transportation on Railroads” — March 1887 article — 1,330 words

“The Situation in Europe” — March 1887 article — 200 words

“Opposites” — April 1887 article — 1,450 words

“Labor and Station in Life” — April 1887 article — 1,065 words

“Labor Legislation” — April 1887 — 1,555 words

“Time is Money” — March 1889 article — 1,335 words

“Jay Gould” — May 1889 article — 1,640 words

“Pin and Principle” — June 1889 article — 1,560 words

“The Labor Press” — June 1889 article — 650 words

“The Johnstown Horror” — July 1889 article — 1,570 words

“The Reading” — August 1889 article — 1,065 words

“Strikes” — August 1889 article — 1,600 words

“The Sunday Question” — September 1889 article — 1,690 words

“The So-Called Dignity of Labor” — September 1889 article — 1,800 words

“The Limit of Endurance” — September 1894 article — 1,610 words

“The Fourth of July” — September 1894 article — 2,480 words

“Altgeld and Pullman” — October 1894 article — 1,500 words

“A Larger Standing Army” — October 1894 article — 1,170 words

“An Era of Bloodhoundism” — October 1894 article — 960 words


….Final score 598,785 words in the can + 27,740 this week =   626,525 words

The End!!!


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.


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Finish Strong (17-19)

black header I don’t have anything either profound or whimsical to impart this week. There really has been no time for essay writing — I was pushing really hard to get the backlog of pdfs of Debs articles to be processed down to zero. I fell a little bit short of that ambitious goal but I have managed to have left myself just a piddly four inch tap-in putt for par, so I’m feeling pretty good about the week despite it all.


J. Robert Constantine, historian.

I even took a little time to spin a reel of microfilm, making sure that there wasn’t any important Debs correspondence that had been inadvertently left on the table by Bob Constantine, the historian who sifted and sorted the Debs mail basket in assembling an outstanding three volume collection, Letters of Eugene V. Debs (University of Illinois Press, 1990). It turns out he didn’t — exactly the sort of high quality, thorough scholarship that I was expecting of him.

Ah, Bob Constantine…

 Bob Constantine died last month —on May 25, 2017, to be mathematically precise — my father’s 80th birthday. Bob was 93 years old at the time of his death in Austin, Texas. Bob was one of the three Debs scholars I most wanted to meet. My ongoing efforts to track him down — and I did try — ultimately failed. That’s a bummer.

J. Robert Constantine was a professor of American History at Indiana State University until his retirement in 1989. He was largely responsible for launching the Eugene V. Debs Foundation, which converted Debs’s old house on the ISU campus in Terre Haute into a museum and which handled the operation of that facility. He was the secretary of the Debs Foundation from 1962 to 1983 and the organizer of twenty annual fundraising banquets for that group.

The survival of the Debs House will be Constantine’s essential contribution in the eyes of many people. For me, however, the landmark will be bigger than a house with a porch —it will be the outstanding work turned in with the Papers of Eugene V. Debs microfilm and the three hardcover volumes of Letters of Eugene V. Debs that are his legacy. It is very difficult, nay, downright impossible to imagine David and me doing what we are doing on this book project without Bob Constantine having blazed the trail first by accumulating sources and leaving a guidebook to what he found.

I remain intellectually in his debt.

Although I was never able to personally say it: Thank you, Bob.




Revised 1955 edition.

I’ve got something north of 5,000 pamphlets and small format magazines in my library — it’s a pretty big stack of stuff. I file by date of publication and it takes a while to work through the boxes; I rarely work the stuff that is later than 1938 or so. I did manage to pay my annual visit to some of the later boxes this week, however, so my “new” acquisitions of the week are actually things that I’ve had around that I managed to forget — these both from 1955, the 100th anniversary of Gene Debs’ birth.

The first of these is a thin Communist Party paperback book, The Heritage of Gene Debs, a selection of Debs’s writings with a “critical introduction” by Alexander Trachtenberg, the founder of the CP’s publishing house, International Publishers.

The 1955 book is actually an abridged version of a work first issued more than a quarter century earlier as part of International’s “Voices of Revolt” series. The original 95-page book was released as Speeches of Eugene V. Debs. The whole Voices of Revolt series is pretty scarce, I think I’ve only got 6 out of 10 titles issued — all of which were produced in one format using inexpensive paper-wrapped hardcover boards. Bear in mind I’m a serious book collector that has spent time looking.


Original 1928 edition.

The original edition included all or part of 37 works by Debs, along with Trachty’s 20 page biographical essay, dated October 1, 1928. The 1955 version features an essay of similar length, but starting from the first line and carrying over all the way to the last, content has been tweaked for political effect. I’m sure one could make a somewhat entertaining day out of tracking the textual differences between the two editions, those both microscopic or substantive.

Compare and contrast the two books’ conclusions, if you will. First, here is the 1928 version, from the rip-roaring r-r-r-revolutionary “Third Period”:

Debs was a revolutionist and, with all his shortcomings, he generally eschewed any other but the revolutionary path. As such he is remembered by the present generation of American revolutionists, who will keep his memory green so that it may be passed on to future generations. Eugene Victor Debs, better known to all who worked with him as Gene Debs, belongs to the revolutionary traditions of the American working class.

Wow, that’s impressive, squeezing the word “revolutionary” or “revolutionist” in there four times in a three sentence paragraph. Now let’s see how that same section was not-so-subtly morphed during the “We’re not actually Soviet spies and propagandists, honest, and we’re actually not scary at all, so please don’t throw us in jail” years of the 1950s:

Debs eschewed any other but the path of struggle both on the economic and political fields. As such, he is remembered by the present generation of true American fighters for democracy and Socialism, who keep his memory green so that it may be passed on to future generations. Eugene Victor Debs, better known to all those who worked with or followed him as Gene Debs, belongs to the revolutionary tradition of the American people and its working class.

Yeesh. In any event, the biography gets Debs from his “poor Alsatian parents” (actually petty bourgeois owners of a small grocery store, but details, details….) to the American Railway Union in a single paragraph, which is indicative of the depth of Trachty’s scholarship. In short, these books are curiosities and collectibles rather than serious contributions to mankind’s fund of knowledge.

Incidentally the herd was thinned from the 37 Debs works, full or partial, which saw print in 1928 to just 28 in the 1955 rendition. Doubtless this was done for space reasons, keeping the 1955 edition to 64 pages — a really “good” number for printers. I’d make a list of the deletions, but, meh, what’s the point?

tribute The final item this week, a 1955 pamphlet called A Tribute to a Great American: Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) is exactly what it looks like: text of tepid testimonials delivered by political and trade union epigones at a memorial banquet hosted in Terre Haute by a joint session of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen and its Ladies Auxiliary. Those speaking included the “sewer socialist” mayor of Milwaukee, Frank P. Zeidler; President of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, W.P. Kennedy; H.E. Gilbert, the venerable President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen; and Mary Gorman, Grand President of the Ladies Auxiliary to the B of RT.

Zeidler basked in Milwaukee’s tradition of electing Socialist mayors and credited Debs for inspiring Victor L. Berger to push for prototypical social legislation (lost and forgotten in Congress) that decades later culminated in social security and the welfare system — magical thinking crediting Debs for two issues about which he wrote and spoke little, if at all.

Kennedy’s more extensive speech was less embarrassing, enumerating Debs’ numerous contributions to the pioneer railway brotherhoods of his day, and declaring that “the idealistic dream of Gene Debs for labor unity 65 years ago is now coming into reality” in the form of the forthcoming merger of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Gilbert touted Debs as a B of LF founder and quotes his 1891 Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine journalism in an effort to reduce Debs’s life to little more than cheerleading for bigger paychecks for union workers — this being, after all, the only life principle that ever really mattered to labor bureaucrats of Gilbert’s ilk.

Gorman said nothing of importance whatsoever in her mercifully short remarks.

Again: an interesting collectible, with an impossibly high carbohydrate-to-protein ratio.



“The Northern Pacific” — March 1894 article — 1,790 words

“Government Control of Railroads and Employees” — May 1894 article — 1,400 words

“Objectionable Bosses” — May 1894 article — 530 words

“The Labor Problem” — May 1894 article — 1,250 words

“Judge Caldwell and the Union Pacific Employees” — June 1894 article — 1,310 words

“The Outlook of Labor” — June 1894 article — 1,520 words

“The Right Sort of Talk” — June 1894  article — 1,350 words

“The Union Pacific and the United States” — June 1894 article — 1,440 words

“Conditions” — July 1894 article — 1,580 words

“The Coal Miners’ Strike” — July 1894 article — 1,215 words

“A Military Era” — August 1894 article — 1,300 words

“Carnot” — August 1894 article — 1,460 words

“Legislation” — August 1894 article — 965 words

“Probabilities and Possibilities” — August 1894 article — 1,970 words

“Populist Advice”  — August 1894 speech excerpt — 260 words


….Word count 579,445 words in the can + 19,340 this week =  598,785 words

• 1 more Saturday to go until the July 1 target for the end of output of editable text. There are still 4 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.


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Poetry and Bible verses (17-18)


  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.


Sen. Daniel W. Voorhees (1827-1897) was nominated for a second term of office by freshman Indiana Rep. Gene Debs

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.


William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) was a particular favorite of Debs.

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.


This absolutely won’t be what the cover looks like. I was just messing around a few months ago.

  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.



94-strikeatpullman  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.

19-debs-pastels  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…

bryanbutton  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.

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Goldbugs and Silverites (17-17)


 Few things are harder for contemporary Americans to understand about the 1890s than the grand debate over monetary policy. Many people have heard the phrase “Free Silver,” few people know what it means. Goldbugs? Silverites? Monometallism versus Bimetallism? Eyes glaze over — it means nothing to anyone.

77-eagleAfter all, today the American monetary system  is based on nothing other than the amorphous “full faith and credit of the government of the United States” — yet it works, because people believe in it and continue to accept currency for the payment of debts and as a mechanism for the conveyance of goods. Even an obvious Ponzi scheme backed by the full faith and credit of no government — Bitcoin — manages to hold its value. So what was the big problem?

In actuality, few issues were so important during the late 1880s and the 1890s. Sectional rivalries and class interests came to a head, pitting the established, moneyed East against Midwestern and Southern farmers cramped for credit, as well as Western mining interests. A depression racked the nation, pushing millions out of work and a legion of tramps on the road. With recession following recession capped by the 1893 collapse, something clearly was fundamentally wrong with the American economic system. The debate raged.

The United States was a relatively young country during the period of the First Volume of Debs (1877-1896) — barely 100 years old. Previous experience with unbacked paper money here during the American Revolution and abroad during the French Revolution which followed was fairly fresh and not good: hyperinflation and economic disarray. Paper money had made its brief return during the Civil War and the result was more or less the same: inflation in the North, hyperinflation in the South. The need for a “sound” basis of a historically-accepted physical commodity back of each dollar — gold or silver — was accepted as axiomatic by economists of the era.

72-dollarIt was a tangled situation. As Debs notes in his September 1893 piece “The Money Question,” the de facto monetary system of the United States from the passage of the Coinage Act in 1792 until 1873, when the silver dollar was largely demonetized, was primarily based on gold — EVD juxtaposes the grand total of 8 million silver dollars minted cumulatively over that time against $900 million in gold coins of all denominations. I haven’t checked his math, but it is a pretty impressive statement.

In brief: during the Civil War the Union funded itself through the sale of securities, which were purchased with inflated money but which the wealthy holders sought to redeem in gold. Similarly, those who lent money sought to be repaid in gold — inflation being very bad for lenders and good for borrowers, who could receive high value money today to be redeemed with low value money tomorrow.

However, there simply was not enough money to go around to keep the nation running. The years from 1873 until 1896 were marked by one recession (“panic”) after another, capped by the catastrophic economic collapse of 1893, which was the biggest single hit to the American economy until the Great Depression of the 1930s. (What year was the Pullman Strike again? 1894. No coincidence.)

“Free Silver” was the idea that silver dollars should be produced in essentially unlimited quantities, with full value for payment of all debts, public and private. An agent of a mining company could roll up on the mint with a wagon-load of freshly mined silver, have it assayed, and receive in return real live paper money exchangeable for the silver dollars that were to be coined from that silver. Thus a great deal more currency would be put into circulation, the financial contraction and tightening of trade and credit ended, and the economic ship of state would sail smoothly again. Obviously, the mine owners and miners of the West were one very vocal interest group in favor of this system. It is also not accidental that there were mints in operation in San Francisco — the leading city of the West and mecca of the California gold rush of 1849 — and Carson City, Nevada — regional capital of the silver mining industry. (See the CC mintmark on the photos of those two coins above? That’s what that means).

The devil was in the details. To use both gold and silver in mass quantities, simultaneously, meant that a fixed ratio had to be determined between these metals. The problem was, they were in flux, with silver’s value generally falling over time relative to gold. Silver interests sought to prop up the price by maintaining an artificially high ratio of silver-to-gold, 16-to-1 being their magic number, a proposition which economists universally believed would drive the more valuable gold and gold-backed paper money from the economy as people hoarded the yellow metal and traded in bastardized silver. They even had a name for this frequently observed phenomenon: Gresham’s Law.

The result of a move to bimetallism (simultaneous use of gold and silver to back the national currency) would be calamitous, moneyed Eastern interests were sure: inflation at home and the collapse of international trade abroad, since virtually every country in the world was on the gold standard and it was in that medium that international deals were made. Indeed, gold standard supporters starting with President Grover Cleveland were certain that uncertainty over the economic future caused by Congressional meddling in the monetary system was precisely the cause of the collapse of 1893.

Things got hot between “gold bugs” and “silverites,” with both the major parties factionally divided on the issue and the new People’s Party making hay in the South, Midwest, and West on the matter of monetary reform.

Debs? He was a silver guy, of course. In fact, I bumped into a comment he made to a newspaper in which he stated he was in favor of paper money — sacrilege! Gene Debs was funny like that.

Oh, by the way, the big moneyed Eastern bankers and their political friends won the day. Capitalism is funny like that.

Coletta I spent the better part of one of my four research days this week making a really nice scan of an article of Paolo Colleta’s “Greenbackers, Goldbugs, and Silverites: Currency Reform and Politics, 1860-1897.” It’s arguably too pretty as scans from books go — it took me three full hours to polish it up — but when I spend the time scanning something, I try to make sure it’s work well done about something of lasting importance. I feel that this article qualifies.

Coletta’s piece was first published by Syracuse University Press in Wayne Morgan’s 1963 collection, The Gilded Age: A Reappraisal. It turns out that the publication date is important. Copyright of books published in the United States between the years 1923 and 1963 had to be physically renewed in the 28th year, otherwise those works would lapse into the public domain — and that book wasn’t. My hope is that making the scan easily available on, with appropriate in-links from Wikipedia, will be helpful to people trying to figure out the ins and outs of 19th Century monetary policy, as I was.

Here’s THE LINK to the full Coletta piece if you happen to be interested.

I spent some time this week working on one of the behind-the-scenes tools that I frequently use without comment, my timeline of Debs’s activities. I prowl through the newspapers year by year at, making use of their excellent search engine to find mentions of Debs. If he makes a speech, I try to make a note of the when and where and to whom and about what of the event. It is a surprisingly useful thing to have when dating reprints of his speeches that appeared from time to time in the Appeal to Reason and other publications.

Here’s a snippet:

  • March 31, 1896. Los Angeles speech at Hazard’s Pavillion. Lights up the Los Angeles Times.
  • April 10, 1896. Speaks to 2,000 striking garment workers in Chicago, introduced by Rev. W.H. Carwardine. Speaks again in evening at the Erie Street Methodist Episcopal Church and a third time later at night to striking workers.
  • April 15. University of Chicago faculty association deems Debs a “dangerous element” and prohibits the school’s oratorical society from continuing with their invitation to him to speak at some date in the next term. This reversed by school president Harper within a week.
  • April 24, 1896. Visits saloon of Oscar Neebe of Haymarket fame and spends an hour talking with him.
  • May 1, 1896. Takes special train from Terre Haute to St. Louis to address a crowd anticipated to hit the 10,000 mark.
  • May 14, 1896. Macon, GA, touring the South for the ARU. Arrives pm and speaks at night.
  • May 16. Arrives Columbus, GA.
  • May 17. Speaks Columbus, GA.
  • May 17, 1896. Chicago Labor Congress passes resolution endorsing Debs for President of the United States.
  • May 18. Arrives Birmingham, AL.
  • May 19. Speaks Birmingham, AL at Lakeview Park.
  • May 20. Speaks to 600 miners for two hours at Blocton, AL.

And so on and so forth… The chronology — which currently stands at nearly 4,000 words and is constantly growing — has already proved itself quite useful to me for what I do, but I doubt if much or any of it makes print in the book; consequently, any hours I have spent on the “Debs Timeline” feel a lot like goofing off. And I goofed off this week, let there be no mistake.

Then again, given the range of other potential activities, diddling away a couple dozen hours on a timeline isn’t the worst thing I could be doing with my afternoons. And I did discover two new short Debs interviews and three terse telegrams because I was playing with the Debs Timeline this week, so there’s that positive benefit as well.

Sibley I also donated my monthly Subbotnik to Wikipedia this week, turning a pile of crap biography of Pennsylvania populist politician Joseph C. Sibley (1850-1926) into a more reasonable effort befitting a five term Member of Congress. Sibley, who looked uncannily like Gene Debs’s beloved little brother and personal secretary Theodore, was a leading advocate of Free Silver during the 1890s economic debate and delivered a very high quality oration to Congress on the topic. It is a work that is downright Debsian, if I may say so…

I discovered Sibley through Debs, who quoted a poem that Sibley either wrote himself or cited in the aforementioned Congressional address. Debs adored making use of poetry in his journalism and speeches, and what he wrote, I must footnote. Thus we arrive at Sibley and my Wikipedia task is found…

Here is the poem cited by Debs, by the way — the one either written by Sibley (who definitely did write poetry, mind you) or quoted by Sibley (his use is the earliest I found):

Then woe to the robbers who gather
     In fields where they never have sown;
Who have stolen the jewels from labor,
     And builded to Mammon a throne.
For the throne of their god shall be crumbled,
     And the scepter be swept from his hand,
And the heart of the haughty be humbled,
     And a servant be chief in the land.
For the Lord of the harvest hath said it,
     Whose lips never uttered a lie,
And his prophets and poets have read it,
     In symbols of earth and of sky;
That to him who hath reveled in plunder
     ’Till the angel of conscience is dumb,
The shock of the earthquake and thunder,
     And tempest and torrent shall come.



white-call Just one Debs-related book acquisition this week. Bouck White’s The Call of the Carpenter, published by Doubleday, Page & Co. early in 1912, is a landmark of the Christian socialism movement and seems to have been at least warmly received — if not regarded as deeply influential — by Gene Debs. While I expected a novel or a novelized biography from the radical divine, White actually delivers a bit more than than, opening with a provocative, not to say inflammatory, essay ascribing the malaise of the late 19th Century church with its conscious alignment with the forces of money and power.

White takes first, failing steps towards social history, attempting to explain the relationship between the central Roman Empire and local authority in the peripheries and the daily life of working people in the Near East during Christ’s era. Jesus is portrayed as a skilled craftsman, called “The Carpenter” throughout, and is made into a defender of the poor against external state power.

I think the book probably sold pretty well in its day — there are quite a few used copies on the market and the average price for the title is low. Moreover, it has been scanned a whole bunch of times as well, so feel free to download a copy for free if you want to give it a look. Use THIS LINK.

The book arrived late in the week and I haven’t had a chance to do more than give it a cursory glance. I will probably read it closely when we’re putting together volume 3, as I know that Debs both read the book when it came out and was influenced by it. It was, after all, another statement of his own view of the “radical historical Jesus.”



 “Industrial Peace” — March 1893 article — 835 words

 “The Interstate Commerce Commission” — March 1893 article — 1,440 words

 “Standing Armies” — March 1893 article — 1,110 words

 “Carnegie” — April 1893 article — 1,275 words

 “Coming Events” — April 1893 article — 850 words

 “Congress, Pinkertons, and Organized Labor” — April 1893 article — 1,250 words

 “The Hawaiian, or Sandwich Islands” — April 1893 article — 700 words

 “Law, Lawmakers, and Politics” — April 1893 article — 1,250 words

 “Labor Deliberation” — May 1893 article — 910 words

 “Anti-Poverty” — June 1893 article — 1,100 words

 “Labor and Legislation” — June 1893 article — 1,210 words

“A Railway Party in Politics” — July 1893 article — 1,680 words

“Russianizing the United States” — July 1893 article — 850 words

“The Chicago Anarchists” — Aug. 1893 article — 1,765 words

“The Pulpit and Socialism” — Sept. 1893 article — 1,950 words

“The Money Question” — Sept. 1893 article — 2,425 words

“Business Depression and Legislation” — Oct. 1893 article — 2,310 words

“Defenseless Wage Earners” — Oct. 1893 article — 1,485 words

“Labor, Capital, and Distribution of Property” — Nov. 1893 article — 2,415 words

“Ready for Another Fight: Statement to the Associated Press” — April 1896 — 290 words

“Statement Declining Nomination for President” — May 1896 statement — 185 words

“Gold, Silver, and National Banks” — June 1896 interview — 870 words


….Word count 529,715 words in the can + 28,165 this week =  557,880 words

• 3 more Saturdays to go until the July 1 target for the end of output of editable text. There are still 55 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.

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