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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Debs as a radical Christian (17-16)


 I am pleased to note that I have located what may well be the first truly serious piece of Debs scholarship published in the current century. David Burns, a history graduate of Northern Illinois University, adapted his dissertation to become the book The Life and Death of the Radical Historical Jesus (Oxford University Press, 2013) — my big Debs-related library acquisition of the week.

radicaljesusBurns relates the tale of a set of freethinking-but-ethical Americans of the late 19th and early 20th Century —Colonel Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899) being one prototypical example — who attempted to forge a new path between scientific knowledge and historical realism on the one hand, and a quasi-religious faith in humanity on the other; believers in a historical Jesus of Nazareth of exemplary tolerance and concern for the meek and the poor who could be placed in a pantheon of the righteous beside equally worthy figures from other religious traditions such as Confucius, Lao Tse, and Gautama Buddha.

“The lines between science and faith were shifting in unpredictable and unsettling ways as ancient religious truths were called into question and the life and times of Jesus remained something that seemed personal and concrete to believers and nonbelievers alike. Thus, the radicals who sought to chart a middle path between reason and religion by finding divinity in Jesus’s humanity were attempting to wrest some certainty and stability from a world that was becoming more uncertain and unstable.” (pg. 11)

Gene Debs was nothing if not a fan, follower, and eventually friend of Bob Ingersoll (as well as the scripture-quoting product of religious training in his youth). This was his intellectual world, a path which he walked together with such Socialist Party comrades as George D. Herron (1862-1925) and Bouck White (1874-1951).

While these

“…all recognized that any reconstruction of Christ’s life would be flawed and incomplete, they believed some versions were more accurate than others. They also drew emotional strength and inspirational hope from the idea that it was possible for a poor peasant from a remote province of the Roman Empire to have a profound impact on the world in which he lived. So Herron, White, Debs, and their peers blended fiction and fact to fashion an imaginative brand of biblical criticism that they thought provided them with a vivid picture of the human Jesus who had roamed the dusty roads of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.

This method of criticism was not objective or dispassionate, but it was a historical approach to the life of Jesus that eschewed the mystical and supernatural….” (pp. 11-12).


This well-known work by left wing cartoonist Art Young (1866-1943) originated in the Aug. 1921 issue of his magazine, Good Morning.

Burns writes Debs’s name large in the history of this theological movement, devoting the fifth of his five chapters to “The Fireman of Terre Haute” and hailing the red Hoosier as “the most powerful [and] popular disciple of the Radical historical Jesus during the Progressive Era.” (pg. 162). 

Burns speculates that Debs’s French parents’ non-conformist religious beliefs (his father Protestant, his mother Catholic, but neither frequenting organized churches) probably lead young Gene to Ernest Renan’s seminal 1863 biography, The Life of Jesus, and to Eugène Sue’s The Silver Cross, or, The Carpenter of Nazareth (1850) during his formative years. Sadly no documentary evidence is extant to bolster this theory — there simply is no “smoking gun” letter to be found, nor revelatory interview to be mined — but Burns’s argument nonetheless strikes me as very possible, particularly given that both Eugene Debs and his sister Eugenie (“Jenny”) had been named after the French author Sue.

As for the depth of Debs’s actual belief in religious texts, Burns either completely misses or grossly undersells the point, instead reciting uncritically two hoary and self-serving anecdotes told by Debs of himself during his later years. In the first EVD allegedly turned his back forever from the organized church while still a teenager over the reactionary hellfire rantings of a priest; in the second, Debs is said to have received a Bible from his teacher as a prize in school bearing the inscription “Read and obey,” after which he…….. (wait for it) …….“never did either.” (Five stroke roll and a cymbal crash! Gene Debs will be playing here all week, folks, and don’t forget to try the meatloaf…)


Radical minister Bouck White (1874-1951) at the time of a May 1914 arrest for disrupting services at the Calvary Baptist Church, attended by Standard Oil mogul John D. Rockefeller.

Trust but verify, Ronald Reagan famously said. In actual fact, Debs’s articles and speeches are littered with biblical allusions and quotations that belie the latter cheeky quip — a point which the otherwise careful scholar Burns could have made and should have made but didn’t.

Burns writes of Debs’s gradual radicalization, a transition from his early full-throated idealization of America and American institutions to a burning desire for a social revolution which would make possible a highly ethical “species of socialism that was almost indistinguishable from what he regarded as constituting a proper interpretation of Christianity.” (pg. 183) Following previous scholarship, Burns depicts the Pullman Strike of 1894 as seminal in the transformation of Debs’s views.

Parenthetically: I would personally argue that the ideological impact of this event is greatly overstated and that Debs’s intellectual trajectory was more or less logical and unbroken, although not necessarily linear. Debs jumped from idea to idea both before and after 1894. His jailing in that year was not a single grand event that served as a point of demarcation of Saul into Paul (to make a very Debsian biblical allusion); rather it was but one impactful event among many which moved him forward from point D to point E, on the herky-jerky path to point K, if you follow. Debs later claimed that his 1895 jail term was that single grand game-changing event, mind you, he explicitly asserted it to be “how he became a socialist.”

Trust, but verify… The documentary evidence does not support this particular nugget of self-analysis.

“Christianity is impossible under Capitalism,” Debs is quoted by Burns as saying, and only under Socialism, marked by the flourishing principle of “love of man for man,” would it be able to flourish. (pg. 183). Rationalism and religiosity were a yin and yang with Debs, who sought a philosophical path which dispensed with unscientific mysticism while embracing the radical egalitarianism ascribed to the martyred Jewish prophet from Nazareth. There was nothing artificial, contrived, or manipulative about this philosophy — Debs was earnest in his belief.

Burns plays the trump card in support of his thesis in the form of a snippet from the 1929 biography That Man Debs by Indiana State University professor Floy Ruth Painter, who himself mined a March 1924 personal letter. In this communication Debs wrote to his correspondent:

I never darken a church door because I hate hypocrisy almost as much as I love the character and teachings of Jesus Christ. Christianity is a beautiful faith. The only trouble is that there are so pitifully few Christians in the world. (pg. 197)


In short, I am excited to have found scholarly support for one of my central and perhaps controversial takeaways from having been immersed in Debs’s writings for so long: that Gene Debs was not a Marxist but rather a particularly radical Christian Socialist. Having discovered Burns’s book, I no longer feel I will be forced to hack a pathway through the academic underbrush to advance this thesis alone.

fingers Debs was simply blowing smoke when he smirked about having “never did either” with respect to reading the Bible or trying to follow its prescriptions. Don’t believe me? May I present the article “Why Great Cities?” — a 1600+ word piece so full of Biblical allusions that it took me longer to run them one by one through an online King James Version search engine to write the footnotes than it did to correct and format the Optical Character Recognition output of the piece itself.

Behold the words of the prophet:

The first city we read about was built by Cain, the first murderer, who went forth with a murderer’s mark upon him. This murderer’s first born was a son, and Cain being a doting father named the city he built Enoch, in honor of his son, who bore that name. Such was the beginning of cities, as recorded in the scriptures.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen's MagazineAll cities, from the first accounts we have of them, were dens of iniquity, and it is not surprising, therefore, that the declaration was long since made that “God made the country, and man the city.” Men are gregarious animals; they delight in herding together, and the more vicious they are the more compact do they seek to have their abodes. It seems to have been characteristic of human animals from the beginning, and it further appears that all of the great cities of remote ages were centers of wickedness — conspicuously, Sodom, Gomorrah, Zeboim, and Admah — in all of which infamous practices had become so common, such as pride, gluttony, idleness, haughty neglect of the poor, together with unnatural vices, that God’s patience became exhausted and He rained upon them a storm of fire and brimstone and sunk them to their native hell, and then the Jordan flowed into the cavity and formed the Dead Sea.

Great cities have been doomed, for their wickedness, to destruction, as, for instance, Nineveh and Babylon. *  *  *

The influence of great cities is known to be in all regards pernicious, and their demoralizing contagion extends far beyond their boundaries. This is known to be true, and yet there is a steady flow of population from the rural districts to the village, town, and city. The innocent and pure are ceaselessly abandoning happy and peaceful homes, where all things contribute to physical and moral healthfulness, to take their chances where the earth, air, and water are contaminated, and where vast numbers of them are doomed to lives worse than death, more unfortunate than dumb, driven cattle imported for the slaughterhouse. Their fate is known, or if unknown the gloom that uncertainty creates is, if possible, more depressing than if the worst had been told.

Men and women are writing of conditions in great cities, but only of virtuous squalor; what lies beyond in the unexplored haunts of vice and degradation is horrid conjecture; the abodes of abominations which defy exaggeration, so foul and beastly as to create inexpressible abhorrence, and which, were they explored, the hideous pictures, if printed, would be suppressed by the authorities. *  *  *

In the great cities of the United States, of which there is so much and such continuous boasting, there is enough of this poison generated every day of the year, Sundays not excepted, to arouse the vengeance of an infinite God, as did the “cities of the plain.” We have civilization and science; literature and religion; the church, the school and the library; we have courts forever grinding, like the mills of the gods; we have legislatures piling up laws like Alpine peaks, and prisons and the scaffold; the experience of the centuries since Cain built the first city and since the deluge made a clean sweep of all men save Noah and his family — and yet, great cities eternally perpetuate the virus of Sodom, and victims from the country — where all things conspire, sunshine and shower, field and forest, mountain and plain, flowery meads and babbling brooks, to make men happy — ceaselessly throng the gates of cities to eke out wretched lives, die wretched deaths, to find a resting place at last in some potter’s field. *  *  *

Honestly, once one reads him extensively and attentively the question whether Debs may be best described as an extremely radical Christian socialist or a revolutionary Marxist is not close. One would have to stuff fingers into one’s ears and sing “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!!!” to disclaim the former description with a straight face.

 Another landmark for the Debs Project has been visited this week, with the word count of Debs articles rendered into editable form for Volume 1 topping the half million mark. The budget for the book remains a total of 260,000 words by Debs, which means that more than half of what is being rendered will wind up on the cutting room floor, but it does indicate that David and I will have a rich store of material from which to craft the best possible selection of early writings.



 “Confederation of Labor Organizations Essential to Labor’s Prosperity” — July 1892 article — 3,100 words

• “The Battle of Homestead” — Aug. 1892 article — 2,600 words

 “The Homestead Horrors” — Sept. 1892 article — 2,340 words

 “The Switchmen’s Strike” — Sept. 1892 article — 1,215 words

 “The End of the Switchmen’s Strike” — Oct. 1892 article — 1,460 words

 “Homestead and Treason” — Nov. 1892 article — 1,400 words

 “Profit Sharing” — Dec. 1892 article — 1,610 words

 “Evolution” — Jan. 1893 article — 1,370 words

 “The Labor View of the Election” — Jan. 1893 article — 1,050 words

 “Jay Gould” — Feb. 1893 article — 2,410 words

 “Why Great Cities?” — Feb. 1893 article — 1,625 words

 “Interview with the Cleveland Leader” — Jan. 1896 interview — 3,130 words


….Word count = 496,405 words in the can + 23,310 this week =  529,715 words

• 4 more Saturdays to go until the July 1 target for the end of output of editable text. There are still 79 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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Poles, Huns, and Dagoes (17-15)


 I was going to write a little bit about the bloody 1892 Homestead strike this week since I’m moving into 1892 with the Debs Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine material and have been reading an 1893 account of the conflict written by a close observer. However, those words still aren’t ready to be written quite yet. Instead, another question came up this week — one about which I have observations but no deep or profound answers.

The 1892 Homestead strike wasn’t the first at the Carnegie steel works in that city. In 1889 the same mill was the site of another lockout, a bitter affair which moved the Pittsburgh Press to categorize some of the strikers as semi-civilized “Hungarians, who look savagely at all strangers.”†

Huns-LickanytwoThat sort of nativist thinking has had a long tradition in America — starting with immigrants from England talking smack about immigrants from Germany and indentured whites slamming black slaves, for all I know, a malevolent impulse running through the generations all the way to the Republican Party of today.

The organized labor movement that emerged during the second half of the 19th Century was particularly culpable for promulgating this ideology, leading the cheers and helping to push the legislative agenda for Chinese exclusion in an effort to restrict mass immigration from that overpopulated nation and a consequent lowering of wage scales. Unions have always been, first and foremost, about getting as much money as possible for their members from employers, after all, and the introduction of foreign workers on en masse represented a threat to American wage levels — which were historically high in comparison to the prevailing situation in Europe.

Although a trade unionist to his core by the 1890s, I honestly didn’t expect Gene Debs to exhibit such thinking.  He was, after all, very good on the race issue throughout his life, viewing the radical abolitionist Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) as one of his particular role models, stepping up for black workers within the Socialist Party when it was unpopular to do so, taking an enlightened view of the women’s movement, and so on. Debs was nothing if not a radical Christian during the first half of his life (the number of biblical references that are going to show up in the index of Volume 1 of the Debs Selected Works will be something that turns a few academic heads). Debs and nativism? Fat chance.

As it turns out, Debs the railway brotherhood magazine editor comes back several times to rather simplistic nativism with respect to foreign workers, with four particular immigrant worker bogeys: Chinese, Poles, Hungarians, and Italians. While I have yet to come across Debs using derogatory epithets for the former two nationalities, he did call Hungarians “Huns” and fairly shamelessly employed the phrase “Dagoes” for Italians — with a sneer, as for example he does in this quote from “Fair Wages” (Jan. 1891):

When wages go down the “labor market” is referred to as being overstocked — the supply of labor being greater than the demand. Labor is referred to as a “commodity,” to take its chances like hides or hair, guano or jute, or any other article of trade. Take the “labor market” and supply it with Poles, Huns, and Dagoes, and wages go down to a level which would not furnish subsistence to a millionaire’s poodle or parrot. In such an event, the American workingman has one hope, and only one, and that is to organize and federate, and say to employers that the standard of wages is thus and so, and all the Huns and Poles and Dagoes on top of the ground, backed by the American scab, cannot lower the standard.

That’s pretty hard to miss, eh? Nor does EVD get any sort of  free pass for potentially having used the term “Dago” in a softer archaic context than the term has today, exemplified by his calling a certain Bonzano, right hand man of railroad mogul Austin Corbin, a “Dago lickspittle” (“The Policy of This Magazine,” Feb. 1891). It was a racial insult then, and he knowingly spewed it. Obviously any serious scholarly accounting of Debs in the 19th Century, during the first half of his life, needs to at least make mention of the fact.

Huns This brings us to another topic which David Walters and I have discussed a bit this week: “What the heck is a ‘Hun’?”

David pointed out the original archaic use of the term, in which a “Hun” was basically a term bandied to demonize “culturally different outsiders” with obviously violent and uncivilized overtones. I replied with my own observation of a familiar 20th Century usage, when “Hun” was made a primary epithet by the Allies in a systematic attempt to demonize Imperial Germany for purported barbarism during World War I.

HaltTheHunBut what did Gene Debs mean by the term when he spoke of “Poles, Huns, and Dagoes”?

I am convinced that this essentially undocumented 1890s racial epithet was short for those savage “Hungarians” mentioned by the Pittsburgh Press — and that these were actually not Magyars (ethnic Hungarians) in the precise sense, but rather this was a name attached to a general category of poor Central European agrarian immigrant to the United States. The Austro-Hungarian empire included not just Austrians and Hungarians, after all, but also Bohemians (Czechs), Slovaks, Croatians, Slovenes, Ruthenians, and the odd Serb or Italian. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was, in short, a multinational state as was the Russian Empire, and there was little effort by outsiders like Debs to understand the exact constituent nationalities. To him they were all Hungarians — “Huns” — I argue.

To further illustrate this, see Debs’s July 1894 article “The Fourth of July,” in which he rails against “all of these imported Huns, Dagoes, Slavs, and Poles.” Can there be any doubt that “Hun” is an insulting shortcut phrase for uneducated newcomers from Central Europe, rather than a term reserved for Magyars only — the immigration of whom was numerically modest?

Note as well: the Austro-Hungarian Empire was Imperial Germany’s main ally in the First World War. Isn’t it interesting how that 1890s term of Debs and his peers evolved and was repurposed for war propaganda two decades later?

The Survey

The title of this April 1916 article in The Survey drew an inquiry several years later from a dictionary trying to determine the etymology of the ethnic slur “Bohunk.” 

 Related interesting etymological note: the early 20th Century racial epithet “Bohunk” — an uneducated Lithuanian or Central European manual worker — seems to have been derived from BOhemian + HUNgarian, according to some authorities. And the related epithet “Hunkies,” again, has HUNgarian written all over it…

 I ran into a small speed bump this week in my file conversion process using optical character recognition, which I had pretty well perfected. It turns out the Google scan of the 1892 volume of Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine was pretty defective, with slanted lines and garbled and crooked text on the binding side edges caused by a failure to either flatten the volume or to use a proper book scanning device.

This meant either a huge “error rate” that would have slowed me down or else a return to hand-typing documents. Either way, it wasn’t going to be a highly productive week in terms of file conversion. I opted for manually typing everything. This reduced my tempo quite a little, but I’ve nevertheless managed to take a pretty good chunk out of the problematic Volume 16 of Firemen’s Magazine and still am on pace the finish on schedule on July 1, with just under 100 files to go and five weeks to take care of them.


87-gronlund-insufficiencycover-sm Nothing directly Debs-related arrived this week, but this new gem for my collection of political pamphlets really makes it clear how Debs fit it chronologically with the American socialist and labor movement. This 1887 Socialist Labor Party pamphlet by Laurence Gronlund (1846-1899) — one of the socialist authors that Debs is known to have read while he was incarcerated in Woodstock Jail in 1894 — was published in Year 10 of that organization. The SLP was the first real socialist organization in America that existed on a national scale. This publication is early, early stuff, particularly given that the pioneer SLP was more than half comprised of German immigrants and published many or most of their publications in the German language in this period.

Debs was editing Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine at the time, and had been doing the same for half a decade, and had been around the fledgling Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen for another half a decade before that.

Debs was born in 1855. Georgii Plekhanov, regarded as the “Father of Russian Marxism,” was born in 1856. V.I. Lenin, the father of Soviet Communism, was born in 1870. This little Gronlund pamphlet has helped bring into focus for me just how early in the history of American radicalism that Gene Debs made his appearance.



You can find the articles mentioned here in the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive of MIA, which is maintained by David Walters. He puts up my stuff a couple times a month in big batches, so there may be a slight delay before you can see the specific files mentioned this week…

 “Liberating Convicts” — Jan. 1892 article — 1,195 words

 “Is It Possible?” — Feb. 1892 article — 1,210 words

 “Strikes” — March 1892 article — 950 words

 “Arbitration” — May 1892 article — 1,750 words

 “Rest” — May 1892 article — 1,000 words

 “Labor Representatives in Legislative Bodies” — July 1892 article — 1,300 words

 “The Pinkertons at Homestead” — Aug. 1892 article — 2,980 words

 “Public Opinion” — Aug. 1892 article — 1,130 words

 “H.C. Frick and Alexander Berkman” — Sept. 1892 article — 685 words


….Word count 484,205 words in the can + 12,200 this week = 496,405 words

• 5 more Saturdays to go until the July 1 target for the end of output of editable text. There are still 99 article pdfs remaining to be processed (or rejected at second reading).


ALSO NEW: one for background: J.R.T. Auston, “The ARU Strike,” up at


† – Pittsburgh Press, July 15, 1889; cited in Paul Krause, The Battle for Homestead, 1880-1892: Politics, Culture, and Steel. (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992), pg. 319.

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The Gilded Age (17-14)


 I was a pretty terrible student in high school. I got good grades in most of my classes but didn’t exert myself in the least, didn’t know how to properly study, and didn’t really know how to read a nonfiction book properly. College was a rude awakening for a year before I found my academic legs and I still never really got up to speed as a history student until my upper class years.


Bill Williams as he appeared in the early 1980s when I was skipping his dull lectures. 

My first US history professor was William Appleman Williams (1921-1990), a really famous left wing historian who had been a hugely influential figure at the University of Wisconsin during the 1960s. He remains an icon of the historical profession, the godfather of 1960s revisionism in American diplomatic history.

I not only knew who Williams was at the time I took his History 201 class, I had even owned and read his latest (and last) book, Empire as a Way of Life (1980), and had alertly followed his series of historical musings in the pages of the Salem Statesman-Journal a few years before.

Williams was a smart guy but very loose about attendance and far less interesting a speaker than I had anticipated. Dull even. I cut his classes like crazy and bullshitted him for an A with a hokey pokey neo-Marxist term paper on the mode of production of pre-Columbian Americans, which was something like 90% of the course grade, I recall. I’m still embarrassed about that garbage I wrote.

Williams, a man with a background in the US Navy, had moved from the Big League history department at Madison to little Waldport, Oregon, a village with a whole ocean next door. He drove the hour each way a few times each week to give his lectures at OSU in Corvallis. He seemed to me to just be going through the motions, regurgitating colonial history to a bunch of kids who didn’t know who he was and who didn’t give a shit about the subject. It was frustrating that he wasn’t a riveting and challenging professor as I had hoped he would be, although I do think if it was later in my academic life when I went through his class I would have liked him more as an instructor.

I knew I needed to beef up my very deficient US history knowledge and got my butt from the tutelage of the great historian and into the mundane classes of a far more conventional history teacher for the second and third parts of the one year sequence. I don’t regret doing that in the least, because there I was held accountable for getting to lectures and actually learned my shit.

Bill Williams used to come in the shoe store and buy shoes for years afterwards. He always had liquor on his breath in the middle of the afternoon, contributing to my assessment that he had just been mailing it in until his official retirement.


Gilded Age Mark Twain, 1872.

 Anyway, I had never really heard of the “Gilded Age” of US history until the second part of that introductory college sequence. The Gilded Age is the universally accepted name among historians for the period starting with the end of Reconstruction in 1877 (when the Republican Party sold out black America once and for all) until the advent of the Progressive Era midway through the 1890s. It was a time of political malfeasance, shady railway expansion, greedy grabbing capitalists turning fast bucks, recurring economic crises, debate over monetary policy and tariffs, and was marked by the sputtering, stunted birth of the trade union movement.

One fun fact that I never knew: the name “Gilded Age” comes from an 1872 book by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner about political corruption. That’s cool. And so another title is added to the acquisitions list…

My own historical interests began with the USSR in the 1930s, from which I switched gears to American radicalism in the 1910s and 1920s due to my pathetic Russian language skills. Now here I am, spending my days with Eugene Debs smack dab in the middle of the Gilded Age, learning the landscape as I go. At least it is intellectually stimulating, I’m having a good time.

 Art collectors have too much damned money. If it’s art, things get expensive fast. Hell, some suckers will even pay $40 for a double-truck magazine lithograph from 1894. Can you imagine that? Bunch of weirdos, if you ask me…


 The above Dalrymple lithograph, from the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the Pullman Strike, shows Debs and controversial liberal Illinois Governor John Altgeld being thrown by Lady Liberty, wearing a “Law and Order” tiara, into a garbage dump already populated by Terence Powderly and Martin Irons of the Knights of Labor (both of whom led unsuccessful railroad strikes), Jacob Coxey of Coxey’s Army fame (a march of unemployed workers across America to Washington, DC),  and a fourth person I didn’t recognize, somebody named “O’Donnell.” Who the hell was O’Donnell? Wikipedia was no help, nor was the answer immediately obvious from a quick search of the interwebs.

odonnell-hugh-smI was feeling the need to make a Wikipedia contribution for May so I spent one of my free days this week on the question. It turned out that “O’Donnell” was Hughey O’Donnell, a young skilled operative at the Carnegie Steel Company that emerged as the top leader of the July 1892 Homestead Strike. I wound up spending the whole day reading about Homestead and trying to build his bio from thin air — as there has been precious little scholarly attention paid to him, even though he’s quite clearly “notable” in Wikipedia terms due to extensive coverage of him as a historical actor during the strike.

I felt a little like I was playing hooky from “working” on Debs, but this is all something on which I would have had to spend the same amount of time in August. The story of the Homestead strike is absolutely riveting and I’ve been reading one worker-friendly 1893 book on the conflict ravenously — it’s a real page-turner, like something by Kurt Vonnegut or a really well-written mystery. I’m not quite ready to debrief on it here this week, but suffice it to say for now that there is a HUGE shadow cast over the Pullman strike and the Debs story by the Homestead Strike and the battle our friend Hugh O’Donnell waged two years earlier.

It turns out I didn’t really play hooky after all.

20-young-campaignprimer-p19-sm Marty Goodman passes along this cool little india ink drawing by the great radical cartoonist Art Young (1866-1943) from a cool little 1920 Socialist campaign pamphlet. It is pretty easy to date this drawing just from the content of the description, which mentions that Debs ran four times for President (he actually ran five times: 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920) — which means this was “pre-November 1920” — and quotes Wilson of 1919 saying the same basic thing that put Debs into Federal Prison after he had said it in 1918. There ya go: “late 1919 or early 1920.”

While this particular pamphlet  did have a publication date up front, many times political tracts were printed without press dates and we collectors have to deduce their date of origins based on contextual clues like these. It is surprising how almost everything contains a clue of some sort — be they content, typographical design, precise publisher street addresses, other publications listed for sale in the back, or what have you — that leads to a more or less definitive identification of the exact date of publication.


 I’m starting to get serious about the historical literature on the Gilded Age, beginning with a Vincent P. DeSantis bibliography that was published in 1973. Title is The Gilded Age, 1877-1896 — which observant readers will note is coincidentally the same SAME EXACT periodization that we are using for volume 1 of the Debs — Railway Populist, 1877-1896.

The start and finish dates are significant: from the end of Reconstruction (which closed the Civil War era) to the failure of the Bryan campaign (which marked the effective end of the People’s Party as a real force and the first awakening of the Socialist Party’s antecedents). In Debs’s case the start date is accidental — 1877 just happens to be the date of his first published work, but the parallel is convenient nonetheless.

63-morgan-gildedage Next up is a collection of articles edited by our friend H. Wayne Morgan, he of the unreadably bad Debs biography mentioned here last week. His collection The Gilded Age: A Reappraisal (Syracuse University Press, 1963) is a far better effort. Indeed, it is regarded as an pioneering work that refocused American historical scholarship on an era that had been previously given short shrift — the Gilded Age having little of the drama and excitement of the Civil War and Reconstruction which preceded it or the obvious significance for the modern world represented by the Progressive Era which followed.

Ten scholars contributed articles for the volume, including Morgan’s influential think-piece, “An Age in Need of Reassessment: A View Beforehand,” DeSantis’s work on the evolving Republican Party (the dominant political force of the era), and Herbert Gutman’s labor history salvo, “The Worker’s Search for Power: Labor in the Gilded Age.” Gutman’s argument is interesting: that such a low percentage of American workers were unionized in the 1870s that unions were fairly unimportant institutions and that workers in small towns had a better situation than those in large cities owing to a tighter community and more constrained alternative labor market for employers seeking to impose draconian cuts.

 The number of quality biographies of President Grover Cleveland — arch nemesis of Debs during the 1894 Pullman Strike and after — isn’t great. One of the really decent ones just came rolling in. Published in two volumes in 1923, Robert McElroy’s Grover Cleveland: The Man and the Statesman bills itself as an “Authorized Biography,” which is a good enough red flag as any to the likely sympathetic bias of the writer. Still, it’s a solid account of the meteoric rise of the former Mayor of Buffalo and Governor of New York to the highest office in the land and the idiosyncrasies of his own “strong executive” conservatism. I look forward to mining the section on Pullman.

 I also got a nice cheap copy of the standard biography of radical abolitionist and popular orator Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), who along with Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899) was one of EVD’s life heroes and primary role models. It was published in 1961, the year of my birth, and was in VG+ condition in a dust jacket — which is how I feel most days. A little general wear and tear, nothing too major.



 “Important Lessons” — Nov. 1889 article — 1,860 words

 “Dishonest Bankers” — April 1891 article — 1,270 words

 “Message to the Federated Orders of Railway Employees” — June 1891 article — 4,410 words

 “An American Aristocracy” — July 1891 article — 1,025 words

 “Remedies for Wrongs” — July 1891 article — 2,660 words

 “The Expulsion of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen” — Aug. 1891 article —  925 words

 “Facts About Federation” — Sept. 1891 article — 900 words

 “The Union Man, the Non-Union Man, and the Scab” — Sept. 1891 article — 1,325 words

 “A Crime Against Humanity” — Dec. 1891 article — 2,625 words



….Word count 467,405 words in the can + 16,800 this week = 484,205 words

• 6 more Saturdays to go until the July 1 target for the end of output of editable text. There are still 116 article pdfs remaining to be processed (or rejected at second reading).

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