The Haywood Trial of 1907, part 1 (19-14)


As we have seen, Gene Debs was very close to those who organized the Industrial Workers of the World but took a rather casual approach to the new industrial union, delivering a speech at the founding convention before departing to deliver paid lectures, then speaking under its auspices about eight times during the fall of 1905. (See: Debs Blog 19-03: “Near It But Not In It”)

He did not attend the second IWW convention, held in 1906, at which the organization blew apart in a factional squabble, and scarcely mentioned the group again, nor did he write for either of the competing factions during the latter part of 1906 and all of 1907. (See: Debs Blog 19-09: “The IWW Split of 1906) Without making public acknowledgment of such, he had sadly washed his hands of it and was done; just as his political nemesis on the left, Daniel DeLeon, by way of contrast, dug in and scrapped for the empty husk of an organization which remained.

Instead, Debs became preoccupied — some might say “fixated,” but preoccupied is a better term — with the attempt of western mine owners and the political establishment of the mining states of Colorado and Idaho to decapitate and destroy the militant socialist Western Federation of Miners by implicating their president, Charles Moyer, and secretary-treasurer, Big Bill Haywood, in the Dec. 30, 1905 assassination by bombing of former Idaho Governor Frank Steuneberg outside his home in Caldwell, Idaho. (See: Debs Blog 19-08: “Debs and the Haywood-Moyer Affair of 1906”)

Moyer and Haywood, along with a former member of the WFM board, George Pettibone, had been secretly arrested in Denver and hustled out of state aboard a special train under the cover of darkness on a weekend, a brazen attempt to skirt extradition law so that they might be tried in Idaho for conspiracy to commit murder — a capital offense.

Debs transformed himself from touring professional lecturer to well-paid journalist on the staff of the blossoming Appeal to Reason, leaving his wife in Terre Haute and taking up residence near the publication’s offices in small town of Girard, Kansas. (See: Debs Blog 19-11: “From Long Speeches to Long Articles”) He wrote copiously and in the most impassioned terms in defense of the Western Federation of Miners leaders, attracting helpful public attention to the case but drawing fire from conservative commentators, up to and including the president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, who made public a letter in which he referred to Debs, Moyer and Haywood as “undesirable citizens.” (See: Debs Blog 19-12, “Undesirable Citizens”)

We come now to the sensational trial of Big Bill Haywood.

•          •          •          •          •

The Venue


Proximity of Caldwell (site of the Steunenberg murder) and Boise (site of the Haywood trial) in Southwestern Idaho. The vicinity is flat and agricultural, not mining country.

The three WFM defendants were to be tried separately rather than collectively. A change of venue was granted to the defense, moving the trial from the small, insular town of Caldwell, located in rural Canyon County, to Idaho’s capital city, Boise, located about 25 miles away in more populous Ada County. The significant costs of the investigation and trial were ultimately absorbed by the state through decision of the state legislature.

A legal team had rapidly been assembled to defend the arrested union leaders, with Western Federation of Miners attorney E.F. Richardson arriving in Boise from Denver on February 20, 1906, immediately after the special train, where he initiated habeas corpus proceedings, in which he charged that the procedure used to move Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone had been illegal and the warrants under which they were arrested defective.

The matter was argued in court early in March, with the state successfully moving to strike all references to the manner of extradition and allusions to conspiracy of state officials against the WFM leaders from the case, a decision rendered by the Idaho Supreme Court on March 12. (fn. David H. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters: The Story of the Haywood Trial. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 1964; pp. 71-72.)

Richardson prepared a bill of exceptions, signed by the Idaho Supreme Court, which effectively moved jurisdiction of the appeal from state to federal court. On March 15 he filed new writs of habeas corpus with the US Circuit Court of Boise, with Judge James H. Beatty on the bench. The matter was argued in court for four days with a similar result, Beatty ruling that the court lacked the power to investigate the means of extradition once the prisoners were in legal custody of the state of Idaho. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 72.)

From there another appeal was made, this time to the United States Supreme Court based on a writ of error, with a test case, Pettibone v. Nichols, accepted by the court for its October 1906 docket. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 72.)

•          •          •          •          •

The Prosecution and Defense Teams


James H. Hawley (1847-1929) was a prominent attorney and major political figure in Idaho, brought aboard to lead the prosecution in the Haywood conspiracy-to-commit-murder case.

In the meantime, defense funds were raised and legal teams built, including James H. Hawley, a former mayor of Boise and future governor of Idaho, and soon-to-be US Senator William E. Borah for the prosecution, and nationally renowned attorney Clarence Darrow, a silver-tongued advocate for the downtrodden, joining Richardson for the defense. These would be the four main attorneys in the contest, meeting in court for the first time on October 10 before the US Supreme Court to argue the Pettibone habeas corpus case appeal.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state, 7-1 (there was one vacancy), with Justice John M. Harlan writing the opinion for the majority. Harlan wrote that the Governor of Colorado was responsible for determining whether Pettibone (and the other defendants) was actually a fugitive from justice, but that he was not under obligation to demand proof of the same in connection with the requisition order, and that this deficiency was not an infringement of Pettibone’s rights under the US Constitution.  He also held that, critically:

Even were it conceded, for the purposes of this case, that the governor of Idaho wrongfully issued his requisition, and that the governor of Colorado erred in honoring it and issuing his warrant of arrest, the vital fact remains that Pettibone is held by Idaho in actual custody for trial under an indictment charging him with crime against its laws, and he seeks the aid of the circuit court to relieve him from custody, so that he may leave the state and thereby defeat the prosecution against him without trial. (fn. Quoted in Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 72.)

Thus, possession of the defendants was 9/10ths of the law, so to speak. The method of arrest, detainment, and transfer across state lines was not a matter which would be allowed to determine the defendants’ fate in the matter at hand.

•          •          •          •          •

Big Bill Haywood

William Haywood, Jr. was a child of the American West, born in February 1869 in Salt Lake City to a young, non-Mormon couple. His father, a miner, died of pneumonia in 1872, leaving young Bill’s 18-year old mother to raise him alone for the next several years, before she remarried, again to a miner. The family moved to the mining camp at Orphir, located in the Oquirrh Mountains, where Bill spent several of his boyhood years. He took his first job in Orphir, probably working as a breaker boy, when he was just 9 years old. (fn. Joseph R. Conlin, Big Bill Haywood and the Radical Union Movement. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1969; pp. 2-3.)

The family eventually returned to Salt Lake City, where Bill was hired out as a general laborer for a local farmer, earning a dollar a month. He also worked variously as a wood-chopper, hotel porter, and messenger boy. His stepfather eventually became the manager of a mine and milling company in Humboldt County, Utah, and when Bill was 15 he moved away from home to take a job there. (fn. Conlin, Big Bill Haywood, op cit., p. 5.)

Haywood would remain in his stepfather’s employ for three years, even staying to work as a property guard when the mine ceased operations for financial reasons in 1887.

In the words of one of his biographers, the historian Joseph R. Conlin:

The fact is that Bill Haywood got along quite well in Salt Lake City and Orphir, and remembered his childhood fondly and in some detail; this revolutionary’s alienation did not begin in Zion. *  *  *

He was intelligent, full of curiosity, and ambitious. His formal education was negligible; he had only a few years of schooling in Orphir and at a Roman Catholic school in Salt Lake City. But Haywood had exploited Salt Lake City’s relatively broad cultural offerings and became ‘an ardent reader of Shakespeare’ as well as a passably competent chess player… Haywood’s stepfather was a lover of poetry and introduced young Bill to Voltaire, Byron, Burns, and Milton. Haywood showed a keen interest in learning about virtually anything new with which he came into contact…. He was intrigued by everything from prehistoric mastodon tracks to Indian dances, and remained open-minded and curious throughout his life. (fn. Conlin, Big Bill Haywood, op cit., pp. 5-7.)

Bill_haywood_headshot_sideIn 1887 Haywood took another mining job, working this time as a fireman and engineer on the small train which carried ore and waste rock to the surface of the Brooklyn Mine, located near Salt Lake City. He married in 1889 and determined to leave underground employment, attempting to make a living briefly and unsuccessfully as a metal assayer and a gold prospector. He would leave the mining business altogether in 1890, when he took a job as a hand for a cattle rancher before eventually returning to the mines. (fn. Conlin, Big Bill Haywood, op cit., pp. 7-8.)

Haywood briefly homesteaded at Fort McDermitt, a brief interlude at domesticity which was ultimately defeated by his wife’s chronic ill health and the lack of gainful employment in close proximity to his home. (fn. Conlin, Big Bill Haywood, op cit., pp. 8-9.)

In the depression year of 1894, Haywood left his ailing wife and daughter with his in-laws and made his way to Silver City, Idaho to attempt to find a mining job there. The job situation was grim, with Haywood forced to start as a car man, shoveling rock at the Blaine Mine. He was eventually able to find a more remunerative position as a miner in the same mine and sent for his wife and daughter to join him — with a second daughter added to the family shortly after the pair arrived.(fn. Conlin, Big Bill Haywood, op cit., p. 20.)

In June 1896, Haywood suffered a serious hand injury while riding a car back to the surface of the Blaine Mine. He was unable to work while recovering. Towards the middle of August, President Ed Boyce of the Western Federation of Miners visited the Blaine Mine attempting to organize it. Haywood was inspired and joined the union, soon becoming treasurer of the new local. He attended meetings regularly and gained a reputation for keeping honest and accurate accounts. (fn. Conlin, Big Bill Haywood, op cit., pp. 20-21.)

Haywood was tapped by the Silver City local as its delegate to the 1898 annual convention of the WFM, held in Salt Lake City. There he was named to the executive board of the Western Labor Union, the WFM’s federative body which attempted to bring non-mining workers into organized cooperation with the WFM. From that date he also began to make a national name for himself as a contributor of articles to Miners’ Magazine, the official organ of the WFM. Boyce returned to Silver City after the 1898 convention and embarked on a short organizing trip to the neighboring town of Delmar with Haywood in tow. (fn. Conlin, Big Bill Haywood, op cit., p. 21.)

Haywood was returned as a delegate to the 1899 convention of the WFM, where as a Boyce protege he was elected to the executive board of the organization. Haywood attended board meetings at Butte and became involved as a liaison between the central union and its militant Coeur d’Alene affiliate. The job as a union functionary was only part time, however, and it was not until the following year that Haywood was made a permanent employee of the union. (fn. Conlin, Big Bill Haywood, op cit., pp. 21-22.)


•          •          •          •          •

The Jury

As this was a high-profile, costly, high-stakes capital trial, both the prosecution and the defense made earnest efforts to skew the jury for their own benefit. For weeks before the trial both teams made door-to-door canvasses throughout Ada County attempting to determine the specific inclinations and biases of prospective jurors. In yet another example of dirty tricksterism, the  prosecution managed to infiltrate a Pinkerton agent, code-named “Operative 21,” into the defense’s canvas team. This agent supplied long lists of those interviewed by the defense along with their ratings — “OK for defense” or “NG for defense.” (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 72.)

At least half of the dozen men ultimately seated on the jury had been interviewed and rated by the defense, with information funneled by the Pinkerton spy to the prosecution. However jury analysis was clearly an inexact science; four of these six had been rated as “No Good for defense,” were seated, but ultimately voted for acquittal; while two seated after being rated “OK” ultimately voted to convict, leading one historian to voice the highly unlikely proposition that perhaps the prosecution’s infiltrator had been played by a cognizant defense. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 72.)


Jury selection was finally completed on June 3, 1907. The jury included nine farmers and ranchers (one now retired), a real estate agent, an unemployed former carpenter and farmer, and an ex-farmer now employed as a fence-builder for a local railway. Only one had ever been a member of a trade union, and that had been a number of years before. The jurors were almost exclusively middle-aged and older. Politically, these were eight Republicans, three Democrats, and a Prohibitionist — seemingly a fine set of material for the prosecution. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, pp. 101-104.)

A seven-week trial followed, with the eyes of the nation focused upon the proceedings. The correspondents of an estimated 50 magazines and newspapers converged upon Boise, then a town of about 15,000 residents, to deliver blow-by-blow accounts to readers around the nation. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, pp. 105, 107.)

•          •          •          •          •

Harry Orchard’s Story


Albert E. Horsley (aka Harry Orchard, 1866-1954), confessed terrorist and assassin, who eventually lived out his life in the Idaho State Penitentiary after his death sentence was commuted.

The state began its case against Bill Haywood on the morning of June 4, 1907, with James H. Hawley making a 90-minute opening statement for the prosecution. Hawley emphasized the power of the Executive Committee of the WFM in determining the day-to-day affairs of the union, and argued that the policies advocated by the union leadership had led to the death of former Governor Steunenberg and others. Clarence Darrow, for the defense, crossed swords with Hawley a number of times with procedural objections during the opening statement, the start of what would be a bitter and antagonistic relationship. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, pp. 114-116.)

The state quickly established that Harry Orchard and member of the WFM board Jack Simpkins had been in Caldwell several times during the fall of 1905, rooming together under the pseudonyms Hogan and Simmons, with photographs of the pair identified by witnesses. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 117.)

With that background established, the prosecution called Harry Orchard to the stand, where he acknowledged that his real name was Albert E. Horsley, born in Ontario, Canada 41 years previously. Horsley-Orchard briefly described his early work career, culminating in his arrival at Cripple Creek, Colorado, in 1902, and his connection with the explosion at the Vindicator Mine. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 119.)

Horsley-Orchard stated that he had gone to Denver after the Vindicator bombing and met WFM officials Charles Moyer and Bill Haywood for the first time, where he asserts he was told to continue with other acts of violence which “couldn’t go any too fierce to suit them.” Horsley-Orchard states he was paid $300 by the WFM leaders and then returned to Cripple Creek, where he built a bomb which was later placed in the coal bunker of the Vindicator Mine. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 119.)

Horsley-Orchard then said he worked as a bodyguard for Moyer until his arrest at Telluride, after which he returned to Denver and was instructed by Haywood and George Pettibone of the WFM to kill Governor Peabody of Colorado for his actions taken against the striking miners, with Steve Adams recommended to help Horsley-Orchard carry out the assassination. The pair attempted to shadow Peabody but were unable to get close enough to carry out the killing, Horsley-Orchard asserted. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 119.)

Horsley-Orchard says he next carried out the assassination of detective Lyte Gregory in Denver in the spring of 1904, with Pettibone placing the hit on behalf of the WFM executive. Horsley-Orchard and Adams were each paid $100 for their part in the late-night shooting, he claimed. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 119.)

The June 6, 1904, bombing of the depot at Independence, Colorado was the next act of violence claimed by Horsley-Orchard, in which he claimed that he and Steve Adams had placed a dynamite bomb under a train station platform and detonated it with a 200-foot wire as strikebreaking miners congregated to board a train home after a day’s work. Thirteen were killed and six wounded in the blast. Horsley-Orchard indicated that he had hid out in Wyoming after the bombing, collecting money from Haywood for services rendered. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 120.)

Next, Horsley-Orchard had traveled to California to assassinate Fred Bradley of the Mine Owners’ Association, failing in an attempt to poison him before wounding him with a bomb. Another plot to kill Peabody was made, this time with a bomb, was alleged to have been made, but the effort was said to have been halted at the last minute due to the unexpected appearance of potential witnesses. A tale of various other assassination plots was recounted with Colorado Supreme Court justices Gabbert and Goddard and Colorado Adjutant-General Sherman Bell said to be among the potential victims who escaped a violent end. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 120.)

It was then that Horsley-Orchard says he was dispatched to Caldwell, Idaho to kill Frank Steunenberg, meeting his accomplice Jack Simpkins before proceeding to Idaho. A first attempt to kill the governor with a bomb had failed, Horsley-Orchard declared, and Simpkins had left town before the second effort to kill Steunenberg with an explosive device had yielded results. (fn. Grover, Debaters and Dynamiters, p. 121.)

A 26-hour cross-examination followed, with attorney Edmund F. Richardson attempting to impeach Horsley-Orchard’s story without much apparent success.

[… to be continued …]



The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 11 more Sundays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “Growth of the Injunction” (May 6, 1905) — 1,986 words
  • “For the First Time Our Comrades Are Safe: Letter to James Kirwan, Acting Secretary-Treasurer of the Western Federation of Miners” (March 2, 1907) — 338 words
  • “Looking Backward: Thirty Years of Struggle for Labor Emancipation” (Nov. 11 1907) — 1,877 words
  • “John Brown, History’s Greatest Hero” (Nov. 23, 1907) — 873 words
  • “Thomas McGrady: Eulogy to an Honest Man” (Dec. 14, 1907) — 2,124 words
  • “Childhood” (Dec. 21, 1907) — 359 words
  • “Panic Philosophy” (Dec. 28, 1908) — 376 words

Word count: 168,087 in the can + 7,933 this week +/- amendments = 175,705 words total.

David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive



Here’s the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. Bear in mind that there is generally a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA. Thanks are due to David Walters for getting this material into an accessible format.

Several hundred issues of two of the Socialist Party’s three English-language daily newspapers have been completed.

New York Call — 1908 (Nov.-Dec.), 1909 (Jan.-Feb.)

Chicago Daily Socialist — 1908 (Jan.-June)

I also worked a reel of the Debs papers film for the second half of 1908, which netted a copy of the October 5, 1908 issue of the New York Call, effectively lost through incompetent microfilming, that I groused about in last week’s blog as well as a number of other rare socialist newspapers.



Haymarket Books is moving down the back stretch with Volume 2: The Rise and Fall of the American Railway Union, as David and I were officially invited to submit indexing suggestions to a proofread copy.

The book is slated for release in August 2019.


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A Few Notes at Halftime (19-13)


The last week of April and the first week of May is a regular and predictable time when my work on Debs slows to a crawl. Real life intervenes in the form of a ten-straight day work schedule; free time dwindles and energy dissipates.

I own a small retail business. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do to pay the bills.

Anyway, there has been no time to research and write for the blog, there has been very little time to scan newspapers. The two long articles that I did manage to type up this week still have massive holes where the footnotes belong. There is more work to be done.

Moreover, a software idiosyncrasy of the program Dropbox resulted in the contralogical result of me losing two weeks of work on my all-important Debs Article Database instead of successfully backing it up — a glitch which necessitated me spending another 90 minutes or so of my limited stock of “Debs time” to make up the “vanished” data.

See, I can whine with the best of them…

A real blog post is clearly not in the cards this week. I thought that I’d instead accept that the tide is way out and that my sailboat is temporarily sideways on the beach and ramble for a few minutes about how Debs Volume IV is going.

There are 13 weeks down and 13 weeks to go with the document assembly process.

Let’s call it halftime.

•          •          •          •          •

Debs-etching-1904-smVolume 4: Red Union, Red Paper, Red Train, 1905-1910 is progressing swimmingly. There are nearly 170,000 words in the can, which probably projects to something like 310,000 when the smoke clears. David and I will need to cut down to 260,000. That’s just about a perfect situation when we go into the work of diamond cutting.

We’re almost unquestionably going to chop two of the four long and duplicative stenographically reported “IWW Speeches” that have been a feature of every Debs Works project from 1908 onward. There will be plenty on the “red union” remaining. I don’t think anybody will miss the cut pieces, I certainly know I won’t, and it will definitely make for a book that reads better. Anyone seriously interested in finding that cut material will have zero problem doing that. Those particular speeches are ubiquitous.

Reducing the material dealing with the kidnapping of Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone and the resulting Haywood Trial of 1907 to fit will prove to be more difficult. Debs was absolutely relentless banging the drum to alert organized labor, political activists, and the media about this affair. It’s not a matter of picking the two most important of four speeches made on nearly consecutive nights and calling it good — there is a story to be told running the course of months and there are tens of thousands of words in play in the first years of Debs’s professional association with the “red paper” — the Appeal to Reason.

It will be interesting to see how that resolves itself. I suspect that we will wield a scalpel rather than a cleaver on the trial material.

•          •          •          •          •


This is probably a good time for me to express my contempt for “librarians” and “archivists” who think that taking an illegible photograph gives them license to destroy irreplaceable newspapers. Book dealers and private collectors for the win; archival bureaucrats — there is an unpleasant place waiting for you in the afterlife.

Although I’m not quite done with 1907 (I’ve got another week or so before that is totally finished up) I am already looking towards 1908. That’s the year of the legendary “red train” — the Socialist Red Special of the 1908 presidential campaign — and there will emerge dozens of short snippets of the two hundred or so speeches made during the course of EVD’s 1908 whistle-stop campaign.

Almost all of those will not make the cut for the final book.

One that did promise to make the grade was a much touted evening speech to a massive crowd at the Hippodrome in New York City.

I was positively frantic this week when I discovered that New York Public Library absolutely butchered the microfilming of the New York Evening Call for 1908 — with approximately 25% of the material rendered illegibly blurred and the irreplaceable source material likely to have been destroyed after filming!

Included in this catastrophe of bureaucratic incompetence was about 2/3 of the awaited Debs speech in New York City — obviously stenographically reported — which had promised to be one of the two most important preserved examples of his speeches of the 1908 presidential campaign.

It was absolutely gut-wrenching.

Fortunately I had already scanned the weekly edition of the Call — formerly known as The Worker, name changed to the New York Socialist. So it was a quick thing to check the content for early October. Bless their hearts, having moved to a 12-page format they had space and it turns out they reprinted the entire 6,000 word Debs speech in that alternate publication. What a break!

Scanning the Call has been dispiriting — very much like raking through the rubble to find personal effects after a tornado has struck and obliterated one’s home. Thank god it appears they finally got the technical problem figured out as they were filming the papers for late October 1908.

Unfortunately, the earlier papers from 1908 are probably lost to history, including one page featuring a very important letter to the editor by Morris Hillquit — who is probably going to be the focus of my next book project.

The four-letter words flow like a torrent…

•          •          •          •          •

So far I have been pretty fortunate in finding all known Debs writings for 1905, 1906, and 1907. There are still a few of them out there to be tracked down, but most of the key material is accounted for and I am learning quite a bit as I go.

Well, that’s probably enough for now.

See ya next week with a proper blog post.





The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 13 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 New Emancipation: Campaign Speech at the Hippodrome, New York City” (Oct. 4, 1908) — 6,038 words
  • “Diaz’s Plot to Murder Our Mexican Comrades Must Be Foiled” (Oct. 10, 1908) — 2,056 words

Word count: 159,993 in the can + 8,094 this week +/- amendments = 168,087 words total.

David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive



Here’s the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. Bear in mind that there is generally a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA. Thanks are due to David Walters for getting this material into an accessible format.

New York Call — 1908 (daily: September-October)


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“Undesirable Citizens” (19-12)


One of the great memes of the first decade of the twentieth century, if you will excuse my use of that anachronistic phrase, surrounds the term “undesirable citizens,” famously used by President Theodore Roosevelt in reference to labor radicals.

That term was quickly appropriated as a badge of honor by socialist and trade union militants, and has been more or less absorbed into the mythology of the American labor movement. Its context has faded and those remembering the term’s actual use have departed from the scene, but a vague sense of ancient insult and reclaimed honor remains.

What of this phrase? Was it a creation from whole cloth by President Theodore Roosevelt? Is it true, as Gene Debs intimated several times in 1907, that Roosevelt used the phrase “undesirable citizen” specifically about him?

I decided to take a short look at this small footnote of history — largely so that I could write an accurate footnote to my history…

•          •          •          •          •

Meaning 1: Ne’erdowells of the Lumpenproletariat

riffraffThe term “undesirable citizen” did not originate with Theodore Roosevelt. In fact, the exact phrase begins to pop up in American newspapers in the years immediately after the American Civil War. In its first iteration, “undesirable citizen” was a Gilded Age term mockingly employed by  defenders of polite society from the aggressions and transgressions of the most brazen ne’erdowells of the lumpenproletariat.

Publisher John H. Oberly of the Cairo, Illinois, Evening Bulletin provides one particularly colorful example of this early use:

John Stricker, alias John Jones, alias “Louisville” is now in the calaboose, ruminating, it is hoped, on the wickedness of his ways and the pleasanter paths of uprightness and virtue. And who deplores his absence from the public walks of life? No one, as far as is heard from. On the contrary, his incarceration is spoken of, on all sides, as a mere taste of that punishment his bad life and long continued misconduct deserved.

For many years he has been a loafer, the frequenter of the vilest dens of the city, the blackmailer of bawds, and the companion of thieves, gamblers, and counterfeiters. A foul-mouthed, brazen-faced blatherskite, he appears here, there, and everywhere, and has done more than any ten loafers in the city to create the impression among strangers that Cairo is the general rendezvous of blackguards and villains.

On the streets, in saloons, in low dance houses and brothels, among the wicked and debased, he has spent ten years of his life in Cairo, and, all that time, he has been permitted to offend with impunity! … There is scarcely a citizen of Cairo who has not been approached by him with the impudent demand “give me half a dollar;” and there is scarcely a bawd in the city who has not paid him blackmail, extorted from her under the threat of prosecution in the event of her refusal.

He is, in short, generally and especially, a very undesirable citizen(fn. “A Privileged Character Brought to Grief,” Cairo Evening Bulletin, April 2, 1869, p. 3. Emphasis added.)

In a similarly entertaining vein, here is the New York Herald celebrating the violent demise of one Irish tough in the fall of 1875:

Another of those gentlemen of muscular development who live on their reputation as bruisers has passed away from the earth, figuratively speaking, with his boots on and with a couple of ounces of lead in his inside. O’Baldwin, the Irish giant, whose “arm was as big as another man’s thigh,” and whose brawny fist could fell an ox as easily as it could be done with a poleaxe, died yesterday morning from the effect of pistol shot wounds, inflicted by the hand of one of his own breed….

In the good old days of Tammany’s ascendancy men like O’Baldwin could hold high their bullet heads and their broken noses and lord it in the first political circles of the city. Everybody remembers how they might be seen any bright, sunny afternoon, lounging on the Broadway corners opposite the City Hall Park or hanging about the steps of the public buildings, receiving kindly recognition from the “bosses”…

Since the old leaders passed away to the seclusion of prison cells, or sought recreation in foreign lands, the crop-haired heroes have been driven to seek a living in other ways than from the city payrolls. Some of them naturally took to the liquor business, and O’Baldwin was one of these…

It is probably a good thing for the public that these characters so frequently and so effectually dispose of each other…. Judging by his past career we may fairly congratulate ourselves that the city is thus speedily rid of him, although in the interests of justice the manner of his end may be deplored. Now and then the bullet finds a useful mark, and if the gallows can do its part and put O’Baldwin’s murderer out of the way we shall be happily relieved of two undesirable citizens by one event. (fn. “O’Baldwin’s End,” New York Herald, whole no. 14,283 (Sept. 30, 1875), p. 6. Emphasis added.)

•          •          •          •          •

Meaning 2: Potentially Disruptive (Non-White) Immigrants

antichinese-graphic.jpgWith the marked expansion of immigration to the United States in last two decades of the nineteenth century, we find use of the phrase “undesirable citizen” shifting from erudite editorialists bemoaning criminal thugs to the customs and immigration bureaucracy and non-governmental opponents of foreign immigration. The term was now used to describe potential naturalization candidates destined to fail the winnowing process — particularly those not “white” enough.

Here’s one typical application, an Associated Press report from 1890, damning Asian immigration:

Seattle, Wash., Nov. 28 [1890].— The Congressional Committee on Immigration held hearings here today examining leading citizens and officers of labor organizations in regard to the Chinese question and Scott exclusion act.

Among the witnesses was C.M. Bradshaw, Collector of Port Townsend. The opinion was generally expressed that the Chinese were undesirable citizens. Mr. Bradshaw told how Chinese are smuggled across the border, giving it as his opinion that 50 or 60 came in each month…. (fn. “Undesireable Citizens: The Immigration Committee Investigating the Chinese Question,” Los Angeles Times, vol. 9 (Nov. 29, 1890), p. 4. Emphasis added.)

This immigration-related application of the phrase “undesirable citizen” seems to have been much more common than its earlier use in conjunction with drunks and thugs. The term was not limited exclusively to Asiatic peoples, it is worth remarking — as this 1891 snippet datelined New Orleans detailing the report of a select “citizens’ committee” makes clear:

The only radical remedy which suggests itself to us is the entire prohibition of immigration from Sicily and lower Italy. It was found necessary to prohibit Chinese immigrants and Congress passed the necessary law. The danger to California from Chinese was no greater than the danger to [Louisiana] from the Sicilian and Southern Italians. We have had a long experience with these people and that experience has been a sad one. They are undesirable citizens and there is no reason why they should be allowed to participate in the blessings of freedom and civilization, which they are not only unable to appreciate but which they refuse to understand or to accept. (fn. “In the Crescent City,” Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1891, p. 1. Emphasis added.)

The specter of increased financial burden upon taxpayers associated with certain immigrants accentuated their undesirability, as this 1904 piece entitled “Undesirable Citizens” from the Deseret Evening News of Salt Lake City emphasizes:

Inspector Webber of the Chinese Immigration inspection department including this state, is looking over the Utah penal and charitable institutions to ascertain whether any of the inmates come within the deporting regulations.

He found a young Italian, aged 26 at Castle Gate, who had been paralyzed from the hips down by a mine accident, and who will be a charge of the county for the remainder of his life. The man had been in the United States just long enough to escape from deportation rules when his accident came.

Another charge was found in Utah County in the case of a young Englishman who has been in jail five times in the short period of his stay in the United States, and it may be found possible to ship him back to the old country. (fn. “Undesirable Citizens: Inspector Webber Here Looking for Aliens Eligible for Deportation,” Deseret Evening News, vol. 54 (April 1, 1904), p. 10.)

In short, by the 1890s the phrase had emerged as a mainstream term of derogation towards those immigrants judged to be insufficiently dedicated to the rule of law, the maintenance of wage scales, or the cultural norms of American Anglo-Saxon society — especially those who would add to the tax burden of established society.

The racist undertones of such a construction were unmistakable. Here’s a December 1890 editorial rant entitled “Undesirable Immigrants” from the Nashville Tennessean in which the writer’s bigoted nativism is allowed to shine through:

There can be no doubt that some effective law restricting immigration should be passed by Congress. This country is, and for many years will be, a home for the oppressed of every country, but it should no longer be safe refuge for vagabonds, paupers, criminals, and all the various undesirable elements of society, which the countries of the Old World are glad to furnish us without extra charge….

The United States should no longer be a dumping ground for the human refuse of all Europe. The emigrant ships which daily pour out their foul contents upon our shores are so many ocean garbage carts employed in cleaning the population of other countries. Good men from every country, no matter what may be their race or religion, if they…embrace American ideas and assimilate with our population, are welcome. But let us draw the line on thieves, paupers, anarchists, and their like. Our poorhouses, our jails, our penal, charitable, and reformatory institutions of every kind are kept up largely to care for Old World paupers and punish Old World malefactors.

We thus kindly rid our friends across the water of undesirable citizens as well as the trouble and expense of looking after them….  (fn. “Undesirable Immigrants,” Nashville Tennessean, vol. 16, whole no. 5197 (Dec. 7, 1890), p. 4. Emphasis added.)

It all sounds perfectly Trumpian.

•          •          •          •          •

Meaning 3. Labor Movement Activists

bisbee.jpgApplicability of the term “undesirable citizen” was further extended to cover strikers and strike leaders during the days of the so-called Citizens’ Alliances around the turn of the 20th Century. The former association of the term with a need to stop a stream of alien outsiders from entering and disrupting the fabric of the nation was supplanted by a new emphasis on those disrupting the divine right of profits of American “captains of industry,” thereby undermining the national economy.

This precise phrase was still not commonly being used for strikers during the last years of the 19th Century. This June 1899 article from Southeastern Kansas during a coal miners’ strike clearly uses the phrase in its earlier ne’erdowell and racist context against those brought in to break a strike.

Judge A.H. Skedmore has granted the injunction prayed for against the Kansas and Texas Coal Company, enjoining that corporation from bringing in for the operation of its mines from which the strikers withdrew, of any convict labor, undesirable citizens, or people with malignant or contagious diseases. This was caused by the threat of the company to import Negro labor, and it is remembered that during the strike of 1893 this company imported from Alabama a lot of Negroes who have been the worst citizens ever brought from the district. The people in general hope no more such will ever be brought into this district. (fn. Kansas Semi-Weekly Capital [Topeka], June 2, 1899, p. 5. Emphasis added.)

Within a few short years the phrase would be exclusively used against strikers themselves, however. Here’s a piece entitled “Banishing Undesirable Citizens” from the New York Times of August 2, 1903:

The action of the people of Idaho Springs in rounding up fourteen men suspected of complicity in or guilty knowledge of the blowing up of the buildings of the Sun and Moon Mine, marching them to the town border, and bidding them depart, never to return, on penalty of “hearing something to their disadvantage,” is at least a good deal better than a lynching. The explosion is popularly believed to have been a trades union outrage, planned and executed to discourage further resistance to a strike now in progress in that district… The evidence probably was not sufficient to give assurance of a conviction, although the men in question had been arrested and were in jail at the time. In some communities the intensity of local feeling would have suggested lynching the suspects on general principles. The Idaho Springs method was preferable. (fn. “Banishing Undesirable Citizens,” New York Times, Aug. 2, 1904, p. 6.)

For another example of troublesome strikers given the new appellation “undesirable citizens,”  see this dispatch bearing the subhead “Undesirable Citizens Sent Out by Colorado Officials” published during the period of Governor Peabody’s martial law:

Telluride, Colo, Jan. 5 [1904].— Twenty-six men arrested here by the military authorities, including former Attorney General Eugene Engley, counsel fo the Telluride Miners’ Union, Guy E. Miller, president of the union, and J.S. Williams, vice-president of the Western Federation of Miners, were placed on board a north-bound train yesterday and taken beyond the boundaries of San Miguel County under military guard. They will not be allowed to return to this district while martial law is in effect. (fn. Wire report, “Were Transported: Undesirable Citizens Sent Out by Colorado Officials,” Ottawa [KS] Evening Herald, vol. 8, no. 40 (Jan. 5, 1904), p. 1.)

And the most “undesirable” of all would be those trade union functionaries who led such strikes, would they not?

•          •          •          •          •

And Then Teddy Takes Over…

tr-kingSo we see that when he made use of the term “undesirable citizens” in 1906 and 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt was merely echoing a popular phrase which had evolved and become part of the vocabulary of contemporary conservatism — a phrase used directly in the context of labor disruption.

But this was not the first time that TR had made use of the construct of “undesirable citizens” — he had already latched on to the phrase even before he became president. In Roosevelt’s 1899 biography of Thomas H. Benton, written more than a decade earlier, TR wields the epithet “undesirable” against New England religious pacifists, of all people, adding insufficient militarism to the official list of fundamental character flaws:

But, after all, this [Southern] ruffianism was really not a whit worse in its effects on the natural character than was he case with certain of the “universal peace” and “non-resistance” developments in the Northeastern states; in fact, it was more healthy. A class of professional non-combatants is as hurtful to the real, healthy growth of a nation as is a class of fire-eaters; …and, in the long run, a Quaker may be quite as undesirable a citizen as is a duelist. No man who is not willing to bear arms and fight for his rights can give a good reason why he should be entitled to the privilege of living in a free community. (fn. Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas H. Benton [1886]. Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1899; pp. 33-34. Emphasis added)

•          •          •          •          •

Use of the term “undesirable citizens” positively exploded in 1907 and President Roosevelt was the direct cause. In the spring of that year a campaign finance controversy around the president erupted, with millionaire railroad executive E.H. Harriman asserting that TR had asked him to raise $250,000 for the 1904 presidential campaign, in exchange for moving New York Senator Chauncey Depew out of Washington as the next ambassador to France — thereby opening up the Senate seat for former governor Benjamin Odell, Jr., a friend of Harriman’s.

As the Washington Post put it, “aggressive and impulsive, President Roosevelt came back at Harriman in true Rooseveltian fashion,” calling Harriman a liar and publishing an entire chain of correspondence with Rep. James S. Sherman of New York (future vice-president under William Howard Taft), chair of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee as a means of documentary refutation of the charge. (fn. “Harriman Lies, Says President,” Washington Post, April 3, 1907, p. 1.)

One of these pieces of correspondence published for the first time in the spring of 1907 was a lengthy letter from Roosevelt to Sherman written on October 8 of the previous year, in which Roosevelt remarked:

Far more important are the additional remarks he [Harriman] made to you [Sherman], as you inform me, when you asked him if he thought it was well to see Hearstism and the like triumphant over the Republican Party.

You inform me that he told you that he did not care in the least, because those people were crooks and he [Harriman] could buy them; that whenever he wanted legislation from a state legislature he could buy it; that he “could buy Congress,” and that if necessary he “could buy the judiciary.”

This was doubtless said partly in boastful cynicism and partly in a mere burst of bad temper, because of the interstate commerce law and to my actions as president. But it shows a cynicism and deep-seated corruption, which make the man uttering such sentiments, and boasting, no matter how falsely, of this power to perform such crimes, at least as undesirable a citizen as Debs, or Moyer, or Haywood. (fn. “Harriman Lies, Says President”, p. 2. Emphasis added.)

Bear in mind that this was written in October 1906, when the public controversy and tsk-tsking of Debs for his ostensibly insurrectionary writing on the Moyer-Haywood-Pettibone kidnapping from the previous spring was fresh in the public consciousness.

As the trial finally approached, matters were getting even more serious. Defenders of the jailed leaders of the Western Federation of Miners, facing trial for their lives, were positively aghast at Roosevelt’s characterization of the defendants. One of the numerous letters of protest received by Roosevelt was from Honoré Jackson of Chicago, chair of the Cook County Moyer-Haywood Conference. In his April 19 communication Jackson had queried Roosevelt about his characterization of Moyer and Haywood as “undesirable citizens” and declared that “death cannot, will not, and shall not claim our brothers.”

This provoked the hot-blooded Roosevelt, who responded on April 22 that Jackson’s language “shows you are not demanding a fair trial or working for a fair trial, but are announcing in advance that the verdict shall be one way and that you will not tolerate any other verdict.” This, Roosevelt contended, was “flagrant in its impropriety and I join heartily in condemning it.” Roosevelt railed:

…It is a simple absurdity to suppose that because any man is on trial for a given offense he is therefore to be freed from all criticisms upon his general conduct and manner of life. In my letter to which you object I referred to a certain prominent financier, Mr. Harriman, on the one hand, and to Messrs. Moyer, Haywood, and Debs, on the other, as being equally undesirable citizens…. I neither expressed nor indicated any opinion as to whether Messrs. Moyer and Haywood were guilty of the murder of Gov. Steunenberg. If they are guilty, they certainly ought to be punished. If they are not guilty, they certainly ought not to be punished.

But no possible outcome…can affect my judgment as the the undesirability of the type of citizenship of those whom I mentioned. Messrs. Moyer, Haywood, and Debs stand as representatives of those men who have done as much to discredit the labor movement as the worst speculative financiers or most unscrupulous employers of labor and debauchers of legislatures have done to discredit honest capitalists and fair-dealing businessmen.

They stand as the representatives of these men who by their public utterances and manifestos, by the utterances of the papers they control or inspire, and by the words and deeds of those associated with or subordinated to them habitually appear as guilty of incitement to or apology for bloodshed and violence.

If this does not constitute undesirable citizenship, then there can never be any undesirable citizens. The men whom I denounce represent the men who have abandoned that legitimate movement for the uplifting of labor with which I have the most hearty sympathy; they have adopted practices which cut them off from those who lead this legitimate movement. In every way I shall support the law-abiding and upright representatives of labor, and in no way can I better support them than by drawing the sharpest possible line between them on the one hand and on the other hand those preachers of violence who are themselves the worst foes of the honest laboring men. (fn. “President Scorns Enmity of Labor,” Chicago Tribune, vol. 66, no. 98 (April 24, 1907), p. 1. Emphasis added.)

And so was a meme born as the left rallied to the slur by appropriating it as a self-description in defiance.


I’ll close with one quick example of the way the left rapidly turned the insult into a badge of honor — of which there are many, including several from the pen of Debs.

This is by Phil Hafner, publisher and editor of the Scott County Kicker of Benton, Missouri:

About “Undesirable Citizens” — Washington and Lincoln Were Classed as Such in Their Day

These “undesirable citizens” are a great source of annoyance to the ruling class. The men on top are satisfied to let “well enough alone.” The same platitudes and “arguments” used in defense of existing conditions have been used for ages by the exploiters of the people. “Obey the law,” is their cry…

But the “undesirable citizen” is always with us. And the preachers, teachers, editors, lawyers, and officials of the time are hot on his trail. An “anarchist” they call him because he rebels against the injustices of the day….

Christ drove the money-changers (we call them capitalists) from the temple. They had polluted the house of worship into a “den of thieves,” he said. Of course the Savior was a very “undesirable citizen” and you need not be told what the ruling powers did to him. *  *  *

The Tories, who owned the colonies under British rule, wanted no change. They were satisfied. Living on the fat of the lad by absorbing, in arrogant idleness, what others produced in toil and self-denial, the Tory element was in clover and, of course, wanted to remain there. Its organs violently denounced as traitors those who ventured to suggest a change of program. These miscreants included Paine, Franklin, Adams, Hancock, Washington, Jefferson, and a number of other “undesirable citizens,” who have since become quite respectable. The Tory has gone the way of flesh and is remembered only as an abomination. *  *  *

Men who write as Debs writes, and talk as Debs talks, are, and always have been, “undesirable citizens” in the eyes of the ruling class. Debs has never violated any law, neither has it been shown that either Moyer, Haywood, or Pettibone have, yet the president of the United States publicly declares them to be “undesirable citizens.” *  *  *

When past history is taken into account, it is not surprising that the revolutionists of today take great pride in wearing badges on which is inscribed, “We Are Undesirable Citizens.” (fn. Phil A. Hafner, “About ‘Undesirable Citizens’ — Washington and Lincoln Were Classed as Such in Their Day,” Scott County Kicker, May 18, 1907, p. 1.)



The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 14 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 Coming Climax” (May 18, 1907) — 3,790 words
  • “Roosevelt’s Labor Letters” (May 18, 1907) — 2,368 words
  • “The Trial and Its Meaning” (June 8, 1907) — 2,085 words
  • “Sweep of the Social Revolution” (Nov. 9, 1907) — 2,227 words

Word count: 149,523 in the can + 10,470 this week +/- amendments = 159,993 words total.

David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive



Here’s the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. Bear in mind that there is generally a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA. Thanks are due to David Walters for getting this material into an accessible format.

Lincoln [NE] Socialist-Labor — 1896 (Jan. – July) [end of run]

New York Call — 1908 (May-August)

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Debs and the Historians: 1907 — From Long Speeches to Long Articles (19-11)


Life changed for the 52-year old Eugene Victor Debs in 1907.

He changed occupations.

He changed living arrangements with his wife.

Some might say it was a midlife crisis.

The year 1906 had been a whirlwind of speaking engagements, starting in January and running though Election Day in November with scarcely a pause. As we have seen, Debs made extensive trips in the year to Michigan; North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania; perhaps Canada; Minnesota and Iowa; all over the Midwest and South throughout the hot summer dashing around the Chautauqua circuit; Pennsylvania; and Colorado. (See: Debs on the Road in 1906, Blog 19-10)

It was an exhausting ordeal.

But as the days grew shorter and winter approached, his friends still sat in Boise beneath the hangman’s noose. Moreover, the new industrial union in which he had invested his hopes and dreams (and for which he had severed longtime friendships) had effectively blown itself up amidst factional backstabbing and delusions of grandeur and petty greed.

On November 5, Debs delivered a final election-eve speech in Denver to conclude his tour of the state of Colorado in support of the Socialist Party’s Haywood For Governor campaign. And then he shut down his public speaking.

He shut it down cold.

It was time to do something else.

•          •          •          •          •


Debs’s first 1907 piece in the Appeal to Reason was a short teaser plugging the forthcoming “Kidnapping Anniversary Edition” of Feb. 16 — an issue which presold more than 2 million copies.

That’s one possible reading, to be sure, and odds are it is the right one. Debs did, after all, indicate in an open letter to readers of the Appeal to Reason published on January 5, 1907 that

During the past year or more my work, especially in the field, has been carried forward under great difficulties, and very much of it has been wholly unsatisfactory to myself, and probably equally so to others. (fn. “A Personal Word from Debs” in Appeal to Reason, whole no. 579 (Jan. 5, 1907), p. 4.)

Debs was not a happy guy.

Alternatively, we know that Debs went to Cincinnati to consult a specialist about his throat in January 1907.(fn. “Debs on Deck” in Appeal to Reason, whole no. 581, Extra edition (Jan. 19, 1907), p. 1.)  The necessity of speaking for two hours a night to large crowds without amplification for 100 or more appearances a year inevitably does exact a toll. The human organism has not evolved for that particular activity. Although he is never specific on the medical point, Debs specifically indicates in a published January 22 letter to Appeal editor Fred Warren:

My case is obstinate, yields slowly, account of long neglect. It is painful and trying, but I am hopeful of outcome and shall leave here on earliest train. The doctor thinks I may leave in a day or two, but he himself cannot tell from day to day the effect of the operation. (fn. “A Note from Comrade Debs” in Appeal to Reason, whole no. 583 (Feb. 2, 1907), p. 1.)

Note the word: operation. Whatever the cause, depression or incapacitating anxiety attack or enforced shutdown after surgery, I contend that Debs did not make a single public speech from the November 5, 1906 address in Denver through the entire first quarter of 1907.

“Paid orator” was no longer his occupation — he was from early 1907 “Eugene V. Debs, Staff Correspondent” of the Appeal to Reason. (fn. See, for example: “Kidnapping Case in Congress: Appeal Succeeds in Placing Facts of Moyer-Haywood Case on Record in Washington” in Appeal to Reason, whole no. 588 (March 9, 1907), p. 1.)

•          •          •          •          •

Here’s an interesting tidbit.

Debs was, in fact, on the hook to give one speech during the first quarter of 1907: set to deliver the keynote to a mass public meeting for the Moyer-Haywood-Pettibone defense. The event had been planned a month in advance by the energetic socialist local in neighboring Pittsburg, Kansas — a few short miles up the road from Debs’s new adopted home of Girard.

The meeting was promoted as such in the local press.

Debs cancelled at the last minute.

He had to rush home to Terre Haute.

His wife was sick and he had to leave, he said.

This seems most unlikely.

•          •          •          •          •

As a paid writer, Debs’s articles began to get longer. Usually one who called a piece quits after 1200 or 1500 words, Debs now began to write commentary that topped the 4,000 word mark — as long as the very longest pieces written during his 14 year association with Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine.

This change was immediate and obvious.

From very long speeches, Debs turned to very long newspaper articles. Not every piece stretched out so long, to be sure, but several did and they took up huge chunks of real estate in the layout of the four-page long Appeal.

•          •          •          •          •

That’s the beginning of this little chapter of Debs’s life from my reading of the primary sources. I’m curious to see how Debs’s most important biographers handled what I see as his Big Change of 1907.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

•          •          •          •          •

• Stephen M. Reynold’s campaign bio, written as the introduction to the 1908 volume Debs: His Life, Writings, and Speeches, says nary a word about much of anything about events taking place after 1904, but as this short sketch was written in July 1908, very close to the events in question, it is not too much to give him a pass.

• David Karsner’s first dedicated biography of EVD, Debs: His Authorized Life and Letters (1919), a piece of poorly researched hagiography, asserts:

Between the years 1904-1908, and for some while after the latter year, Debs was contributing editor to the Appeal to Reason, when that freelance socialist weekly was published by the late J.A. Wayland, and edited by Fred Warren at Girard, Kansas. …Debs toured the country several times under various auspices of the labor movement. He was never too tired to respond to a pressing demand, and they were many, to stop off at a wayside town or village to address his comrades. Scores of times after filling strenuous speaking engagements he has sat up all night on trains so that he might stop off at some city or town along the route to visit a faithful follower whom he knew to be ill or in need. (p. 183)

A big zero, but coming from one who elsewhere in the book blithely asserts “Eugene’s parents were very poor” (p. 115), no particular surprise there either.

29-painter-thatmandebs-covesm• A more serious Debs biographer, Ball State history professor Floy Ruth Painter, in his slim 1929 volume, That Man Debs and His Life Work, fanned on the matter of a 1907 Debs life change completely:

It is likely that the agitation of the working men in behalf of justice for the IWW suspects [Haywood, Moyer, Pettibone] had its effect in securing a fair trial for them…. Debs gave time, thought, energy, and even sacrificed his reputation in the eyes of a great many people in this contest. His championship of the accused men had far-reaching effects for him. A born fighter and agitator, he gave himself unstintingly for the cause. Whether these particular men were worthy of his sacrifice is a question, but he was fighting for a principle. The press of the country attacked him bitterly, particularly for his “Rouse Ye Slaves” (sic.) appeal. (p. 93)

After which Painter jumps to 1908.

• McAlister Coleman in his Eugene V. Debs: A Man Unafraid (1930) is the first English-language historian cognizant that a change with Debs took place in 1907:

For Gene, 1907 was a comparatively placid year. He cut down his speaking engagements and went between Terre Haute and the Appeal office at Girard where he had a room in a boarding-house near the newspaper plant. Every detail of Haywood’s trial for the Steunenberg murder was wired to him by the Appeal correspondents in the courtroom… The acquittal of Haywood was celebrated in all the labor centers of the country. He was the hero of the hour. (pp. 241-242)

•          •          •          •          •

One of the two best Debs biographers, then PhD candidate Ray Ginger, in his completely unfootnoted (!!!) 1949 volume published by Rutgers University Press, The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene Victor Debs, is not only cognizant of the 1907 alteration of Debs’s professional status, but he goes so far as to answer one really big question — how much money was Debs paid to get him to change jobs?

gingerEarly in January of 1907, he wrote to J.A. Wayland that he intended to “come to Girard…and take a hand at helping you on the Appeal.” Debs said that only the force of public opinion could possibly save Moyer and Haywood….

By the end of January, 1907, Debs had arrived in Girard. When he walked into the office of the Appeal, his first words closed the deal: “I want to do something in this crisis. It must be something far-reaching. Only through the columns of the Appeal can I express myself as I will, and reach the audience that I must.” Fred Warren, known among the prairie socialists as The Fighting Editor, was receptive to this offer. Debs was promptly hired at a salary of a hundred dollars a week as a contributing editor.

Thus began one of the happiest partnerships in the history of the radical movement. Wayland, who was a few years older than Debs, had masterfully combined sound business management of the paper with its socialist purpose. When Wayland stepped aside in 1904, Warren continued and perfected these practices…. Here, indeed, was a socialist organ that could furnish Debs with an extensive audience. And the Appeal, for its part, was certain to benefit from Debs’ weekly articles and his lectures on its behalf.

As soon as he had worked out his arrangements with Fred Warren, Debs left Girard for another tour of the mining areas of the West. *  *  *

Debs thought it necessary to take steps to counteract the [anti-Haywood] publicity campaign, so he interrupted this tour and went to Washington, DC. After two weeks of intensive lobbying, he persuaded Senator Carmack of Tennessee to enter all records of the case into the Congressional Record…. (pp. 249-250)

Again: no footnotes. Zero. And that is such a pity…

Where did that $100 a week number come from? That’s $5200 a year — a fairly massive amount for the day (easily topping the posh $4,000 salary he earned in the early 1890s as Secretary-Treasurer and Editor for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen). On the other hand, this was a figure quite conceivably on par with what Debs was already netting as a touring orator. That would seem to be a plausible salary, offsetting all or some substantial part of his opportunity cost with checks paid by a prosperous publication — but where does that precise figure come from exactly?

Moreover there is no evidence whatsoever that Debs shook hands with Wayland and Warren in Girard before racing off on a snap tour of the West. He was in Cincinnati at the throat specialist in the second half of January, we know that. The “Kidnapping Day” speaking event he ditched in Pittsburg, KS by suddenly running home to Terre Haute to ostensibly take care of his sick wife was slated for February 17, we know that, too.

Then we know he was in Washington, DC around the first of March — where he received immediate support from Sen. Carmack, melodramatic prose of Mr. Ginger aside.

There are a couple open weeks in the first half of February, but there is not a molecule of printed newsprint which has surfaced to date to indicate that he signed on with the Appeal as a writer and then rushed off — fresh off painful throat surgery — as a speaker. Did he touch base in Terre Haute and then scurry off across country on a tour of the Mountain West with no advance planning, one which left nary a trace of evidence in the (available currently digitized) contemporary press?

Probably not. The scenario makes no sense.

Let me say it again: this is a phantom “tour” — it probably never took place. Ray Ginger is probably wrong.

•          •          •          •          •

brommel-cover• Indiana State University speech professor Bernard J. Brommel published a book in 1978 that I include in the small set of serious historical biographies of Gene Debs. His Eugene V. Debs: Spokesman for Labor and Socialism, quaintly, was published in Chicago by the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co., a 90-year old imprint coming out of a deep sleep under new ownership after nearly fading into oblivion as the publishing arm of the tiny Proletarian Party of America.

Characteristically frustrating, Brommel puts some really interesting facts into play while at the same time butchering some extremely basic details:

With the editor [of the Appeal], J.A. Wayland (sic.), [Debs] wrote a special edition at each crucial time during the trial in 1907….

With this new writing assignment, Debs left the IWW speaking platform in 1907 (sic.) and moved to Girard, Kansas, where Mr. Wayland privately published his paper. Katherine Debs decided to remain in Terre Haute, for she knew Eugene would continue to travel, and she had no intention of being left alone among strangers in a small Kansas town…. Since Katherine took pride in the big house and constantly cleaned and improved it, she preferred to remain in it and not close the house for an indefinite stay in Kansas. At this time she did help Theodore in the office and answered some correspondence. {highly dubious.} Debs hoped to be able to come home every month. Before leaving he canceled his engagements for the next year with Central Lyceum Bureau in Chicago, the Midland Lyceum Bureau in Des Moines, and the Columbian Lyceum Bureau in St. Paul. These engagements would have been most profitable and would have enabled Debs to accumulate some savings, but he chose otherwise. *  *  *

After Debs joined the Appeal staff, he continued to publish articles supporting the IWW in other journals. (sic!) Between newspaper assignments he went on long speaking tours for the organization. Katherine seldom saw Eugene during these years, for he had to spend his time between tours at his desk in Girard. Once a week Debs sent a note to his druggist brother-in-law asking him to send Katherine a box of chocolates…. Although separated, Debs remained devoted. Katherine preferred a quiet life and so he never insisted she join him. (pp. 86-87)

Really good stuff and really sloppy fact-checking at one time. Brommel’s book is sort of like a season of plate appearances by a big home run hitter who either launches the ball 450 feet over the fence or who strikes out. And there were a lot of strikeouts…

Naming the lyceum bureaus that were managing Debs’s (public, semi-generic) speaking tours? That’s good stuff. But he spoke for the last time under IWW auspices in September 1906, and his telling of the Gene-Kate relationship is wholly uncompelling.


At least he used footnotes.

•          •          •          •          •

salvatore• For my money the best biography of EVD is that by Cornell professor Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist, published by the University of Illinois Press in 1982. I don’t usually write in books, but I’ve marked up my first copy so severely with agreements and disagreements and asterisks to mark content that I had to buy another for my shelf. If my introductions are a dialog with any other historian, they are with Salvatore.

Salvatore provides a long commentary on the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Debs dropped into the narrative right around the 1907 mark, which I consider a direct hit on the battleship. A small snippet here:

Debs’s activities during 1907 suggest the nature of the relationship between him and Kate as each approached full middle age. A year not marked by a presidential campaign, the pattern is also typical of these years. Debs began 1907 recuperating from a severe “rheumatic attack,” which had prevented him from leaving immediately for Girard, Kansas, and the offices of the Appeal to Reason. After consulting a specialist in Cincinnati, however, Debs went to Girard without Kate and lived there through the spring, using that community as a home base for his travels. Sick and exhausted by early summer, he returned to Terre Haute and to his bed, where he stayed confined for more than six weeks…. *  *  *

For her part, Kate had long separated her life from his. Turning more inward, her concerns revolved around he family, especially her mother and nephew who lived with her. But her husband’s activities affected even this domain. Feeling awkward as the wife of a revolutionary socialist and isolated as an unaccompanied female in Terre Haute society, Kate withdrew even from her circle of friends and remained more and more within the confines of her own house. Never publicly critical, even in private she presented the best possible face…. *  *  *

Despite her assertions to the contrary, Eugene was not fond of “the home life,” at least as Kate understood it. Rather, when Debs apothesized the family, his personal reference point remained his parental family. In contrast, his relation with Kate was simply not that important. (pp. 213-215)

This is 100% on the money — with the provisos that elsewhere Debs intimates that the “rheumatic attack” was a chronic nerve problem in his lower back and that the specialist he saw in Cincinnati was related to another ailment, something wrong with his throat, a visit which resulted in some kind of surgery.

No matter, this is far and away the best treatment in print of EVD in 1907.

papers-guide• In the 1983 introduction to the large format paperback The Papers of Eugene V. Debs, 1834-1945: A Guide for the Microfilm Edition, J. Robert Constantine marks the move to the Appeal but seems to obviously undersell the magnitude of the new situation:

In 1907 he joined the editorial staff of the Appeal to Reason, which provided a regular forum for his attacks on capitalism and his defense of its victims — such as George Pettibone, William Haywood, and Charles Moyer in their trial for the murder of the governor of Idaho, a trial which ended with their acquittal.

Debs had become one of the most sought-after public speakers of the day, and he traveled across the nation to fill the speaking engagements whose fees accounted for a large part of his income. (p. 21)

Admittedly, a biographical sketch at the front of a register of film contents isn’t the place where one would expect detailed analysis of the import of a single year. One would have hoped for a little bit of expansion at the front of his three volume Letters of Eugene V. Debs (1990), but he used the same biographical sketch unchanged there.

•          •          •          •          •

Our takeaway: most historians have completely missed or undersold the 1907 interlude, which marked Debs’s move from full time professional touring orator to professional newspaper opinion writer.

In later years he would be a combination of these things.


† – The correct dates, assuming we accept the “contributing editor” phrasing, would be 1907 to 1913.

◊ – It’s not at all clear from this published letter, which lacks a salutation, that he was writing to Wayland. I believe it is more likely a letter to editor Fred Warren, with whom Debs maintained a series of correspondence over the next few weeks.

‡ – Actually Wayland was just one year older than Debs.



The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 15 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 Date Fixed” (April 6, 1907) — 424 words
  • “Haywood at the Bar” (April 13, 1907) — 636 words
  • “Roosevelt and His Regime” [expanded version] (April 15, 1907) — 4,888 words
  • “Calumny and Mendacity: Telegraphic Letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch” (April 24, 1907) — 858 words
  • “A Short History of the Appeal to Reason (April 27, 1907) — 2,358 words
  • “The Crimson Standard” (April 27, 1907) — 439 words
  • “Revolution: Written for May Day 1907” (April 27, 1907) — 880 words
  • “Who Are the Wolves?” (May 11, 1907) — 4,150 words

Word count: 137,188 in the can + 14,633 this week +/- amendments = 149,523 words total.

David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive



Here’s the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. Bear in mind that there is generally a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA. Thanks are due to David Walters for getting this material into an accessible format.

Chicago Daily Socialist — 1907 (Oct. – Dec.)

Lincoln [NE] Socialist-Labor — 1895


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Debs on the Road in 1906 (19-10)


Those who write about history — historians — are generally not satisfied unless they make a unique mark upon their subject, either uncovering new facts to tell a story in a new way, or reinterpreting old facts to provide a fresh telling of a seemingly familiar tale. That’s pretty much the point of the exercise: everyone has slightly different interests and fascinations, and the way humans see their past inevitably evolves over time.

There is no such thing as “definitive” history — there is always something new to be found, or new ways to look at old things. One could easily fill an entire bookshelf with tomes about Abraham Lincoln or the Bolshevik Revolution or the Great Depression or D-Day and no two books out of hundreds on these big subjects would be precisely the same in their presentation or interpretation of facts, nor should they be.

Eugene V. Debs and his Socialist Party is a pretty big topic, albeit not quite as large, the subject of several shelves of books — including, by my count, more than twenty biographies or monographs dealing wholly or in very large measure with the man himself.

Despite this, there remains plenty of new evidence to be found about Debs as well as ample room for analysis and reinterpretation of some of the documented facts already in evidence.

One of the biggest “blank spots” that I have identified is coverage of Debs’s specific activities as a touring lecturer and political orator. While every biographer has noted that he toured and spoke, only one paid much attention at all to where he did it and when (Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist, 1982), and even that book is extremely spotty and dodges entire years.

There is much to be learned about Debs by taking a close look at not only what he said, but where he said it and when. With nearly half a billion pages of newspapers now digitized and online and searchable, this is extremely fruitful new ground to be plowed.

Details of the travels of Debs is a topic of great interest to me and absolutely will figure in the approximately 90,000 words that I have to tell the Debs story in my own way in six book introductions. While articles on this topic might seem boring to you, the handful of long-suffering readers of this blog, they are important my tale, and I once again beg your indulgence.

•          •          •          •          •

barber-obverseAs we have seen, after Gene Debs left his position as secretary-treasurer and magazine editor of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen he made his living — a comfortable, middle class living — as a professional orator.

In the days before radio and television, public lectures and debates represented not only discourse and the exchange of ideas, but collective entertainment. People have always been willing to pay to be entertained, and public oratory was no exception. Vaudeville was an entire industry built upon gathering large audiences to pay similarly modest entrance fees to see singers or dancers or acrobats or comedians perform in rapid succession. Those 25 cent admissions added up.

Debs was a skilled craftsman of the spoken word, able to gather large crowds of hundreds or even thousands and to hold an audience’s rapt attention for two full hours. Debs spoke extemporaneously — he didn’t read notes. He recited a similar tale differently each night from memory, speaking intensely, fluidly, earnestly, and eloquently without employing the transparent tricks of political oratory — cheap applause lines for conventional patriotic platitudes. He challenged his audiences.

Debs was good at what he did, one of the best public speakers in the country. He was also a speaker with a purpose, a socialist missionary to small town America.

•          •          •          •          •

barber-reverseIt should also be mentioned here that Debs was also — simultaneously and independently — a political opinion writer and commentator on public events. He was not a theoretician, but rather an analyst of issues and events who sought to inspire and motivate. This work he did pro bono, at least through 1906. His audience for the written word, generally speaking, was not the general public but rather fellow believers in the socialist cause.

We still don’t know precisely how many dates Debs spoke each year. That number eventually may be calculable, if half a billion pages of digitized newspapers to search ever becomes five billion. We can speak in round numbers: Debs spoke perhaps 100 nights a year, plus-or-minus 50. But no matter the exact number of times he took the stage in front of a rapt audience, there remained plenty of time to think and write in the endless hours on the road aboard trains from Point A to Point B.

He certainly did not focus upon crafting great prose. Much of what he wrote was terse and loosely structured, particularly one-off pieces for fledgling socialist publications begging for a few words written especially for them. He was prone to sloganeering rather than story-telling. He clearly did not enjoy writing as a craft the way he surely enjoyed the art of oratory.

Debs’s written manuscripts, with only one or two exceptions, have not survived. He did not type, at least through 1906, but made frequent use of the abilities of those who did.

As he did not write a memoir and his surviving correspondence is sparse, historians attempting to really understand Debs necessarily must read the tea leaves — where he went, when he went, to whom he spoke, what he spoke upon, for whom he wrote, when he wrote, what he wrote…

The story is there, but it must be deduced.

•          •          •          •          •

MICHIGAN TOUR: Debs opened up 1906 with a short tour of Michigan in January. There are at least three confirmed evenings filled, Benton Harbor on Sunday the 7th speaking on “Social Problems,” Dowagiac on the 8th, and Detroit on Thursday the 11th with “Social Revolution” as his theme — with the blank gap implying at least five Michigan dates were actually filled, along, perhaps with others later in the week.

The Dowagiac News was enthusiastic, lauding Debs for delivering a speech “absolutely free from anything that could be considered as abuse.” The review continued:

His choice of language was beautiful and faultless, his passages at times sublime. Words slipped from tongue into sentences of perfect English. It can truly be called a masterpiece of its kind.(fn. Dowagiac News, Jan. 9, 1906.)

The NORTH CAROLINA TOUR started on January 21 when he hit the road for North Carolina. He began in Asheville on Tuesday the 23rd, speaking for 90 minutes as part of the town’s “Lyceum Lecture Course.” Thereafter he lectured in Salisbury, Winston (twice), and Greensboro — seemingly using the title “Socialism” each night.

In Greensboro on Saturday the 27th, Debs was introduced by a local minister and was very well received, with the religious aspect of Debs’s message given large play in one local paper the next day:

Mr. Debs’ speech, at the last analysis, had not a word in it that was not placed there in the service of love and humanitarianism, and that did not make a plea for the “brotherly love” for the continuance of which St. Paul agitated so strongly. Mr. Debs has all the natural eloquence of a man who has an unselfish purpose and a heart great enough to carry it on in the face of opposition, discouragement, and repeated defeat. (fn. Greensboro Industrial News, Jan. 28, 1906, p. 6.)

According to an interview given in Indianapolis at the start of this tour, Debs was then planning on heading north to Pennsylvania and New York, before crossing into Canada — a rather strange itinerary for the dead of winter, but there you go. It is known that he spoke for more than two hours in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania on January 29 and in Jamestown, New York at the Samuel Opera House on February 1.

There follows a nearly three week gap in the currently available record before Debs reappears on the radar in Austin, Minnesota on February 20. There he delivered what seems to have been a very typical lecture on “The Great Struggle,” with his performance generating a review that uses versions of the word “earnest” twice in three sentences:

A tense, nervous speaker, never hesitating for a word, wasting no time on the ornamentation nor the frills of oratory, [Debs] sends his message home with a directness and earnestness which marks all great speakers if not all great men. He lacks neither wit nor logic. However one may differ from him in theory or belief, one must be impressed with his sturdy manhood, fighting a hard and earnest battle for what he believes is right. (fn. Austin Daily Herald, vol. 18, no. 44 (Feb. 21, 1906), p. 2.)

Was he in Canada in the interim? Perhaps, although no newspaper reports confirming his presence have surfaced. Or did he return home before starting a third distinct tour in Minnesota? This also remains a possibility.

•          •          •          •          •

The Arrest of the WFM Leaders


The arrest of Charles Moyer and William D. Haywood of the Western Federation of Miners in surprising depth and accuracy of detail was front page news the day after it happened. Third defendant George Pettibone began to be mentioned one day later. (Salt Lake Herald, 2/18/06, p. 1)

The arrests of Western Federation of Miners officials Charles H. Moyer, William D. Haywood, and George H. Pettibone for “suspected complicity” in the December 1905 assassination of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg came the night of Saturday, February 17, 1906. The next day it was national news as first reports burned up the wires. By that time, the trio were already spirited away to Boise pending trial, getting them out of Colorado and into Idaho before government offices and courts opened on Monday. Published word of that stealthy and illegal transfer would break on Monday, February 19.

These were personal friends of Debs and he was infuriated. It appears that his first written article on the topic, directed to the monthly newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World, was dated February 22.

We know Debs spoke in Austin, Minnesota, two days before that, on February 20, and again at New Ulm one day after, February 23. While it would be unusual for Debs to have two “off” nights between speaking engagements, to date nothing has surfaced indicating that he spoke on the 21st or the 22nd — which means that he probably sat and stewed and wrote.

On the 26th he wrote a long piece for Hermon Titus’s The Socialist, then published in Toledo, Ohio, with his best known piece on the Haywood-Moyer-Pettibone Affair, “Arouse, Ye Slaves!” undated but appearing in print in the Appeal to Reason on March 10.

These were some of EVD’s most inflammatory pieces, in which he rattled the scabbard of armed revolt and revolutionary retribution should his friends be harmed in the assault on their lives being waged by the governments of Idaho and Colorado, in conjunction with the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

Now where was professional orator Debs during this crucial period? On his Iowa Tour:

  • Feb. 23 — New Ulm, MN.
  • Feb. 24 — Rock Rapids, IA
  • Feb. 25 — Sioux City, IA
  • Feb. 26 — Boone, IA
  • Feb. 27 — Waterloo, IA
  • Feb. 28 — Marshalltown, IA
  • March 1 — open date?
  • March 2 — Davenport, IA


Marshalltown [IA] Evening Times-Republican, Feb. 24, 1906.

At none of these events does Debs seem to have departed from his stock lecture topics, instead choosing to speak to his diverse, paying audiences in the opera houses or public auditoriums of each town on conventional socialist themes in the conventional way.

At this point Debs again drops off the radar for ten days, with only one news report appearing on March 10 — of somewhat dubious accuracy — indicating that he was on tour in Canada.

Debs was billed for a March 12 speech in Denver — which would be a most fascinating appearance, if it occurred, Denver being the headquarters city of the Western Federation of Miners. Unfortunately, coverage of Colorado newspapers of this period in the search engine is currently abysmal and there is a high likelihood that this scheduled engagement never took place. A good number of the announcements of future Debs speeches which one sees in the contemporary press never did materialize, with the wishful thinking of event organizers and eagerness to rush into print with announcement of distant events a leading factor.

One thing is clear — when news of the WFM arrests broke, Debs did not immediately drop everything and race to Colorado or Idaho to raise the rabble. He instead wrote several thousand words of red-hot prose for three friendly papers (The Industrial Worker, The Socialist, Appeal to Reason) while continuing to practice his profession, speaking on generalized socialist themes to large and appreciative paying audiences across Iowa.

Activism had its limits. Obligation called.

•          •          •          •          •

The March 17 Cancellation

So Debs either did or did not go to Denver for a big Moyer-Haywood-Pettibone protest event tentatively scheduled for March 12. This remains a question of history that needs to be solved. The next big event on his scheduling horizon was a fundraising event for the WFM defense slated for venerable Uhlich’s Hall in Chicago on March 17.

At this precise moment much of the nation was in an absolute tizzy over Debs’s “Arouse, Ye Slaves!” petrol bomb, published in the Appeal of March 10, which threatened:

Let them dare to execute their devilish plot and every state in this Union will resound with the tramp of revolution. Get ready, comrades, for action! No other course is left to the working class. Their courts are closed to us except to pronounce our doom….

A special revolutionary convention of the proletariat at Chicago, or some other central point, would be in order, and, if extreme measures are required, a general strike could be ordered and industry paralyzed as a preliminary to a general uprising.

If the plutocrats begin the program, we will end it. (fn. “Arouse, Ye Slaves!” Appeal to Reason, whole no. 536 (March 10, 1906), p. 1.)

Unsurprisingly, Eugene V. Debs was prominent in the news again.

Now here came the engagement, scheduled for the center of the labor world, Chicago, with the iron glowing red-hot. It was barely more than a week after Debs had raised his red banner of revolution to hundreds of thousands of readers across the nation, quoted extensively in the mainstream press, eliciting cries of “anarchy!” and “treason!” from the editorialists.

Chicago waited with baited breath. Former Haymarket prisoner Oscar Neebe promised to be there to share the podium with Debs in defense of the Boise defendants against a new attempt to decapitate the radical labor movement of the country. The Chicago police also publicly indicated they would be around, planning to send a detachment of officers to short-circuit any prospective new “Haymarket riot” in the making…


A.S. Edwards

Evening fell. A.S. Edwards, former editor of the Chicago SDP’s Social Democratic Herald, now editor of the official IWW organ, The Industrial Worker, made his way to the podium for some introductory remarks. He intoned:

We are here to protest against the instrumentality of the mine owners and corporate greed to crush the Western Federation of Miners by putting to death Brothers Haywood and Moyer by suborned and perjured witnesses and packed juries and to express our opinion upon these men by the officials in Idaho. Eugene V. Debs is not present here tonight because he is confined to his bed and unable to come.” (fn. Chicago Inter Ocean, March 18, 1906, p. 5.)

Only about 100 people were said to be present according to the Inter Ocean — a publication which was no friend of the workers’ movement and therefore to be suspected of undercounting, it should be remembered. No bombs were thrown nor arrests made. A healthy $700 was raised for the Haywood defense.

But without Debs.

It is worthwhile recalling the words of EVD’s best biographer, Nick Salvatore:

While sufficient evidence to evaluate the medical basis of Debs’s multiple illnesses does not exist, it is difficult to avoid the impression that many were emotional rather than physical in nature. With certain exceptions…Debs’s doctors often could find no illness to cure… As with many other men and women reared with middle-class aspirations in late-nineteenth century America, Debs used illness as an emotional escape from pressures of his life. Whether in a hotel room in New York during a tour, surrounded by concerned comrades, or at home, attended by the dutiful Kate, Debs periodically created for himself a haven from the world where he might bask in the devotion and uncritical attention of others. (fn. Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982; pp. 213-214.)

Debs had once again reprised what was by now a pattern:

When factional struggle reared its head — Eugene Debs was sick in bed.

•          •          •          •          •

The 1906 Chautauqua Circuit


The Chautauqua movement was a network of commercial public education and entertainment events, generally held in the hot summer months in semi-rural places. It combined elements of the outdoors protestant revival tent meeting, a regional carnival, and the modern TED talk, with a structure based loosely on the vaudeville entertainment model that used rotating performers around a circuit.

The spring of 1906 was a lost season — Debs’s treasured mother was fading and scheduled April appearances in Fort Scott, Kansas and Muskogee, Illinois were necessarily scrubbed. His spring tour of the Midwest was reduced to a mad scramble.

Debs ventured out near the end of the month, speaking on the 29th in Superior, Wisconsin, but a telegram informing him of his mother’s death reached him there and he immediately departed for Terre Haute, canceling the April 30 event in Minneapolis planned by the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen.

He would venture out again after the first week of May, speaking in Muscatine, Iowa; Detroit; and making up his Minneapolis date before racing across country to attend a May 30th gala in New York City to celebrate the launch of the daily New York Call.

060717-debs-chautauqua-claykansasA June 15 appearance at a WFM defense mass meeting in Toledo, Ohio was made, where Debs spoke before a crowd of 1,200. A handful of Midwestern dates followed, including Horton, Kansas (June 19) and South Omaha (June 22).

In years previous, Debs had toured extensively about nine months a year, more or less shutting things down during the hot months of summer. In 1905 he and the Chautauqua movement discovered one another, however, and the summer of 1906 was booked solid as Debs was shuttled around the Chautauqua circuit as a headline attraction.

The Chautauqua movement was part adult educational movement, part local entertainment festival, part protestant tent revival meeting — and a real moneymaker for its promoters. By the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century literally hundreds of Chautauqua gatherings were held, each bringing together musicians, singers, and orators in a fair-like rural atmosphere.

As with the vaudeville circuit, star performers were booked for the season and ferried from one event to another, where they would speak or play or sing for audiences numbering into the thousands.

This summer would be a busy one. Here is a list, doubtlessly not complete, of EVD’s 1906 Chautauqua dates:

  • June 25 — DES MOINES, IA spoke at Midland Chautauqua (reprint Miners Magazine of 7/5/06)
  • July 1 — APPLETON, WI at Fox River Chautauqua. Spoke on “Labor and Liberty” beginning at 2:30 in “the big tent.” About 2,000 in attendance, with Debs speaking nearly two hours.
  • July 7 — ELYRIA, OH Chautauqua, spoke in the afternoon.
  • July 9 — NEOSHO, MO Chautauqua scheduled, 10:30 am.
  • July 9 — MONETT, MO Chautauqua scheduled, 2:30 pm
  • July 9 — SPRINGFIELD, MO Chautauqua scheduled, 8 pm
  • July 10 — TULSA, INDIAN TERRITORY Chautauqua, 2:30 pm start.
  • July 10 — MUSKOGEE, IT Chautauqua, 8 pm was the scheduled time but started late due to a late train.
  • July 11 — PITTSBURG, KS Chautauqua, 2:30 pm. Barely made the show due to being aboard a train out of Vinita, IT which derailed, leading to missed connections; had to take a special chartered train from McCune provided by the event organizer at the cost of $100.
  • July 11 — PARSONS, KS Chautauqua scheduled 7 pm
  • July 12 — IOLA, KS Chautauqua scheduled 10:30 am
  • July 14 — CANTON, SD Chautauqua, spoke in the afternoon at the 6th annual Canton Epworth League Association. Then headed out for Omaha via Sioux Falls, SD, located 23 miles away.

A review of the Canton appearance:

Mr. Debs created a very favorable impression with all classes. Debs is a deep thinker and magnetic speaker. He held his audience spellbound during the assembly, and was warmly applauded. While his theories cannot be accepted by a vast majority of the people, still his evident earnestness and sincerity could not but create a feeling of sympathy in the breasts of his hearers. He was a surprise to those who had expected to hear a frantic denunciation of all existing things…. Quite a number from out of town were here to listen to him. (fn. “Debs Spoke at Canton,” Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, July 16, 1906, p. 8.)

  • July 18, 1906. — STONY FALLS, SD for 2 hours and 10 minutes. Arrived from Canton at 8:30 pm the previous day.
  • July 19. — ALTUS, AR at the chapel of the public school building to an audience of 200. Spoke just over two hours. This was not a Chautauqua lecture. This is a weird scheduling, I note.
  • July 20 — SOUTH MCALESTER, OK Chautauqua.
  • July 21 — INDEPENDENCE, KS Chautauqua started 8 pm

A review of the Independence appearance:

Mr. Debs lacks almost all the graces of a platform speaker except tremendous earnestness and gripping moral conviction, and these qualities in the possession of any man cover a multitude of sins. Here is no dilettante, lecturing for his fee, repeating common platitudes to gain applause, fulfilling all the proprieties lest opposition should show its head to the detriment of his pocket, a time-server and self-lover. Rather the tall, angular speaker, bent towards his audience with a crookedness of body almost as grotesque, speaking grammatically but using the pronunciation that has come up with him from his early training, reminds the thoughtful in his audience of an old Hebrew prophet, or of Savanorola, who will reform the ills of his time even if his reforms leads him personally to the gibbet and the stake.” (fn. “Center Shots from Greatest Socialist,” The Evening Star [Independence, KS], vol. 7, no. 34 (July 13, 1906), p. 1.)

  • July 22 — OKLAHOMA CITY, OK at Wheeler Park, scheduled to speak on “The Toiling Millions” in the afternoon. This was a socialist encampment, on the Chautauqua model. Debs to speak for free. A total of 15 speakers arranged, including Mother Jones.
  • July 24 — COFFEYVILLE, KS Chatauqua scheduled, for 3 pm on “The Genius of Liberty.”

Thereafter, Debs mixed privately-booked dates with a handful more Chautauqua events, speaking in Missouri, Kansas, and Alabama. The official end of the Chautauqua tour came late in August, with Debs to the Appeal to Reason offices in Girard for ten days to recuperate.

•          •          •          •          •

The 1906 Labor Day Spectacular

0609-debs-laborday-newcastleadContrary to the telling in volume 4 of Philip Foner’s factually sloppy History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Debs spoke very infrequently in 1905 and 1906 under IWW auspices — three times in Chicago and five times in New York in 1905, the apparent frequency of which was dramatically exaggerated by the presence of a stenographer and conversion of four of these eight speeches into published pamphlets. (See: Debs and Berger Part Ways, Blog 19-06)

But there was at least one more really big IWW event that was to take place — September 3, 1906, Labor Day, in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

IWW President C.O. Sherman and Socialist Labor Party leader Daniel DeLeon were to share the platform — just two weeks before these two factional bosses went to war at the 2nd Convention of the IWW, virtually destroying the union in the process. (See: The IWW Split of 1909, Blog 19-09)

Also appearing on the bill as was to be a future top leader of the IWW, Vincent St. John of Nevada. He would prove unable to attend, replaced at the podium by IWW national organizer E.R. Markley. Debs was to deliver the keynote address.

It is lamentable that this was not one of the Debs IWW addresses which was stenographically reported.

In the middle of September Sherman and DeLeon sharpened their knives and departed for the Chicago convention. Debs, however, averted his eyes and stopped his ears, continuing with a Pennsylvania Tour, which featured speeches in Shamokin (Sept. 18), Hazleton (Sept. 19), Pottsville (Sept. 21), Philadelphia (Sept. 23), Allentown (Sept. 24), and Allegheny (Sept. 26).

So concluded EVD’s 1906 professional oratory — but there remained on last stint on the road.

•          •          •          •          •

Speeches of the 1906 Campaign

haywoodforgov.jpgThroughout his life, Debs retained a mystical belief in the power of elections to overthrow capitalism and install a fundamentally new order. The patently obvious reality that elected Socialist politicians were able to only do their best to attenuate the worst excesses of the system through ameliorative reform did not dampen his enthusiasm in the slightest.

Debs was the proverbial Happy Warrior on the campaign trail.

The 1906 campaign that piqued his interest and garnered his effort was the insurgent campaign to elect Big Bill Haywood as Governor of Colorado. Incarcerated in Boise, denied bail pending a trial which was delayed, delayed, and delayed again, Haywood was nominated for governor on the Socialist Party ticket as a means of raising consciousness of the plight of the jailed WFM leaders.

Debs traveled to Colorado in the second half of October and hammered the state hard on behalf of Haywood:

  • Oct. 23. — LA JUNTA, CO. (first Colorado speech of the tour)
  • Oct. 24, 1906. — TRINIDAD, CO at the courthouse, to a packed room.
  • Oct. 25 — DURANGO, CO scheduled.
  • Oct. 26 — SILVERTON, CO scheduled
  • Oct. 27 — OURAY, CO scheduled
  • Oct. 28 — MONTROSE, CO appeared.
  • Oct. 29 — Grand Junction, CO scheduled for the Auditorium. Some 700 people turned up but a train wreck kept Debs from arriving in time to speak. Several hundred people stayed for an hour and a half waiting in hope of a late arrival. Finally arrived at 2:30 am, met by a few socialists at the station, then departed at 4:00 am for Salida.
  • Oct. 30 — SALIDA, CO scheduled
  • Oct. 31 — CRIPPLE CREEK, CO scheduled
  • Nov. 1 — PUEBLO, CO scheduled
  • Nov. 2 — COLORADO SPRINGS, CO scheduled
  • Nov. 3 — BOULDER, CO scheduled
  • Nov. 4 — open date
  • Nov. 5 — DENVER, CO to close the campaign with a speech at Coliseum Hall. Said to be far and away the biggest meeting in Denver of the 1906 campaign, with the hall jammed to the rafters and overflow crowd outside in the street.

Though he blithely ignored the ignominious factional struggle which was gutting the Industrial Workers of the World, Debs unquestionably stepped up and took personal heat in defense of Big Bill Haywood, Charles Moyer, and George Pettibone.

Any assessment of his performance in 1906 should include both of these aspects.



The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 16 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “A Personal Word” (Jan. 5, 1907) — 383 words
  • “Show Your Hand” (Jan. 5, 1907) — 536 words
  • “The Center of the Fight: Letter to the Appeal to Reason” (c. Jan. 17, 1907) — 818 words
  • “My Case is Obstinate: Letter to Fred Warren of the Appeal to Reason” (Jan. 22, 1907) — 184 words
  • “We Must Fight!” (Jan. 26, 1907) — 1,832 words
  • “I Have Come to Girard: Open Letter to Readers of the Appeal to Reason” (Feb. 1, 1907) — 613 words
  • “First Anniversary of the Kidnapping of Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone in the Capitalist Conspiracy to Russianize the United States” (Feb. 16, 1907) — 2,163 words
  • “The Kidnapping Case in Congress” (March 2, 1907) — 1,564 words
  • “Worker Solidarity and Mouth Revolutionists” (March 16, 1907) — 1,408 words
  • “The Accused Miners” (March 16, 1907) — 1,557 words
  • “Hold Your Nerve” (March 23, 1907) — 1,078 words

Word count: 125,052 in the can + 12,136 this week +/- amendments = 137,188 words total.

David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive



Here’s the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. Bear in mind that there is generally a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA. Thanks are due to David Walters for getting this material into an accessible format.

Chicago Daily Socialist — 1907 (March-Sept.)


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