“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 Newspapers.com 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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(19-09) The IWW Split of 1906


Daniel DeLeon was largely responsible for the 1906 split of the Industrial Workers of the World, a division which resulted in two parallel organizations spending money they could not afford on doubled up salaries, offices, and newspapers.

Proceedings of the ... Annual Convention of the Industrial Worke

Although 4,000 copies of the stenographic report of the 2nd Convention were produced, the inventory was controlled by the Sherman faction and they sold poorly to the group’s dwindling membership. Original editions are a bibliographic rarity today, with the copy scanned by Google still showing the $550 price tag of a prominent radical bookseller.

Let us be clear on that point from the outset. One needs only to read the record of the IWW’s second convention, held in Chicago over a 17-day period beginning September 17, 1906, to understand that reality.

DeLeon was an impossibilist, a believer in a disciplined and centralized vanguard party to educate and thereby help generate the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by an enlightened minority of the working class. His Socialist Labor Party was to be that nexus for change. DeLeon was ready and willing and more than able to spend more than two weeks as an extremely active convention delegate, battling in the trenches every single day over credentials and committees and resolutions in an effort to decide the fate of a national industrial union organization.

SLP partisans were sectarian and dismissive in their attitude toward others, so certain were they of their scientific correctness at all times and in all situations. The party’s extremist agenda, pointedly foregoing a minimum program entirely, and long history of efforts at dual union-organizing bought them some credibility with anarcho-syndicalist industrial unionists, but the balance on this account was not bottomless.

At heart they were politicians, not organizers in the shop — attempting to pull the strings of what they saw as trade union puppets.

The party led. The unions followed. They were proto-communists.†

•          •          •          •          •

060717-debs-chautauquaDebs and the Socialist Party, for all their protestations to the contrary, were reformist international socialists in the tradition of the Second International. They genuflected to Europe and genuinely looked to the more experienced European socialist parties for leadership. The Socialists were obsessively election campaign-driven — they reprinted and reprinted and reprinted ad nauseam the total number of “socialist votes cast” in each election over recent years as if that totem were a pivotal metric of the coming social revolution.

They believed in the vote as both strategy and tactic — they earnestly sought to win state power via the ballot box. They quickly became realistic about the lengthy timetable necessary for accomplishing this, but their quasi-religious faith in the transformative power of the vote never wavered.

Little else mattered. They would ultimately win some Great November, they believed — this was the form of their moral certitude.

After all, the iron logic of history was on their side.

As for Debs, he spent the summer of 1906 lecturing on socialism to crowds of hundreds and thousands on the remunerative Chautauqua circuit across the rural Midwest. You wouldn’t have found him mucking about in a 17 day Chicago convention to depose the leader of the IWW for love or money. That was simply not his element.

Debs was a public speaker. It was his job and it was his mission.

•          •          •          •          •


William E. Trautmann (1869-1940) was the deposed editor of the St. Louis Brauer-Zeitung, a bilingual socialist newspaper issued by the city’s Brewery Workers’ Union.

The anarcho-syndicalists — the “industrialists” — were another breed altogether. These had little patience for lawyers and middle-class newspaper editors, even if such antipathy objectively smacked more than a little of self-hatred. To them, the “Slowcialists” were on the wrong path entirely with their obsession with electoral politics. The SLP, although closer to the mark, were seen as manipulators who played factional games and alienated rather than getting down to business and organizing.

The industrialists ultimately won control of the IWW and made the organization in their image — but the new baby only barely survived the birthing process, which involved a split, an abandonment, and another split.

The first of these events came in 1906. It pitted two factions of the syndicalists, a left wing faction (led by IWW Secretary-Treasurer Trautmann) and a moderate faction (led by IWW President Charles O. Sherman), with Daniel DeLeon throwing his weight behind the radicals and effectively directing a break.

Here’s an outline of that story.

•          •          •          •          •

The 1906 Split of the IWW, redux

iww-logo-smThe split of the Industrial Workers of the World into two parallel organizations took place at the organization’s second convention, which convened in Chicago on September 17, 1906. It was attended by 93 delegates.(fn. Vincent St. John, The IWW: Its History, Structure, and Methods. Chicago: IWW, n.d. [c. 1920]; p. 7.) The conclave adjourned sine die following a substantial speech by Daniel DeLeon and three cheers for the IWW.

It is easy to see that the factional leaders were on one side President Charles O. Sherman and his supporters and on the other side an alliance between General Secetary-Treasurer W.E. Trautmann and éminence grise Daniel DeLeon — but the exact mechanics of the split were previously unclear to me.

I’m starting to figure things out.

This was not, on the face of it, a battle between a corrupt administration and honest reformers. It was a split over ideological principles, exacerbated by a personality conflict and a desire to capture or hold paid employment — as is the case with most radical party splits of the early twentieth century. Ideas — personalities — jobs.

First, a bit on the ideological motivation of the two factions. This is an extract from the report to the convention by President Sherman, delivered on September 24:

The [IWW] was lauched upon the troubled seas of labor in a period when that small portion of labor which claimed to be oganized was almost in a chaotic state, owing to the dissatisfaction that had taken a firm hold of the minds of its members. The excuse for this dissatisfaction varies… Some believe that trade unionism fails to protect the workers’ interests because of the disloyalty of its members, while others believe it if though mismanagement by their officers.

I feel that I strike the keynote when I assert that the system of society is wholly responsible, and not the individual; but I am of the belief that the Industrial Workers can give relief to the workers under the present system, although I know that the time must come when we must have a complete abolition of the competitive system… * * *

Your president believes that greater care should be used in selecting literature that shall be distributed at mass meetings called for the purpose of educating the workers on industrial unionism. I feel that literature bearing on any complexion of a political nature should be barred from any economic industrial meeting, and that all organizers, or speakers, working under instructions from the Industrial Workers of the World shall enforce such principles.

Your president mentions this in his report because he has had the experience. Many times he has found at meetings which he has attended and addressed, men representing political organizations [i.e. the Socialist Party, the Socialist Labor Party] distributing political literature and, in places, having the same on sale.

It is the belief of your president that in many instances this has worked detrimental to the purpose for which such meeting was called, as it makes an impression upon many who attend such meetings…and they go away with the firm belief that the Industrial Workers of the World is a part of some political organization. Your president does not hesitate to say that, in his belief, if the Industrial Workers of the World is not kept clear from all political agitation for the next few years to come, at the very best, it will be impossible to build up an industrial organization of the working class under their present frame of mind….

Your president has very little faith in the ballot, and looks upon it as merely a paper-wad. At the best, it is only a paper expression, or reflex, of labor. The real weapon that will and must be used by the workers when organized is the cessation of work. This must be done systematically, momentarily, and to be known as a “general strike.” (fn. Charles O. Sherman, “President’s Report,” in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention of the Industrial Workers of the World: Held at Chicago, Illinois, Sept. 17 to Oct. 3, 1906. Chicago: Industrial Workers of the World [Sherman faction], 1906; pp. 42-45.)

In other words — peeling aside any personal interest by Sherman or anyone else may or may not have had in the position at the head of the IWW for its paid railroad costs, hotel bills, meals, and incidentals — Sherman was anti-political, anti-political party, a syndicalist.


Daniel DeLeon (1852-1914), intellectual leader of the Socialist Labor Party, was Gene Debs’s nemesis on the left. The pair were very briefly allies during the second half of 1905 and the first half of 1906.

Daniel DeLeon was clearly a true master of parliamentary procedure. One can’t read stenographic convention reports and escape that conclusion. If there was a timely objection to be made, DeLeon was there to make it.

During this fight DeLeon made alliance with the #2 person in the IWW officer structure, former Brewery Workers’ editor William E. Trautmann. This seems to have been a temporary alliance of expedience, as Trautmann seems to have actually shared Sherman’s general political view — his belief in the primacy of the union movement and disdain for political socialism. The antipathy toward IWW President Sherman was greater, and DeLeon and Trautmann allied to force Sherman’s removal. A profligate spender of party funds traveling the country to speak and organize, Sherman was not corrupt so much as he was ineffectual. Sherman was simply not able to organize new local unions of the IWW commensurate with the outlay on train fare, hotel rooms, and “incidentals.” The fact that he did not properly itemize his petty cash expenditures on the road was a mere pretext.

The means of removing Sherman from power was to simply abolish his position of president, which DDL (quite rightfully, it would seem) characterized as “mainly, essentially, and exclusively an organizer, a general organizer, with a high-sounding title and the necessary wages and expenses to match.”(fn. Daniel DeLeon, comments of Sept. 27, in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention…, op. cit., p. 225.)

But this was not all.

DDL and the Constitution Committee went after the Metal and Machinery Department, Sherman’s bailiwick in the organization. This was effectively decommissioned by a raising the minimum number of dues-paying members to activate an IWW department from 3,000 to 10,000. (Incidentally, the heads of each of these departments sat on the General Executive Board and were paid IWW functionaries, I believe.)

This change was to take effect immediately, with the effect that all delegates representing the Metal and Machinery Department on the floor of the convention still in session [Sherman’s friends and allies] were to be immediately unseated — and this after the delegates had spent a full week (!!!) fighting among themselves over the naming of a Credentials Committee and battling over challenges of credentials!‡ Not only would Sherman’s allies be unseated as delegates by this move, but so would Sherman himself…

This immediate unseating was pushed to a vote by DeLeon, over an attempt by the chair to rule his draconian interpretation out of order. In the vote on this narrow question (with representatives of big organizations like the Western Federation of Miners voting large blocs of votes) the finally tally was rendered: Team DeLeon 331, Team Sherman 301. Sherman was effectively removed both as an officer of the organization and as a delegate to the convention in the middle of its activity!

This fundamental structural change to the organization’s constitution, including the elimination of the position of president, were to be put into effect by the convention without a ratification referendum to the rank and file membership, the delegates decided. Sherman was enraged and the implied lack of legitimacy of this decision-making process was what precipitated the split:

[The IWW] only would have, according to the wording, three members on the [General] Executive Board. They would be, one from the Mining Department [WFM], one General Secretary-Treasurer [Trautmann], and one an Assistant General Secretary-Treasurer…. Delegate Veal says that they are going to make the organizers go into the industrial centers. Who is going to make them? He says they are going to make them go into the industrial centers and organize. There is nobody of authority in the organization. * * *

I want to say to you right here, and serve notice on you, that I am not asking anything of the Industrial Workers of the World. I did not ask for the position that I have occupied, and I do not ask for anything now. There is nothing in your keeping that I am looking for, only this: I ask you to submit to the rank and file that is going to and has supported this organization an opportunity either to endorse or reject your work in this convention, and if you do I will assure you that the rank and file will turn it down flat.

And Mr. DeLeon does not dare to go to the rank and file; he does not. I defy you to ask us to go to the rank and file and ask an endorsement. You daren’t do it. You are a coward, and you daren’t leave the decision to the rank and file.(fn. Sherman, comments of Sept. 27, in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention…, op. cit., p. 234.)

The delicate flower Daniel DeLeon took immediate exception to these words from the floor, rising to demand a point of order striking the phrase “coward” from the record as unparliamentary.

He lost on that question but he won the really big ones at the 1906 IWW convention, including the matter of whether the changes to the constitution at the Second Convention needed to be submitted to the rank and file for ratification via the referendum. They never were. This, to DeLeon, made perfect sense:

Our organization, our constitution, was born in the throes of travail of last year’s convention. It was born as we all are born, covered all over with dirt and slime and putrefaction.

We have divided ourselves in this convention into two camps, both considering themselves constitutionalists. For the sake of argument I shall concede that both are sincere, and I do believe that both are. There is this difference between them: that one camp holds that what was born was the child, and that camp is trying to save that child and wipe it clean of the dirt and the slime and the blood with which it is covered. Whereas the other constitutionalists are trying to throw the child into the slop bucket, and are trying to save the dirt and the slime and the putrefaction with which that child was born.

That is the difference, and I think it is positively comical to see men who stand convicted before this convention of having trampled on the principles of the constitution by the deposition and imposition of officers — men who have refused the referendum, men who have suspended locals because they did not submit to the men who lined up with those elements — I think it is positively comical to have such elements come and kowtow to the rank and file, or start off screeching like howling dervishes, “Referendum!” No, away with such comedy! … We do not propose to allow a great principle [the referendum] to be turned into a comical farce or to allow its edge to be turned against itself.(fn. Daniel DeLeon, comments of Sept. 28, in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention…, op. cit., p. 252.)

Deposed President Sherman was not far wrong when he declared as a parting shot:

As you all know too well, those of you were in the last convention and those of you who served as the foundation stones, that while we started out approximately with a large membership, yet outside of the Department of Mining the organization was in a state of chaos. When Brother Trautmann and I took the office we went practically into the office empty-handed, and to this day I do not know what we would have done had it not been for the fact that we took over the property of the ALU with an agreement that we would pay off the standing indebtedness. * * *

We worked as mechanics worked in former year with our crude tools. We worked as brothers and cooperated in every act, until the very opening of our office, when Brother Trautmann came to me and said, “Brother Sherman, there is such an avalanche of work and correspondence here… do you not think it best to employ Brother Riordan, who has been in the office of the ALU and understands their locals…?” I immediately agreed, because I wanted to cooperate with him. * * *

Brother Trautmann and I never quarreled. We have had hot words in argument, but it always ended friendly…. He has traveled considerably with me, and he will have to take the terrible stigma upon his back of putting up at the same plutocratic hotels that your president did; we always roomed in the same hotel. My contention is this: that no organization at this time can exist without there is a government, and that the head of that government must be vested with certain powers and functions that he is empowered to carry out which the rank and file will respect. * * *

I regret that there are two sides to this convention. To the very depths of my heart do I regret it, because the action of this convention meant much as to the outcome of the case now pending in the Supreme Court [on the Haywood-Moyer affair]…

The records of this convention will show the plutocratic powers that they need have no fear of the Industrial Workers of the World’s influence or power, because the Industrial Workers of the World today is a corpse; the spirit will always live, and it will grow, but as an organization the Industrial Workers of the World is now ready for the funeral. * * *

In this convention I want to serve notice that your ex-president’s hands have been tied, but I want to serve notice that he is not licked. The fight ain’t over; it has just started.”(fn. Sherman, comments of Sept. 28, in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention…, op. cit., p. 268-269.)

By the way, Debs did not appear at the Second Convention of the IWW, even for a day. He sent a virtually content-free congratulatory telegram at the opening which was dutifully read into the record. That’s it. He did not attempt to pull factional strings behind the scenes, and if he was kept abreast of the proceedings at all, there is no surviving record of the same. He was, as usual, above the fray — checked out from factional politics and pursuing his own agenda doing other things in other places.

While the pivotal Second Convention of the IWW was going on in Chicago, the outcome of which would be resolved in a very hands-on manner by his rival Daniel DeLeon, Debs was on tour in Pennsylvania, speaking for a fee on general socialist themes in Shamokin, Hazelton, Pottsville, Philadelphia, Allentown, and Allegheny, and presumably other smaller towns in the area.

The priorities and temperaments of the two top leaders of socialist parties in the period were never more clear.

•          •          •          •          •

The convention closed with a speech by Daniel DeLeon, who was called before the remaining delegates for a benediction:

I cannot express to you how happy I have felt from the time this convention settled down to work to now. For 15 years I have been made a target of the foe, and they have incarnated in me all the virtues that I have been struggling for. More than once when the convention seemed to be in a tangle, when I saw the line of cleavage between the two sides, when I saw them wrestling for life, my thoughts went back to 13 years ago [to the fight to oust Terence Powderly as head of the Knights of Labor]…

During that protracted struggle of a fortnight it became perfectly clear to me that the men with whom I was fighting to overthrow a crook in the labor movement, together with his allies — that these men with whom I was struggling … were as big as set of crooks as the crook whom we were fighting….

When I returned from Philadelphia 13 years ago I returned with mixed feelings of joy and sorrow. When I return to my home tonight, I return with unalloyed feelings of joy. Every man and woman of you who stood in this struggle — how clean you cut off the heads of the Shermans, the McCabes, the Kirkpatricks, the Cronins — all of you I take personally by the hand and tell you I am proud of having been in your company. * * *

There is a Bible story to the effect that the arch fiend took Jesus on one occasion to the top of a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said, “All these I give unto you if you will bow down and worship me.” The arch fiends of this movement gathered around Sherman and they said to him, “All these myriads of workingmen will we give to you if you bow down before us and put the revolutionists [the SLP] out of the IWW.” Jesus said to the arch fiend, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Sherman succumbed. Sherman believed. Sherman proceeded upon that theory….

The danger was great. The conspiracy was deeply laid…. It was a conspiracy to squelch the revolution in this convention and to start all over again an AF of L. If we consider the odds against us, the chairmanships in the hands of a few individuals with all preparations ready, whereas we, you all know, never held a caucus and never organized our forces — if we consider that, then we must admit the danger was immense. Having escaped it we have double grounds to be delighted.(fn. Daniel DeLeon, Closing Speech, Oct. 3, 1906 in Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention…, op. cit., p. 608-610.)

The IWW was now organizationally split, financially strapped, its very existence imperiled — a mere corpse — but DeLeon and his allies had successfully orchestrated their coup, deposing the president and installing what they believed to be ideological unity.

He and the SLP would soon learn how wrong that supposition would be.



†- Interestingly, in the United States the Communist Party was formed out of a split — this being a 1919 break between left and center of the radicalized Socialist Party of America; the Socialist Labor Party looked askance at the entire process. In Great Britain, however, the Communist Party was formed more than a year later via a merger in which the radicalized British Socialist Party, Sylvia Pankhurst’s Workers’ Socialist Federation, and the majority faction of the (DeLeonist) Socialist Labor Party were the main organizational participants. The British SLP, based almost exclusively in Scotland, was a gutted shell in the aftermath, with most of its leading cadres and rank and filers alike joining the CPGB.

‡- Unfortunately, no stenographer was employed during this first week of the convention, so the so-called stenographic report of the proceedings includes only terse and unilluminating official minutes for this initial phase. There was obviously a faction fight from the onset, with both sides attempting to win majority control of the convention through the credentials process. It seems that challenges were made of ST&LA delegates by the Sherman faction and of the Metal and Machinery Department delegates by the DeLeon-Trautmann faction.



I’ve essentially finished up the year 1906 this week. My database sits at 74 Debs items for the year, of which I’ve converted 29 into editable text. There are still a couple I need to look at, but I think I’ve found everything that’s a potential “keeper” for Volume 4.

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

  • “On Farm Workers and Small Farmers: Letter to J.E. Snyder” (May 4, 1906) — 380 words
  • “Idaho Election Should Prove Historic” (July 28, 1906) — 1,760 words
  • “Organization for Emancipation” (September 1906) — 1,067 words
  • “Crumbling Capitalism” (September 1, 1906) — 675 words
  • “A Square Deal in a Round Place: Election Speech at Brand’s Park, Chicago” (Oct. 7, 1906) — 2,440 words
  • “The Labor Question and Humanity” (Oct. 15, 1906) — 477 words

Word count: 118,223 in the can + 6,799 this week +/- amendments = 125,052 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


061004-mansfieldohnewsjournal-debscanyoufindHere’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 — 1906 (Oct.-Dec.), 1907 (Jan.-Feb.)

The Weekly People — 1907, 1908 (Jan.-March)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Debs and the Haywood-Moyer Affair of 1906 (19-08)



I don’t know if I’ve ever really explained the purpose of this blog. It probably seems like a huge amount of work — all to produce a huge pile of words to sit mostly unread in a cul de sac of the internet.

I’m guessing there are three dozen people who read any given blog — and that is absolutely fine.

Seems like a ton of effort for such a small audience, does it not? What gives?

This blog achieves three things.

vol1-finalcover-smFirst and most importantly, it keeps me focused and working on Eugene V. Debs almost every single day of every single week from the first of February to the first of August. I know by this stage of my life that I am deadline-pressure driven and there is absolutely no way that a series of  275,000 word books of this sort would be anything but a massive catastrophe at sea with all lives lost unless I was working full out on the project for six months straight.

There is no “pulling an all-nighter” with books like these. These blogs give me an encroaching deadline every single week and that gets me in motion. Weird, but true.

It actually  takes longer than six months with the introduction writing and the polishing and the proofreading and so on — but six solid, flat-out months of work racing the clock every single week covers the essential amount of work to be done in assembling the basic content.

Tick… Tick… Tick… There are now 17 weeks remaining for Volume 4.

So that explains the scoreboard listing new articles and new scanning and the running word count. But what about the, you know, blog?

Well the second function of this exercise is that it helps me get started on the topics that may or may not wind up being covered in the introduction. The blog is a long-form first draft of an introduction. The biggest issue of 1906 in the world of Debs, far and away, was the Steunenberg assassination and the falsified arrest of Western Federation of Miners leaders Moyer and Haywood for the crime — just like the biggest issue of 1905 was the founding of the IWW and Debs’s place in it and the biggest event of 1907 was the move to Girard, Kansas to edit the Appeal to Reason and the biggest issue of 1908 was Debs’s travels aboard the Red Special campaign train.

Red Union, Red Paper, Red Train. Sounds like a good book title…

With the blog I start to explore a couple of the sources, put together a few thoughts, slam out a few graphics to make it look cool enough to keep people reading so that I get at least a tiny bit of feedback. It motivates me to read a few things that aren’t by Debs and it helps me figure out the books I am missing from my library. Then at the end of the six months I’ve got a huge pile of digital notes which I can cut and paste into the first raw introduction. Then the serious research process begins.

Finally comes the third function of this blog — documentation. Only a small fraction of the material from these blogs will make the cut for publication in the final volume. Certain information will appear here that will never be found anywhere else, and these bread crumbs might be of some help to students and scholars who follow.

It’s all enough to make the effort worthwhile to me.

Thanks for listening and thanks for reading.

•          •          •          •          •

The Steunenberg Assassination

At 6:35 pm on the evening of Saturday, December 30, 1905, an explosion at the west gate of the Caldwell, Idaho property of former Governor Frank Steunenberg shattered the quiet evening. Steunenberg was thrown about eight feet by the force of the blast. Still alive but badly bleeding from mortal wounds, Stuenenberg was carried inside his home and laid on a bed.


Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg (1861-1905)

“Who shot me?” the Governor asked before losing consciousness. Within thirty minutes he would be dead.

Before the night was over Idaho Governor Frank R. Gooding had offered a $5,000 state reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprit in the assassination, with county and private reward funds quickly pushing the total towards the $20,000 mark. (fn. “A Cowardly Crime,” Caldwell Tribune, vol. 24, no. 33 (Jan. 6, 1906), p. 1.)

Steunenberg had gained national infamy among the organized labor movement for having sent in the Idaho state militia to break an 1899 strike in Coeur d’Alene, earning the eternal enmity of the radical Western Federation of Miners, who were on the losing side of the labor conflict.

Arrests soon followed…

A miner named Albert E. Horsley (pseudonym Harry Orchard), a former WF of M member, was apprehended for the crime, with traces of dynamite, plaster of Paris, and twine similar to the Steunenberg bomb found in his Caldwell hotel room. (fn. Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 4, The Industrial Workers of the World, 1905-1917. New York: International Publishers, 1965; pp. 40-41).

On Jan. 8, 1906, the chief of the Denver branch of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, James McParland, was called in by Idaho Governor Frank B. Gooding. McParland had been a lead investigator of the Molly Maguires in 1877 and within two days he was ready to declare that he was “almost sure” that Horsley was the “tool” of the WF of M leadership. McParland orchestrated the transfer of Horsley from the Caldwell jail to the Boise state penitentiary, where he was held in solitary confinement for 10 days before being interviewed by McParland. (fn. Foner 4:41)

McParland met with Horsley/Orchard the first time on Jan. 22, 1906, and apparently threatened him with the death penalty unless he turned state’s witness against the WF of M leadership. He intimated that he might even go free if he could demonstrate that he was being used as a tool by others.

On Jan. 25, McParland met with Horsley-Orchard a second time in Boise, at which time he made clear that it was the leadership of the WF of M who he sought on a platter. (fn. Foner 4:41-42)
Historian Philip S. Foner wrote:

Orchard was given a clear alternative: Either name the leaders of the WF of M as the instigators of the assassination or hang! Name them and the states of Idaho and Colorado would see that Orchard was not made to pay for his crimes…. Orchard’s own confession of guilt as the man who assassinated Steunenberg would not suffice; the state of Idaho and the Pinkerton Agency were determined to liquidate the leadership of the WF of M and Orchard was to be used for that purpose. (fn. Foner 4:44)

McParland spent four days with Orchard taking his “confession” — Jan. 27, 28, 29, and 31, 1906 — during which he claimed to have participated in the murder of 18 people and various bombings over the previous 2-1/2 years. He claimed that he was assigned the Steunenberg assassination by an “inner circle” of WF of M leaders from their Denver headquarters, including President Charles Moyer, Secretary-Treasurer Big Bill Haywood, Jack Simkins of the General Executive Board, and former active member George A. Pettibone. (fn. Foner 4:45)

On Feb. 9 the so-called confession was announced and the four WF of M officials named by Orchard were indicted by the Attorney General of Idaho. Simkins vanished and could not be located but the other three were easily findable in Denver. Extradition of individuals to Idaho were were not fugitives from justice was complicated, so a warrant-free scenario was planned by McParland, who wrote to Luther M. Goddard, an associate justice on the Colorado Supreme Count. McParland and Idaho prosecutor James Hawley traveled to Denver, with the Judge arranging for the pair to meet Colorado Governor McDonald to sign extradition papers without a warrant. Then Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone would be immediately arrested and transported aboard a special train to Idaho to face trial. (Foner 4:46-47)

pettibone-haywood-moyerMcDonald listened for 3 hours as McParland laid out the substance of the Orchard confession. A representative of the Telluride Mine Owners’ Association named Wells participated in a discussion that followed, agreeing to raise $25,000 or even $50,000 if necessary to aid in the prosecution. McParland was adamant that the Colorado Attorney General should not be brought into the loop; Governor McDonald agreed to hold the papers until the following Monday before submitting them to the Secretary of State’s office, by which time the defendants would be safely jailed in Idaho. (Foner 4:47-48)

With Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone in jail Steve Adams, an individual implicated by Orchard as an associate in his crimes, was arrested in Haines, Oregon. Adams was taken to Boise and put in a cell with Orchard, then was brought to the prison office and introduced to McParland, who kept him up until the early hours of the morning trying to get him to confess, threatening him with hanging in Colorado if he did not comply. Adams first confessed, then recanted; he was brought to trial with the jury voting 7-4 to acquit. Two additional trials followed with the jury failing to agree; Adams was ultimately released. (Foner 4:49-50)

Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone were arraigned on Feb. 21, 1906. (Foner 4:51)

•          •          •          •          •

Debs as a Commentator on the Haywood-Moyer Trial

Having a close relationship with the Western Federation of Miners ever since his six week tour of the west in support of the striking hard rock miners of Leadville, Colorado in early 1902, Gene Debs was enraged by the patently illegal and transparent frame-up of Moyer and Haywood as complicit in the assassination of former Governor Steunenberg. These were, after all, not only top leaders of the Western Federation of Miners, but key founders of the Industrial Workers of the World — the organization which for several months Debs had been endorsing with all the authority his station allowed.


Here’s an interesting fact which I hope to explore more next week: While Debs was writing some of the most fire-breathing ultra-revolutionary columns of his entire career he was simultaneously on tour in Southern Minnesota and Iowa, delivering toned-down paid lectures on general socialist themes to a general audience.

On tour in the Midwest, delivering paid essentially nonpartisan lectures to paying audiences under the auspices of small Socialist Party locals and sundry civic groups, Debs made use of his down time to write several inflammatory articles which gained notice and drew ire from the conservative press.

The first of these, “Diabolical Plot of Capitalists,” was written February 22 from Southern Minnesota and directed to The Industrial Worker, official organ of the IWW. Debs hammered the “dark and devilish conspiracy, this foul and damnable plot, hatched out in the festering brains of the mine owners and eagerly and sympathetically entered into and carried into execution by their political hirelings, the governors of Colorado and Idaho.” He wrote:

The secret arrest of President Charles H. Moyer and Secretary William D. Haywood, of the Western Federation of Miners, and the secret extradition from their homes in Denver by means of a special train to Boise City, Idaho, and their incarceration there upon the alleged charge of complicity in the assassination of Governor Steunenberg, of Idaho, is the latest of a long series of outrages perpetrated upon these leaders by the western mine owners and their Standard Oil allies in their desperate determination to crush out the Western Federation of Miners, the only thing that stands in the way of their absolute and despotic sway in the mountain states….

The rigid integrity, unfaltering loyalty, intrepid courage, and unceasing vigilance of the leaders of the Western Federation baffled every attempt they made to corrupt and crush organized labor. For once they were dealing with men whose honor was absolutely proof to the jingle of gold….

That is why this whole infamous outrage was concocted and perpetrated in secret instead of the requisitions being issued and the arrests and extraditions made in the usual way and under the forms of law.

Having made this analysis of the motive for the arrests and deportations, Debs continued with a prescription for action:

And now that we understand the program of the plutocrats, what are we going to do about it? Fold our hands supinely and see our comrades murdered to glut the vengeance of our enemies for having been true to us? Are we, the workingmen of the land, whom they have so loyally and fearlessly served at such a terrible price to themselves to desert them in the hour of their direct need? No! By the gods we will have the manhood to stand by them, and if they hand these innocent victims, these incorruptible men, we will make them hang or shoot us also, for it is infinitely better to die like men than to live in the damning disgrace of our own craven cowardice. *   *   *

Appeal to the courts, does someone suggest? What courts? The courts that belong to the criminals that are murdering us?  *  *  *

The cooked-up testimony of sneaks and assassins in the service of capital shall not hang the honest men in the service of labor. Upon this issue all the organized workers of the land will unite and a million others will join with them. From Massachusetts and New York to California and Washington, and from Minnesota to the gulf the working class will arise and their tramp will be heard in the land, and the plutocracy, by God, would better think twice before they attempt to carry their murderous program into execution. (fn. Debs, “Diabolical Plot of Capitalists,” Industrial Worker, vol. 1, no. 3 (March 1906), pp. 1-2.)

This message to IWW members — publication of which was delayed owing to the monthly frequency of the union’s paper — was followed by a piece written in Boone, Iowa on February 26 for the IWW-friendly weekly published by Socialist Party radical Hermon Titus in Toledo, Ohio.

Under the incendiary headline “Prepare for Action!” Debs attested his personal acquaintance with the accused and the falsity of the charges against them and railed against the machine, clearly threatening extralegal repercussions should the judicial assassination of Haywood and Moyer be achieved:

The issue is clear. There can be no mistake about it.

The labor leaders that cannot be bribed or bullied must be ambushed and murdered. That is the situation in a nutshell. How shall we meet it? In just one way: We have got to fight.

Another Haymarket attempt will precipitate a revolution.

If murder must be committed it is not the working class alone that will furnish the victims this time. *  *  *

If they strike the first violent blow we will strike the last. (fn. Debs, “Prepare for Action!” The Socialist, vol. 6, whole no. 284 (March 3, 1906), p. 1.)

This was followed by a third blast — the one best remembered to history due to its inclusion in the 1908 collection of Debs writings — “Arouse, Ye Slaves!” This was published broadcast as part of a special “Kidnapping Edition” of the mass circulation Appeal to Reason on March 10.

In it Debs hearkened back to the Haymarket affair of 1886 and stormed:

Charles Moyer and William D. Haywood, of the Western Federation of Miners, and their official colleagues — men, all of them, and every inch of them — are charged with the assassination of ex-Governor Frank Steunenberg, of Idaho, who simply reaped what he had sown, as a mere subterfuge to pounce upon them in secret, rush them out of the state by special train, under heavy guard, clap them into the penitentiary, convict them upon the purchased perjured testimony of villains, and strangle them to death with the hangman’s noose.

It is a foul plot; a damnable conspiracy; a hellish outrage. *  *  *

I will stake my life on their honor and integrity; and that is precisely the crime for which, according to the words of the slimy “sleuth” who “worked up the case” against them, “they shall never leave Idaho alive.”

Well, by the gods, if they don’t, the governors of Idaho and Colorado and their masters from Wall Street, New York, to the Rocky Mountains had better prepare to follow them.

Nearly twenty years ago the capitalist tyrants put some innocent men to death for standing up for labor.

They are now going to try it again. Let them dare! *  *  *

They have driven us to the wall and now let us rally our forces and face them and fight.

If they attempt to murder Moyer, Haywood, and their brothers, a million revolutionists, at least, will meet them with guns. *  *  *

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

Bold words backed by nothing but sentiment? Hyperbole, ultra-revolutionary posturing? Perhaps. The fact remains, however, that organized labor and public sentiment rapidly began to move on the matter.

Victor Berger, mocked the intimation that Debs would lead a charge of the light brigade of virtually unarmed workers into the maw of death. He dusted off an old meme to attribute why his temperamental friend had flown off the handle, speculating that “too much cucumbers” [booze] might be the reason for Debs’s blistering expressions of rage. (fn. Social Democratic Herald editorial, quoted in “Victor Berger Gives Labor Timely Advice,” The Labor World [Duluth], May 5, 1906, p. 1.)

Berger was nothing if not a pragmatist and the correlation of forces was obvious to all.

The trial was postponed until December — because of the elections, Debs said — and then postponed again to the middle of 1907.

With Haywood and Moyer preoccupied, the Industrial Workers of the World were left rudderless. Factional shenanigans filled the void.

•          •          •          •          •

The IWW Split of 1906

From the time of the founding convention to the start of the second convention on Sept. 17, 1906, the IWW organized a total of 384 local unions in the United States and Canada. In addition to full transference of the ST&LA apparatus, the union was able to make headway in textile centers such as Paterson, Lawrence, Providence, and New Bedford. (Foner 4:70)

iww-logo-smEstimates of membership at the time of the second convention varied, with Sec. Trautmann optimistically pegging the total at 60,000 — including 27,000 members of the Western Federation of Miners. Trautmann’s successor, Vincent St. John, declared the average monthly dues-paying membership during the first year of organization was actually 14,000. (Foner 4:70)

Foner concludes: 1. That the IWW drew its initial membership mainly from unions previously affiliated to the AF of L; 2. The majority of these members soon departed the IWW as collateral damage of the factional war that followed, with many of the locals terminating; 3. Socialist unions such as the Brewers and the Machinists, which initially expressed a positive attitude to the IWW, ultimately did not affiliate with the upstart union. (Foner 4:70)

President Sherman traveled widely and racked up massive expenses, quickly running through $7,000 in travel costs and road expenses in addition to his salary of $150/month. (Foner 4:71) Sherman was also a partner in Fraternal Supply Company, which advertised in the Industrial Worker and sold badges and other promotion material to local unions, thereby representing a conflict of interest. (Foner 4:73)


After the split the Sherman-Hannemann faction retained the backstock of the three pamphlets produced from November 1905 Debs speeches. After almost monthly contributions in 1906, Debs never wrote again for their newspaper, however.

The 2nd convention was originally scheduled for May but was twice postponed, first to June 27 to allow the WF of M to hold its convention beforehand, then to Sep. 17. With Haywood and Moyer in jail a faction consisting of Trautmann, De Leon, and St. John formed to challenge President Sherman, accusing him of exceeding his authority by appointing a credentials committee rather than letting it be chosen from the assembled delegates. (Foner 4:74)

A proposal was made to abolish the office of president, which was carried; at this point DDL declared that since the post was eliminated, the convention should elect a chair. Vincent St. John was chosen. (Foner 4:74-75)

A split ensued with two parallel IWW organizations maintaining headquarters facilities and ultimately publishing official organs. The minority Sherman faction, with William Hannemann doing double-duty as secretary-treasurer and editor, retained the back-stock of Debs pamphlets (Class Unionism, Craft Unionism, Revolutionary Unionism), the monthly small format newspaper Industrial Worker published in Joliet, and the old headquarters office located at 148 W Madison Street in Chicago.

The Trautman-DeLeon faction, joined by former party editor A.S. Edwards, established a new headquarters at 310 Bush Temple, also in Chicago. In March they launched their own weekly newspaper, The Industrial Union Bulletin, which is available as freely downloadble digital files through Marxists Internet Archive if you click that link.

In addition to the enormous waste and expense implicit in maintaining double paid staffs, double office spaces, and double publications, the IWW additionally burned through money through the courts, with the Trautmann-DeLeon faction suing the Sherman-Hannemann faction to seek return of the name and property of the organization.

I’m not quite sure how that suit ultimately turned out — I think the Trautmann-DeLeon insurgents lost — but the Sherman group was damaged beyond repair and soon went out of business, while the Trautmann  faction managed to hang on by the skin of their teeth.

It was a minor miracle that the IWW did not die forever in 1907.

•          •          •          •          •


Big Bill Haywood testifies in his own defense, July 11, 1907.

The Haywood Trial

The trial of Big Bill Haywood opened at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise on May 7, 1907. Haywood was seen as the most culpable of the three leaders and was brought to trial first, with the trials of Moyer and Pettibone to follow. The trial lasted for just over two months. Prosecution was led by James H. Hawley, with William E. Borah his associate; the defense team was headed by Clarence Darrow.

A Pinkerton spy was on the defense team and provided a list of jurors preferred by the defense so that the prosecution could easily target and eliminate them through the challenge process. (Foner 4:56)

Orchard was on the stand six days and described his killing of 19 people, including Steunenberg, on the orders of Haywood and other WF of M leaders. No witnesses could be produced to corroborate Orchard’s fantastic story.

Darrow delivered a long and passionate final plea that lasted two days, concluding late in the evening of July 27. The jury went into deliberation the next morning and after 20 hours delivered a Not Guilty verdict. (Foner 4:59)

Pettibone was later brought to trial but he was also acquitted in Jan. 1908. Moyer was never tried. The actual murderer and perjurer Orchard was sentenced to death by hanging but by way of thanks for his service to the state, his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He died behind bars in 1954, aged 88. (Foner 4:59)



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

  • “I Instinctively Want to Pull the Bell Rope: Interview with the Indianapolis Morning Star” (Jan. 21, 1906) — 418 words
  • “Prepare for Action!” (February 26, 1906) — 492 words
  • “In Full Swing: Excerpt from a Speech in Waterloo, Iowa” (February 27, 1906) — 403 words
  • “You Have One Prerogative — To Think: Speech in Davenport, Iowa” [excerpt] (March 2, 1906) — 1,830 words
  • “Moses Harman’s Mission” (May 10, 1906) — 750 words
  • “Political Action” (June 30, 1906) — 1,217 words
  • “Collapse of the Conspiracy” (July 7, 1906) — 1,390 words
  • “The Congressional Campaign” (July 7, 1906) — 735 words
  • “Man and Mule” (Aug. 4, 1906) — 776 words
  • “Strike for Your Life!” (Aug. 16, 1906) — 596 words
  • “Roosevelt and His Regime” (April 20, 1907) — 2,268 words
  • “Industrial Unionism Defined” (Nov. 2, 1907) — 1,253 words

Word count: 106,095 in the can + 12,138 this week +/- amendments = 118,223 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.

The Worker — 1907, 1908   ***end of publication***

Voice of Labor — 1905 (Feb. – June)   ***end of publication***


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Impressions of the Founding Convention of the IWW (19-07)


Before we get to the 1906 attempt to decapitate the leadership of the Western Federation of Miners (and thus the Industrial Workers of the World), I need to roll back the clock to the founding convention of the organization in the summer of 1905. I have in mind examining not only the gathering itself, but the roles played at the event by Eugene V. Debs as well as his erstwhile nemesis, Daniel DeLeon.

The emergence, growth, and transformation of the IWW is one of the main stories in the history of the Socialist Party during the Debsian era. Debs was extremely close to the organizers of the new industrial union and his speeches were taken down verbatim and reproduced as three of the very first pamphlets issued by the organization. He would be a wall of granite in the defense of the kidnapped IWW leaders in 1906. Yet within a relatively few months, he was no longer actively cheerleading for the organization, having moved on from it just as he had moved on from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, the Supreme Council, the American Railway Union, and the Social Democracy of America before.

There is a story to be told, I am sure, but first there is a mystery to be solved.

•          •          •          •          •

Western Federation of Miners Dominated Convention

The Industrial Workers of the World were established at what was originally billed as an “Industrial Union Congress,” called for June 27, 1905, in Chicago by the manifesto emerging from the secret January conference, a document to which Gene Debs affixed his signature. (See: Near It But Not In It: Gene Debs and Early Preparation for the IWW, Debs blog 19-03).

Those present at this earlier meeting, it will be recalled, included two chiefs of the Western Federation of Miners, Charles H. Moyer and William D. “Big Bill” Haywood; J.M. O’Neill of Miners’ Magazine; A.M. Simons of International Socialist Review; Thomas J. Hagerty of the Industrial Workers’ Club of Chicago, probably a small debating circle; Charles O. Sherman of the United Metal Workers; independent labor organizer Mary “Mother” Jones; and — acting on his own authority rather than as an official representative — Frank Bohn, national organizer for the Socialist Labor Party and the Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance. But not Gene Debs.


There were a total of 203 delegates in attendance at the Founding Convention, but these did not participate on the basis of strict equality. In accord with the convention call, delegates entering the gathering as representatives of unions who agreed to empower their delegates to officially cast their lot with the new organization would be accorded one vote for each paid member of their union. Those wishing to participate without such prior agreement — observers who would report back to their unions or individuals like Debs who were part of no such mass organization — would be allowed only one vote.

Those agreeing to grant power to install in the new industrial union were:

  • Western Federation of Miners — 27,000 members — 5 delegates
  • American Labor Union — 16,750 members — 10 delegates
  • United Metal Workers — 3,000 members — 2 delegates
  • United Brotherhood of Railway Employees — 2,087 members — 19 delegates
  • Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance (SLP) — 1,450 members — 14 delegates

This list is well enough known. It should also be observed that in addition there were a number of smaller organizations agreeing to affiliate:

  • Journeymen Tailors’ Union, San Francisco — 400 members — 1 delegate
  • Longshoremen’s Union, Hoboken — 201 members — 1 delegate
  • Punch Press Operators Local 224, Schenectady, NY — 168 members — 1 delegate
  • Paper Hangers’ Local 584, Chicago — 87 members — 3 delegates
  • Industrial Workers’ Club of Cincinnati — 78 members — 1 delegate
  • Industrial Workers’ Club of Chicago — 54 members — 12 delegates
  • Debattir Club of Chicago — 47 members — 1 delegate
  • United Mine Workers, Pittsburg, KS — 30 members — 1 delegate
  • Workers’ Industrial and Educational Union, Pueblo, CO — 30 members — 1 delegate
  • United Mine Workers’ Local 1771, Red Lodge, MT — 27 members — 1 delegate
  • Journeymen Tailors’ Local 102, Pueblo, CO — 10 members — 1 delegate

In other words 74 of the delegates were awarded multiple votes, totaling 51,419. The other 129 delegates in attendance were awarded one vote each — 129.

Note that this breakdown differs somewhat to a shorter and more simple set published in 1913 by pioneer historian of the IWW Paul Brissenden and thereafter repeated endlessly by other historians of the event. (fn. Stenographic Report, Appendix, pp. 595-616. See also: Brissenden, The Launching of the Industrial Workers of the World, pp. 14-15.)

The conclusion generated by this revised set of delegate numbers and voting strength and that of Brissenden et al. remains the same, however. A tiny segment of the delegates, just 15 by my count — hailing from the Western Federation of Miners and the American Labor Union, which it thoroughly dominated — controlled an overwhelming majority of votes on the convention floor.

The handful of WFM and WFMish delegates had the ability to decide every question at the convention by simply voting en bloc. And the Western Federation did vote en bloc.

Further illustrating the Western Federation of Miners’ complete dominance, two of those casting votes ostensibly on behalf of the American Labor Union were Charles Moyer and William D. “Big Bill” Haywood, President and Secretary-Treasurer of the WFM, respectively. (fn. Stenographic Report, Appendix, op cit.)

The expression “interlocking directorates” comes to mind.

•          •          •          •          •

A Middle Class Affair


Former silver miner William D. Haywood (1869-1928) was the chair of the founding convention of the IWW. He was 35 years old at the time, slightly older than this picture.

Another first impression of the founding convention of the IWW:  it was very self-aware. The delegates conducted a lengthy debate over whether to take a stenographic report of the session and who was to foot the bill for said transcription. A special assessment totaling the equivalent of approximately two day’s wages was laid upon all delegates in attendance who were on the payroll of their union.

There was already a stenographer in the room ready to work, mind you. The Socialist Labor Party’s daily newspaper, The Daily People, was responsible and would have footed the bill had not the delegates contributed and taxed themselves to pay the stenographer and the not inconsiderable printing costs.

However: important conventions published stenographic reports of their proceedings. This important convention saw itself as an important convention and went to great pains to do exactly this.

Moreover, for all the rugged-industrialist-working-class-burliness associated with the IWW in popular memory, there was a very middle class feel to the functioning of this founding conclave. Things ran strictly according to Roberts’ Rules of Order — with motions and seconds and amendments and ending debate and putting of questions. These were not roughnecks raisin’ hell and burning torches, they were educated individuals running a proper meeting according to Hoyle.

Union functionaries, even those of very radical unions, were well enough paid. The nature of the tasks of editing a magazine and mining precious metals or coal or firing a locomotive were entirely different. It was a white collar crowd.

Spoiler alert: All successful radical movements and all unsuccessful radical movements have middle class people at their core. There is no shame in that. But neither should one pretend that things are otherwise.

•          •          •          •          •

The Personalities in Action

Bill Haywood was the chairman of the convention. He was the main decision-maker, the boss, the guy. He’s a really interesting personality and needs a true biographer to tell his story. He ended up jumping bail and escaping to Soviet Russia, where he directed the organization an American-financed collective farm in the Donets Basin of the Ukraine. His papers exist on published microfilm, the originals residing in Moscow.


Daniel DeLeon stayed for the full duration of the founding convention of the IWW and participated actively in its proceedings. Gene Debs did not.

Daniel DeLeon, coming to the floor of the convention after Debs to give a long and dramatic speech, called Debs “Brother” and not “Comrade.” There’s a big difference between a trade union ally and a party ally and I’m sure it was perfectly acceptable, polite, and reasonable to use that title in what was a trade union conclave. Despite the mutual attempt to reduce political dispute to self-effacing joke, there remained significant tension between DDL and his Socialist Labor Party and Gene Debs and his Socialist Party.

DeLeon and Debs approached the convention in an entirely different manner from each other. DeLeon stayed, delivered a major speech, participated actively from the floor in the work of shaping the organization. Debs made a keynote speech and darted off — places to go and things to do. He would make 9 more speeches under the organization’s auspices in the year, wrote a spate of articles on its behalf, and seems to have participated with his brother Theodore on the resolutions committee of “Terre Haute Local Union No. 9,” — but he basically was a publicist. DeLeon, for better or worse, stuck around in Chicago at the convention and got his hands dirty building a new organization.


IWW funeral ribbon from the collection of digital archivist D.J. Alperovitz

The index to the stenogram tells the story: there were exactly two delegates with more indexed comments from the floor than Daniel DeLeon, plus Bill Haywood in the chair makes three.

Now we know that both Debs and DeLeon made lengthy speeches to the founding convention, as they were published as a pamphlet by the Socialist Labor Party shortly thereafter (with the Debs portion remaining in print with that rival organization even after EVD was returned to the enemies list). What is less known, although unsurprising if one thinks about it, is that others also delivered substantive addresses.

William E. Trautmann, formerly of the bilingual Brauer Zeitung of St. Louis and subsequently secretary of the IWW, delivered a lengthy “Indictment Against the American Federation of Labor,” in which he charged that organization had been “debauched and corrupted by the labor leaders.” Duncan McEachren, a journeyman paperhanger, had his allotted 10 minutes extended and spoke against trade autonomy.

Thomas Hagerty gave short remarks denigrating political parties as “never more than a shadow” to the trade union movement. Bill Haywood reviewed the history of the WFM and declared “the capitalist class of this country fear the Western Federation of Mines more than they do all he rest of the labor organizations in this country.” And Lucy Parsons gave a powerful and poetic speech revisiting the revolutionary socialist movement of the 1880s and putting it into a modern context. These were not all.

There was a place for oratory. Debs and DeLeon were only part of it.

•          •          •          •          •

Debs Doth Protesteth Too Much

There was a lengthy symposium on the relationship between the Socialist Party and the trade union movement (i.e., AF of L or IWW?) in the pages of the New York Worker during 1906 — a running discussion and debate to which Debs contributed the 11th installment. I was running the microfilm scanner through this material this past week and didn’t have a chance to read the material outside of EVD’s piece but it strikes me as of fairly great importance for figuring out the battle lines in the party debate. I will be returning to it during my research phase for the introduction this summer…


The Worker was the same publication as the dissident version of The People following a simple name change. They didn’t care much for the leadership or tactics of the SLP.

Remember that The Worker was formerly known as The People — the dissident paper established in 1899 in opposition to Daniel DeLeon’s weekly newspaper of the same name. It was the official organ of a party that was founded in large measure over disagreement on this very trade union question, with the split group feeling a deep dissatisfaction with the the DeLeon-Kuhn-Vogt leadership and its strategy of pushing an upstart Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance in “dual union” opposition to the AF of L.

Now here was Debs  cheerleading in their publication for exactly the same policy in the form of the IWW, a group which included in its ranks — most gallingly to the former SLP dissidents — Daniel DeLeon and the entire ST&LA organization… It makes for a very interesting historical moment.

Victor Berger was having none of it, you will recall. He and Fred Heath, old Chicago SDP comrades of Debs, actually broke with him over it.† The reaction does not seem to have been as severe in New York, with Debs actually writing a regular (albeit vapid) political affairs column called “Proletarian Pointers” in the pages of The Worker during his big IWW year of 1906.‡

A big criticism, and one that Debs was adamant about refuting, was that the IWW was an anti-political organization — that it would not deign to participate in party politics and in fact rejected political action altogether. The critique proved to be prescient, as Debs was soon to learn. But here is Debs’s response to the critics as of July 1906:

It has been claimed that the IWW does not favor political action. To silence controversy upon this point all that is required is the reading of its preamble. What a few individual members may think of the ballot is beside the point, the fact being, not only that the organization declares in favor of political action, but that a vast majority of its members are socialists, if not party members.

For obvious reasons the organization had to declare against affiliation with any particular party. To have done otherwise would have entirely defeated the movement at its inception. When once there is but one working class party the IWW will, without a doubt, assume the proper attitude toward it, but in the meantime it is not only vain and silly, but untrue that the Socialist Labor Party is “dead,” and the writer who makes that assertion does himself no credit by it.(fn. Debs, “The Socialist Party and the Trade Unions,” The Worker, vol. 16, no. 17 (July 28, 1906), p. 5.)

Debs’s observation of the need for “but one working class party” and insistence in defending the Socialist Labor Party as a living organization is interesting, seeming to place him firmly in the camp of the left wing Socialist Party of New Jersey that was attempting to broker unity between the SPA and the SLP.

The parallel Socialist Party and Socialist Labor Party organizations were one problem to be addressed, but there was an even bigger storm brewing.

For all his protestation that no meaningful difference on the question of political action vs. syndicalism existed, it was exactly this issue that would loom large over the next ten years.

In the middle of 1906, with the first year of the IWW in the books, Gene Debs was completely oblivious to the great disagreement that was to come.


† -There are exactly zero letters from Debs to Victor Berger preserved in the Berger papers after their face-to-face meeting on the question in Racine on April 29, 1905 for the rest of the decade.

‡ – For the record, these columns ran in The Worker in issues of  January 27, February 3, February 26, March 17, July 28, and August 4. None will make the cut for Debs Volume 4.



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


Here’s a Debs Personality Cult product that I hadn’t heard of — 1906 sheet music for “The Hero of Woodstock Jail,” a “swinging tune suitable for solo or singing en masse.” That’d be a $200+ piece of gear if a specimen turned up and it had any kind of Debs image as a cover illustration…

I spent time this week chasing what I thought was a very significant error in the Socialist Party’s membership bookkeeping for 1911. I did a nice bonus blog post on the topic. Then at the last minute I figured out it that the entire exercise was based on my misunderstanding a set of membership numbers; it was I that had made a mistake and the SPA made no systemic error with their 1911 state membership counts after all… Down came the post. Whoops.


There’s nothing like wasted time to spur activity and I wound up really kicking out the jams in the content assembly department:

  • “Is Man Immortal? Contribution to a Symposium” (Jan. 13, 1905) — 391 words
  • “I Can Imagine Nothing To Change My Mind: Letter to Victor L. Berger” (April 13, 1905) — 1,409 words
  • “A Few Words, Mr. President: An Open Letter to Theodore Roosevelt” (April 15, 1905) — 1,672 words
  • “Revolt Against the AF of L is Bound to Come: Letter to Frederic Heath” (April 22, 1905) — 914 words
  • “Splits Are Not Always Bad: Letter to Frederic Heath” (April 26, 1905) — 977 words
  • “Industrial Revolutionists” (January 1906) — 1,002 words
  • “Socialist Papers and the Labor Unions: Letter to the Chicago Socialist” (Jan. 18, 1906) — 530 words
  • “Evolution of the Anthracite Miner” (Feb. 1906) — 850 words
  • “Arrest of Moyer and Haywood a Diabolical Plot” (Feb. 22, 1906) — 1,641 words
  • “Labor’s Awakening” (April 7, 1906) — 2,150 words
  • “To the Rescue!” (April 28, 1906) — 1,793 words
  • “Resolution for Postponement of the IWW National Convention, by Terre Haute Local Union No. 9” (Late April, 1906) — 209 words
  • “Where Daisy Sleeps” [poem] (May 1906) — 182 words
  • “The Socialist Party and the Trade Unions” (July 28, 1906) — 2,895 words
  • “What a Million Votes For the Socialist Party Will Mean” (Sept. 1908) — 3,086 words

Word count: 84,848 in the can + 19,701 this week +/- amendments = 106,095 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.

 Social Democratic Herald — 1906 (July – Dec.)

The Worker — 1906 (April – Dec.)



Who says that there is no new ground to be plowed in the field of Eugene V. Debs biography?

BuhleVeteran historian Paul Buhle, author of Marxism in the USA, and co-editor of The Immigrant Left in the United States [1996] and Encyclopedia of the American Left [1990, 1998], is back with another new volume for every library — this a follow up to his Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World [2005].

Our subject this time around is none other than the Earnest Red Hoosier, Gene Debs. In an episode of inexplicable synchronicity, this slim volume and the first of my six titanic gobs of gunk and goodness, EVD Selected Works Volume 1, released on the same precise day — February 19, 2019 — with neither Buhle nor myself aware of the other’s project until a few weeks ahead of our scheduled drop dates. One simply could not have scripted such a joint venture better, with both Verso and Haymarket no doubt enormously pleased with this fortuitous turn of the cards.

Unlike my Debs doorstop(s), this one should actually sell. Produced with funding from the Democratic Socialists of America Fund and contributions from viewers like you, this paperback is carefully crafted for a specific target audience — the 50,000 members of DSA and the millions of donors and supporters of Bernie Sanders (whose words in praise of Debs, not accidentally, appear on the front cover). It is getting the big push in that universe.

Some small percentage of these readers will move on to wanting to learn more about Debs the man and what he actually wrote and believed — which is sort of my department. The two projects are thus perfect complements.

Now for the compliments.

Art here is by Noah Van Sciver, an award-winning cartoonist who has drawn seven graphic novels and contributed to such comics as SpongeBob Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and MAD Magazine. The artistic work is therefore, unsurprisingly, highly capable. Indeed, one does wish for more art and fewer words — this project being a somewhat disjointed hybrid between a thumbnail sketch biography and a graphic novelization of the Debs story. Going “all in” with the art would have doubled the size and tripled the cost, no doubt, but would also have made for a less “bookish” and more “comicsy” reading experience, which is what a graphic novel should be about.

The historically-accurate script (and short biography) is by Buhle and Students for Democratic Society founding member Steve Max, with an assist from experienced graphic novel scriptwriter Dave Nance. It is — short and historically accurate. (One is tempted to use the phrase “cartoonishly short,” but that is rather the point, is it not?)

The book opens with a three page “easy reader” style illustrated timeline, which only illuminates a few of the most major events of the EVD saga with lots of airy spacing that I see as a fashion DO and an information DON’T. The Debs legacy is rightfully tied to the current DSA in the short introduction, with five very short written chapters following: (1) The Rise of Eugene V. Debs; (2) “Debsian Socialism”; (3) Triumph — and the Edge of Tragedy; (4) Martyr Debs; and (5) The Debs Legacy: Norman Thomas, Michael Harrington, Bernie Sanders.

This covers the bases for the target audience, I suppose — but if a picture is worth 1,000 words, this reader would rather have seen the functional equivalent of the roughly 7,500 words of text in pictorial form. One is simply not allowed to become engrossed in either experience — the written word or the illustrated story — to the detriment of the whole.

My own belief — which I am completely sure is rejected by Comrades Buhle and Max — is that a second misstep was made with the inordinate preoccupation to connect the Debs story (pp. 1-95, 128; 75%) with today’s socialist movement (pp. 96-127; 25%). The book is supposed to be about Gene Debs, dammit — tell that whole story, don’t get sidetracked trying to gloss the history of the 20th Century… People can figure that out on their own. Grrrrrrrrr.

Meh, done’s done.

The authors knew what they were trying to do and I reckon they got to where they were trying to get. May they sell many, many copies to DSA kids who become hungry to learn more.

Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography. Art by Noah Van Sciver. Script by Paul Buhle and Steve Max, with Dave Nance. New York: Verso, 2019. (132+6 pp. — $19.95)

Publisher Sales Link.


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Debs and Berger Part Ways (19-06)


Victor Luitpold Berger (1860-1929) was one of the most important figures in the history of the Socialist Party of America — and one of the least appreciated. A college-educated Austrian Jew, Berger emigrated to the United States with his family in 1878, leaving university without having completed his studies and earned a degree.


Victor Berger as he appeared shortly after the time he arrived in America.

The Berger family made their home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but eldest son Victor made his way westward, winding up in 1881 in the German-American metropolis of Milwaukee, Wisconsin — a city which in 1900 could say that 150,000 of its 285,000 residents were either German-born or the first generation American-born children of German immigrants.

There Berger became a German teacher in the city’s public school system. He would marry a former pupil, Meta Schlichting, in 1897; the couple’s two daughters would be raised speaking German as their first language in the home. (fn. Sally M. Miller, Victor L. Berger and the Promise of Constructive Socialism, 1910-1920. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973; pp. 17-18.)

Berger’s biographer, the outstanding historian of American radicalism Sally M. Miller, described him thus:

In appearance Berger was short and stocky, and in expression studious and somber. His mustache and steel-rimmed glasses enhanced the impression of a Viennese academic… He had a sense of humor with a gift of poking fun at himself, his accent, and his peculiar constituency…. He also had a temper which might flare easily in an argument, and at times cost him support. With his associates he was congenial, loyal, and forthright…. He was a very human mixture of bombast, affability, confidence, and generosity.

His dominant characteristic was ambition. Energy, drive, and aggressiveness were the offshoots of this quality, and even friendly commentators considered Berger capable of ruthlessness. (fn. Miller, Victor L. Berger, pp. 22-23.)

Socialist Party leader Morris Hillquit was a frequent political antagonist to Berger from the late 1890s before eventually becoming a close associate late in life. In his posthumous memoir, written after Berger’s death, Hillquit recalled:

Berger-Victor-98Victor Berger had none of the ecstatic fervor and ardent idealism, nor the sentimental nature and expansive manner of Eugene Debs. He came from different soil and stock and was of different temperament and makeup. *  *  *

He was not an orator and disdained eloquence in speech and writing, but he had a thorough mastery of the socialist theory and an abundant fund of knowledge in the spheres of social science and history. He had strong convictions on every subject and a rare gift of clear and simple exposition. In party councils he was inclined to be self-assertive and domineering and utterly intolerant of dissenting views.

He was sublimely egotistic, but somehow his egotism did not smack of conceit and was not offensive. It was the expression of deep and naive faith in himself, and this unshakable faith was one of the mainsprings of his power over men.

Berger and I clashed often and violently on questions of Socialist policy, and in these clashes we rarely spared each other’s feelings; but we were always friends, and the bond of friendship between us tightened with advancing years. (fn. Morris Hillquit, Loose Leaves from a Busy Life. New York: Macmillan, 1934; pp. 52-53.)

•          •          •          •          •

Berger the Publisher

Berger’s basis of power was that of newspaper publisher, first and foremost in the German language. The first Berger newspaper was Vorwärts (Forward), launched in 1887. This paper went to a daily frequency in 1893, with the name changed slightly to Wisconsin Vorwärts, serving as the official organ of the Federated Trades Council of Milwaukee — part of the American Federation of Labor.

The expanded Sunday edition continued to be known simply as Vorwärts, and this would ultimately survive and supersede the daily edition after its termination in August 1898 for financial reasons. The weekly Vorwärts would in fact outlive even its publisher, continuing even after Berger’s accidental death when he was hit by a streetcar in 1929. The paper would finally shut down on December 31, 1932.

wahrheit-adThe Wisconsin Vorwärts also had a “weekly edition” containing the best content of the daily edition for readers who wanted to keep abreast of the labor and social democratic movement but who chose to subscribe to another German-language paper for their daily news. This was Die Wahrheit (The Truth), launched in January 1898, and serving as a German-language official organ of the Social Democratic Party of America after its formation in June of that year. (fn. Anne Spier, “German Speaking Peoples” in Dirk Hoerder (ed.), The Immigrant Labor Press in North America, 1840s-1970s: Volume 3, Migrants from Southern and Western Europe. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987; pp. 496-497, 499-501.)

This also continued after the suspension of the daily Wisconsin Vorwärts from whence it sprung in 1898. Although content of the Vorwärts and Die Wahrheit is said to have differed little, (fn. Spier, op. cit., p. 497) in practice there seems to have been a party orientation for Die Wahrheit and an trade union orientation for the Vorwärts.

In June 1910, Die Wahrheit suspended publication, leaving the Vorwärts as the sole German language newspaper in the Berger stable. The key editor of Berger’s German papers, it should be mentioned before we move along, was Jacob Hunger.


First editor of Berger’s Social Democratic Herald was A.S. Edwards, who, somewhat surprisingly, would later become the editor of the official organ of the IWW for a time.

Berger moved into English language socialist publishing in 1901 when he acquired the failing official organ of the Chicago Social Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Herald, moving the paper from Chicago to Milwaukee and bringing along its editor, Alfred Shenstone Edwards.

Even specialist librarians are confused about the date of this switch, with substantial misinformation existing about a lengthy phantom suspension in the summer of 1901. For the record, the paper continued in Chicago through July 27, issue whole no. 160, and picked up again in Milwaukee on August 17, confusingly misnumbered as whole no. 159. Thus there was a two-week lapse for change of ownership and the move of facilities.

With Berger’s right hand man, Frederic Heath, soon appointed the paper’s editor in place of the departing Edwards, the Social Democratic Herald would continue its weekly publication schedule until termination in September 1913.

By this time the Social Democratic Herald had been succeeded by the best known of Berger’s newspapers, the Milwaukee Leader, launched in December 1911. The Leader was fourth socialist daily in America, following the Daily People (SLP, NYC, 1901), the Chicago Daily Socialist (1906), and the New York Call (1908).

The Leader lasted longer than any of these, surviving perhaps due to its more general newspaper orientation and feel (with socialist content tacked on) rather than standing as a transparent socialist propaganda weapon. It featured coverage of theater, fashion, sports, and so forth in the manner of any daily newspaper of the day, with politically charged articles packed up front or on a party page in the back. One needn’t to have been a party member to appreciate its value as a news source — so despite the SPA’s attenuation, the paper survived.

It, too, would ultimately survive wartime suppression from the mails (making use of home delivery), the financial difficulty associated with the decline of the Socialist Party in the early 1920s, and even Berger’s death in 1929, continuing until its sale in April 1938. The paper was then temporarily rebranded as the New Milwaukee Leader, before continuing for a final short-lived run in 1939 and 1940 as the Milwaukee Evening Post.

•          •          •          •          •

Victor Berger on Party-Trade Union Relations and the IWW

Milwaukee socialist publisher Victor L. Berger is frequently caricatured as the essence of unprincipled right wing opportunism in the socialist movement. He’s seen as a toady to the established trade unions of the AF of L (who advertised heavily in his newspapers) and a malignant saboteur of industrial unionism.

Real life was far more complicated. There was strategic thinking and principle behind the practice. Take some time to read this with an open mind. Listen to what he is saying:

Now I for one want Messrs. [Samuel] Gompers and [John] Mitchell to understand that scientific socialists — I means socialists who are students — would not expect very much for socialism even from a reconstituted American Federation of Labor, with more brainy men than either Gompers or Mitchell at the helm.

And for the following reasons:


As was the case with the anti-IWW socialist weekly St. Louis Labor, Victor Berger’s Social Democratic Herald was tightly connected to the established trade union movement of the city in which it was published. Milwaukee labor organizations were important financial supporters of the publication through paid advertising, adding a material incentive to Berger’s native intellectual distaste for the dual unionism and extra-parliamentary tactics of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Trade unions as such recognize the capitalist system. They stand upon the same economic basis as the defenders of capitalism. The trade unions as such are at the present time the greatest conservative force in the country, just as the trusts are the greatest revolutionary force — Mr. Gompers is at liberty to quote this to his millionaire friends in the Civic Federation.

So we have no reason to expect a change of the economic system to come through the trade unions.

Yet it is the duty and the task of the trade unions to bring about certain social reforms, as for instance sick benefits, old age pensions, national accident insurance, protection in the case of being out of work, etc. But for all these things not even a beginning has been made in this country, and Gompers and Mitchell and their satellites oppose them as “socialistic.” And that is where Gompers and Mitchell and the rest of them will come to grief very soon. *   *   *

Here is the Milwaukee idea, which is rapidly gaining ground among socialists all over the country.

We do not want the trade unions to serve the [Socialist] Party, any more than we want our party to be the servant of the trade unions. Both of them are a necessary part of the organized labor movement — they are like the two arms of the same body. One is the political arm, reaching out for the powers of the state; the other is the trade union arm, disciplining and organizing the industries. Each of the two branches of the labor movement has its own sphere of usefulness, yet each of them can help and must help the other without in any way losing its identity or becoming subordinate to the other. In … having the same persons take an active interest in both, the trade union and the political movement — we find the strongest connecting link between the trade union organization and the [Socialist] Party.

This nation, as every other civilized people, is now relieved from deciding whether it will have socialism or not. We shall have it, no matter what we decide on the subject. Any trade union leader who is opposing it will find himself in the ridiculous and dangerous position of a billy goat trying to stop a railroad train coming at full speed. Driven by economic conditions, the capitalists, the workingmen, and even the middle class are unitedly and irrevocably working towards socialism, no matter how some of them may hate and abhor it. We are simply growing into socialism as the world grew into feudalism and capitalism. (fn. Victor L. Berger, “Against the Economic Trend,” SD Herald, Jan. 14, 1905, p. 1.)

Responding to the January industrial union manifesto (signed by Debs at the last minute after already having been written) calling for establishment of a new labor organization at a Chicago convention slated for June 27, Berger had nothing but scorn:

alu-logo.jpgTwo weeks ago a number of leaders of the American Labor Union and their friends held a meeting in Chicago…. The movement thus inaugurated is directed against the American Federation of Labor. The circular…caused quite a sensation in Milwaukee, because the name of Eugene V. Debs was connected with the movement.

The entire capitalist press of Milwaukee and Chicago call this movement a campaign of the Socialists against the American Federation of Labor, having for its object the disruption of that organization…. This movement was not wholly unexpected, as far as I am concerned, and I wish to make the following remarks concerning it.

The Socialist Party, or the Social Democracy, as an organization has nothing whatever to do with this movement, or with the reorganizing of the American Labor Union, which is essentially its object. The resolutions adopted by our national conventions expressly prohibit our party or any of its organizations from any interference in trade union matters. Hence if Eugene V. Debs signed this circular calling for the session in Chicago, he did so upon his own responsibility, just as he helped to bring into the world the American Labor Union solely upon his own impulse… And as is well known, the great majority of our party members at that time did not approve his actions, and they will not follow him now.

afofl-labelThe comrades in Milwaukee, where the [Socialist] Party and the progressive trade unions are in one and the same camp, in the best sense of the word, will certainly not flock to the new banner. Our local unions are an integral part of the great national and international labor unions, and even if they so wished, could not sever their connection with them without injuring their own interests and the interest of the labor movement.

Milwaukee, which Gene himself calls his second home, has always highly esteemed Debs, but as it is “not that I love Caesar less, but that I love Rome more.” The American labor movement would suffer great injury if any appreciable number of progressive trade unions should allow themselves to be misled into joining this movement, and we will not join it.

There is no one who will accuse the Milwaukee comrades, and particularly Victor L. Berger, of having any special love for Gompers, Mitchell, or the rest of the grand old cripples of the AF of L….

For us blindly to begin a fight with the American Federation of Labor at this time would be a crime against the trade unions and a fatal error in the Socialist propaganda. If the AF of L is to die, it must die of its own disease. (fn. Victor L. Berger, “A Timely Warning Against Unwise Action” SD Herald, Jan. 21, 1905, p. 1.)


AF of L President Samuel Gompers as he appeared in 1902.

Together with Max S. Hayes, publisher of the Cleveland Citizen, Berger attempted to continue the work of “boring from within” the American Federation of Labor, attending its November 1905 convention in Pittsburgh as a delegate of the International Typographical Union, sharing a room with future National Secretary of the Socialist Party J. Mahlon Barnes.

The delegates endured a 3-1/2 hour report by AF of L President Samuel Gompers, during which he spent about 15 minutes attacking the IWW and the socialist movement for supporting it. “I cannot do very much at this convention and I really wish it was over,” he admitted in a letter home to his wife Meta. “Barnes and I will try to soldier a few sessions and see Pittsburgh and vicinity.” (fn. VLB to Meta Berger, Nov. 13, 1905, in Michael E. Stevens (ed.), The Family Letters of Victor and Meta Berger, 1894-1929. Madison, WI: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1995; pp. 70-71.)

Whatever the deficiencies of the IWW and its dual unionist strategy, it is clear that by the end of 1905 Berger — who never believed in that mission — had simultaneously lost all faith in transformation of the American Federation of Labor through organization of a socialist caucus within the national organization.

For him, the struggle had devolved to practical, local level politics — and that implied maintaining a status quo relationship with the powerful established national labor organization and its member unions and pushing these activists and institutions to as much progressive political action as they would be capable. The entry of the IWW in the field at a national level was an unwelcome development, an effort doomed to failure and not seriously to be considered.

Debs, on the other hand, remained an enthusiast for the new union in its earliest phase, with a religionist’s passion.

A storm was brewing.

•          •          •          •          •

Debs the Journalist breaks with Berger the Publisher

Berger’s opposition to the IWW brought him to a parting of the ways with Gene Debs, who was a founding member and enthusiast of the new industrial union. There is no surviving correspondence to illuminate this split, so far as I am aware, but a split there was nonetheless.

The placement of Debs’s journalistic output tells the tale.



After the Chicago Social Democratic Party founded by Berger and Debs merged with the rival Springfield organization to establish the Socialist Party of America in the summer of 1901, Debs continued to write for the former official organ of the Chicago SDP — the Social Democratic Herald, even though it had been sold to Victor Berger, moved to Milwaukee, and been made a privately-owned publication at the time of the Unity Convention.

Debs saw the paper as the lineal successor of his beloved Railway Times, which had rebranded as The Social Democrat before being abandoned in the 1898 split of the Social Democracy of America. It was to the Social Democratic Herald that his primary loyalty lay as a socialist writer. After a fitful start in 1901, Berger’s editors — A.S. Edwards, then Frederic Heath — ran Debs material almost weekly, whether original output or reprints from other publications.

Debs was clearly disillusioned in the second half of 1901, writing just five articles and one substantial open letter in the last five months of year, the period after the Unity Convention. Of these, only 2 pieces (33%) were written especially for the Herald. The paper frequently reprinted Debs speeches and articles from previous years, to be sure, but the output of original material by Debs was at the lowest ebb of his entire life.

In 1902 EVD became greatly involved in the first part of the year with strikes of the Colorado hard rock miners and the coal miners of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. This took time. Debs spoke more and wrote less than he would in some subsequent years, but he was reactivated. Despite the time constraints he faced, Debs managed to pen approximately 35 articles for the press in 1902 — of which, by my count, 13 (37%) first appeared in the Herald. There were also a couple letters written directly to the editor of the Herald which were subsequently published not counted in this total.

Debs wrote about 48 articles in 1903, of which, according to my tally, 21 (44%) were written for the Herald as the first publisher of the piece.

Continuing to escalate his pace as a writer, I spot 59 articles from 1904, of which by my reckoning some 22 (37%) were first composed for the Herald.

Then came 1905, the year of the IWW.

Victor Berger was one of three dozen labor leaders and socialist journalists invited to the January organizing meeting for the IWW — he refused to attend, as did his close associate Max Hayes. During the first six months of that year, the period immediately before the new organization was formally launched, Debs wrote approximately 17 articles for the press, of which only 4 (24%) were placed first in the Herald.

After the IWW founding convention, during the last six months of the year, 25 articles were written, with just 4 (16%) of these original to the Herald.

My 1906 raw list of Debs articles hasn’t been worked over enough yet to provide a solid total article count, but I can give you this number: Debs does not seem to have written a single original piece for publication in the Social Democratic Herald in that year. Nor in 1907.

Eugene V. Debs the socialist writer and Victor L. Berger the socialist publisher had made a break.

•          •          •          •          •

Debs’s IWW Speeches of 1905, another redux

iww-logo-smA quick amendment to last week’s blog. My self-imposed Saturday blog deadline bit me in the butt. I’ve subsequently discovered a piece in which Debs directly states that he attended five mass meetings under the auspices of the IWW while he was in New York in December 1905. It turns out that he delivered full speeches at four of these and short remarks at a fifth, sharing the stage with other IWW orators.

Therefore, taken in addition to the three well-known mass meetings at which he spoke in Chicago in November, we find that Debs spoke explicitly under IWW auspices a total of eight times in 1905, not the “four-times-max-six” that I guesstimated in last week’s post.

Here are the New York City-area dates and locations, for what it’s worth:

  • Sunday, Dec. 10, 1905: NEW YORK CITY at Grand Central Palace (Lexington Ave. between 43rd and 44th Streets)
  • Monday, Dec. 11: Main speech — BROOKLYN at Grand Central Hall (corner of Leonard and Scholes Streets); afterwards, short speech in NEW YORK CITY at Grand American Hall (7-9 Second Avenue).
  • Tuesday, Dec. 12: PATERSON, NJ presumably. It’s known he spoke there and this was the open date… No additional information available at this time.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 13: BRONX at Muller’s Bronx Casino (994 Third Ave.)

At all of these he shared the podium with Daniel DeLeon. Charles O. Sherman was at all but the late night speech on the 11th. General starting time was 8 pm and admission was free.

We learn as we go. That’s the way research works.



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

This week I’m finishing up with 1905 and getting started with 1906. For the record, my database (which fluctuates as new items are discovered or eliminated as duplicates) currently stands at 69 Debs items for 1905, of which 32 have been converted to editable text and 35 have been examined and passed over. There are still 2 remaining to be located, only one of which has any prospect of being further processed.

  • “Amsterdam Congress the Year’s Great Achievement” (Jan. 1, 1905) — 569 words
  • “Political Evolution and the Socialist Mission” (Jan. 14, 1905) — 1,542 words
  • “The Russian Uprising” [expanded version] (Jan. 26, 1905) — 1,237 words
  • “The New Union” (July 22, 1905) — 435 words
  • “The Chautauqua Platform and Its Opportunities” (Aug. 26, 1905) — 878 words
  • “What Socialism Proposes” (Sept. 23, 1905) — 1,230 words
  • “The Coming Labor Union” (Oct. 26, 1905) — 1,455 words
  • “Graft Unionism and the Progressive Alternative: Letter to the Chicago Socialist” (Dec. 23, 1905) — 1,440 words
  • “The 1905 Mayoral Election in New York City” (Jan. 6, 1906) — 2,021 words
  • “Arouse, Ye Slaves!” (March 10, 1906) — 954 words

Word count: 73,687 in the can + 11,761 this week +/- amendments = 84,848 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.

Social Democratic Herald — 1905, 1906 (Jan.-June)



The Idea of Democratic Socialism in America, by Robert J. Fitrakis, seems to have begun as a dissertation in 1993 before being published as a trade paperback in 2007 by the essentially unknown CICJ Books of Columbus, Ohio — meaning that I’ve been oblivious to this 361-page tome for a decade.


Not much of a cover, eh?

One can deduce the political line of a book about political parties by the individuals to whom chapter-length attentions is paid. For example, if I were writing a book about the Socialist Party, you could be sure that Gene Debs, Victor Berger, and Morris Hillquit would figure most prominently — and that would tell you something about me and it, pre-communist Marxism of the glory days… Fitrakis shines his spotlight on Gene Debs (1855-1926), Norman Thomas (1884-1968), and Michael Harrington (1928-1989). Unsurprisingly, then, we find here a long view with a distinctly modernist social democratic orientation.

Fitrakis finds common “deep religious roots” in all three of his heroes of the story, with the “old testament prophets” Debs and Thomas said to have “fused with and drew from the dynamism of Protestant revivialism by offering democratic socialism as the gospel solution,” while Mike Harrington’s background in the Catholic Worker movement is given prominent attention. (pp.  10-11)

Harrington, the founder of the predecessor organization of today’s Democratic Socialists of America, is depicted as the least successful of the three leaders, with his group — not unfairly given the time of writing — characterized as “little more than an [Americans for Democratic Action]-style pressure group using democratic socialist rhetoric while doing lay work for liberal [Democratic Party] candidates.” (p. 8) Harrington’s apparent failure is said to have been directly related to a “dogmatic adherence to ‘lesser evilism’ in politics.” (p. 12)

In the age of Trumpism and the reactionary onslaught on American institutions wrought in association, combined with the growth of DSA today into a mass organization, surely an assessment published today would draw a rather different conclusion, both as to the potential of DSA and the necessity of pursuing the tactic of lesser-evilism in an era when the welfare state and democracy itself is under attack from the proto-fascist forces that dominate the Republican Party.

I digress.

As for Debs, Fitrakis pinpoints a specific Dec. 24, 1899 letter in the dissident SLP People published by editor Algernon Lee as decisive in hardening his negative opinion of the bolting anti-DeLeon faction. If true, one is a little baffled by Debs’s lack of reading skills or his inability to accept anything less than full-throated support.

Said letter (sarcastically) notes:

Debs does not train in our camp, therefore Debs must be killed. [Christian socialist Toledo mayor] Jones does not speak after our fashion, Jones must be vilified. The Workers Call and the Class Struggle don’t follow our [specific path] to the goal: therefore these papers must be branded with treason. All this effort must be sacrificed to the negative god.

This same god must be served and honored locally with all the ardor developed by the close range of personal contempt. The demonstration is … a false and brutal attack, a long organized and desperate attempt to break the power of the positive forces…

Debs does not train in our camp, but Debs, with a great fund of human sentiment, but Debs reveals to the mind of the … unconscious mass that a great wrong is being done the human race by the human race. With the plow of injustice and the harrow of social crisis the call of the heart and mind is fitted to receive the higher revelations of social science. Debs to the assertive workers, to the positive side of the SLP organization is welcomed. His activity puts a higher obligation on them, to more closely define the difference between the knowledge of socialism and the sentiment of socialism, both prime and necessary factors to the propaganda. (fn. Author illegible, “Correspondence,” The People [dissident] vol. 9, no. 39 (Dec. 24, 1899), p. 4.)

Did aspiring socialist leader Debs in this period really have such a thin skin and so poor a comprehension of the written word that something like this set him off? It seems unlikely — but still, there was a thick and heavy bitterness that Debs felt towards the former SLP faction that must have had an origin in something.

One is hard-pressed to find anything in the surviving issues of that group’s official organ to merit Debs’s visceral antipathy. Perhaps a full run of this paper will emerge in fully legible form to solve this small mystery of intellectual history.

Fitrakis’s book is another one for the shelf, but I don’t think that it’s compelling me to look at the world in a different way.

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