tv The Contenders CSPAN August 5, 2016 3:21am-4:56am EDT
>> are featured contender is eugene debs. if lifetime candidates for president of the socialist ticket, and the nation's most celebrated world war i protester. this footage captures eugene debs on his return home to terre haute, indiana. tonight, we are in terre haute at his home and museum. let me introduce you to our two guests. his book is called "democraciy's prisoner." it has been 85 years since he died. why do we care about him? >> he was one of our most important labor leaders at a crucial time. more importantly, he was the
central figure in the socialist movement at a time it was a viable growing part of the american political culture. >> does he have a lasting legacy? >> i think like many third-party candidates, he and his fellow socialist moved the conversation in different directions. in that regard, he is of his time but he is also a long impact on us as well. >> we will have time to delve into some of the elections later on. of the five bids he made, are any particularly significant? >> de 1912 bid is the high mark of socialism where he got 6% of the votes. a different election was 1920 where he was imprisoned in the atlanta penitentiary and got 1
million votes while running from present -- prison. >> are 90 minute program, "the contenders", i look at people who made an attempt at the white house and failed. we are live tonight from the eugene debs and terre haute. he lived here in this house. we will show you more of the house as we continue here. the top floor of the house is an interesting mural. the mural depicts the years of his public life. throughout our program we will be showing you aspects of the artwork to help illustrate eugene debs'story. let me introduce you to our second guest. she is courting us from what was his bedroom, now is a museum or with a lot of artifacts.
she is a specialist in labor history. lisa phillips, thank you for being with us. your thoughts on his significance to the american story. >> i think the significance has to do with this activity in labor unions. he has had a lasting effect on many of the laws that were passed during the progressive era as a result of his activism, some of which we still enjoy. he can tell us a lot about his time. for running for president. >> lisa phillips will be showing some of the artifacts -- artifacts through the house. tell us a little bit about the debs foundation. >> it seeks to keep his legacy a life. it hopes to promote not only
the museum but the policies that eugene debs promoted such as the social justice and equality and the rights of workers. we try to live the spirit of his marriage -- his mission. as we turn to your expertise, can we -- can you tell me a little bit about how the house is financed and functions? critics care of it? >> it is paid for by the debs foundation and is cared for by dr. charles king and karen brown. both of them are here and terre haute and run tours of the museum on a daily basis. >> our viewers in 10 minutes or so, we will open up all mines and invite you into the discussion. very interested to hear the discussion about eugene debs and the turn of the 20th century and that. that he represents. but me ask you a little bit about what made him a success.
>> many people remember him most of all as a dynamic speaker. this is an area of wonderful stump speakers that can fill two or three hours with a speech. he was really the best in that genre. in fact, so good he could have charged admission for his audience and that is how they funded the socialist campaign in many cases. he was a very charismatic and had the ability -- i think he began as a victorian speaker but became much more comfortable over the years. he developed a more modern impromptu style that later made and impact on his audience. >> over your shoulder is debs' library. my understanding is that eugene debs dropped out of school at age 14. i am curious about his extensive library and how he educated
himself. >> he was very much self-taught. he worked very hard at that. he began working in the railroad union and was interested in literature there. he worked for a while as a grocery clerk in town. he always wanted more education but had to rely on his own. >> how did terre haute shape eugene debs? >> in many ways. mostly through his of bringing here when he was a younger man. he always harkened back to terre haute, and he invoked it all the time in terms of the harmonious relationships that he said developed an old terre haute where everybody could aspire to do something good in their lives whether it be a business owner, whether you are a worker. everybody had the chance. he always set in the old terre haute everybody had the chance
to improve their lives. that is what he held in the most regard. >> would you walk around the house, you can see he was interested in politics from an early age. he made bid for clark in his town and made a successful bid for the indiana legislature on the democratic ticket. his early roots were in two party systems. can you talk about that? >> i can say a little bit which is to say he ran on the democratic party ticket when he believed that he could form a relationship between multiple groups of people whether they be business owners, workers, and he believed the party system in that regard. it was not until later in the 18 eighties and 1890's that he felt the party system through the democrats and republicans were not working for the best interests of all the people combined. >> when he sought the white house, what was his intention? did he ever really think that he could win? >> he said very clearly he had
no intention of ever winning. he was interviewed in 19 08 and they said what would it be like for you to be president. he said if the party ever becomes close to winning, i would be the last person who would want the job. he really thought of himself more as an evangelist for the cause. he believed in democracy. i think he was more interested in using the campaigns to generate interest among workers and develop class consciousness to deliver his message very powerfully every four years. >> give us a snapshot of the america he was dissatisfied with. >> there was an enormous concentration of capital. many people were worried about the labor problem. many workers felt in the face of the rapid industrialization that their skills or less soluble, their wages were being fitted into the international market where they were getting
declining wages and a more difficult work environment. there was an enormous sense that labor was deeply unhappy. eugene debs turned it around and said the problem is of labor, the problem is capital. it is not that the workers are unhappy, the root problem is that these enormous concentrations of capital are undermining american democracy. >> socialism was on the rise in europe. how was eugene debs doing here different from over there? >> it was similar at first. they considered themselves internationalists. socialism needed to be a worldwide movement. they expected it would be. they fell to their word distinctive challenges in an america to convince workers to do that. there was a stronger sense of a working class in europe on which to draw for socialist organizing their. one of the struggle for eugene
debs throughout his career was to convince workers they should think of themselves not as democrats or republicans, not on the basis of their religious affiliations, but of members of the working class. >> how successful were he and his fellow thinkers in convincing the public? at the height of his popularity, how much ground that they make? >> it depends on how you measure that. if you measure it on his success, the high water mark was 1912. >> never any electoral college? >> know. there was a much broader. socialists were much more successful on the local level. there were many socialist mayors. there was a vibrant international socialist society for college students started by jack london. a lot of college campus ferment about socialism. there was a lively press, some
of our best in journalism from that time. comes out of the socialist press journals. socialism was a much bigger than counting the votes. >> today in congress, the united states senator bernie sanders from vermont is a socialist. we talked to him about eugene debs'legacy. let's listen to what he had to say. >> a lot of big ideas that he advocated. he talked about what people get old, there should be social insurance for them. that is what we call social security today. amazingly, in 2011 there are those same people that want to destroy social security. he believed health care was the right of all people. that battle continues today. i think it is fair to say that many of the huge advances made during the 1930's under
president roosevelt, the great society under lyndon johnson, those were ideas that people liked eugene debs probably brought to the attention. the first person to bring to the attention of millions of working people. >> let me ask you to add your perspective to the american that he saw and was dissatisfied with. colorado telecom of whether or not he saw himself as anti- american or wanting to change america. >> i do not think he saw himself as anti-american at all. i think he thought he was advocating through his socialist party activity a kind of america that he harkened back to again in the old days of terre haute, one that was more community center, one that was less big business. he was not anti capitalist at all in his early days. it was not until the advent of big business and corporate
capitalism that he felt there had to be a movement toward that profit motive that continued to bring everyday workers wages down. >> let me ask you -- you have something to add to that? "i agree with lisa. one of the things that made him so powerful is his ability to cast socialism as an american movement. it was not this is a revolutionary country in the first place, we fought a revolution for democracy. in his lifetime he experienced the civil war as a revolution. some of his greatest titles for the abolitionists. his argument was the country had fought a battle to overthrow slavery. the next step is to overthrow wage slavery. >> a question for you -- who were his workers? did he include women in his few of it? did he include people other than whites? did he include immigrants?
>> he was one of the first industrial union leaders. he was mounting a movement on behalf of the working class which he believed everybody who was a worker who earned wages was a part of what could they be an emigrant, black, women. so he saw them as all members of a working class that needed to be uplifted in some way, shape, or form. there is controversy to this day about whether he did enough on behalf of women and african- americans. he had some trouble seeing immigrants who came over temporarily and worked for a very low wages and brought them back to their home countries as part of the same american working class that was trying to fight for higher wages. he had some trouble over the course of his career. as an industrial movement, his
was one that recognized the rights of all workers regardless of their backgrounds. >> i understand you have one of the artifacts copies of the jungle. what is the significance? >> it is a huge significance. sinclair published in 1905. he was a member of the socialist party itself. he highlighted all the horrible conditions that meatpackers work in and the conditions. where really riled up the country were not only the conditions, but also the quality of the meat that was coming out of the plants. he was the one who wrote about rats and people's fingers being caught in the processed meat and how horrible that was. he and eugene debs were supporters of each other. upton sinclair was able to demonstrate the problems with the growing gulf -- growing of
big business. that led to the revolution of the food administration. >> the book actually ends with a scene where he wanders into a socialist meeting and here's a character that is supposed to be eugene debs making a socialist speech. for upton sinclair, that was not food regulations but socialism was the better answer. eugene debs is actually writing the book. >> can you tell the story of his first imprisonment and how he got connected with the concept of socialism at that time? >> he was the head of the american railway union which mounted a successful strike
against the great northern railroad co. in 1893. the aru gained thousands of members with eugene debs as its head. many of those members were part of the palace car company in 1894. the petition for support when they decided to walk out against george pullman who dropped their wages by a 28%. it wanted to walk out and they asked for support. eugene debs was reluctant at first. he thought it was too risky. but the pullman workers had a lot of support not only within the town of pullman which is outside of chicago, but also had a lot of support from railray workers all the way to st. louis.
it became national in scope. as a result of that, president aglow over cleveland and the clerks got involved and issued yen an injunction to stop them from stopping the transport of goods, especially the u.s. mail, along that corridor. grover cleveland got involved. he sent u.s. troops to open up the role re depots that had been shut down as a result of the strike that had been called by the aru. eugene debs ultimately did not call the striking workers off and was found in content of court for not following the injunction. he spent three months in prison for being in contempt of court. it was then in prison after the pullman strike that he was introduced to socialist party literature and became a socialist party member and
staunch advocate. >> i read a description that he entered prison a changed man for the first time. the you know more about that? "i think he did come to the realization that when the federal troops came in and smash to the strike. when he ended up in prison for defending the rights of workers that he made it as clear as could be that the two parties were both working against labor and there needed to be an alternative. he did not go right way to socialism. he was involved in the populist party. he was very active initially. when that failed, the socialist party in march after that. west arkansas two guests are going to begin bringing your telephone calls into the mix. we will put the phone numbers on the screen.
we will mccalls at the route are 90 minutes here. as we take our first call, we want to give you a sense of where the house is terre haute and on the campus. we will show you that via google maps as we listen to our first caller from north carolina. hi steve. >> it seems like they are appealing or trying to appeal to some what constituency. >> thank you very much. in the election of 1912, how did they compare? >> eugene debs was initially and admirers of him. i think they shared some concerns about reform. i think the crucial difference is eugene debs was really a
revolutionary. he not only was interested in reform, reform was necessary but they felt something much greater was needed. there needed to be an anti capitalism and public ownership of the means of production. that was a position that distinguished him from brian's campaign. >> the election was his first try in 1900. he got 0.6% of the popular vote that year. do you know what his early appeals were as a candidate and how they changed over his many bits? >> the real challenge for eugene debs was to try to knit together socialists' coming from very different positions. one of the strongest hotbeds of socialism was oklahoma. people who had been populous started to develop these socialist camp meetings where they would gather together to hear socialist speeches. eugene debs was a real hero
there. they also needed to speak to trade unionists in chicago and milwaukee to radical bohemians and san francisco, to jewish garment workers on the lower east side. it was a real challenge to find a way to knit together people who all agree on some level that capitalism needed to change fundamentally. they were coming at this from very different positions. it took a while to build the apparatus. >> another election in 1908 which involve william jennings bryan. he began to understand some early marketing. he had some campaign tactics of the red train special and the red special band. can you tell us a little more about that? >> 1908 was a critical year because of the descendants of the popularity of the labor
party and the federation of labour and other labor unions. his message appealed to increasingly more people from a divorce amount of backgrounds. the red special would have been a good enough find symbol to use to unite what were very different groups of people who were working on farms or an urban areas. it meant to his supporters a challenge to big business. they would have called it a big business or monopolies in that period. it was a good way to unify people with just the use of the red special. >> this is a caller named randy. welcome. >> thank you. i just wanted to give you background. my grandfather voted for eugene
debs in his election. as i went through school, we never heard of eugene debs. it seems like one thing that is really lacking in our education system is labor history. the fact that people -- many people died for those benefits. they were not gifts. people were literally killed and beaten and a jailed for the right to have this insurance. what the neo-fascist that are now running on the republican party, it seems like to read it established that message more than ever. we are in a critical point in history where it rightfully are not careful we could go towards fascism. >> a question for you before you
go? you talk to you if your grandfather about eugene debs? >> the last election i believe was the 1916 election. >> that would be 1920. >> 1960 was the year he set out i believe. first of all, why did he set out in 1916? >> he was en el health. i think he only ran in 1920 because of the unusual circumstances. he felt it was time to pass on the bataan of the movement to somebody else. he did run for congress in indiana. he did not fill -- he did not feel ought to the special. he was giving 15 speeches a day and would come back exhausted to
terre haute and collapse in one of the entrance upstairs. 1916 he decided to set out. >> randy's comments are probably amusing to your ears about the lack of teaching of labor history. i am wondering what you think about teaching of labor history to america's students. >> of course, i would say should be taught more than it is. i think there is so much we can learn about working people, about all of us to work every day and try to make ends meet and value them by teaching their history is very important. it gives us a very different perspective on what it means to fight for some of those rights that the caller was mentioning and not take them for granted. as hard-fought as they were fought for, they can be easily taken a way. we need to really teach those
struggles and how difficult it was so we do not take for granted the benefits that we received as a result of them. >> in the early part of the 20th century, was there a middle class? >> yes. a large part of corporate capitalism generated a much larger middle-class. >> of the people he represented, what they be part of the middle- class or unless the working class? >> there was a large number of middle-class supporters. it went to his meetings expecting to see just working class people were surprised to find that actually many of the most important writers and political thinkers we can think of from that time. were either members of the socialist party are very sympathetic to their agenda. he considered it a working-class movement, but it had a strong leadership component. >> and the.
1900, it would be dangerous to call yourself a socialist in the united states? >> know, there were particular incidence to be involved as a socialist and a particular strike environment was a problem. there was some conflicts over the rights of soapboxes speakers. there were big believers of bringing their message to the speech. sometimes there were clashes with the police. as far as persecution of the socialists, the river much a part of the political conversation. >> what did the public at large began to become more suspicious about intentions? >> what socialist started to get a lot of votes, that started the conversation. in 1908 and 1912, teddy roosevelt called eugene debs one of our most undesirable
citizens. there was a sense that the forces of moderate opinion is needed to push back against socialism rhetorically. it was not until world war i that the gloves really came off and socialism was physically and legally a salted. >> next is a caller named cal from manhattan. >> hello. i am loving the series. it is really fascinating history. just off the bat, there are a couple of things that strike me and hopefully your guests can comment on one or the other. one is the grievances against the growing capitalism, strangling the rights of the people as it was thought of then as it is now. as you know, we have these protests and test. test. test. test. test. test. test. em.
also, the idea of the organization -- the mechanics of the organization of the movement. occupy wall street is receiving criticism because they are making a deliberate attempt not to have a specific platform or agenda or a list of grievances. maybe you can talk about the mechanics of organizing a movement as eugene debs and who might have inspired him in his life with things he might agree with. thanks for the series. >> let me ask lisa to take up the question of what were his grievances against capitalism. >> his grievances was monopoly, corporate capitalism he had the most trouble with. that is why he thought an overthrow of corporate capitalism was an order. his grievances against them was
the accumulation of wealth and the hands of a few and controlling what he argued or combinations of corporations and business owners would be able to get together to control many aspects of the economy. that is what he was clearly against. what he advocated were labor unions with similar groups of workers that could work together to break the monopoly is that corporate entities have been forming with each other to control many aspects of the economy at the time. people argue that our time. is very similar to eugene debs' time. in terms of the growing gap between the wealthy and the less than both the. the mechanics that he used to organize them. >> i think that is a very interesting question. it is the case, one of the
things that made socialism work in the way it has not worked sense is their talent for organizing. their willingness to attend a lot of meetings and to develop a separate independent press. they were very strong critics in a way that sounds very modern and about the influence of big money on newspapers. they very much believed that there was no way people were going to hear the worker's side of the store or their side of the stories of they did not treat their own alternative press. that was crucial. eugene debs was the exciting person who blew into town and rallied the truth -- rallied the troops. it really involves a grass- roots progress and the attempt to win on a local level. the presidency was out of reach but it was not impossible to get on a city council. >> to think about the time
period, this was even before radio began. politics for americans and those days meant what in their lives? was it an activity to fill the evening in ways we do not appreciate today? >> shore. this was a period of enormous party loyalty. it was starting to fade -- >> also socialism. people would gather in the evening and listen to speeches. now we have lots of media and our lives and that sort of thing. >> there were many more newspaper sources, and they were much more art. political unions have their own press. there was a much more complicated mix available to people in a print. >> while we are talking about media, will you talk about a publication for which eugene debs wrote frequently called " the appeal to reason." >> a short period this is "the
appeal to reason." and became the newspaper of the socialist party in 1901. it is one of the publications, many newspapers that would have existed in that time. where people would find out as much information as they could. the first time it was published was here and "the appeal to reason." many authors of the. period would have written in this socialist party is bigger. i would like to read to you a statement that eugene debs made. after the election, he sent by telegraph to be published the
results of the election. he wrote "it is now certain that the socialist party has doubled its national vote. we must lose no time in preparing for the next. we are the only ones who came out with colors flying. the socialist party from now on as the party of the people. this young giant will make history in the next few years. soon after the democrats this power, they will feel helplessness and thousands who voted their ticket will turn from them. and them" how was he as a prop for knox the gator? >> that was a poor prediction. it began to fell right after that in terms of membership and never recovered the peak. >> why? >> one of the reasons was the bulls an administration did just the opposite of what deaths predicted. it brought in a slate of reforms.
controls for 8 hour day for railroad workers, some regulation of the banking system, some gesture for the right of unions to organize. these were only small steps toward what the socialists wanted, but enough to right for unions to organize. only small steps to what the socialists wanted, but enough to win a lot of voters. he wanted te
railroad. he wrote or the newest and exciting thing for young men to get a part of. his first job was a paint scraper for the local railroad that was running through terre haute. it was later owned by william keene. he was a paint scraper first. it was an exciting job in an era where people commonly did not finish high school. >> can either of you tell us about his marriage? >> that was always a source of controversy in the movement. he was deeply loyal to kate
debs. it was pretty clear that she married him as an aspiring young grocer and congressmen and not as a socialist. she has often spoken in favor of socialism publicly but not enthusiastically. she probably would have been happier if he had not pursue that life. it also kept him on the road most of the time. eugene debs was back in terre haute mostly to collapse upstairs and recover before he headed out on another campaign. she was left keeping the home fires burning in this house. >> so kate spent a lot of time in the living room where we are in this house in terre haute. >> with these down and out reward workers knocking on the door and hoping they could see his -- see their hero. >> did they have children? >> no. >> he said he traveled
extensively and she chose not to do that? or was she not invited to come along? >> know. i don't know. >> let's take our next phone call. this is tom. here we are in your home town. have you been to this house? >> no, i have not. i work two blocks away from there so i have no excuse. thank you for a fantastic series. i would just like to make a quick comment because there are so many people across america who would love to be calling. i looked out to do it. i want to say this. when the unions and socialism came about because of the lack of benevolent employers. i want to make when the unions and socialism came about because of the lack of benevolent employers. i want to make one point. i lived in colorado and i worked with westinghouse. i called on the mines of colorado.
i used to drive through southern colorado on interstate 25. i would pass a town called ludlow. i would ask miss phillips if she knows anything about the ludlow massacre and i'm not sure when it happened. i'm sure debs was alive at the time. i would just hang up now and please ponder what i said. you moguls of america who -- we need jobs and we need them now. please, could you tell us a little bit about the ludlow massacre in colorado? thank you. >> the ludlow massacre and several other massacres or riots of that time period were often blamed on the striking workers or the protesting workers at the time, whether they be miners or whether they be protesting for their rights. what happened in ludlow, which
happened in haymarket and happened in other riotous incidents where there would be federal troops or authorities brought in to quell the protesting workers and many of them would be killed. i can't remember how many people died in the ludlow massacre, but haymarket and other riots in homestead strike, several people would be killed. then the unions or the striking workers would be blamed for having caused a riot and for protesting. that caused a lot of -- that was part of the reason of the precursor of the knights of labor went by the wayside because they were blamed in part for the haymarket riot which caused the deaths of several people. the ludlow massacre similarly,
was an incident where striking workers were killed and where people were blamed, the workers themselves or strikers themselves were blamed for that. to get to the caller's original point, what debs actually wanted was a return to the benevolent employer. he had been friends with people in terre haute like william mckeen who owned part of the railroad that came through terre haute, who he supported when they had the best interested of terre haute in mind. it was when they brought in what mckean called and others called heavy capitalists and they were making relationships with people out east that debs started to break his ties with smaller business owners in places like terre haute and started criticizing them for their need for profit. it wasn't small business that he originally was against.
it was the for-profit motive that drove the small business men to become business moguls and create conditions that caused the ludlow massacre and haymarket riot among workers who fwelt they the no other choice but to strike. >> were there socialists all across the united states or was it a regional phenomenon? >> no, all across the united states. here in the midwest and out west, especially with the western federation of miners, they were big supporters of the socialist party. big bill haywood was a founding member of it. mostly out west, oklahoma, the midwest and east in places like new york, were the strongholds of the socialist party. they drew support from rural americans and farms being effective negatively by capitalism, from urban areas like chicago, new york, from western coal miners, so they drew support from lots of people who were similarly negatively effected by the rising of this corporate kind of capitalism.
>> you had a thought? >> i think rather than moving toward more benevolent employers, debs, i didn't think believed it was possible at this point. rather than ending monopoly capitalism and going back to small-scale capitalism, socialists were arguing that business will get bigger and bigger. the important thing is for it to be run by the people rather than by individuals for private gain. this was a more radical proposition as a way to solve the problem. there were plenty of people who were seriously engaged with trying to figure out how to soften the hard edges of the
industrial revolution that was going on. mark andrew carnegie, most notably, with his gospel of wealth, said they needed to be more benevolent moguls. debs said that's not the problem, essentially. we need to continue to build monopolies and take them for the people. >> we are profiling eugene v. debs at his home in terre haute, indiana, in our series "the contender" where 14 men tried for the presidency and lost but changed american history. we have 90 minutes to learn more about his period of time and his five runs from the presidency from 1900 through 1920. for our two guests here in terre haute, our next caller is from outside washington, this is john. hi, john. >> caller: wonderful program, thanks for c-span. i was intrigued by your guest's comment that teddy rosevelt said that eugene debs was the most dangerous man in america or something to that affect. when teddy roosevelt was known as a trust buster and breaking up standard oil. it seems they have some things in common. i wonder if your guests could comment on that.
>> ernest? >> good question. sure. roosevelt said we need to take what he called the sane part of the debsian program and adopt it. debs with his interest in taking over private industry and trying to run it through the people democratically, that would run undermine one of the pillars of american democracy and private property and free enterprise. on the other hand, he was well aware of the growing concern
among workers and the middle class about the problems of big business. so he basically, roosevelt argued it was important to take the good ideas, the things we now have inherited from the socialist movement in many ways we have been talking ability and to adopt those. these became an important part of his progressive party platform and part of the reform agenda for the wilson administration. he said, debs wants to tear down in the spirit of hate by stirring up class envy workers against their masters in a sense. what he wanted to do was to socialize the country in a different way without socialism. >> lisa phillips, you have more to add? >> i think too, i might be remembering this wrong, but i don't think teddy roosevelt supported nationwide strikes of the type that happened under the a.r.u. with pullman. that seemed dangerous to presidents who were in charge of making sure the country ran smoothly. anytime you saw a case where there was a strike fermented by by a national liker union that disresulted the goods and something as crucial as the mail
in that time period, that, too, would have put teddy roosevelt and eugene debs on the opposite side of the divide there in terms of how able you should be to top business from functioning. >> another topic all together to understand socialist thinking in the united states in the early 20th century. what about the intersection between socialist thinking and religion? >> a very large number of socialists were religious. especially in the south in oklahoma and texas. a strong party there. a very strong movement of what was called the social gospel or social christianity. many of those were supporters of debs even though debs was a believer in the most tenuous sense. he considered churches to be of the enemy.
part of the apparatus to oppress workers, particularly the catholic church. he was very critical. claimed never to go into a church. but many christians felt that he in his sort of humanitarian compassion for workers really exemplified a tremendous number of people over the course of his career said i don't know what he believes, but he is the most christ-like person that i know. his compassion for the underdog is the essence of christianity. this is an important distinction between the debsian socialist movement and the movement that comes after that. not everybody in the socialist movement was a believer, by any means, but it was something where that was an important part of the mix. >> if you signed your name to a card that said i'm a member of the socialist party in this time period, what did that mean your core beliefs were? >> the most important struggle was the struggle between the working class and the owning
class. this was inevitably going to result in a victory for the working class as a necessarily next step in the evolution of history and for american socialists, i think, a necessary next step to realize or to protect the principles of the american revolution. to protect the dignity of the individuals embodies in their ability to participate equally in their economy. >> and very much thought of themselves as patriots. we touched on that theme before. >> yes. >> harkining back, he spoke of lincoln and also of some of the founding fathers in his writings. he really saw himself as an extension of the early roots of american history? >> defining american -- the important movers and shakers in
american history as being radicals. history is driven forward by people. hi he would point back to jesus, to sock rate, wendell philips. they start out with an idea that seems deeply unpopular, but in retrospect, it's a necessary next step for moral evolution. >> we have a hoosier for the next call. this is chris on the line. welcome to the conversation. >> caller: thanks for having the conversation. it is a great surprise to see on television tonight. i wonder if your guests would be able to comment on debs' relationship with the industrial workers of the world and with general strike in seattle. >> all right. lisa phillips. the i.w.w. >> debs was a founding member of the i.w.w. which started in 1905. the i.w.w. was a clearly an industrial union movement.
it was juxtaposed against the federal labor which is a craft skilled labors union. it was like what he promoted with socialism, a working class of people. its boundaries are not as nationalistic, and it's thought to work with workers in other countries, spain, france, italy. this never came to be, but they saw themselves as part of a worker's movement among workers fighting capital world wide rather than just in the united states. it fit in with debs interpretation to promote the rights of workers not only in the united states, but other plac as well. >> was he affiliated with them throughout his life? >> no, there was a split within it's kind of complicated. there was a split in the i.w.w. over -- the socialist party had -- there was a split within the socialist party that affected
the i.w.w., so he remained very much supported the i.w.w. but took less of a leadership position once rival socialist party leaders, i think it was morris hillquist took -- and big bill haywood took over the i.w.w., brought in different divisions than debs had in mind. >> was the i.w.w. the wobbly? >> yes. one of the most important breaks was over the issue of violence or sabotage. the wobblies argued. this was a tough bunch in a tough environment working in the mines and lumber fields. they argued there were times when in order to advance their cause, they needed to use sabotage or other forms of
violence in order to fight back. >> did debs agree with that? >> debs did not agree with that. he wasn't a pacifist. he recognized you needed violence at times, but advocating violence was not appropriate for american democracy. in fact, workers always lost. when they tried violence, most of the power to spread violence around belonged to the state. >> next up is minneapolis. this is ken. hi, ken. >> caller: hello. this is ken in minneapolis. thank you, c-span3 for the series. i work in public radio and a little bit earlier your scholars were talking about debs and media. in new york city, there is or was a famous radio station wevb. the name for eugene v. beens. it debuted in the early 1920s. it was the first non-commercial listener supported radio stations. given debs' name and call letters, i wonder if he had any
involvement in the radio station. >> thanks. his demise was in 1926. radio just beginning to come on the scene as a medium. did he have a connection? >> as far as i know, he had no direct correction to it. it is a homage to him. >> we have 35 minutes left already. this program has gone by quickly. the question for you about debs if you can answer this. if he were to walk into this room, we're surrounded by images of him all over the house. it is interesting how many you have preserved here in the foundation. can you give us a sense of how tall a man he was? was he slight?
give us a personal glimpse of him if you can. >> as far as i know, i think he was 6'2" or 6'3". ernest, i'm not sure if that is correct. >> that's about right. >> i think he was always very thin. he was very lanky. you can see that in the pictures of him. he was that way from his youth on. so he was a commanding figure, but he was not burly. i guess i would say. >> you told me he was also an advocate of some of the contemporary eating fads of the days, more early holistic health. can you tell us about that? >> he was often ill. it was hard to pin down the problem was. some biographers suggested it was a nervous exhaustion from the campaigns, the stress he was under. he would retreat and try to recover and he would experiment with walnuts and sleeping -- a catch of diet and sleeping with his head oriented to the north and these kinds of things. he would often write back to his brother suggesting these were working out great for him.
>> switching gears. in our time, as the nation began to march toward world war i, what happened to the labor movement as all of the international political turmoil in the country was making the decisions about his role in that? >> sure. when the war first broke out in europe, most americans, workers and otherwise, were very determined to keep out of the war. and there were isolationists, especially in the midwest and south, who said god gave us the atlantic ocean for a reason. that is not to get involved in the european war.
the many large immigrant groups in the country were deeply divided over the conflict overseas but didn't want to participate, helping the other side. so there was a strong push for neutrality, initially, until things escalated out of control. wilson was elected for a second term. campaigning that he had kept the country out of war, that he was a negotiator for peace. just weeks after being inaugurated for a second term, he started to move the country to war. >> i want to show our viewers your book. we are now getting into your subject area "democracy's prisoners, eugene v. debs." the great war and the rise to dissent. in 1917, congress passed a law about the speech about the war. would you tell the viewers what the law was? >> it is called the espionage
act. it was never used to convict any spies during the war. theres were german spies. much of the law dealt with that. there were provisions that allowed the government to have enormous control over the dissent. the post master was given the power to ban any publication that was -- anything that the post master considered to be not supportive of the war, not patriotic. anybody deemed to say anything that was discouraging of the war effort was libel to have a $10,000 fine and 10 to 20 years in prison. >> the first amendment challenge all over this. did the supreme court ever hear the law? >> sure. debs was one of the important test cases. there were three test cases that came up about 1,200 people were convicted under the espionage act. >> and were sent to prison. >> and were sent to prison. the supreme court unanimously
supported it at that time. >> debs began to be anti-war at what point? >> he was -- as i said earlier, he wasn't a pacifist. there are some wars, a class struggle in which it might make sense at some point to take up arms. and he felt that the civil war was an appropriate use of arms. he considered the war in europe to be the socialist argument was this was a clash between competing empires over colonies and that the only people who were going to benefit, the old phrase, a rich man's war and a poor man's fight. there was lots of money to be make in the war, but the working people were the ones who were going to suffer. that was the socialist position. when the war broke out and when wilson and congress moved to war, the socialists gathered in st. louis a few days later and passed a proclamation vowing they were going to fight the war rhetorically in every possible way they could and fight the draft actively.
a number of socialists broke from the party at that point. upton sinclair felt was if that was the wrong move. others worried that party would be destroyed by this and labeled un-american. but debs and quite a number of the party decided it was a stand they needed to take. >> i'll take a call from reid in nashville, tennessee and then ask you about what the popular view in america was about the draft at that time. reid, your question, please. >> caller: how are you? thank you for your discussion tonight. it's very wonderful. i want to take -- >> thanks for watching. >> caller: yes. unfortunately, socialism and debs and the idea of the key word of essential planning. that would mean there is a group who involved themselves in the central planning of the society
and that leads itself to a small group who define how citizens should behave. i want to say that socialism, although wonderful in its ideals and communism ideals and all that, does not truly exist. i believe that james madison described it correctly. unfortunately, we are in competition with one another. that is what satisfies. that leads to individual freedom. central planning leads to a small group, which today, reflects today, as we want someone whose central plans in society who benefits and who doesn't benefit. it leads to someone in a small group calling who wins and who loses. thank you. thank you again. >> thanks, reid. lisa phillips. comments? >> that was not too far off of debs' position.
believe it or not because what he was arguing is that the central planners of his day were these large business owners, the carnegies, rockefellers, vanderbilts who had a lot of political power influence and in essence through monopoly formation, were the central planners of the economy in that period. he would have been with you on that. but he just wanted there to be a more diverse group of people, working people, who had a role in the planning of the economy and how wealth was distributed. he was against the central planning done in the period by wealthy by that point, americans and business owners. >> in the interest of time here, we were talking about the draft. i want to go on to his position on the draft. his famous speech in canton, ohio. to share with our viewers, a speech that ended up having debs arrested. to get a flavor of it. hub is here is one of two quotes. who shed their blood to furnish
their kormss never had a voice in declaring war or making peace. yours is not the reason why, yours but to do and die, if war is right let it be declared by the people. when he made that speech, did he know he was going to go to jail? >> he had to know that it was likely. he knew there were federal agents and stenographers in the audience taking down the speech. i think he was -- he gave a number of speeches along the same lines up to that point and had not been arrested. he said at the start of the speech, i need to be careful what i say. i'm not going to say anything i don't believe, but i have to be careful.
i know i'm being watched. the audience fully understood the situation. he spent much the time watching saying his colleagues were already in prison and if they're guilty, i'm guilty. >> what was his trial like, a big national event? >> yes, it certainly was. it was in cleveland. debs got an opportunity to make two very powerful speeches about socialism in front of a national audience. his lawyers, you know, hoped to get him off on a technicality and also were interested in making a strong free speech argument in his defense. he felt as if the system was rigged. that the judiciary was in the pockets of big business and it was more important for him to take this opportunity to win a propaganda coupe for socialism by laying out his life's work. >> and he ultimately was sentenced to ten years. you said the terms were up to 20? >> yes. it was hard to say he got a
break. he was an older man at that point and not in good health. when he went off to prison, many people assumed if he did not get out, he would die in prison. >> we have about 20 minutes left. we're going to take a couple calls and talk about his 1920 campaign from inside the atlanta federal prison. to oklahoma and donna. >> caller: hello. i'm so happy to hear this program. i can't tell you how grateful i am to have it over the air. a little comment about ludlow, colorado. i was a very good friend of a woman who is my mother's age. she talked about her parents being part of what happened in ludlow. she told me because i was going a road trip with my son to look for a sign just north of trinidad along the road, and all it will say is "this is the place." that is the place where my friend terry's mother and father ran down a dry river bed and shots fired all around them running for their lives. the second thing i would like to say is a little something about upton sinclair. i lived in san pedro, california for several years.
the land of dock workers. upton sinclair was arrested in san pedro for reading the constitution to the dock workers. that began the southern california aclu. the third comment is i have moved back to oklahoma. i have been gone for about 50 years. i lived here as a teenager. but i went to a labor rally in support of the wisconsin public employees and was on the state capitol steps. a friend of mine stood next to me with a little sign in latin. she told me it was the oklahoma state motto. it was from a socialist desire. it is labor conquers all. now we are the reddest state in the union which is a ironic
thing. >> thank you so much for your comments, we'll let that stand and take a call from eric in los angeles. go ahead. >> caller: this is eric. i also am enjoying the program. i think eugene debs tried to keep us to our ideals. my question is about joe paraman. he was a social christian socialist who ran on the ticket with debs in 1900. and later involved with the trial of the mcnamara brothers who were accused of using sabotage to further their cause. joe was one of the attorneys with clarence darrow. i know debs defended in print the mcnamaras. i wondered if they could comment about that. thank you. >> lisa phillips, is this a period of debs' life you could
fill us in on? >> i don't know enough about it. i do know that i failed to mention earlier that clarence darrow was a big part of debs' defense in 1894 after he was accused of convicted of contempt of court after the pullman strike. i don't know enough about joe paraman to comment. on his involvement with debs or the mcnamara brothers. >> debs did not intend to justify the dynamiting of the building, which was the los angeles times building, which was the center of the tremendous anti-labor sentiment at that point. he believed the mcnamaras were
innocent. much of his defense of them was really based on believing this was a false charge. >> his second sentencing was under the espionage act. he made a speech at his sentencing. one of his quotes is among eugene v. debs' most famous. it is i said then and i said now. that while there is a lower class, i am in it. and while there is a criminal element, i am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, i am not free. he went to prison and in 1920, campaign, he decided to take part in. can you tell me about how he campaigned for president from his prison cell in atlanta? how did he do that? >> he was not allowed -- it was an awkward situation for the federal government because he was a seditionist being jailed, but he was also a legitimate candidate from a legitimate legal party. they showed up, presented him with flowers. allowed him to give a speech, the socialists did.
the government allowed him to campaign by submitted eight 500-word letters to the press over the course of the campaign. somebody who had been on the red special and giving hundreds of speeches was spending the campaign relying on his party to go out and spread the word. >> lisa phillips, you have one of his campaign buttons. can you show it to us? >> here it is. >> it is very small. what does it say? >> it says "convict number 9653 for president." one of the most famous campaign buttons for president in u.s. history. one of the only like it. >> he managed to garner nearly 1 million votes from inside the federal penitentiary. how did he do that? >> he did that because he had such a national following. it was 1920.
he had been in the national newspapers for several years. people knew of his message, the i.w.w. continued to support him. labor unions continued to support him. despite the fact that he was accused of encouraging people not to enlist in the military during world war i which was extremely problematic, he still had a following among workers among trade unionists, among socialists who believed in his message. he did so because of his reputation by then. >> what were the themes of the 1920 campaign? >> many of the socialists leaders and debs a little less, his campaign said this is a vote for free speech. this is an opportunity for all americans, whether you are a socialist or not, to cast a vote in protest of the wilson administration.
debs embodied at that point all of the prisoners and all of the actions that have been done by mob violence, by state laws, by the postal censor to squash. pacifists of all kinds. had been rounded up. by 1920, many americans who, you know, in the grip of war fever had thought maybe that was a good idea. started to reconsider that. they were particularly supported by a small group of people who became the american civil liberties union in trying to advance their rights. there were only about 100,000 socialists, actually far less than that at this point. i think the number is something in the 20,000 to 30,000 dues paying members. he got 1 million votes. some of those people were socialists, but i think a lot of the people were voting for free speech. >> terre haute, indiana. this is dave. hi, dave. >> caller: hello, how are you all? >> great, thanks. here we are in your town. do you have a question about one
of your famous citizens? >> caller: i do. i'm a graduate of the indiana state university. the same university that you all are sitting on. what was eugene v. debs impact on the university at the time if any? was indiana a normal school and a school of educators? did he take part in the development of the university? >> thanks very much. lisa phillips, do you know? >> i don't know. that's a great question. i don't know if eugene debs had any kind of influence on indiana state as a normal school in that period. i am curious now to find out. >> syracuse, new york. ralph, go ahead. >> caller: yes, i'm a uaw worker from upstate new york. i think the problem was you had at the time, you had eugene debs and socialist labor party and the socialist workers party. then you had sam gompers. of the american federation of labor, and gompers and debs didn't see eye to eye. that a problem, that they never
a unified workers movement in the country. it was a splittered group. that was the problem that he never was able to achieve his goals. i wonder if your guests could comment on that. thank you very much. >> lisa phillips. >> there was a huge split and the caller is right. this continues to the present day among labor unions with the split between craft unionism which was embodied by the labor union versus industrial unionism which is what debs advocated. he was in a working class movement where you erased the lines that divided skilled workers from unskilled workers.
the american federation of labor was composed of very tightly organized craft based unions. whether they are coopers or plumbers or brick layers or that sort of thing. it was a very different kind of approach toward representing working class interests. they did not see eye-to-eye in continuing into the 1930s and '40s and '50s and beyond. >> debs campaigning for president in 1920. during the wilson administration, twice, his attorney general put before him clemency petitions. why did wilson say no? >> it's a little complicated. wilson was open to the idea initially, it seems, as a way to clear the air after the war. he had a stroke. he seemed to sort of lose his moral compass. many people felt it was an
obvious gesture of goodwill that he might make. he heard from a lot of soldiers and their families that debs was a traitor. it was not just the government that considered debs to be and these others to have crossed the line. debs was the embodiment of that dissent. >> was there an active campaign with lots of money from the american legion and veteran groups like that to keep debs in jail? >> sure. that was one of their primary missions when they organized after world war i. they said this was their priority number one, keep debs in prison. the ku klux klan was forming at this time. they also considered debs and the other radicals that it was important they stay in prison.
there was a lot of pressure on the president and not a lot of political gain in his judgment to release. >> how did he secure an early release? >> well, wilson left office and the process of putting pressure on the president began again with warren harding. people in the amnesty movement were a lot less optimistic about convicting harding because he was a pro-business ruppen who seemed to have less motivation, you know, plenty of socialists who supported wilson. it seems like wilson would be the one to let the socialists out of prison. harding campaigned on the idea of returning the country to a pre-war normalcy to stop the tensions. the protest movement to get debs out of prison was not just the election, but a huge movement. there were petitions gathered on the street of terre haute and across the country. massive petition drives. they bring the petitions in on a back of a pickup truck to deliver to the white house. many, you know, people from across europe and the united states george bernard shall and h.d. wells and helen keller -- many people involved to try to get the prisoners out. for harding, he had no interest in inheriting this mess from wilson.
so in the name of normalcy, he waited a while and let debs out of prison. >> not only let him out, but invited him to the white house? >> that's right. >> and debs went? >> debs went. yeah. >> what do we know about that meeting? >> neither one of them said anything about it. it was a christmas meeting. debs came out and said harding seems like a nice man. i believe he said, you know, the president asked me to tone down my rhetoric. i have no intention of doing that. he got back on the train and headed to terre haute. >> you are looking at rare footage.
i don't know if it has been seen before on tv of debs coming out of the white house and speaking to the media after his meeting with the president there. he lived until 1926. we have just about ten minutes left. let's get a couple calls and then we'll talk more about his legacy. ann arbor, michigan, james, go ahead, please. >> caller: hi. is it okay if i have two questions? >> go ahead, james. >> caller: hi. i have no two questions. >> we're going to move on. >> caller: hello? >> james, yes, we can hear you. ask your question, please. let's move on, please. i'm sorry, because our time is short. next up is a call from graham in charleston, south carolina. go ahead. >> caller: good evening. my question, i just want to know what you think, if any, debs movement could exist modern-day america with the development of global capitalism, and then what you think debs would think about the tea party movement that's
gone on currently? thank you. >> thanks very much. it's always a tough thing for historians, isn't it, to project what an historical character might think of today. but you want to take a stab at it? >> it needs to be done with real caution. first thing i would say is that global capitalism is not something new. that that was very much an issue with the flow of immigrants and the flow of capital and the worldwide nature of capitalism in debs' own day. sometimes it seems we overstate the distinctive global nature of the economy that we live in now. as far as the tea party goes, lisa? >> well, he certainly wouldn't have been in agreement with the tea party support of big business.
that's the simplest way i can put it. and i don't know -- you know, his message still resonates, i think, with us today. and we're still facing some of the same problems that he was fighting against as a result of workers' wages being driven down by the policies of now global and multinational corporations and not just in the u.s. but worldwide. so we certainly would have a lot to say about the same types of things that have escalated from his period to today. and i'm sure he would still be against the negative impact of multinational corporations now globally. >> you have a final artifact for us to look at, his cell block keys. >> yes. look at the size of those. >> i know, they're huge. why don't i use the reminder of his prison term to help us kind of finish out our program here with our last six or seven minutes left. how is he viewed by the labor movement today? how do they look back on his time and his contributions? >> well, i just attended a
banquet last week put on by the debs foundation where many labor union, trade unions were -- and danny glover was in attendance. and everyone remembers debs for being a spokesperson for the working class. and he continues to carry that legacy for workers in this country and beyond. so he certainly resonates here in terre haute and among trade unionists across the country, i would argue. >> as we think about his final years, i was showing you before we started here that "time" magazine, monday, november 1st, 1926, his obituary with the headline "radicals, eugene v. debs." on christmas day, 1921, president harding pardoned a model prisoner. around him he saw his party disintegrating. he felt his strengthening. his speeches seemed almost pathetic. a month ago he went to a sanitarium where he died age 71.
what were his final years like after prison, and how important a voice was he in those last years? >> he spent the rest of his life trying to rebuild the socialist party that had been so badly splintered by the war. without success. and that was both a self-inflicted wound because the socialist party itself had a bitter split over communism. and it was a very difficult thing for him. the communists were trying to convince him to join them to be -- you know, he was the country's most famous -- most high-profile and beloved
radical, and the communists wanted very much to have him on board. and debs had been very enthusiastic about the bolshevik revolution, but he refused with the headline "radicals, eugene v. debs." around him he saw the socialist party dissent grating. a month ago he died at the age of 71. what were his final years like after prison? >> he spent the rest of his life trying to rebuild the socialist party that had been splintered by the war without success. that was both the self inflicted wound because the socialist party had a bitter split own communism. it was a very difficult thing for him. the communists were trying to convince him to join them. he was the country's most famous high profile and beloved radical and the communists wanted to have him on board. he refused to take private land he was left with half a party. much of the energy had gone into the communist party at this point. meanwhile, the party had been smashed by legal attacks as well as mob attacks during the war. so he tried to rebuild the party for those years without a whole lot of success. >> he is buried here in terre haute, indiana, at highland lawns cemetery. we have video of his grave site. we're going to look at that as we listen to manny from new york city. >> caller: yes, hi. my question is what was eugene debs' view on the russian revolution, and did he visit russia at this time, and can you separate socialism from marxism during this time period? thank you very much. >> thanks so much. huge topics and not much time. >> right. he did not visit russia. there was an attempt to get him to go to russia. the bolsheviks considered debs
to be an american hero. and he was, as i said, an admirer of the bolshevik revolution but ultimately felt like the things the russians -- the bolsheviks did in russia were not appropriate for american socialism, that americans, in spite of all he had experienced, being sent to prison twice for his actions >> another terre haute caller. it's great to have people locally participating. this is todd. go ahead, todd. >> caller: hi. i'm calling from terre haute. and i'd like to thank you for this program. for lisa who i understand is a member of the eugene v. debs foundation, i'd like her to address debs' continuing legacy of peace, equality and social
justice and let people know how they might pursue their interests in debs if they want to know something more about it. >> certainly. well, you know, in this age of technology, there's a website devoted to the debs foundation. so that's certainly an easy way to access more information about the debs foundation and about what's here in the debs house and about debs' legacy. and you know, the social justice piece is what we call it today. he, as i said earlier, he certainly continues to provide inspiration to working people here in terre haute and throughout the u.s. as they struggle against lowering wages, unemployment, all the things that are plaguing us today. >> this house is open for visitors. how many do you get every year, and how do people visit? >> i don't know the numbers on how many people we have every year, but the museum is open every afternoon of the week. and on saturdays. and you can go to the website
and contact karen brown who runs tours of the museum throughout the week. >> we have one minute left. i'm going to turn the floor over to you. >> another great research is the indiana state university special collections has online of an amazing collection of images of debs but also pamphlets and access to his letters and so forth. so that's another great place. >> plug your book as we close here. "ernest freeberg's book about eugene v. debs, his espionage campaign and his final years. i want to say thanks to both of you as we close out here to come being with us of terre haute, indiana, and telling us more about this third party, the white house and his effect on american history. as we close out, some thank yous to the foundation itself debsfoundation.org. charles king at indiana state university, the cunningham memorial library special collections here at the university. and our affiliate, time warner