Born elected when he campaigned for American neutrality in

Born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1855, Eugene Debs was the son of poor Alsatian immigrants. In his early years, Debs dropped out of high school to become a locomotive paint-scraper, but he later on went to join the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. Debs found was said to have found his calling in raising his voice to defend the common man. He argued about the debilitating effect of political rights and economic opportunity to the majority of Americans and became very popular. He was one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World and organized major protests for the workers who were trying to secure 8-hour workdays, living wages, and other fundamental improvements in their daily jobs. By 1893, he started organizing an industrial union of railroad workers called the American Railway Union and resigned his position as a secretary from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. He made his living primarily as a lecturer and a contributor to various newspapers as he was an extremely effective and efficient public speaker. Debs became jailed for six months for the contempt of court after leading the American Railway Union in a dangerous confrontation with federal troops. During his prison term at Woodstock, Illinois, Debs grew increasingly critical of political and economic concepts in America such as capitalism and became deeply influenced by the works of Karl Marx. When he was released, Debs became a featured speaker for the Socialist Party and eventually ran for president in 1900 as their nominee. Unfortunately, he lost but continued to be the party’s candidate in several succeeding elections. Debs was a tireless speaker for the Socialist Party between campaigns and traveled the nation to help defend workers in their strikes and industrial disputes. Debs had great success in the 1912 Election when he opposed Woodrow Wilson because he received almost a million votes which was six percent of the ballots casted. In 1916, Debs decided to run for an Indiana Congressional seat after losing four consecutive presidential campaigns. He was elected when he campaigned for American neutrality in World War I, but was arrested in 1918 for making an anti-war speech which violated the Espionage Act. In fact, it has been speculated that Debs only mentioned the war once, but under President Wilson’s new restrictive law, he was sentenced to ten years in federal prison. Debs campaigned from his jail cell and accumulated over a million votes after he was nominated for the fifth time as the Socialist Party’s presidential candidate in 1920. President Wilson refused to release Debs from prison despite continuing pleas from his supporters, but on Christmas Day in 1921, President Harding ordered Debs to be set free. Debs continued to remain with the Socialist Party he had led for so many years even as it fragmented in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. Debs died in 1926, leaving a proud legacy as an American union leader. “When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule, the majority are wrong,” he stated in a speech held in Cleveland, Ohio. Debs became one of the best-known socialists living in the United States through his work with labor movements as well as his presidential candidacies.


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