October 26, 2012
By Arlen Grossman
Eugene Debs spoke out against World War I, and all wars, in a 1917 speech. Because of that speech he was sentenced to ten years behind bars. Here are excerpts from that stirring speech.
HISTORY LESSONS AND HEROES WE SHOULDN’T FORGET
Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs spoke out against World War I, and all wars, in a speech on June 16, 1918 in Canton, Ohio. Because of this speech, Debs was arrested two weeks later, charged with ten counts of sedition, and sentenced to ten years in prison under the Espionage Act of 1917. While in prison, Debs ran for president in 1921 and received nearly one million votes. He served two years, eight months in prison before having his sentence commuted (for health reasons) by President Harding in 1921.
Image: Library of Congress
Here are excerpts from his 1918 Canton speech:
“Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages, when the feudal lords who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine concluded to enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth, they declared war upon one another.
“Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say 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.
“I listened to all that was said in this court in support and justification of this prosecution, but my mind remains unchanged. I look upon the Espionage Law as a despotic enactment in flagrant conflict with democratic principles and with the spirit of free institutions”
“Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in a fundamental change–but if possible by peaceable and orderly means”
P.S. The Espionage Act of 1917, though amended over the years, is still in effect. Prior to the time President Obama took office, It had been used three times for cases involving government officials providing classified information to the media. It has been used at least six times during the Obama’s time in office, including against Bradley Manning. According to David Carr of the New York Times , “the majority of the recent prosecutions seem to have everything to do with administrative secrecy and very little to do with national security.”
Actor Mark Ruffalo reads Debs’s Canton speech :
Submitters Website: thebigpicturereport.com
Arlen is a writer/blogger living in Monterey, CA. His political blog is thebigpicturereport.com. He writes a weekly quotation quiz “What’s Your QQ?” (Quotation Quotient) for the Monterey County Herald, as well as a quotationquotient.com website and Facebook page. In addition, “Quirky Quotations” appears monthly in The Foolish Times, a local humor publication. He also does a weekly quotation quiz segment and talks politics on Monterey’s progressive talk radio station, KRXA 540AM. He has yet to win any Pulitzer or Nobel Prizes, but if he does, he will let you know.