As it must to all men, Death came last week to Eugene Victor Debs, Socialist.
In Woodstock, Ill., there is a boys' school, a collection of retired farmers, a prison. In the prison in the year 1895 sat a hot-blooded orator† of 40. He was Eugene Victor Debs, labor leader. He was in jail for the violation of an injunction. Back of this event was the story of an Indiana grocery clerk, a locomotive fireman, who became the organizer of the American Railway Union, who twice made the nation feel the fist of unionized labor. The second time was the great strike against the Pullman Co. in 1894 when President Cleveland had to despatch troops to Chicago to quell the riotous bloodshed. Eugene Debs and three others, indicted for conspiracy against the Government, were successfully defended by Clarence S. Darrow. Later Mr. Debs defied an injunction—and that is why he found himself in Woodstock. One day he had a visitor, Socialist Victor L. Berger. The visitor left him an unimportant-looking little book.
Prisoner Debs read it slowly, eagerly, ravenously. The book was Karl Marx's Das Kapital. In the brain of Prisoner Debs there began to simmer a more militant type of Socialism for the U. S. than the mere reading of Utopian books.
Mr. Debs came from his cell with a gospel. In Chicago, 100,000 cheered him as he roared out his speech on "Liberty." Then, strangely enough, he stumped for Candidate Bryan in 1896. A year later the Socialist party was born, and in five presidential elections from 1900 to 1920 (except in 1916) Mr. Debs was a candidate, polling almost a million votes in each of his last two campaigns.
During the World War he attacked war in general and the draft in particular; was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment for a speech made in Canton, Ohio, in 1918. Addressing the jury, he told his creed:
"Gentlemen, I have been accused of obstructing the War. I admit it, gentlemen; I abhor war. I would oppose the War if I stood alone. . ..
"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 of the earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
On Christmas Day, 1921, President Harding pardoned a model prisoner, a broken prophet. Around him he saw his Socialist Party disintegrating; within him he felt his strength ebbing. His speeches seemed almost pathetic; his pen had lost its throb. A month ago he went to a sanitarium in Elmhurst, Ill., where he died, aged 71.
Said Arthur Brisbane, Hearst columnist:
"Eugene V. Debs, a sincere and honest man, is dead, killed by imprisonment inflicted upon him for saying what he thought about the War."
†James Whitcomb Riley once wrote: And there's Gene Debs, a man that stands And jest holds out in his two hands As warm a heart as ever beat 'Twixt here and jedgment seat.