Facts about Eugene Debs

Eugene Debs died at 70 years old
Best known as: Socialist presidential candidate, 1900-1920

     
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Eugene Debs Biography

Name at birth: Eugene Victor Debs

Eugene V. Debs was a union organizer in the late 19th century who became a five-time presidential candidate in the early 20th century as a socialist.

Eugene “Gene” Debs grew up in Indiana, the son of immigrants from Alsace. He went to work for the railroad as a teenager and quickly turned to labor organizing.

Debs spent the 1870s organizing labor unions. In 1892 he organized the American Railway Union, then led a strike in 1894 that landed him in jail for six months.

He emerged from jail a socialist, and in 1897 co-founded the Social Democratic Party, which merged with another group and became the Socialist Party in 1900.

Debs ran for the U.S. presidency in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912 and 1920. In the 1912 election he won more than 901,551 votes, around 6% of the vote.

He opposed U.S. involvement in World War I, and made a return to the spotlight to speak against it.

In 1918 Debs made a speech critical of the 1917 Espionage Act for jailing anti-war protesters, and two weeks later he was jailed under the same act. The court determined that sympathy for war opponents was also sedition under the Espionage Act, and Debs was found guilty.

Although Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison, public sympathy led President Warren Harding to release him in 1921. While in prison, Debs ran for president again in 1920 and received 913,693 votes (a little more than 3% of the vote).


     

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