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Democracy's Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent Hardcover – 23 May 2008
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Freeberg has written an exhaustive account of the three-year campaign to free Debs from federal custody while the nation struggled over civil rights and government power in the last days of the Wilson administration, which included the notorious "Palmer Raids" on suspected dissidents.--Bob Hoover"Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" (04/19/2009)
In 1920, socialist leader Eugene V. Debs ran for president while serving a ten-year jail term for speaking against America's role in World War I. Though many called Debs a traitor, others praised him as a prisoner of conscience, a martyr to the cause of free speech. Nearly a million Americans agreed, voting for a man whom the government had branded an enemy to his country.In a beautifully crafted narrative, Ernest Freeberg shows that the campaign to send Debs from an Atlanta jailhouse to the White House was part of a wider national debate over the right to free speech in wartime. Debs was one of thousands of Americans arrested for speaking his mind during the war, while government censors were silencing dozens of newspapers and magazines. When peace was restored, however, a nationwide protest was unleashed against the government's repression, demanding amnesty for Debs and his fellow political prisoners. Led by a coalition of the country's most important intellectuals, writers, and labor leaders, this protest not only liberated Debs, but also launched the American Civil Liberties Union and changed the course of free speech in wartime.The Debs case illuminates our own struggle to define the boundaries of permissible dissent as we continue to balance the right of free speech with the demands of national security.In this memorable story of democracy on trial, Freeberg excavates an extraordinary episode in the history of one of America's most prized ideals. See all Product description
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It's interesting to read about other famous contemporary progressives--Upton Sinclair, Samuel Gompers (not so progressive), Helen Keller, Max Eastman, and the founder of the Nation magazine, Oswald Garrison Villard.
The book does a good job of describing how the rallying for Debs's release from prison caused more division than unity among Progressives; some felt that it was counterproductive to push too hard against the Wilson Administration and subsequently the Harding Administration, and back them into a corner; while others felt that Debs's case had to be kept front and center. Communists, labor leaders, socialists, and other activists differed on what direction to take. Just like liberals today!
The dilemma was whether to try to free the ailing socialist leader on humanitarian grounds, since he was nearing the end of his life and was much respected by the wardens, fellow prisoners, and even his political opponents in power, all of whom acknowledged his gentlemanly manners and virtue--or keep him imprisoned in light of his principled refusal to apologize or admit wrongdoing, and his insistence on the release of all political prisoners.
The book is an in-depth treatise on the history of the First Amendment in the early part of the twentieth century, and the formation of the modern-day ACLU. In this regard, at least, the United States has made some progress.
The one fault I found with this book is it gets a bit monotonous toward the end: Debs is about to be released, then somebody stalls; then it happens again, over and over. A briefer summary of the final contest would have made it more readable and no less informative.
Excellent writing, about a man everyone should know
more about. I can't say enough about this book.