Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

EUGENE VICTOR DEBS


EVANGELICAL SOCIALIST

JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY, the Hoosier poet, expressed the sentiment of millions of Americans when he wrote: "God was feeling mighty good when he created 'Gene Debs, and He didn't have anything else to do all day." People needed only to meet the lanky labor leader to like him as their brother. He had, in Riley's lines,

As warm a heart as ever beat
Betwixt here and the Judgment Seat.

This love of his fellow men motivated Debs's thought and activity throughout his life. It impelled him early to become a union organizer, a radical labor leader, a revolutionary socialist, an uncompromising pacifist. From first to last, however, he was simply and wholeheartedly the humanitarian eager to improve the lot of the mass of workers -- the evangelist preaching the doctrine of economic and social equality.

Eugene Debs was bone and flesh of Middlewestern America. He was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on November 5, 1855, the eldest son of a poor Alsatian grocer who loved good books and cherished the ideals of American liberty. From him Gene had early learned to appreciate the dignity of human labor, the goal of social and economic equality. Most people about him indeed exemplified these virtues and impressed him with their informality and friendliness. A reading of Victor Hugo and Voltaire, among the books on his

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