The Achievement of Debs
AMERICAN SOCIALISM, David Karsner once wrote, began in Woodstock jail.1 What he was referring to was Debs's conversion to socialism while serving a six-month prison sentence at Woodstock, Illinois, in 1895 for violating a court injunction issued in the course of the American Railway Union strike against the Pullman Company. Debs had been an important official of the Brotherhood of Railway Firemen and well known in labor affairs. But the Pullman strike gave him national prominence, and when he came out of jail he was a revered figure. In his campaign for the Presidency in 1900, he put socialism on the map.
Eugene V. Debs can unquestionably be considered the spiritual father of the Socialist Party which was formally founded in Indianapolis in 1901, and which stood at the forefront of American radicalism for the next twenty years. There is no question that he was the most popular and effective socialist figure ever to appear in America. No one in his time, or since, has even remotely approached him in his impact on the American people. He struck a spark wherever he went, and was the