This Day in History

Nov. 2, 1920: Imprisoned Eugene V. Debs Received One Million Votes for U.S. President

Time Periods: 1920
Themes: Democracy & Citizenship, Organizing

On Nov. 2, 1920, Eugene V. Debs received one million votes in the U.S. presidential election on the Socialist Party ticket while in prison. He was serving a 10 year sentence for his speech in Canton, Ohio protesting World War I which was raging in Europe.

For giving this speech, he was arrested and convicted in federal court under the Espionage Act of 1917. He was his own attorney. His appeal to the jury and his statement to the court before sentencing are regarded as two of the great classic statements ever made in a court of law. Here is an excerpt from his Canton, Ohio speech:

And here let me emphasize the fact — and it cannot be repeated too often — that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.

Learn more about Debs at the Eugene V. Debs Foundation. Watch a dramatic reading of Debs’ speech by Mark Ruffalo from Voices of a People’s History of the United States.

Learn more in Hope for everything. Expect nothing: On the 100th anniversary of Eugene Debs’ presidential campaign from an Atlanta prison by Paul Bowers, Brutal South.