×

Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Democracy's Prisoner
     

Democracy's Prisoner

by Ernest Freeberg
 

See All Formats & Editions

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. In this book, 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. In this story of democracy on trial,

Overview

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. In this book, 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. In this story of democracy on trial, Freeberg excavates an extraordinary episode in the history of one of America's most prized ideals.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This account of the trial and jailing of Eugene V. Debs for sedition in opposing WWI will be read by many as a warning for our times, yet it stands on its own as solid history. Remarkably, in 1920 Debs ran-from prison-a clever presidential campaign that gained him almost one million votes. Freeberg, associate professor of history at the University of Tennessee, relates this tale in a fast-paced narrative that underplays the irony. Debs-a firebrand orator and radical Socialist Party chieftain whom Woodrow Wilson and others considered a security threat-became a model federal prisoner who worked to alleviate the situations of fellow inmates. He also issued biting criticisms of American policy and never left off denouncing capitalists for having caused WWI. Not surprisingly, Debs's stance long delayed his pardon, first by Wilson, then by Warren Harding, who eventually commuted his sentence in 1921. But it gained Debs the wide hearing he sought. The most enduring consequence of this whole affair is the fuel it contributed to the growth of civil liberties consciousness and organization in the United States. Not for the first time, administrations brought about the very results they most opposed. 17 b&w photos. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

During wartime, a tension exists between freedom of speech and the demands for national security. During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson understood the importance of controlling the U.S. wartime message, and he thus supported the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it a crime to assist the enemies of the United States. The addition of the Sedition Act of 1918 controlled the public debate over the war by limiting speech. The Socialist Party's Eugene V. Debs was an outspoken opponent of the war. During a speech in Ohio, he criticized the Espionage Act, which led to his prosecution and ten-year prison sentence. Ultimately, Debs (who ran for President for a fifth time, while jailed, in 1920) and others who had been arrested as political dissidents were freed, owing to an evolved political and civil-libertarian climate. Freeberg (history, Univ. of Tennessee) argues that Debs's case illustrates the problems associated with silencing public discourse, most especially during a time of war. Debs was never a threat to national security; instead, he was a principled individual expressing his political beliefs. This excellent introduction to Debs and the Socialist Party is also an engaging examination of an issue that still tensely engages us today. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.
—Michael LaMagna

Choice
An important contribution for those interested in Eugene Debs and the early days of the American Socialist Party.
— R. J. Goldstein
Boston Globe
Freeberg's Democracy's Prisoner explores the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of Eugene V. Debs and the subsequent campaign to free him from a federal penitentiary. America's best-known socialist, Debs was loved by the party faithful and despised by conservatives as a traitor. For speaking out against the war, he became one of some 2,000 people arrested, and 1,200 convicted, for challenging the Wilson administration's war policy. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Debs immediately became a cause célèbre to socialists, trade unionists, and civil libertarians...In [his] timely, readable, and engaging book, Freeberg reminds us of the fragility of rights in the context of fear, providing us with cautionary tales about what is lost when unquestioned political obligations trump the preservation of liberty.
— Eric Arnesen
Dissent
Sending Debs to prison made him the center of a campaign for freedom of speech for dissenters and antiwar activists. And when the courts eventually recognized a constitutional right to dissent, they were following a broad public debate spurred by talented organizers and activists who came from places ranging from Debs's own Socialist Party to the new American Civil Liberties Union to the rank-and-file locals of the American Federation of Labor. Freeberg's beautifully written book combines a political biography of Debs in his years of crisis with a broader argument about the unintended consequences of the campaign to win his release.
— Jon Wiener
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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
Los Angeles Times Book Review
If history is what the present wants to know about the past, Democracy’s Prisoner is teeming with lessons. But above all, it’s the story of one extraordinary man’s showdown with the establishment--and how that confrontation turned into a complex political struggle whose outcome was up for grabs. Carefully researched and expertly told, Debs’ story also brings a fascinating era into sharp, vivid focus.
— Peter Richardson
New York Review of Books
Eugene Debs is a largely forgotten man today, an odd footnote in American history of the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But this fascinating book about his climactic last years makes clear that he really mattered. In both political and legal ways he played a significant part in reducing intolerance of dissent in this country, and bringing to life the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech.
— Anthony Lewis
The Morning News
The Eugene V. Debs story is a moving, albeit instructive one, though he likely will never be given his due as one of the great figures of American history. Jailed for speaking out against the so-called “war to end all wars,” Socialist Debs ran for president in 1920, garnering a million votes. By the way, when he was finally released from that same Atlanta penitentiary, the whole of the prison’s population--guards and prisoners--cheered him.
— Robert Birnbaum

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674037236
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
06/30/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
392
File size:
987 KB

What People are Saying About This

Democracy's Prisoneris a superb account of the battle over free speech and civil liberties in the WW I era, beautifully argued and engrossing to read. Freeberg brings a wonderfully fresh perspective to this study of citizens' heroism, showing us the courage and shrewdness of the ever admirable Debs. But perhaps more important, he reveals for the first time the critical role that ordinary citizens, led by a political novice, played in mobilizing moderate Americans on his behalf. This book could not be more timely.
Christine Stansell
Democracy's Prisoneris a superb account of the battle over free speech and civil liberties in the WW I era, beautifully argued and engrossing to read. Freeberg brings a wonderfully fresh perspective to this study of citizens' heroism, showing us the courage and shrewdness of the ever admirable Debs. But perhaps more important, he reveals for the first time the critical role that ordinary citizens, led by a political novice, played in mobilizing moderate Americans on his behalf. This book could not be more timely. --(Christine Stansell, author of American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century)
Nadine Strossen
Democracy's Prisoner powerfully reminds us of the pressure that war places on our First Amendment rights. The fight to free Debs almost a century ago was the first time that Americans organized to defend the right to speak against war. A timely lesson for us today. --(Nadine Strossen, President, American Civil Liberties Union)
Michael Kazin
A beautifully crafted narrative of Debs' prosecution, incarceration, and the fight to free him that effectively recreates the dramatic crisis of the left and the rise of a civil liberties lobby during and just after World War I. An excellent and compelling book. --(Michael Kazin, author ofWilliam Jennings Bryan: A Godly Hero)

Meet the Author

Ernest Freeberg is Associate Professor of History at the University of Tennessee.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews