Boarding House Blues

Not the First Jailhouse Campaign

15 June 2023

Disclaimer: This is NOT a political. It is only meant to be historical and informative.

Depending on the outcome of an eventual trial, one candidate could be campaigning for the White House from jail. Strangely, it will not be the first time this has happened in the US.

Eugene V. Debs, running on the Socialist party ticket, called himself a "candidate at home in seclusion," home being the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.

Debs opposed the draft, as WWI was, in his estimate, a capitalistic endeavor. On June 16, 1918, in Canton, Ohio, he gave a speech against the draft.

“They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.”

“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.”

He was arrested and tried under the Sedition Act of 1918, an amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917, which sought to silence those who spoke out about the war.

There was only one witness to the stand: Debs, himself, who promptly admitted his guilt after which he addressed the court for nearly two hours. The jury found him guilty. On Nov. 18, 1918 — a week after Armistice Day ended the war — he was sentenced to three concurrent 10-year sentences and lost his right to vote.

In prison, he was allowed to give one bulletin a week to the United Press, while his supporters kept his campaign alive by handing out buttons for "Prisoner 9653." The prison warden did not permit campaign speeches, but did allow the avid Socialist to write out a statement which read, in part: “I thank the capitalist masters for putting me here. They know where I belong under their criminal and corrupting system. It is the only compliment they could pay me.”

Debs ran for president in five times. In 1912, he won 901,551 votes or 6 percent of the popular vote.
Running against Warren G. Harding from behind bars in 1920, he drew 3.4 percent of the popular vote, but — as in his previous campaigns — no electoral votes.

Harding released Debs on Dec. 21, 1921, but without a pardon. He died in 1926.

Fun Fact: James Michael Curley served four terms as mayor of Boston. He was twice convicted of criminal behavior and served time in prison during his last term as mayor.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram