“while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

I’m struggling with jet lag so I’ve been reading about Eugene Debs.

from wikipedia: On June 16, 1918, Debs made a speech in Canton, Ohio, urging resistance to the military draft of World War I. He was arrested on June 30 and charged with 10 counts of sedition. He was found guilty on September 12. At his sentencing hearing on September 14, he again addressed the court, and his speech has become a classic. He said in part:

Your honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in the change of both but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means…

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children who, in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years, are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul…

Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own.

When the mariner, sailing over tropic seas, looks for relief from his weary watch, he turns his eyes toward the Southern Cross, burning luridly above the tempest-vexed ocean. As the midnight approaches the Southern Cross begins to bend, and the whirling worlds change their places, and with starry finger-points the Almighty marks the passage of Time upon the dial of the universe; and though no bell may beat the glad tidings, the look-out knows that the midnight is passing – that relief and rest are close at hand.

Let the people take heart and hope everywhere, for the cross is bending, midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning.”

Debs was sentenced on November 18, 1918 to ten years in prison. He was also disenfranchised for life. Debs presented what has been called his best-remembered statement at his sentencing hearing:

“Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” (full speech here)

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This entry was posted in Labor (Labour), USA, war. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

  1. Jenny L says:

    If you haven’t seen Carl Sandburg’s book of previously unpublished work, Billy Sunday and Other Poems, I highly recommend it. It includes the following:

    EUGENE V. DEBS
    -Carl Sandburg

    On his face as he lay, at peace at last, in Terre Haute,
    There was the majestic trajectory of a trail from the earth
    to the stars.
    The cotillions of the Milky Way could not bewilder him
    by their numbers.
    He had always dreamed of paths difficult for human feet,
    bridges impossible to the calculations of accepted
    engineers, union depots open to all the races and languages
    of man.
    He was a railroad man, familiar to the link and coupling
    pin, to rain, zero weather, snow plows, stalled engines, the
    first Brotherhood of Railroad Firemen, the first American
    Railway Union.
    He was an orator, a jailbird, a presidential candidate, an
    enemy of war, a convict, a philosopher, storyteller, friend
    of man.
    Said a poet, “He had ten hopes to your one.”

    A sister laid a spray of four Crusader red roses
    on his breast.

    Over in Valhalla, if Valhalla is not demolished, rebuilt,
    renamed, he speaks at ease with Garrison, John Brown,
    Albert Parsons, Spartacus.

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