Eugene Debs Essay

5023 words - 20 pages

Eugene Debs was one of the most intriguing figures in American History. He was a union worker who rose through the ranks to become a union leader. As he sought to better the working conditions for his fellow workers he branched out to become an unlikely presidential candidate for the Socialist Party. Eugene Debs stands out as an example of how power in the workplace can turn into power on a political level, even if that person is locked up in jail, as Debs was during one of his campaigns. Eugene Debs stands out as an icon for the labor movement during a very turbulent time in its history. He strove to be the political voice of a people who never really had one. Eugene Debs was a vocal leader of the labor and Socialist movement in the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century. His contributions to organized labor are felt even today. He was one of the first leaders to successfully mold labor and politics together to accomplish the goals of the working class. The strides he made to bring labor into the political world have been beneficial to the labor movement and to the Democratic Party which has benefited from the union vote since the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt. I will discuss Debs' early life in Terre Haute, Indiana and how it shaped the child of immigrants into the great labor leader. Then I will trace his steps as he started as a fireman for the trains to the founding of the union that first brought him power and notoriety. Then I will examine his role in the founding and performance in the Socialist Party. Eugene Victor Debs was born on November 5, 1855 in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was born of French immigrants who had immigrated to this country in 1849. Eugene's father, Jean Daniel Debs, was the son of a wealthy textile manufacturer in Colmar, but he fell out of graces with his father as he sought to marry a Catholic, Marguerite Bettrich, the Debses were Protestants. This caused much animosity among his family, even to the point of his father refusing Daniel permission to migrate to America. A year after his father's death Daniel and Marguerite immigrated to America in 1849, first settling in New York, then Cincinnati, and finally Terre Haute, Indiana in 1851. His father held several low paying jobs until his mother opened a grocery store in their front room. The store became a success and Daniel purchased two lots on Wabash Avenue to build a permanent store. The store continued to be a success and the Debses became a prominent family in the Terre Haute community. Terre Haute was an industrial town with five railroads running through the town, with five more to be constructed after 1870. Vigo County, Terre Haute's county, was the third largest coal-producing county and the fifth in manufacturing. Its main benefactor was Chauncey Rose who invested in the Wabash And Erie Canal and the Terre Haute and Indianapolis Railroad. After the Civil War the dominant figure became William Riley McKeen. McKeen took...

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