Study Guide

Federal Judge David Westenhaven in Eugene V. Debs' Statement to the Court Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act

By Eugene V. Debs

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Federal Judge David Westenhaven

The Judge Dropped the Hammer on Debs

Judge Westenhaven was a Woodrow Wilson appointee to the Federal bench…and a great friend to the Secretary of War. Hey, it's not what you know; it's who you know.

And with friends like that, he was clearly going to support the Wilson Administration's worry about undermining the war effort. He threw a hissy fit at the beginning of the trial when many of Debs' Socialist buddies were applauding and booing, having several arrested.

Strangely, once Debs openly confessed in his early testimony, Judge Westenhaven allowed Debs a lot of latitude in going on and on about his Socialist beliefs and criticism of the government. Then, when it came to sentencing, he imposed a stiff sentence of ten years and admitted how much be blamed Debs for trying to lead young men to oppose the war. He lectured Debs as he passed the sentence:

[…] Anyone who obstructs the recruiting service does as much injury and wrong to our country as if he were a soldier in the ranks of the German army. (Source: Freedberg, Ernest, Democracy's Prisoner, 2008)

Hmm. Not terribly sure that that's watertight logic there, Westenhaven. But you're definitely putting the "Judge" in "Judgey McJudgerson."

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