Study Guide

Eugene V. Debs' Statement to the Court Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act Quotes

By Eugene V. Debs

  • Society and Class

    …while there is a lower class, I am in it (2)

    As a famous politician and leader, Debs might be overstating things by insisting that he's still "lower class."

    I remember all the hardships and privations of that earlier day, and from that time until now my heart has been with the working class. (8)

    Debs is firmly asserting here that the boy is father to the man. Since he grew up knowing hardship, he's on the side of the underdogs.

    [...] the outgrown social system in which we live [...] ought to be abolished not only in the interest of the toiling masses but in the higher interest of all humanity (14)

    By appealing to a higher social good, Debs is trying to be more inclusive and de-emphasize his usual focus on the needs of only the working class.

    I believe, as all Socialist do, that all things that are jointly needed and used out to be jointly owned […] (16)

    Debs is making a distinction here. Not every business or industry needs to be taken over by the government, only the largest and most socially significant.

    […] before we may truly enjoy the blessings of a civilized life, we must reorganize society upon a mutual and cooperative basis. (21)

    Debs is speaking here of a very fundamental shift, which supposes that individualism and competition can be overcome as American values

  • Wealth

    I could have been in Congress long ago. I have preferred to go to prison. (9).

    Debs is either being a braggart here or he is making a Socialist point. Whatever, this definitely relates to the opening section, where he also talks about prison.

    I am thinking of the women who for a paltry wage are compelled to work out their barren lives; of the little children who in this system are robbed of their childhood and seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon. (11)

    American industries in this time period were particularly exploitative of female and child labor and could do this because of the unending supply of immigrant laborers who were compelled to work for very low wages.

    […] in this high noon of Christian civilization money is still so much more important than the flesh and blood of childhood. (12)

    There is bitter irony here in Debs' analysis of America's economic success.

    […] there are still vast numbers of our people who are the victims of poverty and whose lives are an unceasing struggle all the way from youth to old age […] (14)

    When Debs talks about "our" people his audience knows that he's speaking to them as one whose biography connects directly to this idea.

    I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars […] (17)

    Debs often used John D. Rockefeller as his example of the crazy-rich guy. Capitalist proponents would view the Rockefeller type as being very useful indeed, however.

  • Time

    Standing here this morning, I recall my boyhood. At fourteen I went to work in a railroad shop […] (6-7)

    Debs is brought back in time to his teenage years…just like your grandparents.

    […] [workers] whose lives are an unceasing struggle all the way from youth to old age, until at last death comes to their rescue and lulls these hapless victims to a dreamless sleep… (14)

    Debs is really laying it on thick here, before he shifts into the logos section on the desirability of Socialism.

    Sixty millions of Socialists [...] are waiting, watching, and working hopefully through all the hours of the day and night […] they have learned to be patient and bide their time. They feel—they know, indeed—that the time is coming. (22-28)

    The use of alliteration helps Debs hammer home his point, and he doesn't directly talk about Russia's successful revolution here as evidence. His motivation for this is something to ponder, huh?

    [...] With starry finger-points the Almighty marks the passage of time upon the dial of the universe [...] (37)

    Debs is getting intensely metaphorical here. The image of the "dial of the universe" implies a lot about how Socialists must measure success.

    […] the midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning. (38)

    Again with the metaphors. This day/night imagery can be applied to Debs as well—his darkest hour may be his time behind bars, but it's also his most triumphant.