In 1936, on this day the twenty-ninth President of the United States Eugene Victor ("Gene") Debs died in Elmhurst, Illinois aged eighty.
Death of Former President Gene DebsIn the early part of his political career, Debs was a member of the Democratic Party. He was elected as a Democrat to the Indiana General Assembly in 1884. After working with several smaller unions, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Debs was instrumental in the founding of the American Railway Union (ARU), the nation's first industrial union. When the ARU struck the Pullman Palace Car Company over pay cuts, President Grover Cleveland used the United States Army to break the strike. As a leader of the ARU, Debs was later imprisoned for failing to obey an injunction against the strike.
Debs was noted for his oratory, and a speech denouncing American participation in World War I led to his second arrest in 1918. But the working class had been radicalized by increased militarization and unionization, and when the government turned troops on strikers they had unwittingly opened the door for his Socialist Party of America.
In 1920, he ran a successful presidential run on the campaign slogan of "In Labor We Trust". Re-elected in 1924, he was actually selected for a third term as U.S. president at the Communist Party National Convention, but lost in the general election against Socialist candidate Clarence Darrow. Debs, ever the activist, moved to Russia and begins organizing labor there in unions, called soviets. The soviet was such a hit that many American unions and organizations begin using the name to describe themselves; indeed, even some states renamed themselves soviets to show their solidarity with the working man. This move might never have happened if Debs had won the 1928 election.