Eugene V. Debs Trial


United States v. Debs

I * became the general attorney of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway * It was during my services for the * Company that the strike of the American Railway Union occurred in 1894. *And so I gave up my position and became one of the attorneys for Mr. Debs.

The strike grew out of a demand for better wages and conditions * There was a general interruption of railroad traffic from one end of the country to the other. * A great many cars were burned in the yard of Chicago and other cities * each side claimed that their enemies were responsible * The strike leaders were always advised by their lawyers to * let the mail trains through * The strike was hardly well under way before the railroads applied to the federal Courts to get injunctions against the strikers. The General Manager's Association including all the roads, had appointed Mr. Edwin Walker their attorney. * Mr... Walker was... appointed special attorney for the government in prosecution of these cases. So, in this matter, Mr. Walker was general counsel for the * Railway Company, for the General Managers'Association and a special attorney for the United States * Walker, as special government attorney, wired the President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, to send federal troops to Chicago. He did this against the protest of the governor and the mayor and clearly without legal rights. The Constitution * provided that the President could send troops to a State on request of the legislature, or of the governor, when the legislature is not in session. *As a matter of fact, there was no need whatever of Federal troops, even had the President a legal right to send them. There was no rioting or uncontrollable disorder, no open defiance of the law. * The police at all times had the situation fully in their hands.

Mr. Debs and all the members of his board were enjoined - enjoined from what? Of course, no one could tell. * In addition to the injunctions, Mr. Debs and all his executive board were indicted by the Federal Grand Jury for conspiracy.

The criminal case was first put on trial. At the end of several weeks, and when the case was practically finished, the bailiff reported in that a juror was taken ill. The government asked for * a mistrial. We offered to go on with eleven... the government would not consent. When the jury was dismissed, we were informed that they stood eleven to one for acquittal * We made several demands to have the case set for trial, but after fighting it off as long as possible the government finally dismissed it.

In re Debs

With exactly the same charge and the same evidence, Judge Woods * heard the injunction case * he found Debs * guilty of violating the injunction. In the whole case there was not one word of evidence connecting any of them with any violence or even the use of inflammatory language. Debs was sentenced to six months imprisonment * We took this case to the Supreme Court of the United States. For this hearing, Mr. Lyman Trumbull volunteered to argue it with us. He had been a judge of the Supreme Court of Illinois and was * a United States Senator. His vote in Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial went far to prevent his impeachment. * The Supreme Court * decided against... Debs. * So, Eugene Debs was sent to jail * for trying to help his fellow man. He really got off easy. No other offense has ever been visited with such severe penalties as seeking to help the oppressed.

-The Story of My Life, by Clarence Darrow

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