BLTC Press Titles

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The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour

Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller


by David Karsner


Eugene Victor Debs, a Federal prisoner serving a sentence of ten years for violating the Espionage Act by making a speech at Canton, Ohio, on June 16th, 1918, which the government construed as being inimical to the success of the war in which it was engaged with the Allied Powers against Germany, had been speaking to me for half an hour in the private office of the warden at the Atlanta Federal Prison. I told him that there were a thousand things about which I should like to speak to him, but he instantly assured me that it was unnecessary; that while he had not received a single paper or periodical since he came to Atlanta, June 14th,


1919, from Moundsville Penitentiary, West Virginia, where he began to serve his term exactly two months before, still he knew, felt, all the important happenings and did not need to be enlightened.

'' I can feel the vibrations of the warm, firm and tender hearts beating in unison for freedom and democracy all over the world. The swelling note of their song reverberates through these corridors, and I know they are active. At night, in my prison cell I can feel the warm and tender fingers of little children upon my face, and all these things give me strength and courage to face the future, whatever it may hold, with serenity and composure."

Debs was now standing, clad in the prison blue, his lean hands placed firmly upon each of my shoulders, his six foot figure, gaunt and slender, slightly stooping, his smooth, lean and mobile face wreathed in a smile, and his spectacled gray-blue eyes moist and radiant. A few feet from us Warden Fred G. Zerbst was standing at his yellow roll-top desk, wearing an expression on his face which to me seemed to betoken a mixture of astonishment, sadness and sympathetic amusement. In a moment Debs was backing off to the door and as he turned his head before he stepped down the white marble corridor he bowed and waved his hand to the warden in a courteous manner, as an expression of his thanks to his keeper for permitting the interview. Debs I was wearing cheap canvas "sneakers" over rough cotton socks. Before the echo of the slamming iron door behind him had died out in the sepulchral corridor, Warden Zerbst and I, both still standing, were looking very foolishly at each other.

"Did the government build this prison for such men?" I asked.

"The government built this prison for men who violate Federal laws,'' replied the warden judiciously. Before his answer came I imagined there was a negative reply to my inquiry in his mind. But if there was he gave it no voice.

During this talk with Debs he mentioned having seen a newspaper article purporting to be a statement of A. Mitchell Palmer, Attorney General of the United States, to the effect that if Debs would repent things might be made easier for him. A liberal interpretation of this statement might be made to imply that Debs could have a pardon if he would but ask for it and say he was sorry for what he had done. In speaking of the newspaper article he had read Debs's eyes narrowed almost to slits, and his great jaw tightened, and the flesh on his long and narrow chin was drawn as his mouth contracted with the gritting of his teeth.

'' Repent! Repent!" he snapped. '' Repent for standing like a man! For having a conviction about a public question, and standing by it and for the Cause! Why, before I would don the sackcloth and get down into the ashes before the Attorney General or any man on earth for having a principle I would gladly walk to the. gallows or the stake. If I should do such a thing as that the barbaric tortures of the Inquisition would be too good for me.

"No! Not in a thousand years shall I repent for a eingle principle that I possess. They are dearer to me than liberty, than life itself." Pointing his finger in his most characteristic manner in the direction of the iron gray gate at the entrance, he continued:

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