100 Americans Making Constitutional History: A Biographical History presents 100 profiles of the key people behind some of the most important U.S. Supreme Court cases. Edited by Melvin I. Urofsky, a respected constitutional historian, each 2,000-word profile delves into the social and political context behind landmark Court decisions. For example, while a case like Brown v. Board of Education is about an important idea—the equal protection of the law—at its heart it is the story of a little girl, Linda Brown, who wanted to go to a decent school near her home. The outcome is accessible and objective “stories” about the individuals—heroes and scoundrels—who fought their way to constitutional history.

Eugene Debs

Eugene Debs

Homegrown Radicalism

“A Gatling Gun on Paper”

In re Debs

158 U.S. 564 (1895)

Debs v. United States

249 U.S. 211 (1919)

Eugene V. Debs was the losing defendant in two separate U.S. Supreme Court cases that starkly underscored the power of the federal government and corporate interests to limit and repress working-class activism and radicalism. The two cases also marked the beginning and ending points of Debs's effectiveness as a homegrown radical and spokesperson for working Americans faced with the massive transformation of industrial capitalism.

In 1895, when he was thirty-nine years old and just emerging as a national labor leader, Debs was convicted of contempt for defying a federal court injunction that was so sweeping that the New York Times called it “a Gatling gun on paper.” The ...

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