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Eugene Debs clemency telegram: 1921 | by Washington Area Spark
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Eugene Debs clemency telegram: 1921

A copy of the December 24, 1921 telegram from U.S. Attorney General Harry M. Dougherty to the warden of the U.S. penitentiary in Atlanta ordering the release of jailed Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs after serving three years of a ten year sentence for opposing World War I.


Debs, the great labor and socialist leader who ran five times for U.S president, was released Christmas Day and headed to Washington, D.C. to call on Attorney General Harry M. Dougherty and President Warren Harding who had commuted his sentence.


Debs joked that “I’ve started for here four or five times (to the White House), but this is the first time I ever landed,” (referring to his five times running for President).


After a day and a half in the nation’s capital, Debs headed home to his wife in Terre Haute, Indiana.


Debs was known for organizing the American Railway Union, one of the first industry-wide unions in the U.S. and leading the unsuccessful Pullman Strike.


He was the greatest socialist in the United States, garnering nearly a million votes when he ran for president from his prison cell in the 1920 election. Debs had been imprisoned for making a speech opposing the draft and America’s entry into World War I.


For more information and related images, see


For a blog post on Debs visit to Washington, DC following his release from prison, see


Photograph by the National Photo Company. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-85708 (b&w film copy neg.)

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Taken on December 24, 1921