Eugene V. Debs

Roosevelt’s Labor Letters

Written: May 18, 1907
First Published: May 18, 1907 Appeal to Reason
Source: DEBS: His Life Writings and Speeches 1908 by The Appeal to Reason newspaper, Girard, Kansas. Pages 247-252;
Online Version: E.V. Debs Internet Archive, 2008
Transcribed/HTML Markup: David Walters, August, 2008
Public Domain: The E. V. Debs Internet Archive follows the advice of the original copyright (now expired and in the public domain) published in th title page of the 1908 edition: “Copyright by The Appeal to Reason: “NOTE—Copyright protection is taken upon this volume for the sole purpose of protecting the work of Comrade Debs from prejudiced misuse by pirate Capitalist publishers, and will not be invoked against Socialist and Labor Publications and Comrade publishers, they giving us notice.—Appeal to Reason

The letter of President Roosevelt to the Moyer and Haywood conference of New York is in strange contrast with the one previously addressed by him to the Chicago conference on the same subject. The two letters are so entirely dissimilar in spirit and temper that they seem to have been written by different persons. In the first the President bristles with defiance, in the last he is the pink of politeness.

The first letter utterly failed of its purpose. Organized labor did not lie down and be still at the command of the President. On the contrary, it growled more fiercely than before in fact, showed its teeth to the President, who has become so used to exhibiting his own. And lo — what a change! The President receives a labor committee, talks over matters for an hour and then addresses a letter to the conference through the chairman, beginning “My Dear Mr. Henry,” explaining that he is ready to perform his duty if only the conference will point it out to him, and putting the whole blame on “Debs and the Socialists,” whom he charges with using “treasonable and murderous language,” but not a word of explanation does he vouchsafe in regard to his denunciation of Moyer and Haywood, the real, and in fact the only, point at issue.

Again has the President vindicated his reputation as one of the smoothest of politicians and one of the most artful and designing of demagogues.

We hope the lesson here taught as to what workingmen can accomplish by the power of united effort is not lost upon the working class. The first letter of the President was an insult to labor, and had labor submitted, the President’s contempt for it would have been intensified by its cravenness.

The second letter was a virtual apology and nothing less than the firm attitude of labor extorted it. The President’s position, however, is not less enviable than before. Since he seeks escape from castigation for his outrageous attack upon Moyer and Haywood upon the ground that Debs had used “treasonable and murderous language” and that it was his duty as President to denounce it, a few questions will be in order and when the President has answered these we have a few more to which answers are also desired.

Did the President ever hear of one Sherman Bell?

Is it not a fact that said Sherman Bell is a personal friend of the President and that in a letter written in the President’s own hand he commends said Sherman Bell in the most exalted terms?

Has the President ever heard of the expression, “To hell with habeas corpus; we’ll give ’em post mortems,” commended as “patriotic” by the capitalist press at the time it was made?

Does not the President know that it was his highly esteemed personal friend, Sherman Bell, who coined this phrase?

Is it “treasonable and murderous”?

Did the President condemn it?

Will he do so now?

Would he have done so if it had been Debs instead of Bell?

Why does he “conceive it to be his duty” to condemn Debs and not Bell?

Because Bell stands for capital and Debs for labor?

Has Debs ever said anything that, with reference to treason and murder, can be compared to this expression of his boon companion, Sherman Bell?

Will the President please answer?

Again, has the President ever heard of one Lieut. T. E. McClelland?

And of the expression, “To hell with the constitution,” made by said McClelland?

Is this treasonable language?

Did the President condemn it?

Or, is it patriotic language when used in defense of capital and treasonable only when used in defense of labor?

Does the President know one Adjutant General Bulkeley Wells, the “officer of the law” who forcibly seized Moyer, Haywood and Pettibone and “special-trained” them to Idaho?

Does he know that his labor commissioner, Carroll D. Wright, condemns said Bulkeley Wells as a “mob leader” in his official report of the Colorado troubles?

Does the President approve mobs?

And consort with mob leaders?

While denouncing mobs?

Has he denounced Bulkeley Wells?

Will he do so?

Is the President aware that the Mine and Smelter Trust, behind the prosecution of Moyer, Haywood and Pettibone, bought the legislature of Colorado outright, thereby defeating an eight-hour measure which a popular majority of more than 46,000 votes had commanded said legislature to enact into law?

And that those mine and smelter owners are among his personal friends?

Is there any treason in this?

Has the President condemned it?

Dare he do so?

Is this his idea of “exact justice”?

A “square deal”?

Again, is kidnapping according to “law and order?”

If the kidnapped are workingmen?

And charged by their kidnappers with being murderers?

And by the President “undesirable citizens”?

Would the President have taken the same view of workingmen had kidnapped capitalists instead of capitalists kidnapping workingmen?

If it had been Ryan, Root, and Paul Morton, instead of Moyer, Haywood and Pettibone?

Will the President kindly answer?

Has the President ever heard the expression, “They shall never leave Idaho alive?”

Is this “murderous” language?

Except when used by “officers of the law?”

Has the President condemned it?

Does he approve it?

Has the President heard of one W. E. Borah, senator-elect, indicted for theft?

Visiting at the White House and coming out “smiling and confident”? Is lie innocent and desirable in spite of his indictment and Haywood guilty and undesirable in spite of the lawful presumption to the contrary?

Has the President ever heard of one Theodore Roosevelt?

Charged by the New York Tribune and other leading capitalist papers in 1896 with threatening to lead an armed force to Washington to prevent the inauguration of a lawfully-elected President of the United States?

Is there any “treason” or “murder” in this?

Does the President remember one John P. Altgeld?

And one Theodore Roosevelt who in the same year of 1896 said that said Altgeld and one Debs should be lined up against a dead wall and shot?

Which said Roosevelt never denied until four years later, when he became candidate for Vice President?

Is this the “temperate” language of a perfectly “desirable” citizen?

Does the President remember one Governor Roosevelt, of New York, who ordered his militia to Croton Dam to shoot some of the workingmen who elected him for venturing to ask the enforcement of the eight-hour law of that state?

And to protect the contractors who were violating the law?

Is this more of the President’s “exact justice to all”?

Will the President kindly explain what he regards as inexact justice?

Or exact injustice?

Or injustice of any kind?

Or if his “exact justice to all” is not buncombe served in stilted style?

Can the President say or do any wrong?

Would he admit it if he did?

Has he ever done so?

When the President rebuked the labor unions for attempting to “influence the course of justice” did he not know it was violent kidnapping they were protesting against?

That they were seeking to influence the course, not of justice, but of injustice?

Resisting, not law, but mob violence cloaked as law?

At the time the President administered this rebuke had he

not himself read his letter condemning Moyer and Haywood to members of the supreme court when their case was pending in said court?

Was this not an attempt to “influence the course of justice”?

Will the President publicly rebuke it?

When Moyer, Haywood and Pettibone, three workingmen, rugged as Patrick Henry, honest as Abraham Lincoln and brave as John Brown, were brutally kidnapped and told that they would be killed by the outlaws who kidnapped them; when two conspiring governors were the instigators of the kidnapping and all legal rights denied; when the special train lay in wait to rush them to their doom while their wives listened in vain all night long for their returning footsteps; when all law was cloven down, all justice denied, all decency defied and all humanity trampled beneath the brutal hoofs of might, a monstrous crime was committed, not against Moyer, Haywood and Pettibone merely, but against the working class, against the human race, and, by the eternal, that crime, even by the grace of Theodore Roosevelt, shall not go unwhipped by justice.

“Undesirable citizens” they are to the Christless perverts who exploit labor to degeneracy and mock its misery; turn the cradle into a coffin and call it philanthropy, and debauch the nation’s politics and morals in the name of civilization.

“Undesirable citizens” though they are, these are the loyal leaders of the men who have toiled in the mines and who have been subjected to every conceivable outrage; “who have had their homes broken into and who have been beaten, bound, robbed, insulted and imprisoned”; who have been chained to posts in the public highway, deported from their families under penalty of death, and bullpenned while their wives and daughters were outraged. In the light of all these crimes perpetrated upon these men in violation of every law by brutal mobs, led by the President’s own personal friends, as the official reports of his own labor commissioner will show, without a word of protest from him, it requires sublime audacity, to put it mildly, for the President to affirm that he stands for “exact justice to all” and that he “conceives it to be his duty” to denounce “treasonable and murderous” language.

If the miners of Colorado had been less patient than beasts of burden they would have risen in revolt against the outrages perpetrated upon them by their heartless corporate masters.

Were a mob of workingmen to seize Theodore Roosevelt and chain him to a post on a public street in Washington in broad daylight, as a mob of his capitalist friends seized and chained a workingman in Colorado, or throw him into a foul bullpen, without cause or provocation, prod him with bayonets and outrage his defenseless family while he was a prisoner, as was done in scores of well-authenticated cases in both Colorado and Idaho, would he then be in the mood to listen complacently to hypocritical homilies upon the “temperate” use of language, the sanctity of “law and order” and the beauty of “exact justice to all”?

And if he heard of some man who had sufficient decency to denounce the outrages he and his family had suffered, would he then “conceive it to be his duty,” as he tells us, to condemn the language of such a man as “treasonable and murderous” and the man himself as “inciting bloodshed,” and therefore an “undesirable citizen”?