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REL 455: American Catholicism 1775-1881: Roaring into the Great Depression

Theology, Spirituality, Culture and History

Eugene Debs Catholic Presidential Candidate 1925

A reading of Eugene Debs speech at a campaign rally for the 1912 election. After this speech, he was arrested and jailed.

About Eugene Debs


Eugene Debs, was a Catholic Socialist; this was as much about the dignity and humanity of the individual worker as it was about abstract questions of the proper organization of the American means of production or the distribution of wealth. This placed much of Debs’ rhetoric firmly within an American as well as a European political context; Debs spoke in the optimistic, evangelical cadences of a home-grown American radical tradition, drawing on Emerson, Robert Owen, or John Brown as much as on Marx or Engels. This often made Debs as many enemies as friends within the Socialist Party itself, and for most of his career Debs sought to remain aloof from the fierce factional infighting of the American Left. But it also gave Debs a broader popular appeal than any other American Socialist could muster, and his personal charisma and persuasiveness before an audience were second to no other American politician of any stripe.

 -eHistory at OSU

Optimism, Pessimism, Activism

The 1920s brought greater prosperity to America, with a larger middle class. American Catholics continued to experience persecution by various anti-immigrant groups, and became a target of the Ku Klux Klan for their "anti American" activities and loyalty to that foreign power -- the Pope.

The 1930s ushered in the Great Depression, and with it great displacement of the population, as more people looked for work across the Nation. The disparity between the haves and have nots was a great gaping wound in the heart of America; one which brought a rise in Social actvism, and  galvanized the Labor movement.

Al Smith became the first Catholic (and Socialist) to run for the presidency; his speeches were militant, urgent, and landed him in jail.