The Leader as a Man

The Leader as a Man

In 1949 Ray Ginger published a remarkable book, The Bending Cross, subsequently retitled Eugene V. Debs: A Biography (Collier Books, Macmillan, 1962). For more than 30 years Ginger’s lively prose stood as the best available introduction not only to the career of America’s greatest socialist but to the exciting years when radical, even revolutionary hopes about American life first swelled, then foundered. As historical styles and research methods changed, Ginger’s Debs inevitably came to appear a bit old-fashioned. A dramatic and openly adulatory narrative raised appreciation of Debs without really explaining him. The heroic dimensions of the career of the conservative locomotive firemen’s leader, who later took on the U.S. government in the Pullman strike, then served five times as presidential candidate of the Socialist party, paying twice with prison sentences for some of his efforts, were clearly shown. So, too, were the small-town gestures, the fun-loving, optimistic mannerisms that made the radicalism of this native son of Terre Haute, Indiana, so much more a part of turn-of-the-century Americana than the lectures of his more starched comrades.

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tote | University of California Press Lima