In 1875 Debs and his circle believed in the community of Terre Haute–“the sacred little spot” as he called it–and like so many other ambitious young men he saw his future inevitably tied to the progress of the whole community. But Terre Haute had changed. No longer “the straggling village,” its democratic traditions appeared more and more muted, as if encased in bunting. Slowly, a distinct consciousness surfaced within the business elite and the term “the best people” took on added meaning. Controlling the avenues of economic development, this elite at least privately began to redefine the meaning of the word community. Despite the public appeals to Jefferson rhetoric, the self-interest at the heart of their activities found increasing use within this group as the only necessary justification. Their willingness to jettison larger communal interests in order to entice “heavy capitalists” and advance their own interests resulted in a series of dramatic consequences that permanently altered the community. As events on the Vandalia only two years later would indicate, critical decisions concerning wages and work conditions–the very ability of working people to affect the basic structure of their daily lives–were made by employers more sensitive to the mandates of distant corporate executives than to the men they faced daily. Although the business community’s attitude was still in formation, in 1875 the “beloved little community…where all were neighbors and all friends” described less a reality than it did a wistful desire.
Nick Salvatore, Eugene Debs: Citizen and Socialist, 21-22
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