Debs’s call for united political action and, to a limited degree, unified economic organization…in no way reflected a growing class awareness on his part. Rather, his increasing anger drew strength and justification from a specific American tradition that stressed economic mobility, political action, and industrious work habits as the foundation of individual dignity and manliness of character. Yet, it must be understood, Debs had traveled some distance in his thought since 1877. Significantly, as Debs developed his deeply American critique of monopoly, religious themes and symbols appeared more frequently in his writings.
The tradition of evangelical Protestant reform that had so structured the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement did not disappear in the postwar years. Both the temperance and women’s suffrage movements retained part of that tradition, and labor organizers and working people often appealed to it in their struggles with industrial capitalism. The Bible provided a complex values that justified workers’ struggles against autocratic authority, values that were seen as the “fixed and eternal laws of God for the ordering of society.” As with the American Revolutionary heritage, itself perceived as based on these eternal truths, the folk religion of American Protestantism offered both justification for labor’s opposition to aspects of industrial capitalism and assurance of ultimate success.
Nick Salvatore, Eugene Debs: Citizen and Socialist, 62.
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