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September 29, 2015

President Harding would not live to see his old friend Norman Thomas run for President on the Socialist ticket in 1928. Although he knew about Thomas’s beliefs when he hosted him in the White House in the early 1920’s, he wasn’t going to let political differences affect their friendship.

Socialist Eugene V. Debs was prosecuted by the Wilson Administration and sentenced to ten years in prison. President Harding had never met Debs, but after reviewing his case, Harding commuted Debs’s sentence to time served. He even hastened Debs’s release so he could be out of prison in time for Christmas 1921. Then he invited Debs to meet him in the White House.

Debs had run for President in 1900, 1904, 1908, and 1912. While he was in prison, he ran for President in 1920, receiving 3.4% of the vote. In that election Harding received more than 60% of the vote.

Thomas would run for President six consecutive times.

Neither Debs nor Thomas would ever become President, but many of their ideas became widely accepted and have been enacted into law. President Harding’s relationship with them had nothing to do with political ideas. To Thomas he was an old friend. For Debs he was merely seeking justice. To both he was most gracious.

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