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The Fourth Candidate

December 14, 2017

The 1912 Presidential contest included the incumbent President, his predecessor, and his successor.  There was also a fourth candidate.  He received no Electoral votes, but he did receive a significant number of popular votes.  Although he finished fourth overall, he came in third in Arizona, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.  He finished a distant second in Florida.  Except for Oklahoma, in each of these states he received more votes than the incumbent President.  His name was Eugene V. Debs, and he was the Socialist Party candidate.

The Socialist Party platform of 1912 called for women’s suffrage, a minimum wage, and unemployment insurance.  It promoted the collective ownership of railroads and industry.  It also sought to change the U.S. Constitution in order to eliminate the Senate and to stop the Supreme Court from ruling on the constitutionality of legislation.

Debs had already run for President in 1900, 1904, and 1908.  He did not run for President in 1916, but rather sought a Congressional seat from Indiana.  Once again he was not elected.  In 1918, after making a speech opposing the military draft, he was arrested and convicted for violating the Sedition Act of 1918.

Debs ran for President from prison in 1920.  Shortly after the election Congress repealed the Sedition Act.  President Wilson had no sympathy for Debs, but in 1921 President Harding commuted Debs’s sentence to time served.  Debs never ran for President again.

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