|To Woodrow Wilson1
Washington, D.C. December 15, 1920.
Honorable Woodrow Wilson,
President of the United States,
Permit me at this time, when the kindly and considerate spirit of the Christmastide cannot but be in men's hearts, to appeal to you in the name of the American labor movement for the performance of an act which I am convinced will meet with the approval of the great majority of our people.
I appeal to you for the issuance of a proclamation of amnesty to those political prisoners whose conviction and imprisonment was not because of moral turpitude. Especially do I appeal to you for the granting of a pardon to Eugene V. Debs, now in the Federal prison at Atlanta, Ga.
During the years that have gone I have had serious differences with Mr. Debs. It is likely that we shall continue to differ. That, however, is beside the point. I never have held that Mr. Debs gave voice to any utterance through insincerity or that he was a traitor to his country. His was, I firmly believe, a mistaken conviction, but it was a conviction.
I believe that nothing which it is within your power to do immediately would so ease the tension among so many of our people or would so breathe over our country the spirit of peace and good will. A proclamation of amnesty just now would come as a gracious and forebearing act wholly and properly in keeping with the season. In addition, it would be wholly in keeping with the kind of government and the kind of institutions in which we believe and which our people have so lately made such sacrifice to defend.
The Montreal Convention of the American Federation of Labor, held last June, adopted resolutions urging the granting of amnesty to the prisoners held for political offenses during the war.2 I believe that the convention acted wisely and I am in hearty accord with the thought expressed in its action. I need not tell you how loyally and sincerely the conventions of the American Federation of Labor in the years just previous had given their support to the cause of freedom and justice. But the war is ended and the danger has passed. Even those who were most perverse in the advocacy of pacifist views during the war can no longer in the least endanger the safety of our Republic. If the object of the confinement of these prisoners was, as I believe it was, to safeguard the nation, then the object has been achieved. The moral strength of our country, as well as the physical strength, has been amply proven. To open the gates to these prisoners now will be no less an example of our moral strength and self-reliance than was their imprisonment in the hour of danger.
I have no thought of asking any kind of clemency for those who have been convicted of crimes or offenses involving moral turpitude, or for those who may be held for trial for such offenses. Quite to the contrary, they should be left to the normal course of the courts of justice.
But in the case of those who were purely political offenders during the war, as was Mr. Debs, I ask a grant of amnesty, that they may have their freedom and the opportunity to enjoy the life of liberty and justice which our land so richly affords even at times to those who are not worthy of it.
Let me say again, that no immediate act of yours would so exemplify the spirit of mercy at this season as the granting of this appeal for amnesty. May I hope this request will find favor in the great heart of a man who has done so much for humanity and who has come to mean so much to those whose faces are turned in hope and aspiration toward the future? 3
President, American Federation of Labor.
TLS, Woodrow Wilson Papers, DLC. Handwritten notation: "Please ack The Pres CLS."4