Tag Archives: Eugene V. Debs

Nearing’s Defense of the Constitutional Right to Dissent 10/24/11

The Power of Nonviolence Writings by Advocates of PeaceThe sixth chapter of The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace contains Scott Nearing‘s 1919 closing argument in defense against criminal charges under the Espionage Act for printing pamphlets that were allegedly in “obstruction to the recruiting and enlistment service of the United States.” during World War I.  The speech is re-printed from his book The Trial of Scott Nearing and the American Socialist Society.

Nearing starts out by defining his pacifism in opposition to the District Attorney’s attempt to define him as a proponent of violence.  He sees pacifism — his opposition to all wars  — as a natural human impulse that he shares with the majority of citizens.  He describes WWI as a waste of “twenty million lives and a hundred and eighty billions of wealth.”  Nearing explains that the danger of war is that it is built on forces that are destructive to civilization: “fear and hate“.  civilization is destroyed because causing one person to kill another destroys “a man’s soul.”

Nearing makes clear that he is not indicted for his being””a student of public affairs“, a Socialist nor a pacifist.  He insists that the judge will charge the jury with the information that Nearing has the right to speak out against a law he considers wrong. And that is what he bases his defense upon:

I may be wrong, utterly wrong, and nobody listen to me, nobody pay attention to me. I have a right to express my opinion.

The judge in the case dismissed the conspiracy charges.  The jury found Nearing “not guilty” of the other two charges against him.  The Socialist Society was found guilty of two charges and fined $3000.  Continue reading Nearing’s Defense of the Constitutional Right to Dissent 10/24/11