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February 20: Victor Berger Convicted

February 20, 2013

Victor Berger, the first Socialist Party member elected to Congress, was convicted on this date in 1919 of violating the Espionage Act. The law was enacted in 1917, shortly after the U.S. entered World War I, and made outspoken opposition to the war illegal (on the grounds that it undermined military recruitment and encouraged military insubordination). Although many provisions of the law were revoked in 1921, the Espionage Act remains on the books, and has been used over the years to prosecute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, and WikiLeaks activist Bradley/Chelsea Manning, among others. Berger was reelected to Congress while free on bail but was denied his seat. He was then sentenced to twenty years in federal prison by Judge Kenesaw Landis (who became the first commissioner of Major League Baseball), but the sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1921. Berger served several terms as a Wisconsin representative until his accidental death in 1929.

“Socialism is no more an evil word than Christianity. Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches than Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity and socialism alike, in fact, prescribe a society dedicated to the proposition that all men, women, and children are created equal and shall not starve.” —Victor Berger

JEWDAYO ROCKS! J. Geils, founder and lead guitarist with the J. Geils Band, was born in New York on this date in 1946. To see the band in action, click below.