- Victor L. Berger
Victor Louis (Luitpold) Berger (
February 28, 1860– August 7, 1929) was an American politician, a major part of the Sewer Socialist movement, and a founding member of the Socialist Party of America. In 1919 he was convicted of violating the Espionage Actand twice denied a seat in the House of Representatives though electedrepeatedly.
Born to a
Jewish family in Nieder Rehbach, Austria-Hungary, Berger attended the Gymnasia at Leutschau and the universities at Budapestand Vienna. He immigrated to the United Statesin 1878 with his parents, settling near Bridgeport, Connecticut; he moved to Woodstock, Illinois in 1880, and then to Milwaukee, Wisconsinin 1881, where he was a schoolteacher and newspaper editor. He published and edited a number of different papers, including the German language " Wisconsin Vorwaerts" (Forward) (1892-1911), the "Social-Democratic Herald" (1901-1913), and the Milwaukee "Leader" (1911-1929). His papers were tied to the socialist movement and organized labor through the Milwaukee Federated Trades Council.
In 1896 Berger was a delegate to the People’s Party Convention in St. Louis, and in 1897 was an organizer of the Social Democratic Party (later known as the Socialist Party, created from a split with the
Socialist Labor partyorganized with Berger, Eugene V. Debs, Morris Hillquitand others).
First term in Congress
He ran for Congress and lost in 1904 before winning
Wisconsin's 5th congressional districtseat in 1910 as the first Socialist to serve in the United States Congress. In Congress, he focused on issues related to the District of Columbiaand also more radical proposals including eliminating the President's veto, abolishing the Senate [http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/House_Member_Introduces_Resolution_To_Abolish_the_Senate.htm] , and the social takeover of major industries. Berger gained national publicity for his old-age pension bill, the first of its kind introduced into Congress. Berger did not win re-election in 1912 or again in 1914 and 1916, but remained active in Wisconsin and Socialist Party politics.
Berger and World War I
Berger's views on World War I were complicated by the Socialist view and the difficulties around his German heritage. However, he did support his party's stance against the war. When the United States entered the war and passed the
Espionage Actin 1917, Berger's continued opposition made him a target. He and four other Socialists were indicted under the Espionage Act in February 1918; the trial followed on December 9of that year, and on February 20, 1919, Berger was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. The trial was presided over by Judge Kenesaw Landis, later became the first commissioner of Major League Baseball. The conviction was appealed, and ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court on January 31, 1921, which found that Judge Landis improperly presided over the case after the filing of an affidavit of prejudice. "Berger et al. v. United States", 41 S.Ct. 230, 235 U.S. 22 (1921)
In spite of his being under indictment at the time, the voters of Milwaukee elected Berger to the House of Representatives in 1918. When Berger arrived in Washington to claim his seat, Congress formed a special committee to determine whether a convicted felon and war opponent should be seated as a member of Congress. On
November 10, 1919they concluded that he should not, and declared the seat vacant. Wisconsin promptly held a special election to fill the vacant seat, and on December 19 1919elected Berger a second time. On January 10, 1920, the House again refused to seat him, and the seat remained vacant until 1921, when Republican William H. Stafford claimed the seat after defeating Berger in the 1920 general election.
Second period in Congress
Berger defeated Stafford in 1922 and was reelected in 1924 and 1926. He dealt with Constitutional changes, a proposed
old-age pension, unemployment insurance, and public housing. He also supported the recognition of the Soviet Unionand the revision of the Versailles Treaty. After his defeat by Stafford in 1928, he returned to Milwaukee and resumed his career as a newspaper editor until he died as a result of a streetcar accident. He was buried at Forest Home Cemetery.
Socialist Party of America
First Red Scare
United States House of Representatives
* [http://us.history.wisc.edu/hist102/bios/html/berger.html A Victor Without Peace: Victor Berger and Socialist Opposition to World War I]
*CongBio|B000407|name=BERGER, Victor Luitpold|inline=1
* [http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/House_Member_Introduces_Resolution_To_Abolish_the_Senate.htm House Member Introduces Resolution to Abolish the Senate]
Miller, Sally M. "Victor Berger and the Promise of Constructive Socialism, 1910-1920". Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973.
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