Fred Warren

Fred Warren

Fred Warren was born in Arcola, Illinois, in 1872. The son of an unsuccessful businessman, Warren moved to Rich Hill, a small coal-mining town in Missouri, and when he was eighteen started a newspaper with his younger brother, Ben Warren.

Converted to socialism he started the radical journal, Bates County Critic in 1898. Two years later he was employed by Julius Wayland to work on his Appeal to Reason. The following year he became managing editor of the journal.

Warren was a well-known figure on the left and managed to persuade some of America's leading progressives to contribute to the Appeal to Reason. This included Jack London, Mary 'Mother' Jones, Upton Sinclair, Scott Nearing, Joe Haaglund Hill, Ralph Chaplin, Stephen Crane, Helen Keller and Eugene Debs. By 1902 its circulation reached 150,000, making it the fourth highest of any weekly in the United States.

In 1904 Warren commissioned Upton Sinclair to write a novel about immigrant workers in the Chicago meat packing houses. Julius Wayland provided Sinclair with a $500 advance and after seven weeks research he wrote the novel, The Jungle. Serialized in 1905, the book helped to increase circulation to 175,000. When published by Doubleday in 1906, The Jungle an immediate success. Within the next few year it was published in seventeen languages and was a best-seller all over the world.

In 1905 William Hayward (general secretary of WFM) and Charles Moyer (president of WFM), were both been kidnapped in Colorado and taken to Idaho to stand trial for the murder of Frank R. Steunenberg, the former governor of Idaho. This upset Warren as a few years earlier the authorities had refused to arrest and charge William S. Taylor, the former governor of Kentucky, with the murder of the progressive politician, William Goebel. Taylor fled to Indiana where he became a wealthy insurance executive.

Warren wrote an article about the case and advertised a reward of $1,000 for anyone willing to capture William S. Taylor and to take him back to Kentucky. As a result of this article Warren was himself arrested and charged with encouraging others to commit the crime of kidnap. After a two year delay was found guilty and sentenced to six months hard labour and a $1,500 fine. Soon afterwards the governor of Kentucky, Augustus Everett Willson, pardoned Taylor, Caleb Powers, and four other people for their part in the murder.

Sewell Weidman, Appeal to Reason (2nd December, 1905)
Sewell Weidman, Appeal to Reason (2nd December, 1905)

Warren and Julius Wayland were once again in trouble in 1911 when they published a series of articles in the Appeal to Reason about corruption and homosexuality in Leavenworth Prison. Although senior figures running the prison were dismissed, Wayland and Warren were charged were charged with sending "indecent, filthy, obscene, lewd and lascivious printed materials" through the post.

As the popularity of the Appeal to Reason increased, so did the attacks on Warren and Julius Wayland. The paper's offices were repeatedly broken into in an effort to find evidence of criminal activity. Research was carried out about Wayland's ancestors and reports in the Los Angeles Times claiming that they had been involved in cases of arson and murder. In 1912 the newspaper reported that Wayland was guilty of seducing an orphaned girl of fourteen and who had died during an abortion in Missouri.

Julius Wayland depressed by the recent death of his wife and the continuing smear campaign against him, committed suicide on 10th November, 1912. He left a suicide note that said: "The struggle under the competitive system is not worth the effort." Warren and the children sued the newspapers about these libelous stories and won.

In 1913 the journal reached a circulation of Appeal to Reason reached over 760,000. However, the new owner of the journal, Walter Wayland, fell out with Warren. In August, 1913, Warren resigned and Louis Kopelin became the new managing editor.

Primary Sources

(1) Fred Warren, Appeal to Reason (13th August, 1904)

With the introduction of private ownership in land came the period in the history of the human race when some man by reason of his superior strength or cunning, or some group of men, by reason of greater numbers, took possession of the land being used by another group and made slaves of the latter.

If men understood that the land is one of the great natural resources on which life depends, that it is the natural heritage of all men, and not a few, and it was so recognized through the long ages of savagery and barbarism, and that no title deed was recognized until civilization, so-called, made its appearance, I believe few would be willing to submit longer to the tyranny of the landlord and the master.

(2) When Fred Warren was arrested and imprisoned for offering a reward for the arrest of William S. Taylor, the former governor of Kentucky, who had been accused of murdering William Goebel. Warren's friend, Helen Keller was one of those who campaigned for his release. She wrote about the case in the socialist journal, Appeal to Reason (24th December, 1910)

The more I study Mr. Warren's case in the light of the United States constitution, which I have under my fingers, the more I am persuaded either that I do not understand, or that the judges do not. To what twistings, turnings and dark interpretation must the judges of the circuit court be driven in order to send Mr. warren to prison! As I understand it, a federal law defining the kind of matter which it is a crime to mail has been stretched to cover his act. What was the act? The offer of a reward was printed on the outside of envelopes mailed from Girard by Mr. Warren. This was construed as threatening because it was an encouragement to others to kidnap a man under indictment.

Several years ago three officers of the Western Federation of Miners were indicted for a murder committed in Idaho. They were in Colorado, and the governor of that state did not extradite them. They were kidnapped and brought to an Idaho prison. They applied to the supreme court for a writ of habeas corpus, on the ground that they were illegally held because they had been illegally captured. The supreme court replied: "Even if it be true that the arrest and deportation of Pettibone, Moyer and Hayward from Colorado was by fraud and connivance to which the governor of Colorado was a party, this does not make out a case of violation of the rights of the appellants under the constitution and the laws of the United States."

One need not be a Socialist to realize the significance, the gravity, not of Mr. Warren's offense, but of the offense of the judges against the constitution, and against democratic rights. It is provided that "congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press." Surely this means that we are free to print and mail any innocent matter. What Mr. Warren printed and mailed had been established by the supreme court as innocent. What beam was in the eye of the honorable judges of the supreme court? Or what mote was in the eye of the justices of the circuit courts?

It has been my duty, my life-work to study physical blindness, its causes and its prevention. I learn that our physicians are making great progress in the cure and the prevention of blindness. What surgery of politics, what antiseptic of common sense and right thinking, shall be applied to cure the blindness of the people, who are the court of last resort?

(3) Fred Warren, Appeal to Reason (8th November, 1913)

I believe in the confiscation of the productive property of this nation by the working class. I do not believe in confiscating it by piecemeal. That would be foolish and illegal. The plan I favor is that the working class shall first capture the political powers of the state and nation and then the job can be done without the danger of getting cracked skulls and prison sentences. This is the plan followed by the master class. It has been proved a success by the master. It will prove a workable plan for the slave.

The mission of the Appeal to Reason is to persuade the men who work to use their political power that it may be possible easily, quickly and without opposition to exert their individual strength. I believe the working class should capture the political powers of the cities as rapidly as possible.