Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Victor L. Berger
Victor Luitpold Berger (February 28, 1860 - August 7, 1929) was a United States politician and a founding member of the Socialist Party of America. In 1919 he was convicted of violating the Espionage Act and denied a seat in the House of Representatives, in part due to his Germanic ancestry and anti-war political views.
Born in Nieder Rebbach, Austria-Hungary, Berger attended the Gymnasia at Leutschau and the universities at Budapest and Vienna. He and his parents immigrated to the United States in 1878, settling near Bridgeport, Connecticut; he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1880, where he was a schoolteacher and newspaper editor.
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). He ran for Congress and lost in 1904 before winning a House seat in 1910. Berger did not win re-election in 1912, but remained active in Wisconsin and Socialist Party politics.
Berger and World War I
Berger viewed World War I as a war between European colonial powers for the sake of empire and commerce, and took an isolationist view of American involvement. When the United States entered the war and passed the Espionage Act in 1917, Berger's continued opposition made him a target: He and four other Socialists were indicted for insubordination and disloyalty in February 1918; the trial followed on December 9 of that year, and on February 20, 1919, Berger was sentenced to 20 years' hard labor in Leavenworth Prison. The conviction was appealed and ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court on a technicality.
In spite of his being under indictment, the people 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, 1919 they 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 elected Berger a second time; the House again refused to seat him, and the seat remained vacant until 1921, when Berger was elected a third time and seated without incident.
Berger was re-elected in 1922, 1924 and 1926, and served in Congress until the end of his term on March 3, 1929. He then returned to Milwaukee and resumed his career as a newspaper editor until his death.
- Socialist Party of America
- Espionage Act
- Palmer Raids
- Red Scare
- United States House of Representatives
- A Victor Without Peace: Victor Berger and Socialist Opposition to World War One
- Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
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