Berger, Victor Louis

Berger, Victor Louis,

1860–1929, American Socialist leader and congressman, b. Austria-Hungary. After studying at the universities of Budapest and Vienna, he emigrated (1878) to the United States and settled in Milwaukee. After 1892 he devoted himself to Socialist politics and journalism, editing the Milwaukee Vorwärts! (1892–98) and a weekly that became (1911) the influential Milwaukee Leader. With Eugene V. DebsDebs, Eugene Victor,
1855–1926, American Socialist leader, b. Terre Haute, Ind. Leaving high school to work in the railroad shops in Terre Haute, he became a railroad fireman (1871) and organized (1875) a local of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen.
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 he pioneered in creating the American Socialist party. His leadership brought (1910) the Socialists control of Milwaukee for many years and made Berger the first Socialist member of Congress (1911–13). Reelected twice (1918, 1919), he was excluded by Congress on grounds of sedition, for which he was sentenced (1918–19) to a 20-year prison term. The decision was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1921, and he was allowed to take his seat when reelected in 1922. Again elected in 1924 and 1926, he was defeated in 1928. Voice and Pen (1929) is a collection of his speeches and editorials.


See U.S. Congress, House, Special Committee on Victor L. Berger Investigation, Case of Victor L. Berger of Wisconsin: Hearings (1919 and 1921, repr. 1972); study by S. M. Miller (1973).

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Berger, Victor Louis

(1860–1929) socialist, journalist, U.S. representative; born in Nieder-Rehbach, Austria. After emigrating to America (1878), he settled in Milwaukee, Wis., where he became a public school teacher (1882–92). From 1892 on he dedicated himself to writing about and promoting socialist politics, labor unions, and numerous reform movements. A co-founder of the Social Democrat Party (1898) and executive board member of the new Socialist Party of America (1901), he spread a moderate socialist message through several newspapers he founded. The most important was the Milwaukee Leader, which he edited from 1901 (when it was the Social Democratic Herald), until his death. From 1911–13, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first Socialist to do so. Harassed for his pacifist views during World War I, he was reelected to the U.S. House of Representatives (1918) but was not allowed to take his seat because he was indicted and found guilty under the Espionage Act. (His conviction was reversed by the Supreme Court in 1921 so he did not go to prison.) Following the war, he served three terms in the House of Representatives as a Socialist (1923–29), and was a highly respected advocate of progressive legislation. He died from injuries when struck by a streetcar in Milwaukee.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.