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Meyer London

Meyer London was a congressman, one of those 50 representatives and six senators to vote against american entry into World War I. He was Jewish Socialist.

Background

  • Meyer London was born in Kalvarija, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire) on December 29, 1871. Meyer's father, Efraim London, was a former Talmudic scholar who had become politically revolutionary and philosophically agnostic, while his mother had remained a devotee of Judaism. His father had established himself as a grain merchant in Zenkov, a small town located in Poltava province of the Ukraine, but his financial situation was poor and in 1888 his father emigrated with Meyer's younger brother to the United States, leaving Meyer behind.

    In 1891, when Meyer was 20, the family decided to follow his father to America so Meyer terminated his studies and departed for New York City, taking up residence in the city's largely Jewish Lower East Side.

  • Education

    • Meyer attended Cheder, a traditional Jewish primary school in which he learned Hebrew, before entering Russian-language schools to begin his secular education.

      In 1896, London was accepted to the law school of New York University, attending most of his classes at night. He completed the program and was admitted to the New York City Bar Association in 1898, becoming a labor lawyer, taking on cases which fought injunctions or defending the rights of tenants against the transgressions of landlords. London did not handle criminal cases, but rather limited himself to matter of civil law.

    Career

    • Meyer earned money as a tutor, taking on pupils at irregular hours and teaching literature and other topics. He later obtained a job as a librarian, a position which allowed him sufficient time to read about history and politics and to study law in his free time. Meyer also frequented radical meetings, gradually developing proficiency as a public speaker and participant in public debates.

      In the 1890s, London joined the Socialist Labor Party of America (SLP), standing as its candidate for New York State Assembly in 1896. He was attracted by Eugene V. Debs and his new Social Democracy of America in 1897, however, and he resigned from the SLP in that year to help form Local Number One of the Social Democracy in New York in that year.

      In 1898, London again ran for New York Assembly in the old 4th Assembly District, this time as the candidate of the Social Democratic Party of America, successor organization of Debs' Social Democracy.

      In the summer of 1901, the Chicago-based Social Democratic Party merged with another group of former adherents of the Socialist Labor Party to form the Socialist Party of America (SPA), and London transferred his political allegiance to the new organization. He ran for a third time for the 4th Assembly District seat in 1904, this time under the banner of the SPA.

      London was active in the 1910 New York Cloakmakers Strike, during which the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) brought out 50,000 in a successful struggle for higher wages and better work conditions against their employers. In his capacity as counsel for the ILGWU, London drew up and published a communique in the name of the strike committee.

      As a Congressman, Meyer London was one of 50 representatives and six senators to vote against entry into World War I. Once America was at war, however, London felt obliged to support the nation's efforts in the conflict. He strongly opposed the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, which made criticism of the president or the war a crime, and in the end cast the only vote in the House against the Sedition Act of 1918. These actions angered his constituency, London said, "I wonder whether I am to be punished for having had the courage to vote against the war or for standing by my country’s decision when it chose war."

      As a Jewish Socialist, London’s position on Zionism further complicated his political position. Although he upset socialist Labor Zionists by refusing to introduce a resolution endorsing the Balfour Declaration into the House of Representatives, London did not oppose the right of Jews to live “a separate and distinct national existence fortified by a Jewish state…All that I ask of them is that they should not speak in the name of all Jews.” Further, London believed in the possibility of a specifically socialist Jewish state, so long as it “can be accomplished without violating the Socialist principle which forbids forcible annexation.” However, London's refusal to introduce the resolution united many Zionists against him. The Jewish community was further fragmented in opposition to London, with Orthodox Jews advocating his defeat because he was not religious while rich and powerful Jews worked against him because he was a socialist. Uptown Jews like Jacob Schiff, Louis Marshall, Nathan Straus, and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise urged the Jews to redeem themselves by rejecting London.

      London was thus placed in the uncomfortable position of simultaneously being attacked both as a dangerous radical on the one hand and as a collaborationist traitor to radicalism on the other; as un-American and pro-German on the one hand and as an American nationalist and abettor of militarism on the other; for subsuming the Socialist program in the interest of the Jews in his district on the one hand and for neglecting the sweeping desire for Jewish nationhood in the interests of socialist internationalism on the other. This proved too much even for the powers of political incumbency to overcome. With the Democratic and Republican parties united behind a single "fusion" candidate and his own supporters fragmented, London narrowly lost reelection in 1918, falling to Henry M. Goldfogle by a tally of 7,269 to 6,519.

      Two years later, in 1920, the Lower East Side sent London back to Congress. In Israel and the American National Interest, Cheryl A. Rubenberg states, “on September 21, 1922, the American Congress passed a joint resolution stating its support for a homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people". He was defeated for reelection two months later in November.

    Major achievements

    • London thus became the second Socialist elected to Congress, following Wisconsin's Victor Berger.

    Politics

    In the summer of 1901, the Chicago-based Social Democratic Party merged with another group of former adherents of the Socialist Labor Party to form the Socialist Party of America (SPA), and London transferred his political allegiance to the new organization. He ran for a third time for the 4th Assembly District seat in 1904, this time under the banner of the SPA.

    Religion

    Denomination: Orthodox

    Views

    Socialism

    Membership

    • Socialist Labor Party of America , United States

    • Social Democratic Party of America , United States

    Connections

    • father: Efraim London
    • mother: Unknown
    Meyer London
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    Died June 6, 1926
    (aged 54)
    Nationality
    Ethnicity:
    • March 4, 1915 - March 3, 1919
      congressman, Congress, House of Representatives
      United States
    • March 4, 1921 - March 3, 1923
      congressman, Congress
      United States

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    • Religions
      • Orthodox(i.e. Hasidism)
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