Hillquit’s Career Tale of Socialism in U.s.; Was 64 at His Death
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Hillquit’s Career Tale of Socialism in U.s.; Was 64 at His Death

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Morris Hillquit, internationally known American Socialist, was 64 years old when he died early last Sunday at his home in New York and for forty-five years he had been active in the American Socialist movement.

He was born in Riga, Latvia, August 1, 1869. His father was Benjamin Hillokwitz, a school teacher, and his mother was Rebecca Levene Hillkowitz. The boy was named Moritz Hillkowitz. He received his early education in the Alexander Gymnasium in Riga.

The family came to the United States in 1886 and for the first few years lived the life of the typical immigrant family. The boy found work in a shirt factory on the lower East Side. He soon became interested in the Socialist and labor movements and became associated with the Arbeiter Zeitung, a weekly, prede###sor of the Jewish Daily Forward. In 1890, he entered the law school of New York University, from which he was graduated in 1893. In the same year he married his cousin, Vera Levene, and began the practice of law as a member of the firm of Hillkowitz and Levene, which became one of the most important of those representing labor unions.


When young Moritz Hillkowitz entered the American Socialist movement, the chief radical party in this country was the Socialist Labor party under the leadership of the late Daniel De Leon. The party was a small one and torn by internal dissensions as well as constant quarrels with the existing labor groups. In addition there were three or four other groups calling themselves Socialists which bickered with one another.

In 1897 the future Socialist leader asked the Federal courts to allow him to change his name to Morris Hillquit on the ground that the old spelling caused him difficulty and inconvenience in the practice of his profession.

In the election of 1900, three Socialist groups united and formed the Socialist Party of America, and Hillquit immediately joined it. He was elected national committeeman from New York. In 1903 he published a “History of Socialism in the United States,” which is still a standard work on its subject. In 1904 he was one of the American delegates to the International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam. At the Congress he was made a member of the International Socialist Bureau, on which he remained until his death.


The years that followed were years of growth and prosperity for Mr. Hillquit. His law business prospered, he became the attorney for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and he advanced steadily in the Socialist party. He worked incessantly for the cause, he lectured and wrote for the movement and year by year his party responsibilities increased.

The American Socialists were pacifists. When the World War broke out, the party condemned it. When America entered the war, pacifism became unpopular, but Hillquit and the Socialists continued to oppose the entrance of America in the war and the draft.

In 1917, Hillquit ran for mayor of New York on a Socialist and pacifist ticket, and made the strongest race any Socialist had ever made in New York city, despite the fact that he was to receive many more votes in other political contests. His doctrine, “I will not kill” was denounced as pure treason and he was attacked from all sides. However, he received 139,000 votes, quadrupling the vote the Socialist candidate in the previous election had received.


But as a result of this hectic campaign Mr. Hillquit developed a slight lung complaint. In 1918, more than ever the object of furious denunciation, he ran for Congressman. This campaign aggravated his illness and he went to Saranac Lake to recuperate. He left prematurely to fight the case of the Socialist Assemblymen who had been ousted from the Legislature at Albany. He lost, the Socialists were ousted and Hillquit immediately flung himself into the fight against the left wing Communist groups that were attempting to capture the Socialist party. He won his fight and the radicals were ousted. Later he supported Robert M. La Follette for President on the Progressive ticket.

His sway over the Socialist party was undisputed and he remained chairman of the Socialist party until his death.

But he never recovered his health completely and in 1933, his illness was aggravated by a heart ailment. On October 8, he died.

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