The time a president put an opponent in prison

Donald Trump’s threat last night to put Hillary Clinton in jail if he’s elected president raised the usual eyebrows at the presidential debate.

“Threatening her to her face in a national debate with jail was an assault that went beyond his attacks on women, Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, prisoners of war and Gold Star families to strike at the American democratic system itself,” Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn writes today. “We don’t jail our political foes here like in tin-pot, third-world banana republics or dictatorships. We attempt to succeed them via orderly transitions of power.”

Yes we do. Or, at least, we did.

It was 1918 when activist and socialist Eugene Debs made a speech in Canton, Ohio urging resistance to the World War I military draft.

So President Woodrow Wilson — Debs ran against him in 1912 — ordered him arrested and charged with violating the Sedition Act. He offered no defense at his trial but gave a speech prior to his sentencing.

I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.

This order of things cannot always endure. I have registered my protest against it. I recognize the feebleness of my effort, but, fortunately, I am not alone. There are multiplied thousands of others who, like myself, have come to realize that before we may truly enjoy the blessings of civilized life, we must reorganize society upon a mutual and cooperative basis; and to this end we have organized a great economic and political movement that spreads over the face of all the earth.

Debs went to prison and, while there, ran for president and got more than 3 percent of the vote.

President Harding commuted his sentence on Christmas Day 1921.