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On 1st May, 1886 a strike was began throughout the United States in support a eight-hour day. Over the next few days over 340,000 men and women withdrew their labor. Over a quarter of these strikers were from Chicago and the employers were so shocked by this show of unity that 45,000 workers in the city were immediately granted a shorter workday.
The campaign for the eight-hour day was organised by the International Working Men's Association (the First International). On 3rd May, the IWPA in Chicago held a rally outside the McCormick Harvester Works, where 1,400 workers were on strike. They were joined by 6,000 lumber-shovers, who had also withdrawn their labour. While August Spies, one of the leaders of the IWPA was making a speech, the police arrived and opened-fire on the crowd, killing four of the workers.
The following day August Spies, who was editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, published a leaflet in English and German entitled: Revenge! Workingmen to Arms!. It included the passage: "They killed the poor wretches because they, like you, had the courage to disobey the supreme will of your bosses. They killed them to show you 'Free American Citizens' that you must be satisfied with whatever your bosses condescend to allow you, or you will get killed. If you are men, if you are the sons of your grand sires, who have shed their blood to free you, then you will rise in your might, Hercules, and destroy the hideous monster that seeks to destroy you. To arms we call you, to arms." Spies also published a second leaflet calling for a mass protest at Haymarket Square that evening.
On 4th May, over 3,000 people turned up at the Haymarket meeting. Speeches were made by August Spies, Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden. At 10 a.m. Captain John Bonfield and 180 policemen arrived on the scene. Bonfield was telling the crowd to "disperse immediately and peaceably" when someone threw a bomb into the police ranks from one of the alleys that led into the square. It exploded killing eight men and wounding sixty-seven others. The police then immediately attacked the crowd. A number of people were killed (the exact number was never disclosed) and over 200 were badly injured.
Several people identified Rudolph Schnaubelt as the man who threw the bomb. He was arrested but was later released without charge. It was later claimed that Schnaubelt was an agent provocateur in the pay of the authorities. After the release of Schnaubelt, the police arrested Samuel Fielden, an Englishman, and six German immigrants, August Spies, Adolph Fisher, Louis Lingg, George Engel, Oscar Neebe, and Michael Schwab. The police also sought Albert Parsons, the leader of the International Working Peoples Association in Chicago, but he went into hiding and was able to avoid capture. However, on the morning of the trial, Parsons arrived in court to standby his comrades.
There were plenty of witnesses who were able to prove that none of the eight men threw the bomb. The authorities therefore decided to charge them with conspiracy to commit murder. The prosecution case was that these men had made speeches and written articles that had encouraged the unnamed man at the Haymarket to throw the bomb at the police.
The jury was chosen by a special bailiff instead of being selected at random. One of those picked was a relative of one of the police victims. Julius Grinnell, the State's Attorney, told the jury: "Convict these men make examples of them, hang them, and you save our institutions."
At the trial it emerged that Andrew Johnson, a detective from the Pinkerton Agency, had infiltrated the group and had been collecting evidence about the men. Johnson claimed that at anarchist meetings these men had talked about using violence. Reporters who had also attended International Working Peoples Association meetings also testified that the defendants had talked about using force to "overthrow the system".
During the trial the judge allowed the jury to read speeches and articles by the defendants where they had argued in favour of using violence to obtain political change. The judge then told the jury that if they believed, from the evidence, that these speeches and articles contributed toward the throwing of the bomb, they were justified in finding the defendants guilty.
All the men were found guilty: Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer, Louis Lingg and George Engel were given the death penalty. Whereas Oscar Neebe, Samuel Fielden and Michael Schwab were sentenced to life imprisonment. On 10th November, 1887, Lingg committed suicide by exploding a dynamite cap in his mouth. The following day Parsons, Spies, Fisher and Engel mounted the gallows. As the noose was placed around his neck, Spies shouted out: "There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today."
Many people believed that the men had not been given a fair trial and in 1893, John Peter Altgeld, the new governor of Illinois, pardoned Oscar Neebe, Samuel Fielden and Michael Schwab. Altgeld argued: "It is further shown here that much of the evidence given at the trial was a pure fabrication; that some of the prominent police officials, in their zeal, not only terrorized ignorant men by throwing them into prison and threatening them with torture if they refused to swear to anything desired but that they offered money and employment to those who would consent to do this. Further, that they deliberately planned to have fictitious conspiracies formed in order that they might get the glory of discovering them."
David Roediger has argued: "Haymarket's bomb echoed long and deep. The explosion and ensuing repression decimated the anarchist labor movement, though the martyred defendants became heroes to many and inspired countless individual conversions to anarchism and to socialism... The pardons ruined Altgeld's promising political career. The tactic of the mass strike was far less appealing to pragmatic U.S. labor leaders after Haymarket, and the idea of self-defense by labor never again received so broad a hearing on the national scale.".
(1) George McLean, The Rise and Fall of Anarchy in America (1890)
The eight hour system of labor had been agitated for some time, and the first of May, 1886, was the time set for it to go into effect by all the trade and labor unions. It was suspected by many that the insubordinate element of socialists and anarchists would take advantage of the already fermented state of the working classes, to make a bold stand to revolutionize and demoralize, by their treasonable and inflammatory speeches, the otherwise peaceful and respectable citizens of Chicago.
The McCormick reaper works, with over one thousand employees, mostly foreigners, had been out on a strike for several weeks, and being at fever heat the anarchists sought to produce a riot among these turbulent men. The troublesome element consisted largely of the ignorant lower classes of Bavarians, Bohemians, Hungarians, Germans, Austrians, and others who held secret meetings in organized groups armed and equipped like the nihilists of Russia, and the communists of France.
(2) August Spies, Die Arbeiter Zeitung (18th March 1886)
If we do not soon bestir ourselves for a bloody revolution, we cannot leave anything to our children but poverty and slavery. Therefore, prepare yourselves! In all quietness, prepare yourselves for the Revolution!
(3) Attorney General Julius Grinnell, opening address to the jury (September, 1887)
On May 3 everything was done that could be done to arouse the people to anarchy. The conspiracy was so large, the numbers so appalling, that it seems impossible to describe it. The men who have incited this bloodshed have been picked out and should be blotted out. In breaking up the meeting Inspector Bonfield did the wisest thing he could have done. If he had waited until the next night the Socialist would have gained strength, and hundreds would have been killed instead of the seven that did fall. The action was the wisest thing ever done in this city. The courage and strength of the police saved the town. The inflammatory speeches of these people decided Inspector Bonfield that the meeting should be broken up.
Captain Ward alone of all those policemen had a revolver in his hand. He stepped forward in the usual manner, and ordered the people to disperse. At this command Fielden stepped from the wagon and said in a loud voice: "We are peaceable." At this remark, as though it was some secret signal, a man who had before been on the wagon, taking a bomb from his pocket, lit the fuse and threw it into the ranks of the police. Fielden, standing behind the wagon, opened fire and kept it up for several minutes, when he in turn disappeared. Fielden was the only one of all the men who had a spark of heroism in him. The action of the police cannot be too highly commended. Not a shot was fired by them until many of their comrades had fallen.
I will try and show to you who threw the bomb, and I will prove to your satisfaction that Lingg made it. There are a great many counts in this case, but murder is the main one. It is not necessary to bring the bomb-thrower into the court. Though none of these men, perhaps, threw the bomb personally, they aided and abetted the throwing of it, and are as responsible as the actual thrower."
(4) Andrew Johnson, a Pinkerton Detective, infiltrated the Chicago anarchist group and reported on what was said at their meetings. He repeated this information during the men's trial.
A man named Bishop introduced a resolution of sympathy for a girl named Sorell. Bishop stated that the girl had been assaulted by her master. She had applied for a warrant, which had been refused her on account of the high social standing of her master. August Spies said: "What is the use of passing resolutions? We must act, and revenge the girl. Here is a fine opportunity for some of our young men to go and shoot Wight." That was the man who had assaulted the girl.
Flavio Costantini, Chicago, May 3rd, 1886 (1974)
(5) Moses Salomon, defence lawyer (September, 1887)
Now, gentlemen, I desire to call your attention to what these defendants on trial are charged with. They are not charged with Anarchy; they are not charged with Socialism; they are not charged with the fact that Anarchy and Socialism is dangerous or beneficial to the community; but, according to the law under which we are now acting, a charge specific in its nature must be made against them, and that alone, must be sustained, and it is the duty of the jury to weigh the evidence as it bears upon that charge; an upon no other point can they pay attention to it. Now, gentlemen, the charge here is shown by this indictment.
The section of the law under which this indictment is framed is as follows: Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being in the peace of the people with malice aforethought, either expressed or implied. The unlawful killing may be perpetrated by poisoning, striking, stabbing, shooting, etc., or by any other of the various forms or means by which human nature may be overcome and death thereby occasioned. Express malice is that deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow-creature, which is manifested by external circumstances capable of proof. Malice shall be implied when no considerable provocation appears, or when all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.
(6) William Foster, defence lawyer (September, 1887)
It is not enough to warrant the conviction of the defendant Lingg that he may have manufactured the bomb, the explosion of which killed Mathias J. Degan. He must have aided, abetted or advised the exploding of the bomb, or of the doing of some illegal act, or the doing of the legal act in an unlawful manner, in the furtherance of which, and as incident thereto, the same was exploded and said Degan killed. If, as to the defendant Lingg the jury should find beyond all reasonable doubt that he did in fact manufacture said bomb, but are not satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that he aided, advised, counseled or abetted the throwing of said missile, or the doing of any unlawful act which resulted in the explosion of said bomb, your verdict should acquit him as far as the establishment of his guilt is attempted by the manufacture of said missile or bomb.
Whatever may be our criticism upon the matter of manufacturing dynamite bombs for any purpose, there is no law within this State which makes the mere manufacture of such missiles a crime punishable by death or otherwise. Louis Lingg could not have been convicted of murder because of all this matter detailed by Seilger and his wife and Lehman, even if it were clear that the bomb thrown at Haymarket had come from his hands, if it had been thrown by a third party acting upon his own responsibility an without Lingg's knowledge, consent, aid, assistance, advice or encouragement.
(7) Albert Parsons, speech at his trial (September, 1887)
The labor question is up for settlement. It demands and commands a hearing. The existing disorders threaten not only the peace, but the destruction of society itself. The movement to reduce the work hours is intended by its projectors to give a peaceful solution to the difficulties between capitalists and laborers. I have always held that there were two ways to settle this trouble-either by peaceable or violent methods. Reduced hours- or eight hours - is a peace-offering. It is for capitalists to give or laborers to take. I hold that capitalists will not give eight hours. Why? Because the rate of wages in every wage-paying country is regulated by what it takes to live on; in other words, it is subsistence wages. This subsistence wage is what political economists call the 'iron law of wages', because it is unvarying and inviolable. How does this law operate? In this way: A laborer is hired to do a day's work. In the first two hours of the ten he reproduces the equivalent of his wage; the other eight hours is what the employer gets and gets for nothing. Hence the laborer, as the statistics of the census of 1880 show, does ten work for two hours pay. Now, reduced hours, or eight hours, means that the profit monger is to get only six hours instead of, as now, eight hours for nothing. For this reason employers of labor will not voluntarily concede the reduction. I do not believe that capital will quietly or peaceably permit the economic emancipation of their wage-slaves. It is against all the teachings of history and human nature for men to voluntarily yield up usurped or arbitrary power. The capitalists of the world will for this reason force the workers into armed revolution. Socialists point out this fact and warn the workingmen to prepare for the inevitable.
(8) August Spies, speech at his trial (September, 1887)
The contemplated murder of eight men, whose only crime is that they have dared to speak the truth, may open the eyes of these suffering millions; may wake them up. Indeed, I have noticed that our conviction has worked miracles in this direction already. The class that clamors for our lives, the good, devout Christians, have attempted in every way, through their newspapers and otherwise, to conceal the true and only issue in this case. By simply designating the defendants as anarchists and picturing them as a newly discovered tribe or species of cannibals, and by inventing shocking and horrifying stories of dark conspiracies said to be planned by them, these good Christians zealously sought to keep the naked fact from the working people and other righteous parties, namely: that on the evening on May 4, 200 armed men, under the command of a notorious ruffian, attacked a meeting of peaceable citizens! With what intention? With the intention of murdering them, or as many of them as they could.
(9) George Engel, speech at his trial (September, 1887)
When I left Germany in the year 1873 it was by reason of my recognition of the fact that I could not support myself in the future as it was the duty of a man to do. I recognized that I could not make my living in Germany because the machinery of the guilds of old no longer furnished me a guarantee to live. I resolved to emigrate from Germany to the United States, praised by many so highly.
When I landed in Philadelphia, on the 8th January, 1873, my heart and my bosom expanded with the expectation of living hereafter in that free country which had been so often praised to me by so many emigrants, and I resolved to be a good citizen of this country; and I congratulated myself on having broken with Germany.
For the first time I stand before an American court, and at that to be at once condemned to death. And what are the causes that have preceded it, and have brought me into court? They are the same things that preceded my leaving Germany, and the same causes that made me leave. I have seen with my own eyes that in this free country, in this richest country in the world, so to say, there are existing proletarians who are pushed out of the order of society.
(10) Albert Parsons, speech at his trial (September, 1887)
My ancestors came to this country a good while ago. My friend Oscar Neebe here is the descendant of a Pennsylvania Dutchman. He and I are the only two who had fortune, or the misfortune, as some people may look at it I don't know and I don't care-to be born in this country. My ancestors had a hand in drawing up and maintaining the Declaration of Independence. My great great grand-uncle lost a hand at the Battle of Bunker Hill. I had a great great great grand-uncle with Washington at Brandywine, Monmouth and Valley Forge. I have been here long enough, I think, to have rights guaranteed at least in the constitution of the country.
(11) Albert Parsons, letter to his wife, Lucy Parson (14th September, 1887)
Our verdict this morning cheers the hearts of tyrants throughout the world, and the result will be celebrated by King Capital in its drunken feast of flowing wine from Chicago to St. Petersburg. Nevertheless, our doom to death is the handwriting on the wall, foretelling the downfall of hate, malice, hypocrisy, judicial murder, oppression, and the domination of man over his fellowman. The oppressed of earth are writhing in their legal chains. The giant Labor is awakening. The masses, aroused from their stupor, will snap their petty chains like reeds in the whirlwind.
We are all creatures of circumstance; we are what we have been made to be. This truth is becoming clearer day by day.
There was no evidence that any one of the eight doomed men knew of, or advised, or abetted the Haymarket tragedy. But what does that matter? The privileged class demands a victim, and we are offered a sacrifice to appease the hungry yells of an infuriated mob of millionaires who will be contented with nothing less than our lives. Monopoly triumphs! Labor in chains ascends the scaffold for having dared to cry out for liberty and right!
Well, my poor, dear wife, I, personally, feel sorry for you and the helpless little babes of our loins.
You I bequeath to the people, a woman of the people. I have one request to make of you: Commit no rash act to yourself when I am gone, but take up the great cause of Socialism where I am compelled to lay it down.
My children - well, their father had better die in the endeavor to secure their liberty and happiness than live contented in a society which condemns nine-tenths of its children to a life of wage slavery and poverty. Bless them; I love them unspeakably, my poor helpless little ones.
Ah, wife, living or dead, we are as one. For you my affection is everlasting. For the people. Humanity. I cry out again and again in the doomed victim's cell: Liberty! Justice! Equality!
(12) August Spies, letter to Richard Oglesby, the Governor of Illinois (6th November, 1887)
During our trial the desire of the prosecutor to slaughter me, and to let my co-defendants off with milder punishment was quite apparent and manifest. It seemed to me then, and a great many of others, that the persecutors would be satisfied with one life - namely mine. Take this, then! Take my life! I offer it to you so that you may satisfy the fury of a semi-barbaric mob, and save that of my comrades. I know that every one of my comrades is as willing to die, and perhaps more so than I am. It is not for their sake that I make this offer, but in the name of humanity and progress, in the interest of a peaceable - if possible - development of the social forces that are destined to lift our race upon a higher and better plane of civilization. In the name of the traditions of our country I beg you to prevent a seven-fold murder upon men whose only crime is that they are idealists, that they long for a better future for all. If legal murder there must be, let one, let mine, suffice.
(13) The Chicago Daily News, report on the execution of August Spies, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, and Albert Parsons (12th November, 1887)
Seldom, if ever, have four men died more gamely and defiantly than the four who were strangled today. Every eye was bent upon the metallic angle around which the four wretched victims were expected to make their appearance. A moment later their curiosity was rewarded. With steady, unfaltering step a white-robed figure stepped out from behind the protecting metallic screen and stood upon the drop. It was August Spies. It was evident that his hands were firmly bound behind him underneath his snowy shroud.
He walked with a firm, almost stately tread across the platform and took his stand under the left-hand noose at the corner of the scaffold farthest from the side at which he had entered. Very pale was the expressive face, and a solemn, far-away light shone in his blue eyes. Nothing could be imagined more melancholy, and at the same time dignified, than the expression which sat upon the face of August Spies at that moment.
Spies had scarcely taken his place on the scaffold when his place when he was followed by Fischer. He, too, was clad in a long white shroud that was gathered in at the ankles. His tall figure towered several inches over that of Spies, and as he stationed himself behind his particular noose his face was very pale, but a faint smile rested upon his lips.
Next came George Engel. There was a ruddy glow upon the rugged countenance of the old anarchist, and when he ranged himself alongside Fischer he raised himself to his full height, while his burly form seemed to expand with the feelings that were within him. Engel smiled down at the crowd, and then turning to Deputy Peters, who guarded him, he smiled gratefully toward him and whispered something to the officer that seemed to affect him.
Last came Parsons. His face looked actually handsome, though it was very pale. When he stepped upon the gallows he turned partially sideways to the dangling noose and regarded it with a fixed, stony gaze - one of mingled surprise and curiosity. Then he straightened himself under the fourth noose, and, as he did so, he turned his big gray eyes upon the crowd below with such as look of awful reproach and sadness as could not fail to strike the innermost chord of the hardest heart there. It was a look never to be forgotten. There was an expression almost of inspiration on the white, calm face, and the great, stony eyes seemed to burn into men's hearts and ask: "What have I done?"
The four men stood upon the scaffold clad from top to toe in pure white. For an instant there was a dead silence, and then a mournful solemn voice sounded from behind the right-hand mask, and cut the air like a wail of sorrow and warning. Spies was speaking from behind his shroud. The words seemed to drop into the cold, silent air like pellets of fire. Here is what he said: "There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today."
(14) Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States (1980)
A meeting was called for Haymarket Square on the evening of May 4, and about three thousand persons assembled. It was a quiet meeting, and as storm clouds gathered and the hour grew late, the crowd dwindled to a few hundred. A detachment of 180 policemen showed up, advanced on the speakers' platform, ordered the crowd to disperse. The speaker said the meeting was almost over. A bomb then exploded in the midst of the police, wounding sixty-six policemen, of whom seven later died. The police fired into the crowd, killing several people, wounding two hundred.
With no evidence on who threw the bomb, the police arrested eight anarchist leaders in Chicago. The Chicago Journal said: "Justice should be prompt in dealing with the arrested anarchists. The law regarding accessories to crime in this State is so plain that their trials will be short." Illinois law said that anyone inciting a murder was guilty of that murder. The evidence against the eight anarchists was their ideas, their literature; none had been at Haymarket that day except
Fielden, who was speaking when the bomb exploded. A jury found them guilty, and they were sentenced to death. Their appeals were denied; the Supreme Court said it had no jurisdiction.
The event aroused international excitement. Meetings took place in France, Holland, Russia, Italy, Spain. In London a meeting of protest was sponsored by George Bernard Shaw, William Morris, and Peter Kropotkin, among others. Shaw had responded in his characteristic way to the turning down of an appeal by the eight members of the Illinois Supreme Court: "If the world must lose eight of its people, it can better afford to lose the eight members of the Illinois Supreme
(15) John Peter Altgeld, statement why he was going to pardon Oscar Neebe, Samuel Fielden and Michael Schwab for the Haymarket Bombing (26th June, 1893)
On 1st May, 1886, a number of laboring men, standing not on the street but on a vacant lot, were quietly discussing the situation in regard to the movement (attempts to secure an eight-hour day), when suddenly a large body of police, under orders from Bonfield, charged on them and began to club them; that some of the men, angered at the unprovoked assault, at first resisted but were soon dispersed; that some of the police fired on the men while they were running and wounded a large number who were running as fast as they could; that at least four of the number so shot down died; and this was wanton and unprovoked murder, but there was not even so much as an investigation.
While some men may tamely submit to being clubbed and seeing their brothers shot down, there are some who will resent it and will nurture a spirit of hatred and seek revenge for themselves, and the occurrences that preceded the Haymarket tragedy indicate that the bomb was thrown by someone who, instead of acting on the advice of anybody, who simply seeking personal revenge for having been clubbed, and the Captain Bonfield is the man who is really responsible for the death of the police officers.
It is further shown here that much of the evidence given at the trial was a pure fabrication; that some of the prominent police officials, in their zeal, not only terrorized ignorant men by throwing them into prison and threatening them with torture if they refused to swear to anything desired but that they offered money and employment to those who would consent to do this. Further, that they deliberately planned to have fictitious conspiracies formed in order that they might get the glory of discovering them.
I am convinced that it is clearly my duty to act in this case for the reasons already given; and I, therefore, grant an absolute pardon to Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, and Michael Schwab, this 26th day of June, 1893.
(16) Brand Whitlock was working for John P. Altgeld when he decided to pardon the men convicted for the Haymarket Bombers in June, 1893.
He knew the cost to him; he had just come to the governorship of his state, and to the leadership of his party, after its thirty years of defeat, and he realized what powerful interests would be frightened and offended if he were to turn three forgotten men out of prison; he understood how partisanship would turn the action to its advantage. It mattered not that most of the thoughtful men in Illinois would tell you that the "anarchists" had been improperly convicted, that they were not only entirely innocent of the murder of which they had been accused, but were not even anarchists.
And so, one morning in June, very early, I was called to the governor's office, and told to make out pardons for Fielden, Neebe, and Schwab. I took them over to the governor's office. I was admitted to his private room, and there he sat, at his great flat desk. The only other person in the room was Dreier, a Chicago banker, who had never wearied, it seems, in his efforts to have these men pardoned.
The Governor took the big sheets of imitation parchment, glanced over them, signed his name to each, laid down the pen, and handed the papers across the table to Dreier. The banker took them, and began to say something. But he only got as far as "Governor, I hardly" when he broke down and wept.
I saw the Governor as I was walking to the Capitol the next morning. The Governor was riding his horse - he was a gallant horseman - and he bowed and smiled that faint, wan smile of his, and drew up to the curb a moment. I said: "Well, the storm will break now."
"Oh, yes," he replied, with a not wholly convincing air of throwing off a care, "I was prepared for that. It was merely doing right." I said something to him then to express my satisfaction in the great deed that was to be so willfully, recklessly, and cruelly misunderstood. I did not say all I might have said, for I felt that my opinions could mean so little to him. I have wished since that I had said more, said something that could perhaps have made a great burden a little easier for that brave and tortured soul. But he rode away with that wan, persistent smile. And the storm did break, and the abuse it rained upon him broke his heart.
(17) Lucy Parsons, The Agitator (1st November, 1912)
The Eleventh of November has become a day of international importance, cherished in the hearts of all true lovers of Liberty as a day of martyrdom. On that day was offered to the gallows-tree martyrs as true to their ideal as ever were sacrificed in any age.... Our comrades were not murdered by the state because they had any connection with the bombthrowing, but because they were active in organizing the wage-slaves. The capitalist class didn't want to find the bombthrower; this class foolishly believed that by putting to death the active spirits of the labor movement of the time, it could frighten the working class back to slavery.
(18) Lucy Parsons, The Labor Defender (November, 1926)
Parsons, Spies, Lingg, Fischer and Engel: Although all that is mortal of you is laid beneath that beautiful monument in Waldheim Cemetery, you are not dead. You are just beginning to live in the hearts of all true lovers of liberty. For now, after forty years that you are gone, thousands who were then unborn are eager to learn of your lives and heroic martyrdom, and as the years lengthen the brighter will shine your names, and the more you will come to be appreciated and loved.
Those who so foully murdered you, under the forms of law - lynch law - in a court of supposed justice, are forgotten.
Rest, comrades, rest. All the tomorrows are yours!