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[Detail] The anarchist riot in Chicago

Collection Overview

Chicago Anarchists on Trial: Evidence from the Haymarket Affair, 1886-1887, presents original manuscripts, broadsides, photographs, prints and artifacts regarding the Haymarket Affair, an 1886 conflict between labor protestors and members of the Chicago police force. Materials document the events leading up to the May 1886 riot, the arrest and trial of those accused of throwing a bomb that killed several police officers, and the appeal process for those convicted of the bombing including the eventual pardon of those convicted. This collection is held by the Chicago Historical Society.

Special Features

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  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915

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Historical Context: Industrialization and Urbanization in the Post-Civil War United States

The collection's Special Presentation, The Dramas of Haymarket, is a thorough, interactive overview of the events and issues of the Haymarket affair. It includes information about the historic changes of industrialization and urbanization in the post-Civil War United States, which provided the backdrop for the radicalization of labor and the events of the Haymarket affair.

Read this Special Presentation's Prologue and Act I: Subterranean Fire to learn more about these historical changes. For example, the prologue explains the impact of industrialization on American workers:

"The trajectory of industrial capitalism tended towards larger workplaces with layers of supervision, increased use of technology, and division of the manufacturing process into discrete parts that required limited skills and training. Labor correctly understood this trajectory as a threat to the worth and power of the individual worker, who was becoming an interchangeable, cheap, and readily replaceable cog in a system driven by the logic of production and profit."

From Prologue: Whither America? The Dramas of Haymarket.

  • In what ways did industrialization change the nature of work in the United States?
  • Why did American laborers perceive industrialization as a threat?
  • How did they respond to this threat?
  • In what other ways did industrialization affect American society and culture?

In addition to concerns over industrialization, three economic depressions between 1873 and the early 1890s added to the anxieties of the American working class. During this period of turmoil, however, "No phenomenon . . . so profoundly raised the question of where America was going as did urbanization." The Prologue continues:

"During the last two-thirds of the nineteenth century, the United States was to a significant extent transformed from a largely rural republic with a relatively homogeneous population to a polyglot urban nation. American urbanization gathered astonishing momentum as the decades unfolded. In the last thirty years of the nineteenth century, both the number of communities defined by the federal census as urban and the number of people living in such places tripled."

From Prologue: Whither America? The Dramas of Haymarket.

This unprecedented change in American society raised many concerns, from the dangers posed by cities' gas mains and electrical wires to fears about crime, poverty, and political corruption. A chart illustrating the urban growth that transformed American society offers statistics about Chicago, which epitomized the rapidly growing cities of the post-Civil War United States.

  • In what ways was Chicago's growth typical of cities of nineteenth-century America?
  • What spurred the growth of American cities like Chicago in the late-nineteenth century?
  • Where did Chicago's new population come from?
  • What was the relationship between immigration and class divisions?
  • Why would urbanization have a negative impact on the economy?
  • In what other ways did urbanization shape American society and culture?
  • How did urbanization affect the working class?

For more on the industrialization and urbanization of the United States during the post-Civil War era, see Alan Trachtenberg's Incorporation of America, presented as an electronic hypertext on the University of Virginia's American Studies web site.

The Labor Movement and its Radicalization

The American working class responded to the threatening influences of urbanization and industrialization by organizing unions. Through unions, members of the working class came together in a national movement to demand stable wages, shorter work days and safer work conditions. Read Act I: Subterranean Fire in the Special Presentation, The Dramas of Haymarket, and search on strike to learn more about workers' efforts in the U.S. and abroad to create change through protests and demonstrations that often ended in violence.

  • What were labor activists' goals? How did they attempt to achieve them?
  • What kinds of opposition did union organizations and labor activists face and why?
  • Why do you think that labor demonstrations so often ended in violence?

Within the labor movement, opinions differed about how best to improve the condition of the working class. Socialists, communists, and anarchists took the most radical approaches to labor reform, calling for the destruction of the entire capitalist system. Act I: Subterranean Fire discusses the history, principles, and practices of these groups.

  • What distinguished radical from non-radical labor groups?
  • What was the common ground among radical groups such as socialists, communists, and anarchists?
  • What ideas and methods characterized the anarchists?
  • On what points did anarchists disagree with other radicals?
  • What factors contributed to some laborers' support for anarchy and communism in the 1880s?
  • Why was the labor movement popularly portrayed as un-American?

Use the Subject Index heading, Clippings, to browse articles that were published in Chicago's anarchist and socialist newspapers, The Alarm and Arbeiter-Zeitung, and that reflect the principles and practices of anarchism. For example, "Anarchy vs. Government," provides a definition of anarchy. The Pittsburgh Manifesto, issued by the Pittsburgh Congress of the International Working People's Association on Oct. 16, 1883, and published in The Alarm the following month, is an appeal to workingmen to rebel against the capitalist system.

"Our present society is founded on the expoliation of the propertyless classes by the propertied. This expoliation is such that the propertied (capitalists) buy the working force body and soul of the propertyless, for the price of the mere costs of existence (wages) and take for themselves, i. e., steal, the amount of new values (products) which exceeds this price, whereby wages are made to represent the necessities instead of the earnings of the wage-laborer. . . .The increasing eradication of working forces from the productive process annually increases the percentage of the propertyless population, which becomes pauperized and is driven to "crime", vagabondage, prostitution suicide, starvation, and general depravity. This system is unjust, insane and murderous. It is therefore necessary to totally destroy it with and by all means, and with the greatest energy on the part of every one who suffers by it and who does not want to be made culpable for its continued existence by his inactivity."

Illinois vs. August Spies et al. trial evidence book. People's Exhibit 19, the Alarm (Newspaper) article, "To the Workingmen of America," 1884 Nov. 1 (page 1).

  • How does the Alarm article define anarchy and government?
  • What argument does this article make for anarchy and against government?
  • Why do you think that The Alarm's November 1, 1884 article introduces the Pittsburgh Manifesto by invoking Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence?
  • What comparison is this introduction suggesting? Do you think that it is a sound comparison? Why or why not?
  • To what does the Pittsburgh Manifesto attribute sinking wages?
  • What accusations does the Pittsburgh Manifesto make against the propertied class?
  • According to the Pittsburgh Manifesto, what must be done to relieve the working class and how should it be accomplished?

The Eight-Hour Workday Movement

One of the largest labor campaigns was the demand for an eight-hour workday. In 1869, Congress enacted legislation and President Ulysses Grant issued a proclamation guaranteeing a stable wage and an eight-hour workday for government workers throughout the nation. This encouraged laborers in private industries to obtain a similar agreement.

Corporate America, however, was not easily pressured into granting an eight-hour day and only a few workers in the shoemaking and tobacco industries had achieved it by the mid-1880s. The press referred to the movement for a shorter workday as un-American and the result of radical foreign agitators.

  • What does this illustration from Harper's Weekly suggest about the press' representation of the labor movement?

Nevertheless, labor organizations persisted and in 1886 called for a national strike on May 1 to demand the shorter workday. Search on eight-hour for a variety of materials related to this movement, including discussions in Chicago's English language anarchist newspaper The Alarm, and its German language socialist newspaper Arbeiter-Zeitung about the eight-hour movement and the protest planned for May 1, 1886. One reader shared his opinions in a letter to the editor of Arbeiter-Zeitung:

"The eight hour question is not, or at least should not be, the final end of the present organization, but in comparison to the present state of things, a progress not to be underrated. But, now let us consider the question in itself, How is the eight day to be brought about. Why, the thinking, working man must see himself, under the present power of capital in comparsion to labor, it is impossible to inforce the eight hour day in all branches of business otherwise than armed force. With empty hands the working man will hardly be able to cope with the representatives of the club in case after the first of May of this year, there should be a general strike. Then the bosses will simply employ other men, so called 'scabs', such will always be found.

The whole movement then would be nothing but filling the places with new men, but if the working men are prepared to eventually stop the working of the factories to defend himself with the aid of dynamite and bombs against the militia, which will of course be employed; then and only then you can expect a thorough success of the eight hour movement. Therefore, working men, I call upon you, arm yourselves."

People's Exhibit 85, Arbeiter-Zeitung (Newspaper) article, "Letter signed R. B.," 1886 Jan. 22.

Another writer, in an article published September 5, 1885, took the position that "Shortening the hours of labor is no real remedy. It still leaves people in the condition of masters and servants . . . But suppose you succeed, will not increasing machinery soon reduce your situation and leave you to fight the battle all over?"

A month later, August Spies, manager of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, gave a speech articulating his support of the national protest in spite of his own skepticism about the eight-hour movement, as reported in the Alarm:

"Whereas a general move has been started among the 'Organized Wage-workers' of this country for the establishment of an eight-hour work day, to begin on May 1st, 1886; and

Whereas, it is to be expected that the class of professional idlers, the governing class, who prey upon the bones and marrow of useful society, will resist this attempt by calling to their assistance the Pinkertons, the Police and State Militia; therefore be it

Resolved, that we urge upon all wage-workers the necessity of procuring arms before the inauguration of the proposed eight-hour strike in order to be in a position of meeting our foe with his own argument, force.

Resolved, that while we are skeptical in regard to the benefits that will accrue to the wage-workers from the introduction of an eight-hour work-day, we nevertheless pledge ourselves to aid and assist our brethren in this class struggle with all that lies in our power as long as they show an open and defiant front to our common enemy, the labor devouring class of aristocratic vagabonds, the brutal murderers of our comrades in St.Louis, Lemont, Chicago, Philadelphia and other places. Our war cry may be 'death to the enemy of the human race, our despoilers.'"

People's Exhibit 51, The Alarm (Newspaper) article, "Eight Hours," 1885 Oct. 17 (page 3).

  • What reasons did working people have for wanting to limit the workday to a maximum of eight hours?
  • What did writers in The Alarm and Arbeiter-Zeitung suggest was necessary to make the national strike on May 1, 1886, effective?
  • What criticisms did anarchists and socialists writing in The Alarm and Arbeiter-Zeitung have of the eight-hour movement?
  • To what degree did these labor radicals support the movement in spite of their concerns and why?

Chicago was tense in the weeks leading up to May 1, 1886. Newspapers reported inflammatory stories on labor warfare, and the police and Pinkertons (a private security company) were on constant alert. A few employers negotiated agreements with their workers at this time, but on May 1, tens of thousands of workers in Chicago, and hundreds of thousands of workers across the nation walked out for the day. Although the Chicago protest remained nonviolent, the Chicago Mail singled out the leaders of the demonstrations as dangerous agitators, advising, "Hold them responsible for any trouble that occurs. Make an example of them if trouble does occur."

  • Why did the anticipation of the national eight-hour strike cause so much tension in Chicago?

The McCormick Riot

On Monday, May 3, 1886, the first workday after the national eight-hour strike, a riot broke out at a labor protest held outside of Chicago's McCormick Reaper Works, in which police shot and killed six workers. Act II: Let Your Tragedy Be Enacted Here in the Special Presentation, The Dramas of Haymarket, summarizes the riot.

It explains that while the striking workers of McCormick's factory had assembled outside the Reaper Works to heckle the non-union workers or "scabs" brought in to replace them, a second meeting of the Lumber Shovers' Union had assembled a few miles away on Black Road. The manager of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, August Spies, was addressing the lumber workers, when a portion of his audience broke away to join the striking McCormick workers. It was not long before Spies heard shots being fired in the vicinity of McCormick's factory and rallied some of his audience to join him in investigating the disturbance.

According to Spies' account of the riot, an article called "Blood," published the next day in the Arbeiter-Zeitung, soon after he heard the first shots, ". . . about 75 well fed, large and strong murderers, under the command of a fat police lieutenant, were marching towards the factory, and on their heels followed three patrol wagons besides, full of law an order beasts. 200 policemen were on the spot in less than 10 or 15 minutes, and the firing on fleeing workmen and women resembled a promiscuous bush-hunt." Spies continues, describing the arrival of the lumber workers:

"It was in the neighborhood of half past three o'clock when the little crowd of between two and three hundred men reached McCormick's factory. Policeman West tried to hold them back with his revolver. A shower of stones for an answer put him to flight. He was so roughly handled that he was afterwards found about one hundred paces from the place, half dead and groaning fearfully. The small crowd shouted: 'Get out you D-----d scab, you miserable traitors,' and bombarded the factory windows with stones. The little guard house was demolished. The 'Scabs' were in mortal terror, when at this moment the Hinman street patrol wagon, summoned by telephone, came rattling along with thirteen murderers, when they were about to make an immediate attack with their clubs, they were received with a shower of stones. 'Back, disperse,' cried the lieutenant, and the next minute there was a report.

The gang had fired on the strikers. They pretend subsequently that they shot over their heads. But be that as it may, a (few of the strikers had little snappers of revolvers, and with these returned the fire. In the meantime other detachments had arrived, and the whole band of murderers now opened fire on the little company - 20,000, as estimated by the police organ, The Herald, while the whole assembly scarcely numbered 8,000."

People's Exhibit 63, Arbeiter-Zeitung (Newspaper), "Blood," 1886 May 4 (page 5).

Search on McCormick for a variety of materials about the incident.

  • What, according to The Dramas of Haymarket, are the basic facts about the McCormick riot? What were the actions of the striking McCormick workers, Spies, and the police?
  • Compare Spies' report with Lieutenant West's testimony about the riot given during the Haymarket trial.
  • What are the major discrepancies between Spies' and West's accounts of the riot?
  • To whom did Spies and West each attribute the first shots that were fired?
  • Whom does each hold accountable for the riot?
  • What should a reader take into account in judging the truth of each of these reports?
  • What viewpoints are represented in the illustration of the riot?

According to Spies' report, Cyrus McCormick, owner of the Reaper Works commented, "August Spies made a speech to a few thousand anarchists It occurred to one of these 'brilliant heads' to frighten our men away. He put himself at the head of a crowd, which then made an attack upon our works. Our workmen fled, and in the meantime the police came and sent a lot of anarchists away with bleeding heads."

  • According to this statement, whom does Cyrus McCormick hold responsible for the violence at his factory?

After the riot, Spies went to the Arbeiter-Zeitung office and wrote a reaction to the day's events, which he entitled "Workingmen to Arms!" It was published in his report, "Blood," the next day, and distributed as a broadside with the additional title, "REVENGE!" added by the typesetter without Spies' knowledge. That same evening, several anarchist leaders meeting at Grief's Hall decided to protest the police's violence in a meeting the next evening near Haymarket Square on Randolph Street.

A search on McCormick or revenge circular provides many transcripts of testimony provided during the Haymarket trial. Use the "find" or "search" option in your browser's Edit menu to locate the portions of testimony dedicated to these topics. Analyze testimony by August Spies and some of the witnesses called on behalf of the prosecution.

  • What does this testimony indicate about how the prosecution used the McCormick riot and the "revenge circular" to make their argument against the defendants?
  • How did the defense attempt to counter these aspects of the prosecution's argument?
  • How did the prosecution use the anarchists' meeting at Grief's Hall to make their case against the defendants?

The Haymarket Riot

Enraged by the killings at the McCormick factory, a group of anarchists meeting at Grief's Hall that night decided to hold a protest the following evening near Haymarket Square on Randolph Street. The next morning, one of those anarchists, Adolph Fischer, arranged with August Spies, manager of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, to publish broadsides advertising the meeting. Spies also agreed to speak at the meeting, on the condition that Fischer remove an inflammatory phrase from the broadside. Nevertheless, copies of the original broadside were still distributed and eventually used in the prosecution of the eight labor radicals, including Fischer and Spies, who were accused of inciting the bombing that would take place that night near Haymarket Square.

  • Why was the controversial phrase, "Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force," so important to the prosecution's case?
  • How could the defense have used the revised broadside to make its case?

Two or three thousand people gathered at Haymarket Square on the evening of May 4, but the crowd was smaller than hoped. It was even beginning to disperse when Spies finally arrived a half hour late, not realizing that he was the first and only speaker engaged for the meeting. Spies sent his friend Balthasar Rau to the Arbeiter-Zeitung office to recruit more speakers, commandeered a wagon for a speaker's stand, and opened a meeting that gave little sign of the drama in which it would end.

Refer to Act II: Let Your Tragedy Be Enacted Here in the Special Presentation, The Dramas of Haymarket, for a summary of the meeting at Haymarket Square and the riot that ensued. For a wide variety of materials related to the riot, browse the Subject Index headings beginning with Haymarket Square. Search on the names of individuals such as Mayor Carter Harrison, who attended the meeting; Inspector John Bonfield and Captain William Ward, who led the police activity; and August Spies, Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden, who addressed the crowd, for each man's testimony about the historic events at Haymarket Square.

According to his testimony, Mayor Carter Harrison attended the Haymarket meeting in order to avoid "a recurrence of such proceedings as were at McCormick's factory" the day before. He planned to disperse the meeting himself if it looked like it might erupt into violence. But as a witness for the defense, he testified that as the speeches were coming to a close, "nothing had occurred yet, or looked likely to occur to require interference."

Police Inspector John Bonfield at the nearby Des Plaines Street police station had amassed a force of 175 officers at the station in case of an uprising. He had also put his reserves on alert in other parts of the city in response to a rumor that the Haymarket meeting was planned as a diversion while other violence was to be perpetrated else where. Harrison checked in with Bonfield at about 10 p.m. and both agreed that the meeting was about to end without incident. Bonfield told Harrison that he had called off his reserves and Harrison headed for home. Nevertheless, within a half hour, Bonfield moved his force of 175 from the Des Plaines station into the streets toward Haymarket Square.

When Bonfield's force arrived, the third and final speaker, Samuel Fielden, was telling a thinning crowd that he would finish up, as rain clouds gathered above. In his testimony before the court about three months later, Fielden recalled:

"I do not think I should have spoken one minute longer, when I noticed the police. I stopped speaking and Captain Ward came up to me, and he raised his hand —; and I do not remember now whether he had anything in his hand or not —; and he said: 'I command this meeting, in the name of the People of the State of Illinois, to peaceable disperse.' I was standing up, and I said 'Why Captain, this is a peaceable meeting,' in that tone of voice, in a very conciliatory tone of voice, and he very angrily and defiantly retorted that he commanded it to disperse, and called, as I understood —; I didn't catch those words clearly —; he called up the police to disperse it. Just as he turned around in that argry mood I jumped from the wagon and said 'All right, we will go,' and jumped to the side walk. . . . Then the explosion came."

Illinois vs. August Spies et al. trial transcript. Volume M [Witnesses for the Defense, August 5-7, 1886]. Testimony of Samuel Fielden (first appearance), 1886 Aug. 6. (page 316)

A bomb of dynamite was thrown into the ranks of the police, killing one policeman, Officer Matthias J. Degan, and fatally wounding seven more. Compare Fielden's account to Captain Ward's testimony in which he recalls that the crowd around the speakers' wagon initiated the gunplay that followed the explosion. The writer of the Special Presentation, The Dramas of Haymarket, Professor Carl Smith, concludes:

"The state's witnesses maintained that the bombing was instantly succeeded (some said preceded) by gunfire from the crowd, and that the police valiantly held their position and returned fire. But the weight of the testimony and evidence suggests that, understandably terrified by the blast, the policemen initiated the gunplay, firing every which way, including into their own ranks. While several of their number besides Degan appear to have been injured by the bomb, most of the casualties seem to have been caused by bullets. About sixty officers were wounded in the riot, as well as an unknown number of civilians. Among the latter were Samuel Fielden and August Spies's brother Henry, who were both hit by gunfire but managed to get away. . . .Others tried to escape as quickly as they could, scattering in all directions as the police used their pistols and clubs indiscriminately."

From Act II: Let Your Tragedy Be Enacted Here , The Dramas of Haymarket.

The riot ended as the police carried their injured to the Des Plaines Street station where physicians were called in to give medical treatment. Seven officers and at least four workers were killed in the riot and many others sustained life-altering injuries.

  • How did the prosecution seek to portray the events of the Haymarket meeting and riot?
  • How did the defense seek to portray these events?
  • What factors contributed to the violence in which the meeting ended?
  • Who do you think was responsible for this violence?
  • Do you agree with Professor Smith that the "weight of the testimony and evidence suggests that . . . the policemen initiated the gunplay?" Why or why not?
  • How did contemporary illustrations portray the events at Haymarket?
  • What liberties did the artists take?
  • Do the illustrations accurately represent the events at Haymarket? Why or why not?
  • What bias, if any, is revealed in these illustrations?

The Trial: State of Illinois v. August Spies, et al.

The explosion of the bomb near Haymarket Square reverberated throughout the nation. Along with foreign agitators, the Knights of Labor union was blamed for the bombing. Members of the executive board of the Knights of Labor in Milwaukee were arrested for conspiracy, as were members in Pittsburgh and New York.

In Chicago, police conducted searches and raids without warrants, arresting scores of labor organizers. A grand jury indicted nine of them — August Spies, Albert Parsons, Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Oscar Neebe, and Rudolph Schnaubelt — for the murder of Officer Matthias J. Degan. The indictment named Schnaubelt as the bomb-thrower, but he evaded arrest and the police never actually proved who threw the bomb. Albert Parsons also escaped arrest but eventually turned himself in, unable to live at liberty while his associates were facing trial and probable conviction.

  • According to Act III: Toils of the Law of the Special Presentation, The Dramas of Haymarket, what role did Chicago's prominent businessmen play in the city's response to the riot?
  • Why do you think the public allowed the police to make such widespread arrests and to do so without any warrants?
  • What do the arrests made throughout the nation in response to the bombing at Haymarket Square suggest about labor strife?

Chicago labor radicals arranged for the anarchists' legal defense, led by William P. Black, an accomplished attorney and highly decorated Civil War veteran. Because of the publicity and passion surrounding the case, the defense and prosecution agreed upon the appointment of a special bailiff, Henry Ryce, to select a pool (or venires) of jurors. Search on jury for a number of materials including the court's discussion regarding Ryce's appointment.

Unfortunately, Ryce selected potential jurors based on recommendations of business managers and company supervisors, amounting to a conspiracy against the defense. Judge Joseph Gary refused to dismiss these obviously biased jurors, forcing the defense to exhaust all of its 160 peremptory challenges and still face a jury comprised largely of middle-class, native-born salesmen, small businessmen, and clerks. Read the oral arguments presented by defense attorney Black before the Illinois Supreme Court regarding this jury selection. Search on examination to read transcripts of the questioning of the potential jurors, called the voir dire, which consumed over twenty-one days of the fifty-four-day trial.

  • What was the nature of the questioning of jurors?
  • How many jurors were familiar with the case?
  • How many had formed opinions prior to being selected as jurors?
  • What attempts did defense attorneys make to remove jurors for cause?

The state's case and the defense's response are summarized in Act III: Toils of the Law of the Special Presentation, The Dramas of Haymarket. The defense thwarted the prosecution's attempts to link Spies and Schnaubelt to the bomb directly and State's Attorney Julius Grinnell proceeded to argue that the defendants were responsible for the explosion anyway. He presented the theory of an elaborate conspiracy through which the defendants, in the days, weeks, months, and even years leading up to the Haymarket riot, incited the bombing. A discussion by the court regarding the admission of certain evidence articulates the prosecution's claims of conspiracy as well as the defense's arguments against the charge. Judge Gary articulated the state's position that:

"If there was a general combination and agreement among a great number of individuals to kill policemen if they came in conflict with the parties who they were the friends of — meetings of workingmen and strikers — if there was a combination and agreement to kill the police if they were attempting to preserve the peace—if there was such a combination and agreement among a great number of men, the object of which was something beyond mere local disturbance, it don't make any difference whether their object was to create a new form of civil society or not — if there was this combination and agreement among a great number of people, and preperation for it, to assault and kill the police upon some occasion which might occur in the future, and whether the proper occasion had occurred was left to the parties who used the violence at that time, and then that violence was used and resulted in the death of the police, everybody who is a party to that combination and agreement is guilty of the results."

Illinois vs. August Spies et al. trial transcript. Volume I [Witnesses for the State, July 16-21, 1886]. Court discussion regarding the defense's objection to the admission of certain pieces of evidence, 1886 July 16 (page 93)

  • Upon what events and evidence did the prosecution draw to present its charge of conspiracy?
  • How convincing do you find the prosecution's argument of conspiracy and culpability?

Defense attorney Black and his team refuted the charges of murder and conspiracy based the state's inability to identify the bomb-thrower and thus connect the defendants directly with the bomb and the murder of Degan. He argued that the defendants' actions were inconsistent with the conspiracy charged against them and laid the blame for the riot on Inspector Bonfield. Black took his defense to its logical conclusion in a statement to the Supreme Court of Illinois:

"It is argued by the gentlemen upon the other side that the testimony in this record shows a universal conspiracy against the established order of society, The International. They are compelled logically, in supporting the position for which they contend, to go to the length which they have stated before your Honors (but I venture to say it is a proposition which never before found enunciation in a court) that every man throughout the world who is touched with this great discontent of labor, and has joined the International in its efforts to produce a change in existing social conditions, is guilty of this murder which was on trial last summer in Cook County. That is their position. That is the ground they have taken."

August Spies et. al., plaintiffs in error vs. the people of the state of Illinois, defendants in error. Error to the Criminal Court of Cook County : indictment for murder, oral argument of W. P. Black for plaintiffs in error (page 12).

Use the Transcripts and Exhibits Index to examine evidence and testimony used in the trial, such as an article in The Alarm providing instructions on the use and operations of dynamite, a photograph of a bomb, the testimony of William Seliger regarding bomb construction, and the defense's attempts to discredit this witness and question his motives for testifying . Search on Alarm for radical newspaper articles, commentaries, and advertisements that were entered as evidence against all defendants and especially Albert Parsons, who was editor of The Alarm, an English language anarchist paper.

  • Why was William Seliger called to testify?
  • How did the defense attempt to discredit the witness?
  • Why did Judge Gary rule against the defense?
  • What arguments did Fielden, Schwab, Spies, and Parsons present in their testimony?
  • What do you think was the purpose of this testimony?
  • What reasons might the prosecution have had for entering so many articles from the Arbeiter-Zeitung and The Alarm into evidence?

Use the Subject Index heading, Criminal courts - Illinois - Chicago to access Judge Gary's instructions to the jury in reaching a verdict, and the jury's verdict of guilty, condemning Neebe to 15 years of hard labor and the rest of the defendants to execution by hanging.

The Appeal, Execution, and Pardon

Act IV and Act V of the Special Presentation, The Dramas of Haymarket, provide a detailed account of the events that followed the conviction of the eight defendants, beginning with defense attorney Black's appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. Search on Illinois Supreme Court for a variety of materials including Black's assignment of errors, listing the injustices of State of Illinois v. August Spies, et al. The Illinois Supreme Court outline of proceedings summarizes the appeal, in which attorney Leonard Swett represented the anarchists, while the Decision in response to the Writ or Errors presents the Illinois Supreme Court's lengthy decision to uphold the verdict reached in Judge Gary's court.

While Black and Swett appealed to the Court, the Defense Committee Fund, which had arranged for the anarchists' legal defense, appealed to the public through rallies and publications. The convicted made their own appeals from prison, writing autobiographies and creating the Anarchist Publishing Association, which published the speeches they had made in Judge Gary's court before sentencing. From prison cell 29, Albert Parsons made "An appeal to the people of America," extolling the cause of labor and defending articles from the Alarm that had been used against him during the trial.

Public support for the convicted grew over time. After the Illinois Supreme Court made its decision and set a new execution date of November 11, 1887, the Amnesty Association got tens of thousands of signatures to press Governor Richard Oglesby to grant the prisoners clemency. When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the Haymarket verdict on November 2, the governor's clemency became the prisoners' final recourse. In order for the governor to grant clemency, however, the prisoners would have to petition him for forgiveness. Fielden and Schwab both did so, followed by Spies, who later withdrew his petition after being accused of cowardice. Lingg, Fischer, Engel, and Parsons refused to petition the governor, with Parsons demanding "liberty or death."

  • Why would Lingg, Fischer, Engel, and Parsons have refused to petition the governor for clemency?
  • What statement was Parsons making in echoing American Revolutionary Patrick Henry's call for "liberty or death"?

Five days before the execution, bombs were found in Lingg's cell. On November 9, lawyers filed for an insanity hearing on his behalf, but the next morning Lingg killed himself by detonating a bomb in his mouth. Search on suicide for two depictions of the tragedy. The same afternoon, Governor Oglesby commuted the sentences of Fielden and Schwab to life in prison, but was unmoved by attorney Black's final appeal for clemency on behalf of the others.

  • How do the illustrations and their captions represent Lingg's suicide?

The bombs found in Lingg's cell did nothing to assuage fears that labor radicals would make one final attempt to rescue the condemned or commit a reprisal. Heavy security was in force at the jail and other locations throughout the city on the day of the execution. Reporters had kept the Haymarket story alive throughout the appeal process and appeared in full force on the day of the execution. Search on Frank Leslie's Illustrated and Pictorial West for illustrations of the prisoners' final visits, preparations for the hanging, and the four figures of Fischer, Engel, Parsons, and Spies in hooded shrouds before the gallows. Search on execution for other items, such as telegrams reporting the hangings.

On November 12, the bodies of the executed were publicly displayed. The following day, a large crowd gathered to watch as funeral coaches transported the bodies to Waldheim Cemetery for burial. Search on funeral and grave for illustrations of the solemn events.

After paying tribute to the dead, many supporters turned their attentions to Fielden, Schwab, and Neebe. The Amnesty Association swelled to a membership of 100,000 people as it continued to represent the prisoners over the years. Finally, on June 26, 1893, Governor John Peter Altgeld granted absolute pardon to the prisoners in a thorough statement condemning the errors made in State of Illinois v. August Spies, et al. Search on Altgeld for his portrait, statement of pardon, and the editorial cartoon below.

  • What were Governor Altgeld's reasons for issuing the pardon shortly after assuming office?
  • Why did Altgeld consider the jury to have been "packed"? What evidence did he give in the pardon message to support that belief?
  • What were the governor's views of police activity at Haymarket?
  • Why did Altgeld hold Captain John Bonfield responsible for the death of police officers at Haymarket?
  • What criticisms did the governor express regarding Judge Gary and his rulings during the trial?
  • What are the symbols used in the cartoon of Governor Altgeld? How do they portray the governor and his action?
  • What does the cartoon reveal about the depth of feeling regarding the Haymarket affair seven years later?


Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking

The Haymarket affair lends itself to exercises in chronological thinking. The Special Presentation, Haymarket Affair Chronology presents the series of events through a timeline while the Dramas of Haymarket provides a detailed narrative. Examine both and consider the following questions:

  • Why do you think both renditions of the Haymarket affair begin with the protest for an eight-hour workday on May 1?
  • Has the creator of the Haymarket Affair Chronology left anything important out or included anything unnecessary or confusing?
  • Examine The Dramas of Haymarket for possible bias.
  • What are the benefits of the formats of each of these Special Presentations?

Users of this collection can better understand the Haymarket affair by taking into account the ideas as well as the events that comprised its historical context. Consider the following questions:

  • How did the Chicago police view the anarchist movement?
  • What factors prompted the police to monitor labor rallies?
  • Why did the socialist and anarchist press advise workers to defend themselves against the police?
  • What was the mood of Chicago's political and business establishment on the eve of the Haymarket Square rally?

Expand your understanding of the context of the Haymarket affair by researching labor and management relations during the post-Civil War era. Use the following questions to learn more:

  • Why was the Knights of Labor organized?
  • How effective was this labor organization in garnering support from workers?
  • To what extent did European immigrants avowing radical and anarchist views influence the American labor movement in the 1870s and 1880s?

Test your comprehension of the chronology of the Haymarket affair by explaining this historical topic to someone unfamiliar with it.

Historical Comprehension

The trial of the eight defendants held responsible for the bombing near Haymarket Square included several controversies. The prosecution and defense presented different views on the significance of the anarchist meeting at Grief's Hall, the "Revenge Circular," and Fielden's statement, "We are peaceable." The full transcript of the proceedings from the trial allows readers insight into the controversies debated in court.

For example, the most fundamental controversy was, perhaps, the incendiary nature of the rally held near Haymarket Square on the night of May 4. Read police inspector John Bonfield's report to Frederick Ebersold, General Superintendent of Police, describing the events that took place that evening and compare it with the trial testimony of Carter Harrison, Mayor of Chicago. Bonfield explains the perceived threat that led him to disperse the labor rally, while Mayor Harrison, a witness for the defense, testifies that the rally posed no immediate threat.

  • What was Bonfield's view of the nature of the Haymarket rally?
  • Why did he order police to disperse the meeting?
  • To what extent did Bonfield and Mayor Harrison assess the rally similarly?
  • How do their two accounts of the rally differ?
  • What might account for the differences in the way Bonfield and Harrison perceived or described the rally?

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

The collection includes several images portraying the events and issues that were central to the Haymarket affair. Search on Morand for a series of paintings commissioned by Congress depicting the demonstrations at the McCormick Reaper Works on May 3 and at Haymarket Square on May 4. Search on Nast for a series of political cartoons published in Harper's Weekly. Search on engravings for other similar illustrations. Analyze some of these images and consider the following interpretive questions.

  • To what extent do the Morand paintings provide an accurate account of the conflicts on May 1 and 4?
  • Do these paintings reveal a particular point of view about the conflicts?
  • What point of view does Thomas Nast communicate in his cartoons?
  • How does Nast portray the Chicago police? How does he portray anarchists?
  • How did other popular illustrations portray the people, events, and issues of Haymarket?
  • What techniques do Nast and the other cartoonists use to convey their opinions about the Haymarket affair?
  • How do paintings and cartoons help shape public sentiment toward a historical event?
  • How would you expect these illustrations to have influenced public opinion about the bombing at Haymarket and the trial that followed?

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making

Review the events leading up to the Haymarket riot and evaluate alternative courses of action that might have been taken to avoid the violent confrontation. Assume the role of different civic and labor leaders and propose a plan of action to defuse the escalating tensions in Chicago. Begin by searching on eight-hour and reading articles from Arbeiter-Zeitung and The Alarm that reflect the labor tensions in Chicago in the months leading up to the May 1 eight-hour workday protest.

  • What factors contributed to labor tensions in Chicago in the months leading up to May 1886?
  • What could have been done to alleviate these tensions?
  • How could civic, business, and labor leaders have worked together to defuse the situation in Chicago prior to the May 1 eight-hour workday?
  • What would have been necessary to get these groups to agree to a plan?
  • What would have been necessary to defuse the situation in Chicago after the eight-hour workday protest? What would have been necessary after the McCormick riot?

Analyze the interests of various factions in Chicago on the eve of the violence at Haymarket Square and assess the decisions by anarchists to call the meeting and by police to disperse the meeting.

  • Why do you think that the anarchists assembled at Grief's Hall decided to call the meeting on May 4? Why might they have chosen Haymarket Square as the location?
  • What were the possible consequences of these decisions?
  • Would any other actions have achieved the same objectives?
  • Why do you think that Inspector Bonfield decided to disperse the meeting near Haymarket Square?
  • What were the possible consequences of this decision?
  • Would any other actions have achieved the same objectives?
  • What legal measures could have been taken to prevent the outbreak of violence?
  • What restrictions, if any, could have legally been placed on demonstrations?
  • What measures could have been taken to restrict police activity?

Historical Research Capabilities

With its wealth of primary sources, this collection is an unequalled resource for researching the Haymarket affair. The Special Presentations of the Chicago Historical Society's website also provide invaluable help in such study. In addition, the collection is an excellent resource for researching the development of radicalism in the labor movement and the bitter conflicts between management and labor in the 1880s.

The collection may also inspire research into topics that are not thoroughly covered in this collection but figure prominently in the history of the labor movement. For example, the collection provides the preamble and declaration of principles of the Knights of Labor of America, one of the earliest workers' unions. Research the union and its role in promoting the eight-hour workday. Examine the goals of the Knights of Labor and explain the impact of violence at Haymarket Square on the union.

Users of the collection may also want to research the role of the Pinkerton Agency in suppressing strikes in the United States during the post-Civil War era.

  • What role did the Pinkerton Agency play in suppressing strikes in Chicago prior to Haymarket?
  • What was organized labor's reaction to the "Pinkertons"?


Arts & Humanities

Image Analysis: Symbolism

Congress enacted legislation establishing the first national eight-hour day for government workers and President Ulysses Grant issued the following proclamation, "I, U.S. Grant, President of the United States, do hereby direct that from this date no reduction shall be made in the wages paid by the government by the day, to such laborers, workers, & mechanics on account of such reduction of the hours of labor. In testimony whereof, &c., done at the City of Washington, this 19th Day of May, the year of our Lord, 1869 & of the Independence of the United States."

Grant's proclamation was published on a broadside contained in this collection. Read the text of the proclamation and use the higher resolution JPEG version to analyze the symbolism of this broadside.

  • Who or what do you think the two seated figures in this image represent? What do their clothes or the objects around them suggest about their meaning?
  • Why might the artist have depicted a beehive in the middle of the composition? What might this symbol represent?
  • What objects and scenes are drawn immediately to the sides of the beehive? What is their connection to the national eight-hour law or the issue of labor?
  • Describe the background landscape. Why is there a difference between the right and left sides of the background?
  • Why might the artist have placed the proclamation in a star? Where else do stars appear in this image?
  • What is the meaning of the single eye above the proclamation?
  • What is the meaning of the eagle at the top? What is suggested by its placement at the top of the image?
  • What is drawn in the horizontal window at the bottom of the image? What does this suggest about the eight-hour law or labor?
  • What does the artist's choice of symbols suggest about the national eight-hour law?

Public Speaking

One of the items in this collection provides the opportunity to read the courtroom speeches of the eight Haymarket defendants, some of whom were experienced public speakers. In his autobiography, August Spies refers to himself as "an oral agitator among the wage-workers," while Fielden and Parsons were accomplished enough to address the meeting at Haymarket Square on a moment's notice.

These courtroom speeches were published in The Accused of the Accusers: The Famous Speeches of Eight Chicago Anarchists in Court. Select segments from several of the speeches for dramatic reading, such as Neebe's appeal to be executed rather than be given 15 years imprisonment; Parson's opening by reciting a poem or his suggestion that the bomb had been thrown by anti-labor agitators; or the conclusion of Spies' speech in which he declares:

"Now, these are my ideas. They constitute a part of myself. I cannot divest myself of them, nor would I, if I could. And if you think that you can crush out these ideas that are gaining ground more and more every day, if you think you can crush them out by sending us to the gallows-if you would once more have people suffer the penalty of death because they have dared to tell the truth-and I defy you to show us where we have told a lie-I say, if death is the penalty for proclaiming the truth, then I will proudly and defiantly pay the costly price! Call your hangman! Truth crucified in Socrates, in Christ, in Giordano Bruno, in Huss, Gallileo [sic.], still lives-they and others whose number is legion have preceded us on this path. We are ready to follow!"

From The Accused, the accusers : the famous speeches of the eight Chicago anarchists in court when asked if they had anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon them. On October 7th, 8th and 9th, 1886, Chicago, Illinois.

  • How did each speaker use the opportunity to address the court?
  • How effective were the speeches as arguments against the sentencing?
  • What else do you think the defendants might have wanted to achieve through their speeches?
  • What techniques did each speaker use to achieve his goals?
  • What are the differences in the language, tone, and organization of each speech?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each speech?
  • Why do you think that the socialist press decided to publish these speeches?

Radical Rhetoric

The collection contains transcripts of numerous articles published in the socialist and anarchist newspapers, Arbeiter-Zeitung and The Alarm. They provide the opportunity to examine the rhetoric that the radical factions of the labor movement developed to communicate ideas and create change.

Search on Arbeiter-Zeitung and Alarm for over 200 articles. The great number of these articles entered as evidence in the Haymarket trial is evidence of the prosecution's effort to base the anarchists' guilt on their use of incendiary radical rhetoric. Read articles such as "Seat of War" and "Wage Slavery" ) and "Blood," August Spies' response to the McCormick riot.

"Men of labor, this afternoon the bloodhounds of your oppressors murdered six of your brothers at McCormick's. Why did they murder them? Because they dared to be dissatisfied with the lot which your oppressors have assigned to them. They demanded bread, and they gave them lead for an answer, mindful of the fact that thus people are most effectually silenced. You have for many, many years endured every humiliation without protest, have drudged from early in the morning till late at night, have suffered all sorts of privations, have even sacrificed your children. You have done everything to fill the coffers of your masters — everything for them! and now, when you approach them and implore them to make your burden a little lighter, as a reward for your sacrifices they sent their bloodhounds, the police, at you, in order to cure you with bullets of your dissatisfaction. Slaves, we ask and conjure you by all that is sacred and dear to you, avenge the atrocious murder which has been committed upon your brothers to-day, and which will likely be committed upon you to-morrow. Laboring men, Hercules, you have arrived at the crossway. Which way will you decide. For Slavery and hunger, or for freedom and bread? If you decide for the latter, then do not delay a moment; then, people to arms! Annihilation to the beasts in human form who call themselves rulers! Uncompromising annihilation to them! This must be your motto. Think of the heroes whose blood has fertilized the road to progress, liberty and humanity, and strive to become worthy of them!"

People's Exhibit 63, Arbeiter-Zeitung (Newspaper), "Blood," 1886 May 4 (pages 8 and 9).

  • Who was the intended audience of Arbeiter-Zeitung and The Alarm? What do you think was the general mission of these newspapers?
  • How would you characterize the rhetoric of the labor radicals?
  • What vocabulary from these articles stands out?
  • What are the effects of this choice of vocabulary?
  • How would you expect different audiences, such as civic leaders, police, workers, and businessmen to have reacted to this language?
  • What kinds of sources do radical writers quote? What is the impact of such references?
  • Do you think that this rhetoric was meant to incite violence? Why or why not?

The Subject Index heading labor union meetings provides articles from Arbeiter-Zeitung that reported on labor meetings, often excerpting or summarizing speeches that were made. Along with these articles, the defendants' testimony and courtroom speeches provide opportunities to compare the radicals' use of rhetoric in print and in public speaking.

  • To what extent did the defendants use radical rhetoric in the courtroom? What reasons would they have had to use or not use such rhetoric?
  • What do you think was the role of rhetoric in the radical labor movement and how important was it?
  • What role do you think radical rhetoric played in creating the atmosphere of tension in Chicago in the months leading up to the Haymarket affair?
  • To what extent do you think that radical rhetoric was responsible for the violence at the McCormick factory and Haymarket Square?
  • Do you agree with the prosecution in State of Illinois v. August Spies et al. that the incendiary nature of this rhetoric made the defendants responsible for the bombing near Haymarket Square? Why or why not?

The Press and the Labor Movement

This collection provides the opportunity to examine the role of the press in the Haymarket affair and to consider its relationship to the labor movement in the late- nineteenth century. Begin by reading an untitled article , published in Arbeiter-Zeitung, chargingthat "The Chicago Times, in league with all other capitalistic papers, endeavors to bring dissention to the locked-out wage-slaves of McCormick by opposing the Anarchists."

In his courtroom speech, Parsons also excoriated the Chicago press, blaming it for contributing to the passion that surrounded the Haymarket trial, making a just verdict impossible:

". . . there are those who claim to represent public sentiment in this city, and I now speak of the capitalistic press-that vile and infamous organ of monopoly of hired liars, the people's oppressor-even to this day these papers, standing where I do, with my seven condemned colleagues, are clamoring for our blood in the heat and violence of passion."

From The Accused, the accusers : the famous speeches of the eight Chicago anarchists in court when asked if they had anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon them. On October 7th, 8th and 9th, 1886, Chicago, Illinois.

  • What claims do Parsons and the writer of the untitled article in Arbeiter-Zeitung make about the Chicago press?

Act IV: The Voice of the People from the Special Presentation, The Dramas of Haymarket, summarizes the press coverage of the Haymarket affair during the process of appeal:

"In search of personal interest stories, the Chicago daily newspapers frequently reported the visits from members of the anarchists' families. They described the 'affecting scenes' in the prison in terms that humanized the inmates, whom on other occasions these same papers characterized as beasts and cowards. The reporters usually pointed out that the heartbreak they witnessed in the Cook County Jail was another of the terrible costs of anarchy. They also made much of the talk that women were fascinated with the two handsome bachelors on death row, the brooding Louis Lingg and the elegant August Spies. The papers noted with interest Lingg's visits with a young German woman named Elise Friedel, and they had a field day with Spies's prison courtship of the daughter of a Chicago businessman, Nina Van Zandt, whom Spies married by proxy on January 29, 1887."

From Act IV: The Voice of the People, The Dramas of Haymarket

  • How would you characterize the Chicago press' coverage of the Haymarket affair?
  • What do illustrations from popular publications such as Harper's Weekly, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, and The Pictorial West indicate about press coverage of the Haymarket affair?
  • What do these examples suggest about the relationship between the American press and the labor movement?

Do further research outside of the collection to learn more about the role of the press in the Haymarket affair and in the development of the labor movement in the late-nineteenth century.

American Literature: William Dean Howells and the Haymarket Affair

At first, support for the eight defendants in the Haymarket trial came mainly from members of the anarchist and socialist communities, who arranged for a legal defense. After the defendants received their sentence, however, they began to garner more widespread support. Nevertheless, the country's journalists and other writers remained unsympathetic, with the exception of novelist, William Dean Howells. America's leading man of letters, Howells risked his reputation by publicly denouncing the Haymarket verdict and calling for clemency.

Howells followed the Haymarket affair closely in the press and it made a profound impression on him. In a private letter, he remarked that the trial and execution of the anarchists was an "atrocious piece of frenzy and cruelty for which we should be ashamed." Do research to find out more about Howells's position on the Haymarket affair. Read a synopsis of one of Howells's social novels, The Minister's Charge (1887), Annie Kilburn (1888), A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), or A Traveler from Altruria, (1894) which were influenced by the Haymarket affair as well as by the writings of Leo Tolstoy.

  • What influence do prominent writers have on public perceptions of historic events? How are their opinions perceived by the public and why?
  • How did the characters in Howells' novels convey his views on labor organizations and American Socialism?
  • How does knowing about the history of the Haymarket affair enrich your appreciation of Howells' work?