This is the final installment of a four-part series that I first posted in 2006. The Haymarket bombing in 1886 Chicago gave the powers-that-be the excuse to have the police round up the most prominent labors leaders in the city and imprison them. It's hard to believe that this happened in America... but we can't but wonder how far the abuses of power could go if something similar happened today.
Within hours after someone threw a bomb into a crowd of police and rallying workers near Chicago's Haymarket Square, the mayor of Chicago - Carter Harrison - who just hours before had described the Haymarket meeting as "tame", now declared that:
Our great city cannot expect another day of lawlessness at the hands of the Anarchist forces that endanger our way of life.Even more succinctly, District Attorney Julius Grinnell stated to the press:
We're making the raids first, and looking up the law later!And that's exactly what they did.
Around the city, various labor leaders and so-called anarchists were being arrested. The newspapers only fueled the flames in the city by referring to the labor leaders as "Beelzebub's rag-tag bunch of cutthroats from the Rhine, the Danube, the Vistula, and the Elbe... long-haired, wild-eyed, bad smelling, atheistic, reckless foreign wretches."
Louis Lingg was taken at his apartment where he previously had a bomb-making operation in his kitchen.
George Engel was arrested in the toy shop he ran with his wife and daughter. He did not attend the Haymarket meeting.
Samuel Fielden, working during the day as a stone hauler, was arrested.
August Spies was arrested at the offices of the Arbeiter-Zeitung. Along with co-workers Adolph Fischer and Oscar Neebe.
Rudolph Schnaubelt was arrested in the belief that he was the bomb thrower. Despite the accusations against him, however, he was released and allowed to leave the country and never returned. The commonly held theory is that it was in the best interest of the capitalist power structure that the crime be blamed on Parsons and Spies, not the insignificant Schanubelt.
Only Albert Parsons escaped arrest.
As determined as the city's business leaders were to silence Spies and Parsons, they were equally determined to make sure that they would win the court case against them. Clouding the issue with charges of... for lack of a better phrase, "homeland security,"... the judiciary was bent and twisted to accommodate such fears. The jurors and witnesses admitted on the stand to being bought and paid for.
The business community's tendrils stretched far - not one criminal attorney would defend the accused. Only Captain William Black would accept the case - and he had never tried a criminal case.
As the trial began, Albert Parsons walked heroically into the courtroom and surrendered himself - unable to stand by as his comrades went to trial. Parsons, whose ancestors had been in the country for some 250 years and who had fought in the American Revolutionary War was now charged with being an anarchist bent on destroying society. The irony was not lost on Parsons.
When the sentences were handed down, no one was surprised.
Captain Black successfully appealed to Governor Richard Ogelsby to commute the sentences of three of the defendants.
However, he upheld the death sentences for Parsons, Spies, Engel, Fischer and Lingg.
On the day before their scheduled execution, Louis Lingg exploded a dynamite cap in his mouth, blowing off half his jaw and dying hours later.
The others whistled "Le Marseillaise" as the walked to the gallows.
Their final words -
"Hooray for Anarchy" - FischerThe Sheriff refused Parsons' plea. The trap doors opened and the "voice of the people" would not be heard.
"This is the happiest moment of my life." - Engel
"There will come a time when our silence is more powerful than the voices you strangle today."- Spies
"Let me speak, Sheriff! Let the voice of the people be heard..." -Parsons
Parsons believed that the voice of the people was more powerful than the voice of the corrupt establishment. He feared not because he was sure that there would be many more leaders to take his place.
He was wrong.
The execution of the Haymarket martyrs effectively stalled the American labor movement for decades.
Moreover, their memories were erased from the history books. Parsons et al are barely footnotes in American history.
In 1893, Governor Altgeldt took the bold move of pardoning Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, and Samuel Fielden. After six years in prison, they were given their much deserved freedom.