J. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) Currey.

Chicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.2) online

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The jurors whom the defendants were obliged to accept, after the exhaustion
of their challenges, were Frank S. Osborne, James H. Cole, Charles B. Todd,
Alanson H. Reed, James H. Brayton, Theodore E. Denker, George W. Adams,
Charles H. Ludwig, John B. Griener, Andrew Hamilton, Harry S. Sandford and
Scott G. Randall. Denker, Griener, Adams and Sandford had explicitly stated
their prejudice against the defendants.

Aside from the light these facts throw on the character of the presiding judge,
they indicate the hysterical belief of the general public that American insti-
tutions could only be saved by the hanging of these Anarchists. It was to Chicago
a desperate occasion; the community struck fiercely, without regard to justice, at
what seemed a terrible enemy.

Only as a reflection, perhaps a wholly unconscious reflection, of the popular
clamor for the death of the defendants, can the conduct of the trial be under-
stood and that conduct has been characterized as "malicious ferocity." The trial
judge forced the eight defendants to be tried together ; he ruled every contested
point in favor of the prosecution; he made in the presence of the jury remarks
such as could not fail to influence the latter against the defendants.


The theory of the prosecution was twofold. On the one hand, it presented
an elaborate technical case connecting the defendants with the bomb-throwing,
through the medium of the inflammatory utterances some of them had made in
speech and print. On the other hand, it concocted, with the aid of Johann Most's
sensational story of a "Revolutionary Handbook," a secret Anarchist organization
and plot to capture the city of Chicago.

"It was to begin by the throwing of bombs into the North avenue station and
into other stations in the city. Well drilled men, armed with rifles, were to be
stationed outside to shoot the police as they came out; then the conspirators were
to march inward, toward the heart of the city, destroying whatever should op-
pose them ; the telegraph wires and the hose of the firemen would be cut, and the
reign of Anarchy begin." 2

It was probably the latter story which persuaded the jury to find the de-
fendants guilty. It was this story which largely influenced the supreme court
of the state to refuse a new trial. And it was certainly this story which caused the
public to approve of the verdict ; for this there is the testimony of Judge Gary,
who later declared:

"There is ground for the charge made by those who deny that justice was

2 M. M. Trumbull: "The Trial of the Judgment."


done to Spies and his companions, and who claim them as martyrs for free speech,
that the [popular] approval [of the verdict] was based upon no intelligent
understanding of the conduct of the convicted anarchists, no definite knowledge
of what acts, if any, they had done worthy of death, but was the outcome of
fear that anarchy and anarchists threatened the foundations of society ; and that
from this fear sprung approval of anything which tended to the extirpation of


The tale of a secret Anarchist conspiracy was supported by some perjured
and contradictory testimony. It is not now believed by any judicious person.

The elaborate technical case prepared by the prosecution is best explained in
the words of the trial judge in denying the motion for a new hearing:

"The conviction has not gone on the ground that they did have actually any
personal participation in the particular act which caused the death of Degan,
but the conviction proceeds upon the ground, under the instructions that they had
generally, by speech and print, advised large classes of people, not particular in-
dividuals, but large classes, to commit murder, and had left the commission, the
time, and place, and when, to the individual will and whim or caprice, or what-
ever it may be, of each individual man who listened to their advice, and that in
consequence of that advice, in pursuance of that advice, and influenced by that
advice, somebody not known did throw the bomb that caused Degan's death.
Now, if this is not a correct principle of the law, then the defendants are en-
titled to a new trial. This case is without a precedent; there is no example in
the law-books of a case of this sort. No such occurrence has ever happened be-
fore in the history of the world."

It is impossible to defend this as law or as logic. "Somebody not known did
throw the bomb ... in consequence of that advice, in pursuance of that
iidvice, and influenced by that advice." This is mere assumption. No evidence
was brought to establish it; and no evidence could establish it, in the lack of
proof as to who actually threw the bomb. "It is inconceivable," wrote Judge
Gary, "that the man who threw a bomb made by Lingg, one of the conspirators,
was not by some of those publications or speeches encouraged to do so
This was absurd; it was quite conceivable that the man who threw the bomb (which
was not proved to have been made by Lingg), had never seen or heard a word of
any of these eight men's utterances. It is conceivable that the bomb-thrower
did not know what Anarchism was. It is conceivable that he did it, as was later
suggested to Governor Altgeld, as an act of personal revenge. In short, only
if it could have been shown that the man who threw the bomb had read or heard
and been influenced by the utterances of the defendants, could they have rightfully
been connected with the death of Degan.

But upon this ingenious theory these eight men were charged with murder.
By way of including all the defendants within the limits of responsibility, the
political party to which they belonged was designated an illegal combination or
conspiracy. "The mere fact," wrote Judge Gary, that the defendants were mem-
bers of the International, more or less active in the organization, even though their
action was confined to meetings of the groups, of itself made them conspirators
with the more active members who worked publicly.



The fact which determined the jury's verdict was perhaps the production of
the exhibits: pieces of gas-pipe and dynamite, which had been found everywhere
and anywhere by the police, and certain materials and apparatus for the making
of bombs which had been found in Lingg's room. It was pretty conclusively es-
tablished that Lingg had experimented in the manufacture of bombs, and it was
easy for the jury to deduce his and the other defendants' responsibility for the
fatal Haymarket bomb.

The importance of these exhibits, in comparison to the testimony, is indicated
by Frederick Trevor Hill in an article on "The Chicago Anarchists' Case" in
Harper's Magazine in 1907. "There was much," he said, "to impeach the
story told by the informers. . . . Under skilful cross-examination it was shown
that he [an informant] had confessed and retracted and reconfessed, and very little
reliance would have been placed upon his testimony had it not been supported bv
other proofs. . . ." Again: "Formidable as this evidence appeared to be, it
was badly shattered under cross-examination. The witness, it appeared, had kept
his information to himself for several days after the eyent . . . and his
whole story and his manner of telling it indicated that he was a notoriety-seeker
who had concocted the tale in order to attract public attention and gratify his
pitiful vanity, if not for mercenary motives. Dozens of witnesses subsequently
took the stand and swore that he was a notorious liar who lived by his wits, and
the contrary statements of those who were called to support his reputation for
veracity were utterly unconvincing." Of another witness: "Neither the appearance
of the man who told this tale, nor his record, nor his motives entitled him to credence,
but again the exhibits spoke louder than any words, and corroborated him beyond
hope of contradiction."

The only fact connecting Neebe with the case was his ownership of some stock
in the Arbeiter-Zeitung; it was discussed among the counsel for the state whether
or not the case against him should be dismissed, and decided in the negative, on
account of its possible injurious effect on the case against the other prisoners.

Against all the other defendants, then, except Neebe, the state's attorney, in
his closing speech to the jury, invoked the death penalty.

The jury retired on the afternoon of August 19, and quickly reached an agree-
ment. The sealed verdict, which was brought in the next morning, was as follows:

"We, the jury, find the defendants, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Michael
Schwab, Albert R. Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, and Louis Lingg guilty
of murder in the manner and form charged in the indictment, and fix the penalty at
death. We find the defendant, Oscar W. Neebe, guilty of murder in the manner and
form as charged in the indictment, and fix the penalty at imprisonment in the peni-
tentiary for fifteen years."

This judgment was affirmed in the fall of 1887 by the supreme court of the state,
to which an appeal was taken. An appeal to the supreme court of the United States
(in which Leonard Swett, Lincoln's old associate, appeared for the defense) was
dismissed on the ground of no jurisdiction. Some of the men thereupon petitioned
the governor for executive clemency ; and the sentences of Schwab and Fielden were
commuted to life imprisonment. Lingg committed suicide Nov. 10th, by exploding a
dynamite cartridge in his mouth.








On Nov. 11, 1887, Spies, Fischer, Engel and Parsons were hanged at the county
jail. When the death caps had been adjusted, each man made a brief speech. Spies
said : "There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices
you strangle today." Engel cried: "Hurrah for anarchy!" Fischer said: "This
is the happiest moment of my life." Parsons: "Will I be allowed to speak, O men
of America? Let me speak, Sheriff Matson. Let the voice of the people be heard!


On June 26, 1893, Fielden, Neebe and Schwab were pardoned by Governor
Altgeld. He held that the jury was packed; that the jurors were not competent and
that the trial was not a legal trial; that the defendants were not proved guilty of the
crime charged in the indictment; and that there was reason to believe the judge
guilty of unfairness and subserviency.

Almost immediately after the conclusion of the trial, there began to be a reaction
of popular sentiment. Chicago had begun to feel somewhat remorseful for using
like a giant her giant's strength. Meetings were held, petitions signed and pamphlets
written in favor of the condemned men. The height of the period of reaction came
a little later. It has been described by Jane Addams:

"When I first came to Chicago, in 1889, the events of the Haymarket riot were
already two years old, but during that time Chicago had apparently gone through
the first period of repressive measures, and during the winter of 1889-90, by the
advice and with the active participation of its leading citizens, had reached the con-
clusion that the only cure for the acts of anarchy was free speech and an open dis-
cussion of the ills of which the opponents of government complained.

"... Great open meetings were held every Sunday evening in the recital hall
of the then new Auditorium, which were presided over by such representative citizens
as Lyman Gage, and where every possible shade of opinion was freely expressed.
A man who spoke constantly at these meetings used to be pointed out to the visiting
stranger as one who had been involved with the group of convicted anarchists, and
as one who doubtless would have been arrested and tried but for the accident of his
having been in Milwaukee when the explosion occurred.

"One cannot imagine such meetings being held in Chicago today ..."

The immediate result of the Haymarket riot was to destroy Mostism, and to give
to the Anarchist movement a setback from which it has never recovered. At the
same time it served as a warning to the Socialist movement to purge itself of Anar-
chist tendencies, and to hold fast to its prime doctrine of progress by political
methods. By virtue of holding to this doctrine, and after a hard struggle to make
clear its non-Anarchist position to the people of the United States, the Socialists
have, within 24 years after the Haymarket riot, achieved representation in congress,
and gained control of a large city, Milwaukee, and of many small cities. That is to
say, one of the main currents of the American revolutionary working-class move-
ment has confined itself to a purely political channel ; the other, flowing through the
channel of trade unionism, seems about to break for itself a new course, in some kind
of "industrial" organization: and with these two methods, the method of political
action and the method of democratic and efficient organization, appears to lie the
future of the American working-class.


Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.2) → online text (page 55 of 55)