Monday, May 20, 2013

Masullo: The Haymarket Affair

Chris Masullo

The Haymarket Affair

The Haymarket affair refers to the bombing that occurred after a labor demonstration on May 4th 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago. The reason that this event is so significant in working class history is because it would lead to the creation of “May Day”, a day of celebration for the international labor movement. By examining the history of The Haymarket Affair it can become much more transparent how a simple protest turned in to a riot that left several dead and over 100 injured and resulted in the execution of four labor activists from the Chicago area.

Before the events of The Haymarket Affair occurred on May 4th, a demonstration was planned by Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in order for workers to protest for an eight hour work day, instead of the ten hour work day that was in place. On May 1st this demonstration took place and included unionized workers from New York City, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago. In addition to the shortening of the work day to eight hours, the protesters wished to still be paid for ten hours work while working for eight hours.
The next development before the events of May 4th took place on May 3rd, when strikers in Chicago gathered near the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company facility. The protestors may have chosen the site because union laborers had been locked out for several months and where now being replaced by strikebreakers.i When the work day ended several striking workers attempted to confront the strikebreakers who where working for McCormick, by crashing the gates that surrounded the facility.ii
When they did this however police officers opened fire and killed two striking workers, the first act of violence in the strike. In response to this act of violence against the striking workers a protest was planned for the night of May 4th. Fliers where printed that called for a meeting of local workers which originally stated “Workingmen arm yourselves and appear in full force!”.iii This was later edited out after the key speaker, August Spies, refused to speak at the event if it was advertised with these fliers.iv However the flier that was then used to advertise the event to workers stated “If you are men, if you are the sons of your grandsires, 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!”.v While this may have been less provocative then the original wording, the message was still the same.
The rally took place with August Spies speaking to a crowd of workers at the mouth of Crane’s alley while a small group of police officers watched on. Around 10:30 p.m. a larger group of police officers numbering around 180 arrived and attempted to break the rally up by telling people to leave and by insisting that Spies stopped While the police were arriving on the scene to disperse the crowd a man by the name of Samuel Fielden took Spies place as speaker at the event and began to address the crowd and said to them “The law is your enemy, we are rebels against it. The law is only framed for those who are your enslavers.”vii Hearing this remark the police took offense and began to break up the crowd that had gathered, what ensued would be the riot at Haymarket Square.
As police attempted to break up the crowd a homemade metal bomb was thrown by an unknown person at the police officers who where making their way towards the crowd of demonstrators. It was at this point that the rally of workers would go down in history as The Haymarket Affair. The bomb that was thrown by an unknown person killed seven police officers and ignited a riot between police and protesters. After the bomb was thrown that killed seven police officers fighting and gunshots broke out between the protestors and police officers. Reports from the incident vary on whether the gun shots where solely from the police, or if it was a mix of police and protesters who where firing at each other.viii In total seven police officers and four protesters lay dead when the fighting stopped with over 100 injured between the two parties.ix
The events that took place after The Haymarket Affair are equally important to understanding the impact that this event had on the working class. In the immediate aftermath of the riot a “Red Scare” gripped the community and lead to great suspicion towards the immigrant working community that was seen as largely responsible for the events at Haymarket Square.x Additionally an investigation by local police began in order to determine who had thrown the bomb at the police officers and bring them to justice.
On May 5th police officers raided the printing offices of a local German paper that was believed to have connections with the bombings. In the raid police arrested August Spies, his brother, Michael Schwab and, Adolph Fischer. During a search of the building the police discovered the original poster that had been printed advocating the workers to be violent and well armed.xi This evidence would later be used to argue that the attack on the police was a premeditated attack that had been organized by the striking workers. An additional police raid occurred on May 7th at the residence of Louis Lingg. During the search of Lingg’s residence police officers found bomb making materials and already assembled bombs.xii This evidence would later be used as the main source of evidence in the prosecution of the men who would stand trial.
When the police raids had finished and the police had gathered their suspects a total of eight men stood trial for the bombing that killed the police officers. The main suspect in The Haymarket Affair was a man named Rudolf Schnaubelt. All eight of the defendants that would stand trial for the riot and the bombing where of foreign heritage. with five of the suspects being German born immigrants. This may have played a role in the trial that would follow as resentment towards immigrants was common during this time period.
The trial that followed began on June 21, 1886 and lasted until August 11 of the same year. The trial however was neither fair nor balanced, with obvious hatred towards the accused by both the judge and the jury.xiii The main argument that the prosecution argued was that since none of the men standing trial had discouraged or tried to stop the person who threw the bomb from throwing the bomb they where all guilty as conspirators to murder.xiv The prosecution stated that evidence retrieved from the bodies of the dead officers matched the same type of materials that where seized from Lingg’s home.
The jury came back with a verdict of guilty for all eight defendants that stood trial, with seven of the defendants being sentenced to death by hanging and another to fifteen years in jail. The sentence made the men into martyrs for the workers movement cause and caused uproar among the working class community. After the trial the defendants filed an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, but it was ultimately rejected.
In June of 1893 then Governor John Altgeld pardoned the two remaining living defendants Fielden and Schwab and issued a statement of reasons for the pardons. He criticized the due process procedures of the trial and the prejudice that Judge Gary exhibited at trial in particular.xv Altgeld must have felt very strongly about either the injustice that was commuted in the court room or the workers movement, because by pardoning the two men he was putting his political life at risk.
To this day no person has been identified as the person who threw the bomb that ignited The Haymarket Affair of 1886. There are several theories floating around that suggest the incident was framed by the police department in order for them to be able to arrest the protesters, but none of these theories have any evidence to back up their claims.
Out of the chaos that was The Haymarket Affair something positive would emerge for the working class the world over. The events of The Haymarket Affair helped to establish the International Labor Day on May 1st which is a date that would be used to honor the men who had lost their lives as part of the riots and subsequent trials. It would also be used as a rallying call for workers to protest for the establishment of the eight hour work day in countries all over the world. By becoming martyrs for the working class the men who stood trial inspired one of the most important events in not just American working class history, but for the working men and women all over the world.

i Francis X. Busch, “The Haymarket Riot and the Trial of the Anarchists,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 48, No. 3 (1908-1984): 249.
ii Ibid.
iii “People’s Exhibit 5,”
iv Busch, “The Haymarket Riot,” 250.
v Ibid.
vi Ibid., 251.
vii Edward de Grazia. “The Haymarket Bomb,” Law and Literature, Vol. 18, No.3 (2006): 289
viii Busch, “The Haymarket Riot,” 251.
ix “Rioting and bloodshed in the streets of Chicago,” New York Times, May 5, 1886, accessed May 1, 2013,
x “The Anarchists Cowed,” New York Times, May 8, 1886, accessed May 1, 2013,
xi Busch, “The Haymarket Riot,” 250.
xii Ibid., 257.
xiii Ibid., 262.
xiv Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy (Princeton University Press: 1984), 271-272.
xv Busch, “The Haymarket Riot,” 269.

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