Thursday, May 9, 2013
Reyes: Martyrs of the Haymarket Affair
Martyrs of the Haymarket Affair
A lot of our working class history is under discussed or not discussed enough. Some
because it’s believed its unimportant, other reasons thought to be it didn’t affect anything in the
United States. The Haymarket affair is an example of a part of history that is somewhat hazy, but
the results being felt worldwide. Men and women fighting for the eight-hour day that U.S.
workers have today and the injustice that was serviced to them when they were just fighting for
their basic rights.
The beginning for the fight that so many Americans were fighting for started on May 1st,
1886, it was the start of the movement to shorten the work day into eight hours. The Haymarket
affair started way before that fateful day, evidence shows that on April 30th, it was announced
they were to fight for what was truly theirs, “the decisive day has arrived. The laboring man,
born up and inspired by the justice of his cause, knocks at the doors of his oppressors and
demands an alleviation of his lot, a lessening of his burden, a slight restriction of the robbery of
which he is victim.”1 Stirring up the working man, to try and get them to see that what was being
done to them was unjust.
“As long as you slavishly acknowledge the gracious kicks of your oppressors with words
of gratitude and humility, as long as you created treasures without murmur and laid them most
submissively in their laps, so long ye poor blind ones were faithful dogs.”2 As long as nothing
was said or that they keep making the oppressors believe that they were all grateful for what was
given to them, nothing will change.
To say in the least that these people were fighting for something that was already to be in
effect since 1867, yet it was being withheld from them and the difficulties and long work days
were still in effect for the people of Illinois because “the feudal government failed to enforce its
own law, and in Illinois, employers forced workers to sign waivers of the law as condition of
employment.”3 The very same government known for its democracy and freedom was making its
working conditions horrible and wasn’t keeping hold of its laws.
The workers as to not getting what they rightfully had as a law decided that enough was
enough and on Saturday May 1st, 1886, “Chicago with its strong labor movement had the
nation’s largest demonstrations, when reportedly 80,000 workers marched up Michigan Ave, arm
in arm carrying their union banners."4 and thus began the strike in the Haymarket where the
freedoms and liberties were being fought for. Yet not only was the Haymarket affair about
getting an eight hour day, it was held for many other reasons that the working class was being
denied, “the real issues were freedom of speech, press, assembly, and right to a fair trial by a jury
of peers and the right of workers to organize and fight for things like the eight hour day.”5
The next day as the strike and speeches were to be given by its leaders or the ones
thought to be the leaders, Lucy and Albert Parson and Augustus Spies, the demonstration from
the back of a wagon was held not in the Haymarket itself, but an alley nearby it. Albert and
Augustus both gave speeches “for almost an hour denouncing the capitalist system.”6 But was
interrupted by the rain that started to fall, forcing everyone that had attended the demonstration
to leave, including the parsons and their children, heading to Zepf’s a well -known meeting place
for them all.
As Samuel Fielden, “another well -known activist,”7 gave his speech to the little amount
of people that followed them into Zepf’s. The well-known incident of the Haymarket affair
occurred. “More than 170 police officers marched into the area and ordered for those assembled
to disperse.”8 As Fielden stepped down from the podium, a bomb was thrown, still until this day
is not known by whom, at the officers. Chaos ensured as the police being attacked opened fire,
injuring and killing not only those present in the area, but their own fellow police officers.
Matthias J. Degnan was killed instantly when the bomb was thrown. Many were wounded, as
their no actual number as to how many civilians died but six other police officers were wounded,
mostly by the flying bullets from the guns fired by their fellow officers than the actual bomb
As this incident occurred, mayhem happened many people or even people thought to be
associated with what happened at the Haymarket were arrested. “Illegal searches were conducted,
and rights of free speech and assembly were drastically curtailed.”9 Because of the violence that
went on, on that night and the public too scared to really find out what actually happened agreed
with whatever the government thought and their response to such chaos. Eight men were
eventually caught and brought to trial as those involved in the Haymarket affair. Albert Parson
being one of the eight flees the city, later to rejoin the other seven at the trial itself.
Flyers gave examples and reasons for fighting, to think of themselves and their children
and how their own children are and will be treated in the same way they were, they would have
to work long hours just to be able to sustain themselves for a living. “You have for years endured
the most abject humiliations; you have endured the pangs of what and hunger; your children you
have sacrificed to the factory-lords. You have been miserable and obedient slave all these years:
why? To satisfy the insatiable greed, to fill the coffers of your lay thieving master.”10 These
enraged the workingmen, as to the truth and realism of what was being done to them as well as
their own children. The sacrifice of their lives and bodies and when their wants became bigger
than those of their bosses, they were killed and shut up for them. The violence showing them
who really was in charge.
A lot of working men became angry at all the outrage that was occurring, they wanted
revenge and more flyers went up to encourage those who were afraid or needed courage to keep
the fighting going on. “Your masters sent out their bloodhounds – the police-; they killed the
poor wretches, because they, like you had the courage to disobey the supreme will of their bosses.
They killed them, because they dared ask for the shortening of the hours of toil.”11 The bosses
wanting order back and wanting the workers to see that they had no power.
On August 20, 1886, the eight men, Albert Parson, Augustus Spies, Oscar Neebe, Louis
Lingg, George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Michael Schwab, and Samuel Fielden, were found guilty.
Despite that some of the men weren’t even in the vicinity of the happening and that the
government really didn’t have any evidence on who threw the bomb. The only thing that seemed
to prove to people was the fact that they were advocating violence and needed to be punished
for it. Seven of the eight men were sentenced to the death penalty and Neebe was sentenced to
fifteen years imprisonment. The day before their execution Lingg committed suicide by
“exploding a smuggled detonator cap in his mouth.”12 This is somewhat controversial since he
was waiting to hear if he would be pardon for the injustice that he was given.
Samuel Gompers tried to have the trial appealed, it didn’t work but this appeal being so
publicly shown forced governor Oglesby to relent the sentence to life imprisonment to Samuel
Fielden and Michael Schwab. The others weren’t so lucky as their fate day appeared and on
November 11, 1887 Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Albert Parson and Augustus Spies were
hanged. On the very same day, only “a selected few of more than 170 people,”13 actually saw the
execution. And for the burial at Waldheim cemetery that was waiting for those hanged were
followed with more than 200,000 to 500,000 people. Only for years later, “in June of 1893,
Governor John p. Altgeld pardoned the remaining three men of the Haymarket eight and
condemned the entire judicial system that allowed this injustice.”14 The result of the governor
doing the right thing was him also becoming a victim for it, as it cost him his political career.
May 1st became an important day in history known as Labor day, due to all that happened.
“it was internationally put aside in the memory of the Haymarket martyrs, and the injustice of the
Haymarket affair.”15 Though May 1st was proclaimed Law day later down the years. It is still an
important day until this day was eventually achieved, and the basic rights were violence and
without rightful justice It is a part of how hard people worked to get to where we are today.
1 Zeitung, Arbeiter. “Illinois vs. Augustus Spies at trail, evidence book, People’s Exhibit 71.” July 31, 1886. Pg. 1 www.chicagohistory.org/hadc/transcript/exhibits/X051-100/X0710.htm
2 Zeitung, Arbeiter. “Illinois vs. Augustus Spies at trail, evidence book, People’s Exhibit 71.” July 31, 1886. Pg. 1 www.chicagohistory.org/hadc/transcript/exhibits/X051-100/X0710.htm
3 Adelman J. William. “The Story of The Haymarket Affair” Pg.1 by Illinois Labor History Society
4 Adelman J. William. “The Story of The Haymarket Affair” Pg.1by Illinois Labor History Society
5 Adelman J. William. “The Story of The Haymarket Affair” Pg.3 by Illinois Labor History Society
6 “Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930: The Haymarket Affair (1886)” Pg. 1 http://homicide.northwestern.edu/historical/movements/haymarket/
7 “Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930: The Haymarket Affair (1886)” Pg. 1 http://homicide.northwestern.edu/historical/movements/haymarket/
8 “Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930: The Haymarket Affair (1886)” Pg. 1 http://homicide.northwestern.edu/historical/movements/haymarket/
9 “Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930: The Haymarket Affair (1886)” Pg. 1 http://homicide.northwestern.edu/historical/movements/haymarket/
10 “Your Brothers” Image.
11 Flyer “Your Brothers” Image.
12 “Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930: The Haymarket Affair (1886)” Pg. 2 http://homicide.northwestern.edu/historical/movements/haymarket/
13 “Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930: The Haymarket Affair (1886)” Pg. 2 http://homicide.northwestern.edu/historical/movements/haymarket/
14 “Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930: The Haymarket Affair (1886)” Pg. 2 http://homicide.northwestern.edu/historical/movements/haymarket/
15 Adelman J. William. “The Story of The Haymarket Affair” Pg. 3