Haymarket Bombing


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Haymarket Bombing

The Haymarket bombing remains one of the largest acts of terrorism committed on U.S. soil.

On May 1, 1886, the International Working Peoples Association (IWPA) called a strike throughout the United States in support of an eight-hour workday. On May 3 the IWPA in Chicago held a rally outside the McCormick Harvester Works, where 1,400 workers were on strike. Soon, 6,000 strikers from other manufacturers joined the crowd to hear a speech by August Spies, one of the IWPA’s leaders. Chicago police arrived and fired into the crowd, killing four men.

On May 4 Spies published a leaflet in English and German entitled Revenge! Workingmen to Arms! in which he called upon the striking workers to show courage and not meekly accept the supreme will of their employers. If they were men, Spies challenged, they would rise up in their might and destroy the hideous monster that sought to destroy them. Later that day Spies distributed another leaflet calling for a mass protest that evening at Haymarket Square.

Over three thousand people came out for the labor protest and enthusiastically cheered speeches by Spies, Albert Parsons, and Samuel Fielden. When Captain John Bonfield and 180 policemen arrived on the scene, Bonfield order the crowd to disperse immediately and peaceably. Before the mass of protesters had an opportunity to comply or resist, someone threw a bomb into the police ranks from one of the alleys that led into Haymarket Square. The blast killed eight men and wounded sixty-seven others.

If the police had been looking for a pretext to make some arrests, the terrible crime that had just been committed more than provided a reason to retaliate against the protesters. In the carnage that followed, two hundred people were injured. The exact number of those killed has never been disclosed.

Numerous witnesses identified Rudolph Schnaubelt as the assailant who had thrown the bomb. In spite of the number of individuals who swore to Schnaubelt’s guilt, he was arrested, held for a brief time, then released without any charges being filed against him. After his release, the authorities took seven leaders of the revolutionary and libertarian socialist movement into custody: Samuel Fielden, who was English, and six German immigrants—August Spies, Adolph Fisher, Louis Lingg, George Engel, Oscar Neebe, and Michael Schwab. There was also a warrant for Albert Parsons, Chicago head of the IWPA, but he had gone into hiding. Although dozens of witnesses swore that none of these men had thrown the bomb, the case against them was that they had made incendiary speeches and written inflammatory articles that had led the unnamed bomb-thrower to attack the police at Haymarket Square.

During the trial, Parsons emerged from hiding to stand alongside his comrades. The jury heard testimony from various reporters who had attended IWPA meetings and claimed to have heard the accused urge their followers to use violence to obtain political change. A detective from the Pinkerton agency testified that he had infiltrated the group and heard the leaders of IWPA advocating violence to overthrow the system. State’s Attorney Julius Grinnell instructed the jury to convict the eight men and make an example of them.

Parsons, Spies, Fisher, Lingg, and Engel were given the death penalty and ordered to be hanged. Neebe, Fielden, and Schwab were sentenced to life imprisonment. On November 10, 1887, Lingg committed suicide by exploding a dynamite cap in his mouth. Parsons, Spies, Fisher, and Engel were hanged the following day.

Many people in Chicago believed that the leaders of the IWPA had not received a fair trial. Several investigators who made a serious study of the case claimed that Rudolph Schnaubelt had been hired to throw the bomb by representatives of the businesses under strike restrictions. In 1893 John Peter Altgeld, newly elected governor of Illinois, issued pardons to Oscar Neebe, Samuel Fielden, and Michael Schwab.

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