Chapter Thirteen

Every Man on the Jury Was an American

MAY 28, 1886–AUGUST 21, 1886

WHEN TWO WELL-KNOWN Chicago socialists formed a defense committee for the eight accused anarchists during the heat of the red scare, they seemed to be embarking on a perilous journey. Yet Dr. Ernest Schmidt, the respected physician who ran as a socialist candidate for mayor in 1879, and George Schilling, the influential labor leader and eight-hour advocate, decided to swim against the roaring stream of public condemnation. Both men had vociferously criticized the anarchists for their violent words and ultramilitant demands, but they knew some of the accused men well enough to believe in their innocence. Schilling and Schmidt began quietly by raising funds in the immigrant union halls to pay for the legal services of two young lawyers from the Jewish community who had represented the Central Labor Union and many of its members after they were arrested in the police roundup that began on the day after the bombing.1

Moses Salomon, a twenty-eight-year-old bachelor, lived with his parents on the West Side. Raised in Peoria, Illinois, he attended public schools there and then went to Chicago to work in his father’s grocery business. He clerked in a law office, and entered the city’s Union Law School, where he prepared to pass the bar. Sigmund Zeisler, a year younger than Salomon, was born in Austria of German parents and resided on the North Side with his wife, a pianist. He had lived in the United States for just four years but had learned English quickly while in law school, where he won a prize for the best thesis. Salomon and Zeisler, who formed a partnership in 1885, were considered excellent “book lawyers” but novice defense attorneys. Leaders of the city’s German-Jewish community had kept a distance from the labor wars that afflicted the city during the previous decade, but with Salomon and Zeisler on the anarchist case, the city’s Jews may have felt themselves being pulled much closer to the fray.2

Because the two young lawyers were so inexperienced, Schmidt tried to persuade a pair of leading criminal lawyers to take the case; they refused, fearing the consequences for their practices. Eventually, the doctor found a way to convince a corporate lawyer named William Perkins Black to lead the team. A native of Kentucky and a descendant of Scotch-Irish from Ulster, Black had studied in Indiana, where he lived at the outbreak of the Civil War. He volunteered for the army and served under Union general Lew Wallace, then moved to Illinois, where he helped recruit an infantry company with which he saw combat as a captain. Black’s battlefield heroics earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor before he turned twenty. After the war, the captain entered a profitable law practice in Chicago. Like his friend Carter Harrison, the lawyer engaged in Democratic Party politics and, with his wife, Hortensia, enjoyed the social life that flourished in the city’s West Side Kentucky colony. An open-minded man, Black had once expressed sympathy for the Russian populists on trial for killing the czar, and had shown an interest in socialism, which he called the “cry of the people.” He had heard Schilling speak on the subject, and he had been introduced to Spies and Parsons, though he had not studied their ideas.3

The captain’s surprising decision to lead the defense team meant that the Blacks would be ostracized, excluded from polite society. Black also knew that his action would entail “an almost total sacrifice of business.” But he made his decision and stuck to it, and Hortensia backed him up. Black’s “act of heroism”—Attorney Zeisler’s words—gave the defense a brilliant and respected lead counsel.

William Black was not a criminal defense attorney, however, so he set out to find a partner who could play that role. It took him three days to locate a trial lawyer who would join him—a criminal defense attorney named William A. Foster, who had arrived in the city from Iowa a few months before.4

On June 5, 1886, the grand jury presented its report to the court. It read: “We find that the attack on the police of May 4 was the result of a deliberate conspiracy, the full details of which are now in the possession of the officers of the law.”5 Five days later Captain Black asked the sitting judge to recuse himself because of prejudicial statements he had made. The new judge, Joseph Eaton Gary, was a sixty-five-year-old native New Yorker, first elected to the Cook County Superior Court in 1863. Highly regarded as a lawyer and an impartial judge, he seemed to Black as good a choice as any, at least until Gary rebuffed Black’s request for a delay in the trial. The proceedings would begin, as planned, on June 21.6

In the meantime, Black had entered into secret discussions with Lucy Parsons concerning the whereabouts of her husband. “Never had a fugitive from justice been more systematically hunted,” wrote one chronicler of the trial, but, though police forces far and wide had been on Parsons’s trail, they had not run him down.7 Black argued that, rather than maintaining the appearance of guilt by hiding, Parsons ought to turn himself in and stand trial. After all, there was no evidence to link him to the bombing. It took some time for the captain to persuade Lucy on this point, but she finally agreed and sent out word to Albert that there were good reasons for him to return to Chicago.

For the previous six weeks Parsons had lived in secrecy and safety in Wisconsin, but all the while he endured the agony of being separated from his family and comrades, escaping the wrath they all endured in the city. He believed, as he later told a friend, that if he surrendered he “could never expect to be a free man again.” Nonetheless, he left Waukesha on June 20 to meet his fate in Chicago. Still disguised, he jumped off the train on the North Side and made his way to a friend’s house, where he met Lucy and the children for a joyful, tearful reunion.

On June 21, just six weeks after the bombing, the trial began, with scores of reporters in attendance. After the courtroom filled, the prisoners took their seats near the defense team. Black moved to quash the indictments and to hold separate trials for each defendant, but both motions were denied. Then, after the lunch recess, the proceedings resumed, and at about half past two that afternoon Albert Parsons calmly walked into the courtroom. Well dressed, his face tanned, his hair once again jet black, he made a dramatic entrance prepared to give a speech to the judge proclaiming his innocence and his willingness to face trial. One of the prosecutors immediately recognized him, however, and the state’s lead attorney, Julius Grinnell, rose and said: “Your honor, I see Albert R. Parsons in the courtroom. I move that he be placed in the custody of the sheriff.” Black strenuously objected that Parsons was there to surrender himself and that Grinnell’s action was “gratuitous and cruel.”8 Judge Gary would not allow Parsons to address the court, however, and so, as the buzz of excitement wound down, the prisoner silently took a seat with the other defendants, who were surprised and excited by the appearance of their leader. These unexpected developments sent reporters rushing for the door to telegraph the story of the infamous fugitive’s return. The stage was now set. The characters had taken their places, and the courtroom throbbed with excitement as the highly anticipated proceedings got under way.9

After Parsons’s stage entrance, the courtroom calmed down and jury selection began. Because the normal, random process of selecting jurors had broken down, a special bailiff was charged to find jurors. The process went on for three weeks, and it went badly for the defendants, because the jurors who were seated seemed utterly biased against them.10 Black objected over and over to jurors who seemed clearly prejudiced against his clients, but, again and again Judge Gary refused to accept Black’s challenges for cause, even in the case of a juror who admitted kinship with one of the slain policemen. Nearly every juror called by the special bailiff stated that he had read and talked about the case and believed what he had heard or read about the defendants. Some even stated frankly that they thought the defendants were guilty. When these men admitted as much during the jury selection process, the defense attorneys rejected them one after another until they had exhausted their quota of challenges for cause.

In some cases, Judge Gary worked hard to convince jurors who admitted to bias against the anarchists that they could, nonetheless, be fair. In one instance Gary nearly browbeat a potential juror into saying he believed he could render a fair judgment in the case, even after the man insisted he felt handicapped. Several of the twelve jurors finally selected were men who had candidly admitted they were prejudiced, but each, when examined by Judge Gary, was persuaded to say that he believed he could hear the case fairly nonetheless.11 To Black and the defense team, Gary’s procedure in the lengthy jury selection process seemed blatantly unfair, but the press praised all of the judge’s rulings and blamed the defense for needlessly delaying the start of the trial. When the twelfth juror was finally chosen, the newspapers cheered.12

The dozen men seated in the jury box came from similar walks of life and held similar views of the anarchists. H. T. Sandford, who lived in the town of Oak Park and worked for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, admitted to having an opinion as to the throwing of the bomb and the necessity of convicting the defendants and was in that sense prejudiced, but he still thought he could hear the case fairly. Sandford was one of five clerks seated in the jury box along with five salesmen, including the foreman, an employee of Marshall Field. One juryman was a hardware dealer and another was a school principal.13

These dozen men did not constitute a group of the defendants’ peers. Not one of them was an immigrant, a manual laborer or a trade union member, and, of course, none was a radical. Indeed, very few workers even appeared in the jury pool created by the bailiff, who had hand-picked many men in a stunning departure from the normal, random selection process.14 Approximately 980 jurymen were placed in the pool and examined; most of them listed their occupations as traders, buyers, shopkeepers, cashiers, real estate agents, foremen or salesclerks, including many who said they had been identified by their employers as good candidates. Only 14 potential jurors identified themselves as wage earners doing hand labor in the city’s factories and yards or on its docks and construction sites.15

DURING THE TEDIOUS WEEKS of jury selection, everything seemed to work against the defense. The only encouraging sign was an item in the Tribune that hinted at weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. On June 27 an anonymous police official criticized Inspector Bonfield’s leadership, saying that no one on the force but Bonfield had wanted to disrupt the Haymarket meeting, that it should not have been disrupted and that, as a result, the chief inspector was responsible for the injuries and deaths. The unidentified police official also indicated that many of the wounds the police sustained came from bullets fired by other policemen.16

The unidentified source may have been Superintendent Frederick Ebersold, who resented Bonfield and Schaack for basking in the sunshine of public acclaim. The Bavarian-born superintendent had been at odds with the two captains ever since Mayor Harrison appointed him, passing over Bonfield, a favorite of the Irish officer corps. Ebersold, who harbored self-doubts about his own conduct during the Haymarket affair, had reason to fear that Bonfield and Schaack would continue to undermine his authority by questioning his competence and blaming him for mistakes made in the investigation, such as ordering the release of Schnaubelt, the suspected bomb hurler.17

On July 15, State’s Attorney Julius Grinnell opened the prosecution case by indicating that this would be no ordinary murder trial. “Gentlemen, ” he began, “for the first time in the history of our country people are on trial for endeavoring to make Anarchy the rule,” and “to ruthlessly and awfully destroy human life” to achieve that end. “I hope that while the youngest of us lives, this will be the last time in our country when such a trial shall take place,” he declared. Grinnell then outlined the case in brief. He charged that Spies was the ringleader of a dynamite plot—a man who had frequently declared that only force could be used to achieve justice for workers, a provocateur who believed that the eight-hour movement could be used to further anarchy. The prosecutor declared that Spies had conspired with others for several months to start an uprising during the May strikes at a gathering like the one at the Haymarket and that he told this to a newspaper reporter and even showed him a bomb made of dynamite.18

Furthermore, Grinnell argued, the riot at McCormick’s was deliberately provoked by Spies, who issued the “Revenge” circular in order to trigger the beginning of a large revolt when bombs were to be thrown in all parts of the city.19 The conspiracy to destroy Chicago, he explained, had been hatched on Monday, May 3, when George Engel and the other plotters met in Grief’s Hall. Engel was in contact with Lingg, who was making the bombs, including the one used on May 4. The bombs were supposed to be left in Neff’s Hall, where the anarchists would take them to various targets. Finally, Grinnell claimed that the Haymarket meeting was to be the starting event in the uprising and that only the timely intervention ordered by Bonfield prevented a revolutionary plot from being carried out.

After this litany, the state’s attorney remarked: “It is not necessary for me to go into any more details of that conspiracy. It was carried out to the letter.” The indictment in this case was for murder, he concluded, adding that “it is not necessary in this kind of case . . . that the individual who commits the particular offense—for instance, the man who threw the bomb—to be in court at all. He need not even be indicted. The question for you to determine is, having ascertained that a murder was committed, not only who did it, but who is responsible for it, who abetted it, assisted it, or encouraged it?”20

Grinnell’s remarks deeply troubled the defense team. The prosecutor had asked the jury to determine who murdered Officer Degan, yet the state had not charged any one of the defendants with actually throwing the bomb that killed the patrolman. It was later revealed that Grinnell had been reluctant to try the defendants for homicide without charging someone with actually committing the murder. However, the newspaper publisher Melville E. Stone met privately with the state’s attorney and convinced him to take the case to trial anyway, because the anarchists “had advocated over and over again the use of violence against the police and had urged the manufacture and throwing of bombs,” and therefore, Stone thought, “their culpability was clear.”21


Julius S. Grinnell

Here was an extraordinary turn of events. Chicago’s newspaper editors had already prejudged the defendants and recommended capital punishment as the only just outcome of the case, but this was not unusual. Pretrial publicity often influenced juries in murder cases, but it was a rare instance when a newspaper publisher shaped the legal strategy of a state’s attorney the way Melville Stone did in the Haymarket case.

The next day Judge Gary outlined the state’s position in his charge to the jury. The prosecution would prove “the existence of a general conspiracy to annihilate the police force and destroy property” and show that the “defendants who were the instigators of it” were therefore liable for the act, “even if committed without their specific sanction at that particular time and place.” This ruling surprised and further disturbed the defense team. After court adjourned that day, defense counsel Salomon told reporters that the state had tricked them by saying the eight men were being tried for murder when instead they were being tried for being anarchists before a jury whose members had, for the most part, admitted their bias against anarchists.

On the second day the prosecution called its first witness. Chief Inspector Bonfield reiterated his version of the events of May 4, emphasizing that men in the crowd opened fire on the police as soon as the bomb went off. Next, the IWPA leader Gottfried Waller took the stand. Arrested for presiding over the Monday-night conspiracy meeting, Waller had been persuaded to turn state’s evidence by Captain Schaack, who agreed to give money to Waller’s family and to find him safe passage to Europe. Born in Switzerland, a cabinetmaker by trade and a member of the workers’ militia, Waller was a star witness for the prosecution, though his account of the events leading up to the bombing fell short of incriminating the defendants.22

Waller described chairing the May 3 meeting in Grief’s Hall, where it was decided to hold the protest rally the next night. But he testified that nothing was said about preparing for the Haymarket event because no one expected the police to intervene. No one at the meeting said anything about using dynamite. At one point in examining Waller, Assistant State’s Attorney George C. Ingham asked the witness if he possessed any bombs. Defense lawyer Foster routinely objected that Waller was not on trial, and then asked what he thought was a rhetorical question: “If you show that some man threw one of these bombs without the knowledge, authority or approval of one of these defendants, is that murder?” Ingham replied immediately: “Under the law of the state of Illinois, it is murder.” Therefore, he added ominously, “the law is strong enough to hang every one of these men.”23

DURING THE NEXT WEEK, the state called nine police officers and three private citizens to the stand. Reporters quoted Grinnell as being thrilled at how well the trial proceedings had started and described the anarchists as being alternately “nervous and frightened.” For example, Fielden, who had been accused of firing a pistol at the police, hid his facial expressions when officers referred to him. However, the mastermind Spies listened imperturbably and smiled encouragingly when witnesses identified him.24

On July 22, before the afternoon session opened, George Engel’s daughter Mary, a young woman of sixteen years, pinned geranium boutonnieres on the defendants’ coat lapels as the anarchists’ family members offered encouraging looks to the men in the dock. The court reporters became fascinated with the defendants and their entourage. Drawings of the characters in the courtroom opera appeared in the newspapers frequently. Some were quite unflattering to the defendants, but most depicted the anarchists as ordinary human beings. August Spies, whose family was described as seeming “modest and respectable,” was “not by any means an evil-looking person either.” To one journalist, Lizzie Swank Holmes appeared a wan young woman with a scrawny neck and a large lower lip. “From her meek appearance one would never guess she was a fire eater and a blood drinker, a member of the American Group, a blatherskite orator and a writer of inflammatory slush for anarchic publications.”25 Lucy Parsons attracted special attention from reporters, who described her homemade, yet stylish and colorful, attire. Albert, Jr., and Lulu were portrayed as shy, attractive little children whose fair hair and sallow complexions belied any sign of “colored descent.” The reporter did not stop with this observation. Mrs. Parsons, one reporter noted, objected to being called a “colored” woman and claimed she was born to Mexican and Indian parents. “But she is decidedly colored, just the same,” he wrote, “and any ordinary observer would conclude that at least one of her parents was a Negro.” 26

Every day there was a scramble to gain admission to the most sensational trial anyone could recall. Spectators entered and left constantly to satisfy their curiosity, and the courtroom doors flapped open and closed frequently, allowing a few breaths of air to enter the ovenlike chamber. Judge Gary, described as a “horse-sense individual” who would “stand no non-sense,” nonetheless contributed to the theatricality of the event by filling the seats behind his chair with well-dressed young ladies who clearly enjoyed the spectacle. Mrs. Hortensia Black, the captain’s wife, displayed a different demeanor as she leaned into the defense box and whispered encouragement to her fellow Texan, Albert Parsons, and the other defendants. When Mrs. Black’s unexpected displays of sympathy toward the anarchists were reported in the press, she immediately placed herself beyond the pale of respectable Chicago.27

A large corps of reporters filed stories every day, highlighting some exciting aspect of the state’s case or quoting at length one of the prosecutors’ soliloquies. The defense lawyers were given their due, but at times Salomon and Zeisler were described like vaudeville performers. 28 On July 25 the press was aroused by the appearance of a Pinkerton agent who had infiltrated IWPA meetings, one of several spies assigned to the task after businessmen, including Philip Armour and Marshall Field, hired the agency to report on the actions of the International. The anarchists trembled, one headline claimed, when they learned that detectives had been placed in their midst. The secret agent spoke mainly about various speeches he claimed to have heard, including remarks by Fielden and Parsons, who said a few explosions in Chicago would help the cause. He also quoted Spies speaking hypothetically about the “green” soldiers in the National Guard, who could be easily scattered by a few bombs.


Captain William Black and his wife, Hortensia

The prosecution made little use of this detective’s testimony, even though the agent supported Grinnell’s claim that the anarchists believed that May 1 would provide a good opportunity to start the revolution. Pinkertons were controversial figures in Chicago and had been strongly criticized by the mayor for causing trouble at McCormick’s. At one point Captain Black threw up his hands in despair when the secret agent made what sounded like disclosures concocted to please his Pinkerton bosses and their powerful clients. Nonetheless, the spy’s revelations seemed sensational to the press, because the agent exposed what appeared to be the sinister inner life of anarchist cells.29

The next day the prosecution produced two witnesses who claimed that Schwab and Spies were directly involved in the bombing. M. M. Thompson testified that he stood next to the two men during the rally and overheard them talking about the police. He thought the word “pistol” was spoken and that a man he thought was Spies asked his friend (presumed to be Schwab), “Do you think one is enough or hadn’t we better get more?” Thompson took this as a reference to bombs. The witness said he tailed the two Germans until they met another much larger man. When shown a photo of the anarchist Rudolph Schnaubelt, Thompson identified him as the third man. 30

Even more damning testimony came from a second witness, who said he saw August Spies light a fuse on a bomb that a man matching Schnaubelt’s description threw from the street. However, the witness, H. L. Gilmer, seemed far from credible to a Tribune reporter who described him as an odd-looking eccentric claiming to be a painter by trade. Standing 6 feet 3 inches, he looked so lean and cadaverous that he could have been an escaped giant from one of P. T. Barnum’s freak shows. “Dressed in a seedy black suit, and with his long, curling hair, sanctimonious visage, and great stretch of scraggy throat,” Gilmer resembled a well-worn Methodist circuit rider. His long legs stuck out of the small witness chair, and one foot revealed the tattered sole of an enormous No. 14 shoe. When the defense lawyer Foster posed a question that puzzled him, Harry Gilmer would squint his eyes, purse up his lower lip and roll his head until he answered. “Sometimes he would place the tips of his fingers together, throw back his head until one would see about two feet of ropy neck, gaze up at the ceiling a moment, and presently come back to earth with the expected reply.” He patronizingly referred to Mr. Foster as “my learned friend” and acted oddly enough to provoke his interrogator to ask if he was “an opium-eater or practiced the morphine habit.”

Then came a moment of high drama. Asked whether he could identify the man who lit the match to the bomb, Gilmer “stretched out his long, bony, claw-like left hand, and, shaking it directly at Spies, said ‘There is the man.’ ” The courtroom burst with excited exclamations. Spies jumped to his feet and laughed derisively, as the other prisoners shouted out protests in German and English. Judge Gary banged his gavel furiously for several minutes until the courtroom quieted.31

Gilmer’s testimony seemed so absurd and so filled with inconsistencies and contradictions that the defendants returned the next day in a rather relaxed mood. Their lawyers were certain they could impugn the testimony of the state’s witnesses with their own witnesses. Oscar Neebe was cheerful because no one had connected him with the incident. Parsons casually read a newspaper, while Louis Lingg, who understood very little English, acted nonchalant and Michael Schwab seemed “philosophical.” The dashing Spies divided his attention between his women friends and admirers and the witnesses who happened to be testifying. The anarchists were also buoyed by the news that the Central Labor Union had organized a meeting of 800 workers to protest press coverage of the trial, to show sympathy for the defendants and to raise money for their cause.32 On July 30 the Tribune described the prisoners as “bearing up wonderfully well,” whereas, “in fact, the strain of the trial is more telling on the lawyers on both sides than on the Anarchists.” The jurymen seemed to be wilting in the hot air of the unventilated courtroom, as were the reporters, who complained that the judge insisted on keeping the windows closed to prevent street noise from drowning out any testimony.33

Gary tried to maintain an iron grip on the proceedings, yet he presided over a courtroom that began to seem more and more like a circus ring. After Captain Schaack took the stand and introduced a truck-load of physical evidence, the center of the room looked a bit like a dynamite arsenal or a newspaper office. Files and baskets of anarchist papers were spread across tables and spilled onto the floor next to Lingg’s trunk, which was surrounded by fragments of iron and splintered wood— the results of Captain Schaack’s experiments in setting off several bombs the police had seized. While the captain described this evidence in grave tones, spectators cast nervous glances at various cigar boxes filled with dynamite, fuses and bombshells. Lingg, however, ignored the proceedings and kept reading a German newspaper, while Spies and his female friends found amusement in the bizarre display. 34

On August 1, Attorney Salomon opened the defense case by arguing that none of the defendants had been charged with perpetrating the act of murder and that there could not be a trial of accessories without a principal. If none of the defendants threw the bomb, they could not be found guilty of committing murder. The Tribune dismissed Salomon’s argument out of hand and described its maker’s unlimited self-assurance as galling. 35

Two days later the defense team called its star witness, Mayor Carter Harrison. The courtroom was besieged by larger crowds than ever that morning, all eager to hear the testimony of the flamboyant mayor. When he took the stand, to one reporter the mayor seemed a changed man, aged by the events of the past two years. Harrison was bareheaded, his white hair thinned; his looks contrasted with the well-known impression he made as a man “swaggering along the street with his black slouch hat cocked jauntily on his right ear or trotting down a boulevard on his Kentucky thoroughbred.” The mayor testified that he had carefully observed the crowd at the Haymarket meeting and saw no weapons at all upon any person. He also testified that after listening to the speakers he told Chief Inspector Bonfield nothing dangerous seemed likely to occur and that he should send the police reserves home.36

The defense team then called a large number of eyewitnesses; some were socialists or trade unionists, and some were unaligned bystanders. They all contradicted the prosecution witnesses. None of them heard Fielden’s call to give the police bloodhounds their due, and none saw him shoot a pistol at the officers. No one saw Schwab at the rally where he was supposed to have been. No one saw Spies on the ground where he could have given the lighted bomb to Schnaubelt, the alleged hurler. No one saw the bomb come from the area around the wagon or from the alley behind it. And no one heard any firing from the crowd before or after the explosion. One witness, Dr. James Taylor, testified that he did not see Sam Fielden shoot at the police with a revolver, nor did he see the bomb fly out of the alley behind the speakers’ wagon, nor did he see people in the crowd shoot at the police after the bomb exploded. Dr. Taylor said shooting erupted from the street where the police were standing. 37

Here was a remarkable situation. The eyewitnesses called by the defense contradicted nearly every piece of incriminating testimony by the police and the state’s witnesses. It was as though the two groups of people in Haymarket Square that night had seen completely different events unfold before their eyes.38

The young lawyers, Salomon and Zeisler, thought their witnesses had demolished the prosecution’s case, but Black and Foster were not so sure and said nothing to the press. The older lawyers had perhaps anticipated the response to their arguments from the newspapers. On August 5 theTribune reported all evidence produced by the defense to be of trifling significance to the jurymen, who seemed too weary to keep tabs on this new testimony; they had been much more alert when the prosecution was at work. 39


“The Great Trial”

ON AUGUST 7 the accused anarchists began to take the stand to speak in their own defense. The courtroom quieted as Sam Fielden lumbered up to the stand. Nervous at first, he gradually gained confidence and, as he repeated his Haymarket speech, he seemed to be haranguing the jury. One reporter was so impressed that he said Fielden, if acquitted, could make a fortune on the lecture circuit. On August 9, August Spies, the accused ringleader of the anarchist conspiracy, addressed the court. Attired in a trim navy blue suit and a vest that sported a gold chain and tie pin, he looked to one reporter like a well-dressed salesman.40 Speaking fluently with a strong German accent, Spies gave his account of the events at McCormick’s and of his attempts to halt the men who charged the plant. He admitted that he approved the circular calling for the Haymarket protest but explained that he had ordered the words “Workingmen! To Arms!” removed from the leaflet. He denied receiving a bomb from Michael Schwab at the rally, repeating the point that Schwab was not even present in the square as prosecution witnesses charged. He also explained that he could not have given a bomb to a bomb thrower on the street, as some witnesses said, because he had remained on the wagon the entire time. Finally, Spies said that he had asked the people in the square to hold a peaceful protest.41

The climax in the anarchist trial approached when the state began to present its summation on August 12. State’s Attorney Francis W. Walker started portentously: “We stand in the temple of justice to exercise the law, where all men stand equal,” he proclaimed. One of the few native Chicagoans on the scene, the prosecutor was a corpulent young man of thirty years who shouted his words vehemently like a politico on the stump. His voice was so loud, it could be heard outside the courthouse on Clark Street.42 Walker began by arguing that the defendants conspired to precipitate a social revolution, one that cost Mathias Degan his life, but then, carried away by the moment, he strayed far beyond the indictment, alleging that 3,000 men had participated in the conspiracy and that every one of them was equally guilty of the murder of Officer Degan, including all the members of the Lehr und Wehr Verein.43

After Walker finished, Sigmund Zeisler opened for the defense. He impressed one reporter as a good-looking young man with a mellifluous foreign accent and an excellent grasp of English, though his gestures seemed superfluously dramatic. Zeisler went after his opponent, Walker, like an archer shooting arrows at a straw target. He said the prosecutor’s argument depended not on evidence but on stirring the prejudice of the jury. Showing no respect for the police, he dismissed their credibility as witnesses. “And before we get through,” Zeisler declared, “we will show that these men were not heroes, but knaves, led on by the most cowardly knave who ever held a public position.” Why, everyone wondered, did the police descend to disperse a peaceful meeting? Even detectives testified that the rally was breaking up when, Zeisler asserted, “this army of 180 policemen arrived armed with clubs and revolvers, headed by this hero, Bonfield, the savior of his country, to break up this meeting of peaceable and unarmed citizens. Was this courageous or cowardly?”

Zeisler also attacked the prosecution’s claim that the defendants planned to start a social revolution on May 1. He said that anyone who had studied history knew, as the anarchists certainly did, that a revolution could not be called up at any given moment. A revolution was a thing that developed of its own accord, and no single man, or even a dozen men, could simply inaugurate a revolution on a certain day. “Has ever a ridiculous statement like this been made to an intelligent jury?” he wondered.44

Zeisler concluded by accusing State’s Attorney Grinnell of being “blinded by malice and prejudice.” He charged that the lead prosecutor had eagerly joined in a conspiracy with the police to send these men to the gallows, even if it meant relying upon the testimony of eccentrics like Harry Gilmer.45 The young lawyer acted as though he were speaking before a public forum on the West Side, where citizens hated Bonfield and his blue-coated patrolmen, instead of before a jury who regarded the police as heroes.

George Ingham, the third state’s attorney, followed Zeisler’s polemic with an appeal by telling the jurymen that their verdict would make history. “For, if I appreciate this case correctly . . . the very question itself is whether organized government shall perish from the earth; whether the day of civilization shall go down into the night of barbarism; whether the wheels of history shall be rolled back, and all that has been gained by thousands of years of progress be lost.”46

Defense lawyer Foster followed with his own passionate speech, one that lasted the rest of the day. A droll man with a shock of red curly hair and a mustache and complexion to match, Foster played every card he had used as a defense attorney in previous murder cases. He made it clear that he had no sympathy for the anarchists or their political beliefs. He was a defender of the law, but he wanted the law to be just. Foster then attacked the entire chain of evidence the state had tried to forge and found broken links everywhere. He said that Spies had no idea of the significance of the word Ruhe when it went into the letter box of his newspaper, a key item in linking Spies to the alleged conspiracy and the actual bombing. Turning to Parsons, the defense lawyer noted that no evidence had been produced that he was part of any alleged conspiracy. If Parsons had expected violence at the meeting on May 4, the attorney asked, why would he have brought his wife and children to the rally?

Foster also analyzed the prosecution’s case against Louis Lingg. The defense attorney conceded that Lingg made some bombs and that one of the bombs he manufactured might have been thrown onto Desplaines Street. But even if the prosecution’s chemical experts were correct in identifying the lethal bomb as one Lingg that had made, this evidence did not prove that Lingg was party to any conspiracy or that he deliberately gave one of his bombs to the man who threw it. The state’s whole case against Lingg was based on guesses, suppositions and inferences.47

Foster next turned to the case against Oscar Neebe, who was on trial for his life because he left a few copies of the Haymarket circular on the bar of a saloon, and because police found a shotgun, an old revolver and a knife in his house. He asked the jurymen if they were going to hang Neebe on the basis of such evidence, or hang any of the defendants based on circumstantial evidence. “Are you going to be driven by passion, influenced by prejudice to do that which you will regret the longest days of your lives?” he inquired. “Are you going to do something which will haunt you to the grave?” Then Foster ended for the day by saying: “If these men are to be tried on general principles for advocating doctrines opposed to our ideas of propriety, there is no use for me to argue the case. Let the Sheriff go and erect the scaffold; let him bring eight ropes with dangling nooses at the ends; let him pass them around the necks of these men; and let us stop this farce now.”48

The next day William Black presented his closing to a courtroom packed with 1,000 people. The captain impressed journalists, including one who described him as a tall, handsome, military-looking man with a graceful, gentlemanly manner, a large vocabulary and a powerful voice softened by a pleasing Kentucky accent. Black argued that the testimony of the prosecution’s star witnesses, Thompson and Gilmer, had been utterly discredited and that the state’s case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. He said the whole story of Spies stirring up trouble was contradicted by testimony showing he went to the Haymarket to counsel peace. The prosecution had not proven that Spies knew anything about the May 3 meeting where the alleged conspiracy was planned, or that he had any contact with the bomb maker or the bomb thrower. 49

Moreover, Black thought he had all the testimony he needed to show that six of the men charged with murder were not at the scene when the bomb exploded. The only ones present were Spies and Fielden, who were clearly visible on the hay wagon just before the explosion occurred. As a result, the state relied upon testimony that Fielden threatened the police and fired a gun at them—testimony contradicted by many witnesses. In the end, the prosecution stopped trying to show any direct connection between the defendants and the bomb thrower. Grinnell even admitted the defendants may not have known the bomber. The whole case rested on the contention that each of the indicted anarchists “abetted, encouraged, and advised” the throwing of a bomb and were therefore as guilty of murder as the one who threw it.50

This allegation was based on the existence of a plot hatched on May 3 to launch an armed struggle the next night at the Haymarket; the conspiracy supposedly involved Lingg, who volunteered to make the bombs, including the one that killed Officer Degan. However, Lingg was not present at the meeting, nor were any of the other defendants except Engel and Fischer. These two men did propose the Haymarket protest rally but, according to police witnesses, said nothing about taking any kind of action there. Even the testimony of two anarchists who turned state’s evidence failed to show that any plot was formed on May 3 that led to the explosion on May 4. In any case, the prosecution had not proven that the unidentified bomber was part of that alleged conspiracy and that the defendants were therefore accessories who helped plan a criminal act.

Captain Black insisted that since the state charged the defendants with murder, the sole question before the jury was the matter of who threw the bomb. It would not be fair to convict the defendants by showing that they favored violent deeds. He appealed to the “twelve good men” who sat before him to put aside their prejudices against the defendants and judge them solely upon the evidence. “Gentlemen,” he said, “these eight lives are in your hands” and “you are answerable to no power but God and history.” The captain finished his closing with a testimony to the virtue of his clients and their beliefs, proclaiming that “Jesus, the great Socialist of Judea, first preached the socialism taught by Spies and his modern disciples.” In this light, he could only close with the words of the “Divine Socialist”: “As ye would that others should do to you, do even so to them.”51

Julius Grinnell responded with a powerful closing of the state’s case that displayed all of his eloquence and determination. He began by scolding Captain Black for descending so far that he compared “some low murderers to the Savior of mankind.” He also objected to comparing the anarchists to martyrs like John Brown. Then he lectured the jury on government and republican politics. Not all governments ultimately resulted in despotism, as Captain Black had stated in his closing. In fact, in the United States republicanism had triumphed in the American Revolution and then in the Civil War, said Grinnell, and, as a result, freedom was extended to all, even former slaves and those “driven here by oppression abroad.” But now that America was so free, it might be in danger, for “in this country, above all countries in the world, anarchy is possible.” Indeed, the state’s attorney warned, “there is but one step from republicanism to anarchy.” Freeing the anarchists would mean taking that step. And that was why, he explained, “there never was in the history of this country . . . a case that has attracted such interest as this.” If the jurymen unjustly acquitted the anarchists, their followers would “flock out again like a lot of rats and vermin.” And so the jurors would be making history when they rendered their verdict. “The law which has made us strong today and which you have sworn today demands of you a punishment of these men. Don’t do it because I ask you. Do it because the law demands it.”52

After this grave discourse, Grinnell added an appealing personal note. “We may never meet again, Gentlemen. In this case I have been pleased to make your acquaintance. I hope I have done nothing to offend you, either as to propriety, decency, good sense, or anything else. If we part here, we part as friends.” After these pleasantries, he ended by telling the jurymen: “You stand between the living and the dead. You stand between law and violated law. Do your duty courageously, even if that duty is an unpleasant and a severe one.”53

After Grinnell finished, Judge Gary brought the long trial proceedings to a close, instructing the jurymen they could find the eight men guilty of murder even if the crime was committed by someone who was not charged. According to one observer, even the contemptuous Louis Lingg, “the tiger anarchist,” finally seemed to realize the danger of his situation. 54

On August 19 the jury retired at 2:50 p.m. to the nearby Revere House Hotel. Crowds watched them through the windows that evening and saw men in their shirtsleeves resting in easy positions, smoking and apparently enjoying themselves. Clearly, they had speedily reached a verdict.55


Judge Joseph E. Gary

More than 1,000 people gathered around the courthouse at ten the next morning, anxiously waiting to hear the jury’s decision. A small army of bailiffs and policemen guarded the doors and held back the surging masses of people by sheer force. The well-dressed ladies who had been attending the trial as spectators were barred from entry this day; the only persons admitted were lawyers, police officers, relatives, reporters and a few favored members of the bar.

When the jurymen entered at 9:55 a.m., the defendants displayed their customary calm. Parsons, sitting near a window, took out his red handkerchief and waved to the crowd below. Schwab said to him, “I wish I could go down there and make a speech to those people.” No longer side by side with the defendants, Captain Black sat down with his wife, who asked him, “Are they prepared for the worst?” “Prepared!” he said. “Yes, fully prepared to laugh at death.” They talked about their end, Black added, much more coolly than he could.56

Then, in the perfectly still room, the jury foreman read the verdict. He said the jury had found seven of the defendants guilty of murder as charged and had fixed the penalty as death. Oscar Neebe was also found guilty of murder but was sentenced to imprisonment for fifteen years. At first the room remained silent, as though a thousand people had sucked the air out of it. Then the eerie quiet was broken by the hysterical screams of Michael Schwab’s wife, Maria.57

Captain Black was shocked by the sentence; he had expected conviction from a jury he thought was prejudiced, but he never expected the death sentence to be pronounced on all but one of the eight men. The attorney hid his emotions in the moments after the verdict was announced and simply moved for a new trial. Among the prisoners sitting in the dock, only two men reacted. Oscar Neebe, who had been assured of acquittal by his lawyers, was visibly disturbed; and Albert Parsons, ever theatrical, was curiously affected: he stood, smiled and bowed to the audience and then turned to the window and tied the string on the shade into the form of a noose to let the crowd outside know the result. As the news leaked out into the street, cheerful shouts of relief erupted from the huge crowd.58

The bailiffs then led the prisoners back to their jail cells. Spies and Fischer looked pale, said one reporter, but not visibly disturbed, nor did Engel or Lingg. Neebe, however, walked like a stricken man, Fielden shuffled out with support from his comrades, and the frail Schwab tottered behind Parsons, who, it was reported, had “lost none of his Texas nerve.”59

Outside, courthouse reporters elbowed each other to interview the attorneys and the jurors. One juror said he disliked lawyer Zeisler and was offended by Parsons’s “impudence.” Another commented, “Every man on the jury was an American,” and, therefore, he explained, no one showed any “toleration for imported preachers of assassination.” 60

The evening papers featured high praise for these jurymen and reported that wealthy businessmen would raise a large sum to pay them as a sign of gratitude. The Tribune reported “universal satisfaction with the verdict” because “the law had been vindicated.” The Inter-Ocean said, “The long strain of suspense and anxiety is over,” adding that no trial in living memory had generated such widespread interest in a verdict. “Anarchism has been on trial ever since May 4; and it now has got its verdict. Death is the only fitting penalty.” All editorialists declared that the defendants had been fairly prosecuted and ably defended; and some expressed dismay that the anarchists had exercised their right to appeal the decision, because it might delay their date with the hangman. 61

DURING THE MID NINETEENTH century, murder trials became enormously attractive to the nation’s newspapers, and then during the Gilded Age, when big-city dailies mushroomed and competed ruthlessly for readers, some courtroom dramas became national events and certain defendants became celebrities. The breadth and depth of coverage devoted to the Haymarket case exceeded all others in the post–Civil War years, because, except for the presidential assassins John Wilkes Booth and Charles Guiteau, no civilians had ever been tried for anything like the crime the eight anarchists were accused of committing; nor had any defendants in a local criminal court ever been prosecuted in such an overtly political trial. The defendants were not only held accountable for the unimaginable crime of murdering seven policemen; they were also being tried for attempting “to make anarchy the rule” in America. 62

As a result, newspapers across the nation sounded a chorus of approval at the verdict and the sentences. Many editorials reflected the conviction, or at least the hope, that the impending executions would kill anarchism in America and rid the nation of the high anxiety that had existed since May 4, 1886.63 For example, a New Orleans newspaper editor wrote that “all the chapters in the dramatic and horrible Haymarket tragedy have been written save one; all the acts finished but the last.” When the curtain rolled up again, with a nation watching, the final tableau would reveal “a row of gibbeted felons, with haltered throats and fettered hands and feet, swinging slowly to and fro, in the air,” said the New Orleans Times-Democrat. And then, to wild applause, the curtain would drop as the people exhaled in unison, knowing that anarchism was “forever dead in America!”64

No one in the mainstream press would have noticed the few dissenting views on the trial contained in the radical press, such as the one voiced by the editor of the Workmen’s Advocate. “Look at the case in the light of Truth and Reason,” he urged his readers: a large squad of police raided a peaceful meeting, and were struck by a bomb thrown by an unknown assailant—as likely as not a Pinkerton agent provocateur. The next day a reign of terror began not only for the anarchists but for others who expressed similar criticisms of business and government. During the so-called trial, the prosecution called to the stand various “professional perjurers” but could not show that any of the defendants had any hand in the bomb throwing or had fired any shots at the police. The whole tragic performance, said the editor, concluded with the sentencing of the anarchists to death, not “for breaking any law, but for daring to denounce the usurpations of the robber rulers of our Satanic society.”65

For a week following the verdict, no one in Chicago except the anarchists and their supporters expressed anything but jubilation over the verdict. Then, in the next days and weeks expressions of consternation began to rise from the city’s working-class neighborhoods, saloons and meeting halls. A small Chicago newspaper friendly to unions even reported that a vast majority of laborers in the city believed the bomb throwing was not the work of the anarchists but of some other party intent on deflating the eight-hour movement. This belief was rapidly spreading through all the ranks of labor, said the editor, but the city’s businessmen still had no conception of the reaction the verdict would eventually produce among workers in Chicago or in other cities across the nation and around the world.66

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