Eleanor Marx Aveling and Edward Aveling

The Chicago Anarchists

Source: To-day, November 1887
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org, 2000

At the moment of writing, seven men are lying in Cook County Gaol, Chicago, sentenced to death upon no evidence whatever. Unless before November 11th a writ of error is obtained from the Supreme Court of the United States, or unless General Oglesby, Governor of the State of Illinois, exercises the prerogative of mercy that lies in his hands, Parsons, Fielden, Spies, Schwab, Fischer, Engel, Lingg, will be executed on that day for a crime of which all evidence shows they are innocent.

Feeling in England has already been aroused in respect to this crime in the name of the law. In order that this may be a feeling according to knowledge, we give in the present article the chief facts of the case, so that any one fighting the cause of the men in Chicago may be armed with these facts, if he will. Every statement made in this paper may he relied upon as absolutely accurate. Where the statement concerns the trial, it is taken from the verbatim daily report of that trial, which appeared in the New Yorker Volkszeitung. Statements concerning other events in Chicago during, before, and after the trial, are only, given when our authority for them is the repeated and uniform testimony of several careful, clear-headed observers in that city. Upon the legal points our informant is Captain Black, the advocate of the accused men. For the most, recent developments of the case, the New York Leader and the New Haven Workman's Advocate are our authorities. The only necessity for stating, before we address ourselves to our task, that we are not Anarchists, but are opposed to Anarchism, lies in the fact that our position of antagonism to the teachings of Anarchism, strengthens our position in asking justice for the condemned men.

The eight hours working day movement lies at the bottom of the whole affair. Early in 1886, the Chicago employers were filching away from their employed the priviledge recently unreasonable length than ten or eleven hours. Against this familiar device of the masters, many meetings of the men were held in Chicago in the earlier months of 1886. One of these meetings was called in the Haymarket, for the evening of May 4th. It was called by the Anarchists. A special protest was to be made against the killing of seven unarmed people a few days earlier, outside McCormick's premises, by Pinkerton detectives. The speeches of the Anarchists before this particular occasion had been of the "sound and fury" type. There had been talk of bombs and the like.

To understand what happened, the description that has already appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette may be summarised. The Haymarket is a long oblong open space. At one end of it two streets lead off right and left, exactly facing each other on opposite sides of the oblong. In the street to the left is the police station. If you turn down the street to the right, some twenty-five or thirty yards down on the right is a narrow, blind alley, running down by the side of a large warehouse. The wagon on which the speakers stood on the evening of May 4th, 1886, was placed in front of this warehouse.

The meeting was peaceable and orderly. The speeches were of the ordinary political kind. Upon both these points the testimony is unanimous, and includes that of Mr. Harrison, the mayor of Chicago, a man strongly opposed not only to Anarchism, but to the working-class movement. Just as the meeting was breaking up, the police issued forth, armed, from the station, marched across the Haymarket, straight upon the small crowd in the street on the opposite side, just as the police at Mitchelstown marched upon the crowd there. The evidence is conflicting as to whether the police did or did not fire before the bomb was thrown. The balance of evidence appears to be in favour of their having fired first. A bomb was thrown. The evidence as to whence it was thrown is conflicting. From the alley said some witnesses; from a point some yards nearer the Haymarket said others. The balance of evidence is in favour of the latter statement. No evidence has been adduced as to who threw the bomb. Not one of the accused has been directly or indirectly connected with it by evidence. In Chicago, among working-men of all shades of opinion, the feeling was very general that it was thrown by an agent of the police, just as Cullinan at Listdoonvarna planned the shooting.

If this was the fact the police agent, as in the case of Cullinan, did more than was expected of him, Seven policemen died and several were wounded, as the result of this bomb throwing. It will be noted that seven men are condemned to death, and, as if as a set-off to the wounded men, an eighth is condemned to fifteen years penal servitude. There are not wanting those in America who refuse to see anything accidental in this numerical agreement.

As the most immediate result of the events of the night of May 4th, Chicago became panic-stricken and the panic spread to a large extent throughout the States. The newspapers, almost with one accord, clamoured not for justice but for revenge. In Chicago numbers of people were arrested without any warrant. Some of these were kept in prison three or four months and were then released by the police without any trial. Many houses were broken into by the police without any search-warrant. Out of the large number of people arrested eight were at last selected by the police for trial. It was reading the account of that trial, as we crossed the Atlantic in the "City of Chicago," strangely enough, that converted us from believers in the guilt of the accused (on the garbled statements of Reuter and the ordinary newspapers) into believers in their innocence.

The trial took place too near the event of May 4th in time, for a calm and judicial investigation to he possible. Passion and panic were still rife in the city, and indeed throughout America.

It took place too near the event of May 4th in place. An appeal was made to the Court for a change of venue, in view of the feeling in Chicago on the matter. A similar application in the case of a detective Joy, on trial for shooting down a citizen, was at once granted, during the time we were in America. The appeal in the case of the Anarchists was dismissed.

The evidence is very strong that the jury was packed. Of the 1000 talesmen summoned, only ten came from the 14th ward, the working-class quarter. This ward has a population of 130,000, and the total population of Chicago is 503,304. All these ten from the 14th ward were men living within a few yards of the police station.

One man, challenged by the advocate for the prisoners, confessed that he had made up his mind as to their guilt before the trial began. Judge Gary disallowed the objection and allowed the man to serve on the jury.

Ryce was the bailiff whose task it was to get a jury together. One E. A. Stevens made a sworn affidavit on the application for a new trial.

"The affidavit of E. V. Stevens, a travelling salesman, states that the affiant is well acquainted with Otis S. Favor; that he knows the latter to be intimate with Ryce, the special bailiff; that he has heard Favor state that Ryce had said to him in his presence and the presence of others, while Ryce was engaged in summoning jurors, the following words: 'I am managing this case, and know what I am about. These fellows are going to be hung as certain as death. I am calling such men as the defendants will have to challenge and to waste their challenges.' The defendants' counsel then said that Favor had refused to appear in the court to testify openly or to do so by affidavit, unless he was compelled to do so by order of the Court. They therefore asked that the Court order a subpoena to compel Favor's appearance.... Judge Gary: "I shall overrule the motion. "

Favor was unwilling to appear in Court, and either substantiate or deny this sworn statement of Stevens. Captain Black, the Counsel for the Defence, asked Judge Gary to issue a subpoena commanding the attendance of Favor. Judge Gary refused this application.

The nature of the judge before whom the case was tried is sufficiently indicated by the facts given above. To these may be added the persistency with which Judge Gary supported State Attorney Grinnell and the equal persistency with which he opposed Captain Black and the other counsel for the defence. He allowed Mr. Grinnell to bring in as evidence the blood-stained clothing of the police. When Captain Black protested against this, Judge Gary allowed the prosecuting counsel to remark unchecked, "I could bring in their shattered corpses." He allowed a work of Most's to be put in as evidence, and long extracts from it to be read in Court, although there was no evidence that any of the accused had ever seen the book and although it was written in a language that two of them, Fielden and Parsons, could not read. When the trial was over, upon the testimony of unimpeachable witnesses, Judge Gary went out to his wife waiting outside the court, and said, "All is well, mother. Seven to be hanged and one fifteen years. All is well."

Mr. Grinnell's method of conducting the case will have been gathered from what has already been said. We need only add, as a further example, one remark of his. When Spies' house was broken open by the police without any search-warrant, his keys were taken. At the trial, after they had been produced in evidence, application was made for their restoration by their owner. "Oh, he'll never want'em again," said Mr. Grinnell.

The evidence upon which the men are condemned to be hanged was in keeping with judge and prosecuting counsel. As far as the facts of the night of May 4th, are concerned, the chief witnesses for the police were Captain Bonfield, Messrs. Seliger, Waller, and MacThompson. These four gentlemen contradicted themselves and one another. And the record of three out of the four is not satisfactory. Captain Bonfield is notorious as the author of the phrase, "If I could only get about a thousand of those Socialists and Anarchists in a bunch at one time without their damned women and brats, I would make short work of them." This was uttered before the Haymarket meeting.

Wilhelm Seliger, Gottfried Waller, and Gillmer, the three States' evidence witnesses, were tainted. Seliger had been living in the police station, admitted many conversations with the police, admitted many conversations with the police, and the receipt of money from them. Gillmer, who saw everything, saw Schnaubelt (never caught) throw the bomb, saw Spies light it, saw Fischer with Spies and Schnaubelt, was a semi-tramp, out of work, living in the prison, and saying nothing he had seen either at the inquest or for days after. He knew every detail as to the build and the faces of the men in the alley, but not a word of the speeches delivered. Messrs. Jansen and Shea were two detectives. Jansen had been a member of the Anarchist organization for sixteen months, attended secret meetings, furnished the police with notes of them, and when the energy of the Anarchists flagged, egged them on. Shea confessed that after Spies was in prison, he tried to get the prisoner to sign an incriminating paper, without letting him see the contents.

One Malcolm Thompson, who professed to be a commercial traveller or "drummer" swore to overhearing a conversation between Spies and Schwab, in which "pistols" and "police" were mentioned, and the question was asked, "Will one (videlicet one bomb) be enough? " He confessed that he did not understand a word of German, and it was proved that Spies and Schwab always spoke to one another in German.

Against these may be set, first, their own contradictions, second, the evidence of an army of independent witnesses: These showed that the Haymarket meeting was peaceful and orderly, that many women were present, that no incendiary speeches were made. Thus, a certain Freeman saw Parsons, Fielden, and Spies, not in the alley, a la Gillmer; but on the wagon; heard Parsons suggest adjournment, as it was raining; heard Fielden say, "I'm ready. Wait a minute and then we'll go."

Dr. James Taylor, aged 76, was in the alley at the time the bomb was thrown from a point twenty feet away from the alley. His evidence was especially clear as to the perfectly peaceful character of the meeting until the police interfered.

But Mr. Harrison, the mayor of Chicago, must especially be quoted. He was present at the meeting until within twenty minutes of the explosion. He had agreed with Captain Bonfeld, before the meeting began, that it should be dissolved, if it was not a peaceful meeting. The general tone of the speeches was of such a nature that he feared a point might be reached when he would have to dissolve the meeting. This he was determined to do, the instant any use of force was threatened. He heard Parsons' speech, which was nothing more than a political tirade. He then went to the police station, saw Captain Bonfield, the chief of the police, told him the speech had been a very tame one, that there would be no trouble and that it would be better if his men went home. After this, Mayor Harrison, thinking that all was well, left the police station and the Haymarket, and went home. Immediately the mayor's back was turned, Bonfield marched his men out upon the crowd.

Upon, and in the face of, evidence such as this, the jury found the accused guilty. Seven men were sentenced to death, and one, Neebe, who was proved never to have been present at the meeting, was condemned to fifteen years' penal servitude. After the trial and verdict, the Chicago Tribune, the most shamefully indecent of all the shocking prints that had clamoured daily throughout the trial for conviction and death, the paper that gave forth the words, "Chicago hangs Anarchists," in the paroxysm of joy that followed upon its delirium of fear, preposed that 100,000 dollars should be subscribed and presented to the jury for having done their duty.

The sentence was passed in August. The date fixed for the execution was December 3, of last year. The first application for a new trial was made before Judge Gary himself, and refused by him. But during the months of September, October, and November a change was wrought in popular feeling. The speaking and writing of many men and women, altogether opposed to the teachings of Anarchism, the constant appeal to the sense of justice of the American people, the gradual recovery of a nation from the condition of unreasoning fear into which it had been worked by the events of May, and by the infamous newspaper articles, these and other things had their effect. By the time of the elections in November, 1880, a great body of public opinion had declared for a new trial. Then came the thunderbolt of the success of the Labour at the elections. On Thanksgiving Day (November 25) Captain Black, the untiring and magnificent advocate for the Chicago Anarchists, obtained a supersedeas or stay of execution.

Practically this supersedeas allowed the matter to be referred to the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois, on the basis of an application for a new trial. As soon as the supersedeas was granted, public excitement subsided. Everyone felt that a miscarriage of justice had occurred, and that now, the first angry panic being over, and calmer judgment prevailing, a new trial would be granted, and a fair one.

Upon March 18 of this year, the case came before the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois. The judgment of the court was given on September 20. It was unanimously adverse to the accused, and confirmed the judgment of the of the lower court. The execution of the men who have been in prison for more than eighteen months was fixed for November 11. A quotation from the Chicago Enquirer will show the way in which in this appeal the accused were treated. "In the 'opinion' presented by the State Supreme Court most of the points raised in the appeal have been completely ignored. And that is not all. The evidence manufactured by the detectives to obtain a conviction in the lower 'court' did not satisfy the higher court, and dutifully the latter furnished what was lacking. As incredible as it may seem to the loyal citizen, it is yet true that the opinion-writer has falsified the evidence given in the 'trial!' Matters are assumed which are not supported by any evidence in the record; other testimony is distracted and perverted; in short, the Supreme Court of our State has made out an entirely new case against the defendants; the original one, it is presumed, was 'no good.'"

Instantly, public excitement has risen to fever-heat in America. The working-class are up in arms about this matter. Anarchist, Socialist, anti-Anarchist, anti-Socialist alike are astonished, indignant, thoroughly aroused. Everywhere, except in Chicago, meetings are being held, resolution condemnatory of this judicial murder are being passed. Well-known working-class men of all shades of opinion, from the reactionary Georgeites to the most advanced Socialists, are speaking out boldly upon the subject. They, as well as the capitalists and their journals, recognize this sentence as a telling blow in the battle to the death that has begun in America between capital and labour. Newspapers with no leaning to the side of the working-classes, such as Bridgeport Examiner, the Texas Southwest, the Kansas Critic, are scarcely less outspoken than such journals as the Cleveland Workman or the Paterson Labour Standard, that are avowedly labour papers.

The feeling in Chicago is very intense. Among the wage workers the condemned men are regarded as being sacrificed to popular clamour and the yells of the capitalist press. Among the mercantile class it is considered that their safety demands the carrying out of the sentence. By everyone it is felt that it is no longer a question of Anarchism but of the classes against the masses. The sentence is a class-sentence; the execution will be a class-execution. Chicago is in a state of siege. When Neebe was removed from Cook County Gaol to Joliet on September 26, the reporters of the various newspapers, who had come to "do" his removal, were locked up in the prison, despite their protests and forcible resistance, until Neebe was safely smuggled out and away to the railway station. Mrs. Parsons has been arrested for distributing in the streets her husband's appeal to the American people. All meetings are forbidden in the city in respect to the case of the condemned men, no matter how moderate or conservative the speakers may be.

Meanwhile, Captain Black is in New York, taking counsel of General Pryor, one of the foremost constitutional lawyers in America. They will appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States for a writ of error. This can be granted by any justice of the Supreme Court, and then the whole case comes before that Court to review and to decide as to whether a new trial should or should not be granted. The use of the record has been refused by the Court below to the advocates for the defence--a refusal, according to General Pryor, without precedent. If the writ is granted, the execution cannot take place on November 11. It is possible, though we fear not very probable, that the Supreme Court may grant a new trial. In that case, it is impossible that the men can be found guilty· on such evidence as that on which they were convicted before. In any case a final appeal for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy can be made to Governor Oglesby of Illinois.

In England, the working-class can strengthen the hands of their American brethren by holding meetings and passing resolutions protesting against the judicial murder of these men and demanding a new trial. If such resolutions are passed at every possible gathering of working men, if every Radical Club takes the matter up, if the clubs as a body take it up; and if copies of such resolutions are sent to (I) the Leader, New York; (2) Supreme Court, Washington; (3) Gen. Oglesby, Governor of Illinois; (4) Central News, London; (5) any English paper, likely to insert them, English workers will be doing what they can towards the getting of justice done. Many of the Radical Clubs of London, notably, the Patriotic, East Finsbury, North Camberwell, Peckham Reform, Tower Hamlets Radical, are taking active steps in the matter. It is proposed to hold a meeting of the Radical Clubs generally, and to convey to the American representative, by deputation, the result of such a meeting. Any club or working-man desirous of helping in this matter is asked to communicate with the Secretary, Patriotic Club, Clerkenwell Green. It is with this object of doing all that lies within our power that we have in this article narrated briefly the facts of this case.