William Morris. Commonweal 1887

Free Speech in America

Source: “Free Speech in America” Commonweal, Vol 3, No. 91, 8 October 1887, p. 324;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Our readers will see that meetings to protest against the cold-blooded judicial murder of the seven Chicago prisoners are to be held within the next fortnight. Since this number of the Commonweal may come into the hands of persons who have not read other numbers and who have but a vague idea of the bearings of the whole case, or as is most likely, have been prejudiced by the misrepresentations of the press — the stark lies of the American capitalistic press, the careless lies of the English — it may be well to state briefly what the real crime of these men is in order that it may be determined whether their execution would be an act of justice or a crime.

These seven men are condemned to death for being present at a meeting called to protest against the murderous attack on a demonstration of workmen on strike by the police and the hired swashbucklers of the capitalists. At that meeting a bomb was thrown which killed and wounded several policemen. The police fired on the meeting, and the workmen defended themselves, and the capitalist government took this opportunity of hatching an accusation against our comrades, brought them to trial and condemned them in the teeth of the evidence. On their appeal they have been kept in prison for more than a year and re-condemned by a court which is practically the same as the first one. These men are really condemned for supporting the workmen in their strike and for speaking out their opinions on the vile, miscalled ‘Society’ of America and civilization generally. They are persecuted for holding and expressing the opinions which we hold and express whether we call ourselves Anarchists or Socialists, and for applying those opinions to the events of the passing day and the oppression of the American workmen going on under their eyes. Their persecution is an in terrorem measure directed against freedom of speech in America; and it will be a disgrace to the British workmen, whatever their politics may be, if they do not express themselves clearly and emphatically on this attack on the liberties which the United States have been supposed to guard so jealously, but which it would seem are but a one-sided affair after all. We appeal, above all, to our Radical and Democratic friends who are now trying to destroy the base anti-Irish prejudice once so current in this country, not to consider men outside the pale of fair-dealing because they express revolutionary ideas; and to remember that whether they may think our Socialist theories right or wrong, we claim at least equal liberty for all, and that amidst the present welter of politics in which reaction is struggling so hard to lift up its head, if we do not guard the liberties we have won with the utmost care and jealousy we shall find them encroached on day by day till at last Radicals will have no more doubt than Socialists that they are the slaves of the rich and powerful in all senses.