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4 May 1886: The Haymarket Affair
The Haymarket Affair which led to eight men, all anarchists and trade union organizers being falsely convicted of the crime of throwing a bomb, on May 4th, 1886, into the midst of 180 Chicago police who had marched in to break up a peaceful public assembly of demonstrating workers. The explosion killed one officer, fatally wounded six others, and injured 70 more, members of the same police force which, on the day before, on May 3rd, had shot and killed a striking worker and wounded several others during a scuffle at the picket line. After the bomb went off, the police then randomly opened fire into the crowd of workers, killing at least four and wounding countless others. These events had been sparked by a general strike called by the American Federation of Labor to demand an 8 hour workday, which occurred days before on May 1st, 1886. The strike was national, and 400,000 workers participated in the Chicago strike alone.
After the bombing, the enraged press were calling for punishment, and socialists, anarchists and labor activists were the target. Officers stormed into meeting halls, offices, and private residences, rounding up and arresting activists and even bystanders indiscriminately. Julius Grinnell, the state’s attorney, publicly commented, “Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards”.
They eventually arrested eight men for being “accessories to murder”, the names of whom are Spies, Fielden, Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe. Seven were sentenced to death and one to a term of 15 years in prison. The death sentences of two of the defendants, Fielden and Schwab were commuted to terms of life in prison, and another, Ling, committed suicide in jail rather than face the gallows. The other four, Engel, Fischer, Parsons and Spies were hanged on November 11, 1887. In 1893, Illinois’ new governor pardoned the remaining defendants and criticized the trial.
Harper’s Weekly depiction of the explosion