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Jo Labadie and His Gift to Michigan

A Legacy for the Masses

The Haymarket Affair




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On May 4, 1886 in Haymarket Square, Chicago, a rally was called to protest the recent attacks on strikers at the McCormick Harvester Works, where just a day before, four workers were killed and several more wounded. Some 3,000 people showed up at the protest rally, among them August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, the German-language publication of the International Working People's Association (IWPA), and Albert Parsons, member of the Knights of Labor and editor of the Alarm, the English-language IWPA paper. Both men were known to Labadie and were considered leaders in the turbulent labor struggles. Toward the end of the rally, after most of the people had gone home, including Parsons, about 180 policemen appeared. They were led by Captain John Bonfield (nicknamed by workers "clubber"), who ignored the recommendation of the mayor to dismiss his men and ordered the peaceful crowd to disperse. Just then a bomb went off, killing one police officer. Mayhem broke out, and in the commotion seven more police and many civilians died from gunshot wounds. It was later established that, apart from the first victim, the rest of the police were shot by their fellow officers.

Although it has never been discovered who made or threw the bomb, Spies and Parsons, along with Louis Lingg (Spies" assistant on the Arbeiter-Zeitung), Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden, Adolph Fischer, Oscar Neebe, and George Engel, were arrested for conspiracy to commit murder. All the men were labor union activists and anarchists; however, only two of the eight were at Haymarket Square at the time of the bombing. After a highly sensationalized and grossly unfair trial in front of a prejudiced jury, seven of the men were sentenced to death and Oscar Neebe received a long prison sentence. Schwab and Fielden later appealed to Illinois Governor Oglesby for executive clemency and had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Rather than surrender to the state's assassin, Lingg committed suicide in jail, leaving Spies, Parsons, Fischer, and Engel to face the hangman, which they did on November 11, 1887. Since there was no substantial evidence against them, it was commonly believed that it was not the actions of the defendants that put them on trial, but their ideals and philosophies.

Jo Labadie was already an anarchist by this time, having been influenced by Benjamin Tucker. He was also very active with the Knights of Labor and had been in the forefront of labor agitation in Detroit for several years. The week before the Haymarket bombing he received a visit from August Spies, whom he admired and respected. Albert Parsons had been a fellow delegate with Labadie at the 1880 Greenback-Labor convention, and the two had together broken with the Socialistic Labor Party to initiate the IWPA. Despite ideological differences, Labadie considered both men brave and honorable, and the Haymarket case to be a fundamental struggle for freedom of speech. He spent much time and effort defending the men in his writings and speeches. His friends were not nearly as agitated by the ordeal, including Benjamin Tucker, who accused the martyrs of being "falsely called Anarchists," and Henry George, who did nothing in defense of the Haymarket martyrs, and in fact believed they were guilty. Terence Powderly, attempting to distance the Knights of Labor from the Haymarket anarchists, openly admonished them, even resorting to denying his own radical past, and found himself the target of Labadie's hostile denunciations.

By the time the second execution date was set (the first being delayed by a stay), public perception had swung in the opposite direction; it was now generally believed that the Haymarket anarchists had been railroaded. Labadie visited them in jail twice just a few weeks before their execution, on his way to and from the Minneapolis Knights of Labor convention, shaking hands with each of them through the bars of their cells. Labadie returned home from that visit with renewed zeal and resumed organizing for their defense by printing and distributing pamphlets, organizing mass meetings, and raising money. Never did he waver in his defense of them or his loyalty to their cause, and he was understandably distraught upon their deaths. Over 20,000 people attended their funeral in Chicago on November 13, 1887.

In 1893, Governor of Illinois John P. Altgeld pardoned the two living Haymarket defendents, Michael Schwab and Samuel Fielden, in a scathing indictment of the trial process. That same year, a bronze monument was erected in honor of the dead men at Waldheim Cemetery (now named Forest Home), Chicago, the gravesites of all but one of the Chicago Martyrs. This Haymarket Monument still attracts many visitors from all over the world.




On Haymarket: "If it is necessary to use dynamite to protect the right of free meetings, free press, and free speech, then the sooner we learn its manufacture and use the better it will be for the toilers of the world. Anything is better than a beastly submission to wrong and injustice."

Cranky Notions, The Labor Leaf, June 16, 1886



"If you would send us one or two copies of Labor Leaf regularly, we should consider it quite a favor... It is most gratifying to us to see that in the general stampede of cowardly retreat there are at least some voices who boldly and fearlessly proclaim The Truth."

August Spies to Jo Labadie, September 7, 1886



On Haymarket: "[Powderly] can now take what consolation he can in knowing that he helped to hang better men than he ever was or ever can be. If it is an act of heroism to attack men who stand upon the scaffold with ropes around their necks then is Mr. Powderly a hero?"

Report to the General Assembly, Knights of Labor, Minneapolis, 1887, to the Detroit