Date of Crime


Cook County, IL Haymarket Eight May 4, 1886 (Chicago)

Eight men were convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the death of police officer Mathias J. Degan.  On May 1, 1886 there were general strikes throughout the United States in support of an 8-hour workday.  On May 3 there was a rally of striking workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant in Chicago.  This rally ended with police firing on the workers.  Two workers were known to have died although some newspaper accounts reported six fatalities.

The following day, there was a rally at Haymarket Square to denounce the shooting of workers.  At 10:30 p.m., when the last speaker was finishing his speech, police ordered the rally to disperse and began marching in formation towards the speakers' wagon.  An unknown man then threw a pipe bomb at the police line.  The bomb exploded, killing Officer Degan.

Police immediately opened fire; accounts varied about how many in the crowd fired back, but shooting continued for five minutes.  Seven police officers and at least four workers were killed.  Several officers were injured by the bomb that killed Degan, but most of the police deaths were caused by bullets.  An anonymous police official told the Chicago Tribune “a very large number of the police were wounded by each other's revolvers. ... It was every man for himself, and while some got two or three squares away, the rest emptied their revolvers, mainly into each other.”

About sixty officers were wounded in the incident along with an unknown number of civilians.  Many civilians who were wounded were afraid to seek medical attention, fearing arrest.  Police captain Michael Schaack wrote the number of wounded workers was “largely in excess of that on the side of the police.”  The Chicago Herald estimated at least fifty dead or wounded civilians lay in the streets.

Eight men connected directly or indirectly with the rally and its anarchist organizers were arrested afterward and charged with Degan's murder.  These men were August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden, and Oscar Neebe.  At trial, the prosecution did not offer any credible evidence connecting any of the defendants with the bombing but argued that the person who had thrown the bomb was not discouraged to do so by the defendants, who as conspirators were therefore equally responsible.  All the defendants were sentenced to death except for Neebe who was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment.

The day before the death sentences were to be carried out, the sentences of Fielden and Schwab were commuted to life imprisonment.  Lingg also terminated his scheduled execution that day by committing suicide.  The next day, Nov. 11, 1887, Spies, Parsons, Fischer, and Engel were hanged.  In 1893, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld signed pardons for Fielden, Schwab, and Neebe after having concluded that all eight defendants were innocent.  The governor said the real reason for the bombing was the city of Chicago's failure to hold guards of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency responsible for shooting workers.  He also said the record of police brutality towards the workers had invited revenge, adding, “Capt. Bonfield [of the Chicago Police] is the man who is really responsible for the deaths of the police officers.”  The governor's pardons ended his political career.  The bomb thrower was never identified.

In 1890, international socialist and labor groups began annual demonstrations on May 1 (May Day) to commemorate both the 1886 American labor protests in support of the 8-hour workday and the executed Haymarket martyrs.  These annual demonstrations led to the establishment of May 1 as International Worker's Day.  This day was later perceived in America as a day of military parades by its number one political enemy, the Soviet Union.  It might surprise some to realize that the day basically commemorates American events.  (Famous Trials) (Wikipedia)  [12/09]



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