AUGUST 22 , 1886–APRIL 2, 1887
THE DAY AFTER the verdict came down, a large group of discontented workingmen gathered at Greenbaum Hall on Chicago’s West Side. The assembly represented all the divisions of the city’s tattered army of labor—the skilled and the unskilled, the native and the foreign-born. There were Bavarian Catholics and Swedish Lutherans along with Irish-American Knights and British socialists, as well as German and Bohemian anarchists. Most of these men had voted for Mayor Carter Harrison and the Democrats in the last election; some had voted Republican, and some, the militants, had not voted at all. Now, after the tumultuous spring of strikes and a tense summer of trial news, they had had enough of politics as usual. They were assembled that day to found their own united labor party and run their own candidates for office. Before the proceedings began, the delegates all rose to give a standing ovation, not to a labor leader, but to a middle-aged woman in a dark matronly dress. The woman they cheered that day was Mrs. Hortensia Black, who spoke for her husband, Captain Black, the corporation lawyer whose exhaustive defense of the Haymarket defendants had made him a working-class hero in Chicago and beyond.
When the jury had rendered its verdict and its death sentences on August 20, few trade unionists commented in the press. Still, the news that came from Judge Gary’s courtroom alarmed many workers, who now feared losing their rights to protest and speak out in anger. A dangerous precedent had been set that day: if some kind of lethal violence occurred after the trade unionists freely assembled and expressed themselves, then their leaders could be indicted and tried as accessories to murder.1
After hearing Mrs. Black’s critical remarks on the Haymarket trial and verdict, the meeting at Greenbaum’s voted to field a full independent ticket in the November elections, despite the opposition of some top union officials. On August 28, the Chicago Express, whose editor supported the Knights and the eight-hour movement, branded Inspector Bonfield the “real author of the Haymarket slaughter.” And on Labor Day various Chicago union members met to denounce the verdict and the role of the newspapers in whipping up hatred and fear.2
Expressions of protest grew in volume during the fall, when Captain Black and his team harshly criticized the summer’s trial proceedings and made the case for a new trial.3 Judge Gary, who had received huge accolades from the fourth estate, gave the critics no satisfaction. After a week of hearings during the first week of October, he denied the defendants’ plea with a blunt statement insisting that the anarchists had received a fair trial during which the people had shown unprecedented patience toward the accused.4
When the judge finished reading his ruling on October 7, the convicts were allowed to speak on their own behalf before the sentence was passed. Normally, this judicial ritual permitted defendants to offer a belated confession or to express sorrow over their victims’ fate. What happened next in the Chicago courthouse was anything but normal, as the eight anarchists recited a litany of injustices perpetrated against them by the police, the press, the prosecutors, the judge and the jury. For three days the anarchists took the floor and held it while they addressed a higher court of popular opinion, a court constituted, in their minds, by the worldwide community of workers. The anarchists believed they were being tried for the words they had spoken in the past, and now they aimed to be remembered in the future for the last words they uttered.
On October 8, as August Spies rose to speak before the court, Judge Gary repeated his caution to the audience to refrain from any demonstration. He then ordered all to be seated, even though some had to sit on the floor. After some moving and shuffling, everyone quieted as the so-called ringleader of the Chicago anarchists looked out over the room and began to give the speech of his life. It lasted for several hours as Spies rebutted Grinnell’s charges one by one, impeached the testimony of paid witnesses and took exception to the state’s attorney’s appeal to patriotism, “the last refuge of the scoundrel.” “I have been a citizen of this city as long as Mr. Grinnell,” he declared, “and am probably as good a citizen as Grinnell.” Indeed, Spies asserted, he was a principled man, not a common murderer with no principles as the attorney charged. He was indeed a man of ideas and he would not allow the state to deny this. Spies said he would not divest himself of his ideas, even if he could, because they constituted part of himself. 5
When Spies stopped defending himself, he took the offensive, challenging those who believed that killing the anarchists would bring an end to the nation’s labor troubles. “If you think you can stamp out the labor movement, then hang us!” But, he added, “Here you will tread upon a spark, but here, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground is on fire upon which you stand.” Spies concluded by declaring that if the state thought people should suffer capital punishment because they “dared to tell the truth,” then he would “proudly and defiantly pay the costly price.” “Call your hangman!” he said to Judge Gary. He was prepared to die like others before him—from Socrates to Christ to Galileo—who had been “crucified” for telling the truth.6
Like their leader, August Spies, the other defendants who addressed the court refused to beg for mercy. Michael Schwab offered a defense of anarchy, saying it was the antithesis of violence. Violence was used on all sides, he argued, and the anarchists only advocated “violence against violence”—as a “necessary means of self defense.” Louis Lingg took a very different tack. His speech was emphatic and angry. He said he would die gladly on the gallows knowing that hundreds of people he knew would now make use of dynamite. Then he denounced the entire process as a sham. When his concluding remarks were translated from German to English, gasps arose in the courtroom. “I despise you and I despise your laws,” Lingg had shouted. “Hang me for it!” 7
Oscar Neebe described his dilemma with biting irony, saying that he had been accused of the “crimes” of organizing workers, publishing a workers’ newspaper, marshaling a parade of anarchist union members. No evidence had been introduced to show that Neebe was connected to the alleged conspiracy in any way, but for crimes like being the marshal of a demonstration, he was to be confined to prison for fifteen years. He alone would escape the gallows, but at this reprieve he expressed only despair. “Your honor,” he concluded, to the dismay of his lawyers, “I am sorry I am not to be hung with the rest of them.” Neebe said it would be more honorable to die suddenly next to his comrades “than be killed by inches” in prison.8
At the end of the day on October 8, Albert Parsons took his turn to speak. He had made many speeches in tense settings—at gatherings before freed slaves on Texas plantations and at rallies before vast throngs in Chicago’s raucous market squares—but now he spoke in a court of law before a captive audience of a thousand of his fellow citizens and scores of reporters. He wanted to give a speech not only for the moment but for the ages, a speech that might not save his life but that would preserve his voice for posterity.
Looking sallow and wasted from his confinement, Parsons stood before the courtroom in a black suit with a red flower in his lapel and a necktie to match. He placed an enormous folder of papers on the table in front of him and then began speaking in his remarkably clear voice. At first, he assumed the role of a petitioner.
Your Honor, if there is one distinguishing characteristic which has made itself prominent in the conduct of this trial it has been the passion, the heat, the anger, the violence of everything connected with this case. . . . You ask me why a sentence of death should not be pronounced upon me. You ask me why you should give me a new trial that I might establish my innocence and the ends of justice be served. I answer, your Honor, and say that this verdict is a verdict of passion, born of passion, nurtured in passion, and is the sum total of the organized passion of the city of Chicago. For this reason I ask your suspension of the sentence and a new trial.9
Then Parsons altered his tone, shifting from the part of petitioner to the role of denouncer. He first attacked those who claimed to represent public sentiment, “that vile and infamous monopoly of hired liars—the capitalist press.” Addressing Gary, he proclaimed, “this trial was conducted by a mob, prosecuted by a mob . . . an organized and powerful mob.” At this moment, the convict uttered the words that would be quoted over and over again by those who looked back in anger at the trial. “Now, your Honor, I hold that our execution, as the matter stands now, would be judicial murder.” He kept on speaking through the afternoon and then, as evening approached and gaslights popped on, Parsons calmly turned to the judge and said: “Your Honor, if you will permit it, I would like to stop now and resume tomorrow morning.”10
At 10 a.m. the next day, seemingly refreshed and composed, Parsons carried on with his discourse. He would hold forth for the rest of the day. Once again, he began in a solicitous way. “Well, possibly I have said some foolish things,” he granted. “Who has not?” He explained that the plight of the workers and the assaults made upon them by policemen and militiamen overwhelmed him with feelings of pity and indignation, and so he had said some things he might not have said in a cooler frame of mind. The angry words he had uttered did not, however, mean that he was an assassin. “I am called a dynamiter by the prosecution here. Why? Did I ever use dynamite? No. Did I ever have any? No.” Then why was he called a dynamiter? Simply because he told workers that dynamite would, like the invention of gunpowder, serve to equalize social power.
Then he was off again, speaking without apology. “So today,” he declared, “dynamite comes as the emancipator of man from the domination . . . of his fellow man.” Judge Gary grew visibly impatient, but Parsons refused to change direction. “Bear with me now,” he said. “Dynamite is the diffusion of power. It is democratic; it makes everybody equal.” After infuriating most of his listeners with this lecture, the speaker returned to the legal question of free speech. “It is proposed by the prosecution here to take me by force and strangle me on the gallows for these things I have said, for these expressions,” he remarked, but did it follow that he was a dynamiter because he held these views and expressed them in angry speeches?11
Parsons continued in a less provocative way, assuming new speaking roles as he proceeded into the late morning. He spoke as a historian, narrating the development of the labor movement and the history of bloody lockouts and massacres suffered by workers, devoting special attention to the Pinkerton Agency, “a private army” employers hired to terrorize workers and suppress their protests. He spoke as a political philosopher, defining the meaning of socialism and explaining that it took two forms— anarchism, an egalitarian society without a controlling authority, and state socialism, which meant governmental control of everything. He spoke as an economist, examining the wage question, the eight-hour reform movement and the relations of capital and labor. And he spoke as a journalist about the “real facts of the Haymarket tragedy,” quoting the testimony of Mayor Harrison, who said that the meeting was peaceful and that none of the speakers had incited the crowd.12
Parsons even assumed the role of a prosecutor, turning the tables on the representatives of the state; they were the ones who had violated the defendants’ rights to free speech, to a free press, to free assembly and the right to self-defense. Flipping the prosecution’s script, the speaker claimed that the bombing itself was “the deliberate work of monopoly— the act of those who themselves charge us with this deed,” and insisted that the accused were the real victims—victims of a conspiracy hatched by the city’s millionaires to deprive them of their lives and liberties. 13
As the day wore on, the audience shifted uneasily, and Judge Gary became increasingly agitated, expressing his irritation with hard looks and gestures. But there were still more voices of Albert Parsons to be heard. He even lectured the jury as a scientist on—of all things—the chemistry of dynamite. Parsons argued that the missile thrown on May 4 was not made of dynamite; it was instead “what was known in the Civil War as an infernal bomb composed of gunpowder, not nitroglycerin.” The proof lay in the testimony of the surgeons who described wounds in the policemen’s bodies that were far less serious than if dynamite had been used. Dynamite would have blown them into “unrecognizable fragments.” 14
Then, shifting abruptly to the high ground, Parsons identified himself as an American citizen, one whose ancestors fought at Bunker Hill and Valley Forge. He and Oscar Neebe were the only defendants who “had the fortune, or the misfortune—as some people look at it—of being born in this country,” he said. The rest of his comrades were charged with being foreigners, “as though it was a crime to be born in some other country.” Then, rallying his strength, the speaker declared himself “an Inter-nationalist,” one whose patriotism extended “beyond the boundary lines of a single state.” Opening his arms wide, he declared, “The world is my country, all mankind my countrymen.”15
At about 1 p.m. Parsons, clearly exhausted, asked the judge for a short lunch recess, explaining that he had been weakened physically by his confinement in a gloomy cell without his customary outdoor exercise. Judge Gary cut Parsons off and denied his plea for a recess.16 Angry now, the speaker turned on the judge and addressed him directly in a thin but insistent voice. “I am here standing in the spot awaiting your sentence, because I hate authority in every form,” he rasped. “I am doomed by you to suffer an ignominious death because I am an outspoken enemy of coercion, of privilege, of force, of authority.” He was nearing the end. “Think you, the people are blind, are asleep, are indifferent?” Parsons asked, addressing all those in authority. “You deceive yourselves. I tell you, as a man of the people, and I speak for them, that your every word and act . . . are recorded. You are being weighed in the balance. The people are conscious of your power—your stolen power. I, a working man, stand here and to your face, in your stronghold of oppression, denounce . . . your crimes against humanity. It is for this I die, but my death will not have been in vain.” Near collapse, he said in a low tone: “I guess I have finished. I don’t know as I have anything more to say.” 17 Not a single voice cheered, not a pair of hands clapped for this speech, the last one Albert Parsons would ever deliver.
In a heartbeat, the judge pronounced the sentence. Oscar Neebe was to be imprisoned in the Joliet State Penitentiary, to serve a fifteen-year sentence at hard labor. Each of the other seven defendants would, at the appointed time and in the manner prescribed by state statute, be “hanged by the neck until he is dead.” Then Gary ordered the bailiff to remove the prisoners.
And so it ended, one of the most remarkable criminal trials that ever occurred in this country; remarkable for its sheer drama and for the passionate interest it aroused among people all over America; remarkable for the prosecution’s unprecedented application of conspiracy law; remarkable for the quality of evidence used to convict seven men of murder; and remarkable for the way the proceedings and the verdict divided Americans along fault lines of class and nationality.18
JUDGE GARY HAD ORDERED the execution of the condemned men to take place on or before December 3, 1886, but Captain Black held out hope for a reprieve until the case could be reviewed by the state supreme court. In the meantime, the anarchists’ supporters began to mount a defense campaign. Lucy Parsons took to the road and spoke to union audiences in several cities, where she raised money and aroused sympathy.19 Support for the defendants surfaced in the anarchist-led unions as well as in various assemblies of the Knights of Labor, where Parsons and the other Chicago anarchists were known as organizers and leaders of the eight-hour movement.
During and after the red scare in May of 1886, the powerful movement for shorter hours had all but expired, as employers regained the offensive and restored traditional workdays of ten or more hours. On October 11, 1887, the big meat companies in the Chicago stockyards announced a return to ten hours a day after negotiations broke down over the Knights of Labor’s demands to maintain an eight-hour day. A huge strike then erupted in the yards, where the Knights had recruited more than 20,000 members. The packers employed the Pinkerton Agency, which provided 800 armed guards to protect strikebreakers. The workers held out for three weeks, against the orders of national leaders, but they eventually gave up their struggle to save the eight-hour day, and trudged back into the yards in early November thoroughly defeated.20 This was the beginning of the end of the Noble and Holy Order in Chicago and in other cities, where the Knights suffered from crippling internal conflicts and from other devastating defeats at the hands of unified groups of employers who abandoned their competitive ways to form a solid coalition against their unionized employees.21
The national leader of the troubled order, Terence Powderly, who had called an end to the stockyards strike, was denounced as a Benedict Arnold by his embittered followers in Chicago. He also faced growing sentiment among his members that the anarchists there had been unfairly tried and cruelly sentenced. At the union’s national convention that October, Powderly’s forces beat back a resolution declaring the anarchists innocent, but the delegates did issue a plea for mercy on behalf of the condemned.22 After this meeting, the Knights in Chicago endorsed a much stronger resolution branding the verdict “an outrage upon common justice” and a result of a “capitalistic and judicial conspiracy.”23 As recriminations mounted within the order, the imprisoned anarchists were left with the cold comfort that they had long before warned the labor movement about the Grand Master Workman’s cowardice.
A few weeks later the editors of the Chicago Knights of Labor newspaper, who had said on May 5 that the anarchists should be treated like wild beasts, gave up ownership of the newspaper as a result of rising anger over the trial and verdict within the ranks. These editors, Powderly loyalists, were replaced by Ethelbert Stewart, a radical, who had been mentored by the journalist Henry Demarest Lloyd when the young Stewart was working in a coffin factory. As editor of the Chicago Knights of Labor, Stewart published several editorials calling the anarchists’ prosecution a blatant attack against workers’ civil liberties.24 Powderly soon demanded that all Knights stop supporting the anarchists, but Bert Stewart defied the edict and wrote another editorial insisting that the right to a “fair trial” was far more important than any order on earth.25
ON NOVEMBER 23, the anarchists’ lawyer, Captain Black, argued for a writ of error before the Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield, and a few days later, for a stay of execution, which the justices granted, until a hearing on the appeal could take place.26 It was Thanksgiving when Black brought the good news to the cold, dark confines of the Cook County Jail. There was much rejoicing as the anarchists ate and celebrated their reprieve with family and friends.
With this vital challenge met, Captain Black and George Schilling searched for another associate to aid in preparing the appeal. They called first upon Colonel Robert Green Ingersoll, who had championed the eight-hour law when he was Richard Oglesby’s attorney general. The colonel had already consulted with the defense committee, expressing his view that Judge Gary had erred when he instructed the jury that they could convict the defendants of murder if they had spoken with criminal intent. Ingersoll also thought the men had been tried unfairly because the jury was dominated by clerks who were there to do the bidding of their employers. 27 The colonel believed that the anarchists had made terrible mistakes in word and deed, but he thought they were motivated by humanitarian considerations. As the nation’s most prominent atheist, though, Ingersoll feared that he would harm, if not doom, the anarchists’ case if he was associated with it. 28
Captain Black and George Schilling then searched further and found the kind of attorney Ingersoll thought the appellants needed when they secured the services of a famous Illinois criminal lawyer. Leonard Swett, then sixty-one years of age, had become Lincoln’s close friend when they rode the Eighth Circuit of Southern Illinois as young lawyers. Swett had worked with Richard Oglesby to help their friend win the Republican presidential nomination at the 1860 convention. During the Civil War, while he practiced criminal law, Swett had served as a trusted adviser to Lincoln. After the assassination in 1865, Swett moved his practice to Chicago, where he helped to found the city bar association and became renowned for winning acquittals in numerous murder cases.29
DURING THE NEXT MONTHS the anarchists gained something close to celebrity status as they received constant attention in the press and entertained a steady flow of visitors. Joseph R. Buchanan, a prominent organizer and editor for the Knights of Labor, arrived from Denver to bring good tidings from western workers; he then called regularly to see “the boys” after he moved to Chicago to work for the defense. Leading European socialists also visited the jail, including the German party leader, Wilhelm Liebknecht, along with Karl Marx’s daughter Eleanor and her husband, Edward Aveling. Parsons enjoyed many visits from old friends such as the anarchist Dyer D. Lum, who would play a prominent role in the anarchists’ story. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Lum had become an abolitionist and a devoted admirer of John Brown. He enlisted in the Union army to liberate the slaves and after the war joined Wendell Phillips in the reform movement. Lum met Parsons in 1879, when they were lobbying for a national eight-hour law, and drew closer to the Texan as both men moved toward anarchism. A brilliant writer and a sophisticated intellectual, Dyer Lum was utterly devoted to the revolutionary cause and as committed to the use of force as his hero John Brown had been. Lum was also deeply committed to the Haymarket defendants, so much so that he sold his business in New York after their arrest and moved to Chicago to aid in their defense and to reopen Albert Parsons’s newspaper, the Alarm.30
In addition, the defendants were interviewed by scores of reporters from the very newspapers whose editors had already tried them and condemned them to death. One of them was Charles Edward Russell, who filed daily reports from Chicago for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. The journalist spoke at length with them all, save Lingg. At first, they regarded Russell as their natural enemy and part of the capitalist press machinery that had convicted them in the public eye, but, eventually, the inmates became approachable, even cordial. The impressions the convicts made on this reporter and other journalists began to seep into news stories, which often described the anarchists as ordinary men visiting affectionately with family and friends. Russell, for example, found Spies attractive, “well educated, magnificently set up, fluent and plausible in English as well as German, a blue-eyed Saxon, emotional, sentimental and rash.” Fielden seemed an affable, almost comic figure, a likable, awkward “galoot.” Schwab looked the part of a German university professor, “a thin, angular, sallow person, spectacled, long-haired, black-bearded, unkempt”—a man with “the best mental equipment” but a “dreamy” way about him. Fischer, on the other hand, seemed to Russell a hotheaded youth, “a half baked student of German philosophical anarchism.” Engel’s beliefs, however, were the genuine product of his hard experience as an orphan who had been kicked from pillar to post. “He had a chubby, good-natured face, looked like an elderly German bar tender, seemed to cherish no resentments,” and he “talked freely and entertainingly” with anyone who approached him.31
Albert Parsons was the special one to Russell, who confessed that he took a strong liking to the prisoner. Russell found the Texan an immensely engaging conversationalist and a picturesque storyteller with good taste in poetry and an excellent singing voice. The reporter regarded Parsons’s political thinking as incomplete and confused, but still found it impossible not to like him.32 Thus the anarchists, once demonized as beasts, began, now that they were caged on death row, to be humanized by the newspapermen who had helped put them behind bars.
George Engel (left) and Adolph Fischer
Art Young, a twenty-year-old artist from Wisconsin, depicted the condemned men in their cells for the Chicago Daily News as they assumed casual poses. In one drawing Parsons is seated looking like a lawyer relaxing in a businessman’s club, one leg thrown over the other, a newspaper dangling loosely from one hand, a cigarillo held elegantly in the other. Another less artful drawing by a different illustrator showed Albert embracing his daughter, Lulu, while Lucy is seen looking in at them from behind the bars. Young also drew Maria Schwab dressed in a shirtwaist and wearing a large hat, sitting in a chair and talking to her husband, Michael, as he leaned against the bars to be close to her.33
Lingg played a special part in this jailhouse mise-en-scène . His hostile looks, his defiance in court, his threatening words and his reckless attitude made the others seem less menacing. Art Young, who was the same age as the prisoner, drew him with his arms crossed and a faint smile on his lips. “My memory of Louis Lingg is distinct,” Young wrote later, “because the sun was shining in his cell as I sketched him. He was a handsome boy, sitting proudly and looking directly toward me as much as to say, ‘Go ahead, nothing matters.’ ” But to other reporters, Lingg seemed a horrifying character, the embodiment of evil. Russell found him a terrifying young man with a malignant stare. Indeed, Lingg seemed the only really dangerous man among the eight; so it struck the reporter as odd that this “tiger anarchist” had a sweetheart who visited him— a tall, statuesque brunette, who came frequently from the West Side and talked intimately with the prisoner through the steel bars and wire mesh of his cell.34
The most sensational visitor of all was Nina Van Zandt, a well-bred young woman who had become closely attached to August Spies. “She was about twenty-four, slenderly-fashioned, handsome, always exquisitely gowned,” Russell recalled, and she conducted herself with the “deportment of a refined educated woman.” She came to see Spies every day and spoke quietly to him for her allotted hour. It was impossible for the reporter to imagine a figure more incongruous in such a grim place. Other journalists were fascinated by Spies’s lady friend as well, and they eagerly reported her appearances and speculated as to her motives.35
The only child of a wealthy Chicago medicine manufacturer, Nina Van Zandt was a graduate of Vassar and the heiress to a small fortune. Like many other ladies, she had been a curious spectator at the trial of the century, but unlike the others, she had gradually become convinced of the defendants’ innocence. Driven by a feeling of horror that these men would die on the gallows, she plunged into defense work. After visiting all the prisoners, she turned her attentions mainly to Spies, and by December she had fallen in love with him. Though they spoke through iron bars and wire mesh, it was clear to observers that the couple had romantic feelings for each other. The jailers made no attempt to interfere, but after the installation of a new sheriff named Canute Matson, a tough disciplinarian of Norwegian origin, Nina’s visits were drastically curtailed.36
In their next conversation the couple devised a bold plan. Because wives were allowed more visiting time than friends, Spies and Van Zandt decided they should be married. When their plans for a wedding on death row leaked out, the newspaper editors went wild with rage. Nina was suddenly the subject of unending abuse and ridicule. There would have been little comment, Van Zandt recalled, if she had been some “obscure, foreign girl,” but she was regarded as an American lady of privilege and standing, so lowering herself by agreeing to marry a condemned criminal seemed to the press like something akin to prostitution.37
The defense attorneys, Black and Swett, were beside themselves with distress over Spies’s romantic intentions, which they feared would damage their chances for appeal; but they could not persuade him to alter his course. The lawyers were relieved when the sheriff refused to allow the marriage to take place in the jail. Yet the sensational affair did not fade from the news; it reappeared on January 29, 1887, when Henry Spies repeated the marriage vows on his brother’s behalf and Nina Van Zandt responded for herself, promising to love, honor and obey the most notorious man in America. A few days later a gang attacked the Van Zandt home, and the sheriff barred Nina from visiting her newlywed husband at all.38
Nina Van Zandt
While the newspapers still buzzed with talk of the jailhouse love affair, Black and Swett began their arguments before the Illinois Supreme Court. The captain was confident of a reversal of the judgment because, even though the press remained adamantly supportive of the verdict, public opinion seemed to be shifting. At about this time, Black learned from Eleanor Marx and her husband that most of the working-class people the English socialists met on a multicity tour that winter believed the anarchists’ trial to be a miscarriage of justice. Lucy Parsons reported similar responses while on the road for many weeks following the October sentencing. By March she had addressed fifty audiences in sixteen states, generating sympathy for the defendants and raising money for their defense. She was arrested in Columbus and Akron but pressed on with her solo campaign to seek support from various segments of the population.39
Captain Black’s assurance of winning a new trial was based not on public opinion, however, but on his certainty that the appeal he drafted revealed that a legal travesty had occurred in Judge Gary’s courtroom. When he appeared before the supreme court justices, a half-dozen elderly men, the attorney argued that no conspiracy to commit murder had been proven and that the anarchists had been convicted entirely for their beliefs.40
Attorney Swett chose a different approach. Speaking as a pioneer Illinois Republican and a close associate of Lincoln, the counselor appealed to those experiences he shared with the justices. He recalled the history of the party’s formation, when its radical leaders denounced the Constitution, established the Underground Railroad and conspired to act against the laws of the United States by aiding and abetting the escape of slaves. The storm finally peaked, he added, when John Brown violated the laws of Virginia. Swett then applied this history lesson to the anarchist case, arguing that all the Republicans who gave such subversive antislavery speeches and “believed in the utopian idea of a change in society for the benefit of a class” were criminal conspirators with John Brown and, therefore, by this logic ought to have been hanged as well.41
After the plea had been argued before the supreme court, the city turned its attention away from the case to the exciting municipal elections taking place in April. Electoral politics, like most aspects of public life in Chicago, had been deeply affected by the anarchist trial. The new United Labor Party had made a surprising showing in the November elections, winning 26 percent of the vote across the city and much more in immigrant working-class wards. In the town of Lake, where eight-hour strikers in the stockyards had faced an occupying army of Pinkertons, sheriff’s deputies and National Guard troops, the insurgent vote was even higher. From his cell in the county jail, Albert Parsons had claimed that every vote cast for the labor ticket in Chicago was a protest against the verdict in his trial.42
As the spring election neared, the socialists, anarchists and other labor activists cheered when Mayor Harrison refused to accept a fifth nomination as a Democratic candidate for mayor of Chicago; instead, he endorsed the Labor Party ticket headed by a socialist worker and supported by various factions of the union movement, including the anarchist-led organizations. Harrison’s action was quickly forgotten when panic-stricken Democratic Party leaders endorsed the Republican mayoral candidate and joined forces with their old rivals against the threat posed by a third party with radical leadership. The United Labor Party candidates campaigned against “Black Jack” Bonfield and promised to remove him as police inspector if they won. The Republicans responded by charging that the new party was a stalking horse for the anarchists, who wanted to abolish the police department and create a state of anarchy. On election day, April 5, the Tribune told its readers: “Ballots should be cast for law and order as against anarchy and incompetency.”43
The law-and-order coalition played effectively on the public’s fear of urban disorder, a feeling that remained palpable nearly a year after Haymarket. As a result, the Republican mayoral candidate, John A. Roche, swept to victory and the Labor Party failed to increase its vote. Inspector Bonfield told the press there “wasn’t a prouder man in Chicago” that night than he, for the election represented a vindication of his course of action and a rejection of those who wanted to drive him from the city. When Albert Parsons heard the news in Cell 29, the Tribune’s reporter wrote that he raged over the results like a lunatic and let loose “a string of oaths that would have captured a Democratic convention.” From the day of his surrender, Parsons was sure the state was going to kill him, but he hoped that his trial and ordeal would at least revive the radical workers’ movement he had led for a decade; now he felt frustrated enough to bark at a reporter, “The fools are as plentiful as ever.”44
Spies, Schwab and Neebe were also visibly upset, but they made no comment to the press. Sam Fielden chose to speak to reporters and told them he was downcast after the election. “I feel very bad about it,” he told one newsman. “Prejudice has been worked up by the press to such an extent during the campaign that popular feeling is now almost as bad as it was after the 4th of May, and this cannot but have a bad effect on the Judges of the Supreme Court.” He no longer held out much hope that he would receive a new trial. “We were convicted in consequence of public clamor,” Fielden said with his usual bluntness, “and we may hang from the same cause.”45