The Life and Story of a Haymarket Massacre Martyr
Born: September 9, 1864, Mannheim, Germany
Died: November 10, 1887, Chicago, United States- committed suicide by exploding a bomb in his mouth
Louis Lingg was born in Mannheim, the Grand Duchy of Baden in Germany on September 9, 1864. At the time Mannheim had a population of around 65,000 and was a European center for navigation and railway traffic.
Lingg's parents made just enough money to meet the needs of both Louis and his younger sister, until his father, Friedrich had a tragic accident in the lumber mill where he worked. He was willing to perform many tasks at the mill that the other workers did not have the nerve to even attempt. Friedrich was doing just such a task one day as he moved logs down an icy river. The logs started to create a jam and in his effort to get the lumber moving again, he fell through a section of the ice and remained trapped for quite some time. Although his father was saved, Louis believed that the accident actually caused his father's eventual death. This is because the incident destroyed his father's courageous nature. He was no longer able to undertake the same tasks at the lumber mill and he became just like all the other workers, expendable. After 20 years of service his boss fired Friedrich as other workers became more important. Three years later Louis's father died.
Louis claims that the poor treatment of his father was the first time he experienced the evil in the prevailing social order. In his biography Louis explains:
"At this time I was thirteen and my sister seven years old, and at this age I received my first impressions of the prevailing unjust social institutions, i.e., the exploitation of men by men." (Foner p.170)
Lingg explains that the treatment his father received from his employer was the incident that started his ill-feelings towards societies' social order. Lingg was angered at the fact that as his father's employer grew richer, it was his father who performed a major part in creating the wealth his employer experienced. Then, after doing so much, Friedrich's employer simply threw him away.
As Louis grew up and entered the work force himself, his anger grew more intense. Louis explains:
"Shortly, all the incidents which I have narrated before, implanted into my mind the seed of bitter hatred against the existing society, which feeling grew still more intense with my entrance into the industrial arena, and which has inspired me in my late agitation against capitalistic society with its barbarous and inhuman effects. The life which was allotted to us after my father's death, was only a further source to inflame my embitterment and hatred and we were, to a great extent, subjected to the freaks of our rich customers who were living in grand style, by creating debt everywhere." (Foner p.170)
Louis and his mother and sister went on living in poverty. Louis was even forced to travel around the city while begging, just to make ends meet. Yet, time after time Louis would be given nothing even from the wealthiest families in the city.
When he was old enough, Lingg decided he wanted to become a carpenter. He gained an apprenticeship which lasted from 1869 to 1882. Lingg's desire to become a carpenter stemmed from the fact that he wanted to see the world and most importantly that he did not want to be dependent on one master like his father.
Lingg began working in Strasbourg, within the province of Alsace. He then moved on to Fribourg, Baden where he joined the working men's educational society. This organization was built of the remains of the German National Working Men's Union. This is where Lingg first got a glimpse of the doctrines on socialism and communism.
Lingg then began to travel all through Switzerland on foot. He was intrigued by all the country had to offer. Louis explains himself, "...I directed my steps to Switzerland, the splendid reputation of which country, with regard to its beautiful landscapes and to its free institutions, had attracted my attention, and had aroused my admiration." (Foner p.172) Every town in Switzerland that Lingg worked in contained working men's unions, which were usually split into two sides. One side was democratic and the other anarchist. Studying the ideals of both branches provided Lingg with the knowledge that he was a social revolutionist, an anarchist.
In the spring of 1884, the time had come for Lingg to serve the required three years of German military service. However, he did not plan on spending three years for a cause he was totally against. So instead, Lingg continued work in Switzerland while traveling from town to town. He could never stay in any town for too long because the Swiss government did not allow Germans, who was hiding from military service, to reside within Swiss borders. This just served to strengthen his hatred toward capitalistic society even more. Finally, Lingg made it to Zurich and was able to hide there for about a year. In Zurich he was once again able to participate in the labor movement. The experiences enabled Lingg to further his newly found beliefs based on anarchy. Lingg explains:
"In this period of party life, experiences led me to the conclusion that in a centralistic organization, with a representative system, all power and activity is concentrated in the hands of the few, thus inducing them to corruption and imperiousness, whilst the great masses are inclined to become indifferent and stupid." (Foner p.175)
In the spring of 1885, the police in Zurich discovered Lingg and he was ordered to leave the country. At about the same time Lingg received a letter from his mother telling him that her new husband had agreed to give him the funds necessary to move to America.
In July of 1885, Lingg arrived in New York City and moved directly to Chicago. He immediately joined the International Carpenters and Joiners' Union. He found work, yet with no tools was forced to pay his boss 75 cents every day for the use of his employer's equipment. Working for a boss and paying him out of his own wages greatly disturbed Lingg.
In the mean time, Lingg was becoming very well known among the members of the union. He was elected as delegate to the Central Labor Union and devoted much of his free time to this cause. He was also voted in as organizer of the International Carpenters and Joiners Union.
On May 4, 1886, Lingg was present at a Unionist rally for implementation of the eight hour workday. It took place at Haymarket Square in Chicago's West Side and would eventually be known as the Haymarket Riot. During the rally one of the speakers was cut off by a large body of charging police. The police put a stop to the meeting and demanded that the people disperse. Before anything else could be done, a dynamite bomb was thrown into the crowd of policemen resulting in total hysteria. Lingg was arrested along with seven other men in connection with the bomb. While in prison, awaiting his trial Lingg wrote:
"At present I am imprisoned behind iron bars, and can for pastime reflect on this 'land of the free and home of the brave.' Fortunately, those who still believe this land to be 'free' are either fools or knaves. It is my conviction that every intelligent and upright man will admit that the United States of America are nowadays simply and purely the land of capitalistic tyranny and the home of the most brutal police despotism.(Foner p.177)
To waste words as regards our trail would be to carry water to the sea, so manifest were the machinations and hatred against us. As regards my alleged 'moral guilt,' which Judge Gary proclaimed in obedience to the wishes of the money aristocracy, I will here ask the reader two questions: If the police had not unlawfully attacked the people at the Haymarket, would the bomb have been thrown! If the police were not justified in violating the right of free assemblage, then would the unknown have had less desire and less right to throw the missle had I never existed!"(Foner p.177)
Although there was no evidence proving a connection with any of the men and the actual bomb throwing, Lingg and six of the men were convicted and sentenced to death and one to fifteen years in prison. Lingg decided to take his own life, instead of letting the system he hated so much. On November 10, 1887, a day before he was scheduled to hang, Louis Lingg exploded a bomb in his mouth.
On June 26, 1893 Illinois governor, John Altgeld, pardoned all eight men who had been convicted of the Haymarket Riot, stating that they were innocent of the crime they had died for.
Foner P.S. The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs. Humanities Press. New York. 1969. p.169-78.