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The Haymarket Trial

The arrests for the murder of Matthias J. Degan began on Wednesday May 5th when eight people were found to be connected to the rally: August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe. Schwab's brother in law was also detained and released but was later found to be a likely bomb-thrower, but by the time this was discovered he had fled the country before arrests could occur. [1]

The grand jury was then empanelled on May 17 and ten days later they found that these eight men were to be charged with a sixty-nine count indictment for the homicide of Degan. The reason this was the only murder that they were charged with, since many other policemen died, was because Degan had officially died from the bombing and not from the violent backlash that affected many of his fellow officers. This jury was mainly comprised of middle-class and native-born businessmen, clerks, and salesmen. This jury was seen to be biased against the defense because of the media influences around this occurrence. [1]

The trial, led by Judge Joseph Gary, began on June 21st. The defense counsel was comprised of Sigmund Zeisler, William Perkins Black, William Foster, and Moses Salomon; while Julius Grinnell led the prosecution. [2] On July 15th Grinnell began his opening argument claiming that he had the ability to expose the attacker by summoning two witnesses. The first was Malvern Thompson, who argued that he had heard Spies and Schwab discussing the bombing before the rally. The second, Harry Gilmer, believed that he had seen Spies light a bomb which Schnaubelt then threw into the crowd of police. [1]

The defense lawyer then provided evidence that completely invalidated the prosecution. Schwab was proven to have not attended the rally. Schnaubelt had also not been there during the time that the bomb was thrown since he had left early. Spies had never left the wagon, so he was never out of it to light the bomb, as Gilmer had outlined. Finally, these men only speak to each other in German, thus Malvern Thomson (who does not speak German whatsoever) would not be able to understand their discussions. [1]

After the prosecution was proved to be false, it was argued that the person throwing the bomb was encouraged by the eight martyrs, thus they were responsible for this attack. [2] It was then declared by the jury, on August 20th, that all of the eight defendants were guilty. While seven of them got death sentences, Neebe was sentenced to 15 years in prison (since the case against him was weaker than the rest). [1]


1. Smith, Carl. "The Dramas of Haymarket". Chicago Historical Society and
Northwestern University.February 14, 2010. Web
2.Avrich, P. (1984). The Haymarket Tragedy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press.

Injustice in the Foundation of the Trial

Predictions were made about the trial before it began, and many like William Holmes were very close to the actual verdict. Holmes thought that, "Many of our comrades, and our lawyers, are sanguine of the acquittal," which was very true since General Parsons and many others were very optimistic. Holmes continued before the jury had been seated:

But I confess I have great fears for the result. If it was simply a case of justice and law our comrades would certainly be acquitted, as there is not the least evidence against one of the men now awaiting trial; but the whole course of the press and the authorities during the past few weeks proves hat they are determined upon vengeance, and that no stone will be left unturned to force a verdict of murder and sentence of death upon at least one of the prisoners (The Commonweal, July 17, 1886).

Examples of this bias were published in the Chicago paper. Here the black and white drawing of the eight martyrs was displayed and later described by Carl Sandburg as disgustingly inhuman while the jury was depicted as genuine. Here the eight were portrayed as anarchists who hate the rich and labeled the police "bloodhounds". Here they became conniving prowling animals and the public became quite biased.

The jury was also handled differently than in most cases. Here a "special" bailiff, Henry L. Ryce, handpicked them instead of the traditional random selection. Ryce filtered out the prospective jurors who had a chance of being sympathetic to the defendants' point of view. Otis S. Favor asserted that Ryce stated, in front of witnesses, that, "I am managing this case, and know what I am about. These fellows are going to be hanged as certain as death. I am calling such men as the prosecution wants."

The jury also proved to other witnesses that they were greatly biased before the trial. Juryman Denker stated that, "the whole damn crowd ought to be hanged" and juryman Hamilton wanted the eight to be an example for other revolutionaries and anarchists. This jury consisted of Frank S. Osborn, James H. Cole, James H. Brayton, Alanson H. Reed, Andrew Hamilton, Charles B. Todd, Harry T. Sandford, Scott G. Randall, Theodore E. Denker, Charles H. Ludwig, John B. Greiner, and George W. Adams.

The judge, Judge Gary, also demonstrated bias during the case. During the trial he ruled most debated points unjustly in favor of the prosecution. He also made many blatant statements against the accused during the trial. Samuel McConnell stated that this judge, "seemed to treat the affair as a Roman holiday." Many people maintained that Judge Gary wanted to find a solution that would end in the execution of the prisoners. One theatre manager in Chicago offered to hang the prisoners in a play for free, one each night as a part of the performance. More letters like this were written to Gary propagated through the displays in media, and the general bias surrounding this trial. This trial was conducted in an unjust manner from the core; if it had gone through proper protocol as implemented nowadays, the martyrs would not have been on trial.


Avrich, P. (1984). The Haymarket Tragedy. Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press.


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