Chicago Anarchists on Trial: Evidence from the Haymarket Affair, 1886-1887


                       THE WAR CRY.
The day of labor's triumph doth rapidly draw near;
The bugle note is sounding. Devoid of craven fear
See our gallant band advancing; see our column firmly stand,
Each true heart resolved that right shall rule, throughout our hapless land.
The cohorts of the foe may sneer, and call us cranks or worse,
But by truth and justice armed, we care not if they pray or curse,
Ever onward, never halting, striking blows, that always tell,
We will battle till the field is won `gainst all the hosts of Hell.
Our demand is full surrender compromise we shall not heed
        — People's Ex. 37, first published in The Alarm February 7, 1885.

This week our focus shifts to exploring the Chicago Anarchists on Trial: Evidence from the Haymarket Affair, 1886-1887 digital archive at the Library of Congress American Memory project and its source site, the Haymarket Affair Digital Collection, sponsored by the Chicago Historical Society.  On 3 May 1886, police attempts to break up a Chicago strike for the eight-hour workday led to the deaths of numerous workingmen.   The following day, at a rally gathered in Haymarket Square to protest the killings, an unknown person lobbed a bomb amidst a crowd of police officers.  Following the ensuing riot and hail of gunfire, public outcry led to the trial of eight men, all anarchists associated with the labor movement, for accessory to murder.  The digital archives at the Library of Congress and Chicago Historical Society provide raw historical documents pertaining to the Haymarket Affair, from the riot to the trial, conviction, and eventual execution by hanging of four defendants.  (See the Haymarket Affair Chronology.)

Social concerns evinced by the Haymarket Affair extend through the struggle for legitimacy of organized labor, to the range of blame in a “conspiracy,” to the rise in nativism against German emigrants associated with socialist ideas in America.  While we won’t have time to broach all these topics, we can test the archives against how historians have traditionally presented the historical fact, alternating between who was responsible for—the police for instigating, or the anarchists for initiating—the ultimate riot.

Our study of the digital archives will focus on how certain historians have selected and narrated the events of Haymarket, both in traditional print and hypertext formats.  Your assignments this week will be to

Our aim, through access to primary materials surrounding the Haymarket Affair, will be to place the historians themselves on trial.
“Within seconds, except for the dead and wounded, the square was empty.
The 'Haymarket Riot" was over, and the 'Haymarket Affair' --
America's first anarchist drama -- was under way.”
                      —Richard Suskind