Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America
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On May 4, 1886, a bomb exploded at a Chicago labor rally, wounding dozens of policemen, seven of whom eventually died. A wave of mass hysteria swept the country, leading to a sensational trial, that culminated in four controversial executions, and dealt a blow to the labor movement from which it would take decades to recover. Historian James Green recounts the rise of the first great labor movement in the wake of the Civil War and brings to life an epic twenty-year struggle for the eight-hour workday. Blending a gripping narrative, outsized characters and a panoramic portrait of a major social movement, Death in the Haymarket is an important addition to the history of American capitalism and a moving story about the class tensions at the heart of Gilded Age America.
land, and the government suppressed all types of protests, including strikes and May Day marches.13 Eugene Debs and socialist opponents of the war were tried for sedition and imprisoned. The IWW was devastated by vigilante assaults and federal prosecutions. A third red scare followed the war, and in 1920, the Department of Justice conducted raids that led to the arrest of 10,000 people, whose civil liberties were abused by federal agents. That same year, Congress enacted a law that allowed the
Parsons, 1910; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1969), p. 120; A. Parsons, “Autobiography,” p. 48. Ashbaugh, Lucy Parsons, p. 75. Adelman, Haymarket Revisited (see chap. 4, n. 20), p. 32. Quote in Keil and Jentz, eds., German Workers, Documentary, pp. 392–93, in a translated article in Die Fackel, June 19, 1910. Lum, A Concise History, pp. 37–38; Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1886; McLean, Rise and Fall of Anarchy, p. 91. Parsons’s summary of his speech on May 4 is quoted in Lum, A Concise History,
and saloonkeepers, gamblers and socialist rabble-rousers, but he knew “honest poverty” when he saw it. Hardworking men, unemployed through no fault of their own, deserved the respect and understanding of more fortunate Chicagoans, not their contempt. While the city enjoyed a lavish centennial celebration on July 4, Medill anguished over the future of the nation, “great in all the powers of a vast empire,” but “weak and poor in social morality as compared with one hundred years ago.”4 MEDILL’S
comrades patiently set out to organize new clubs of Social Revolutionaries and to expand the circulation of their paper, the Arbeiter-Zeitung. ALBERT PARSONS WAS ONE of the few Americans who played a prominent role in this activity because he shared the young Germans’ belief that workers needed their own clubs and newspapers to absorb revolutionary ideas just as they needed their own militia to defend their rights; yet a truly powerful and radical workers’ movement required something more as
take joint action on May 1, 1886. In doing so, these Knights defied the orders of Grand Master Workman Terence Powderly, who opposed a general strike because he feared it would generate destructive class conflict. He also complained about the “quality” of the new members rushing to join the Knights and even suspended organizing for forty days, but to no avail: his defiant organizers kept on recruiting.8 Propelled by the eight-hour movement’s momentum, the Knights even penetrated two fortresses