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. Coming in the midst of the largest national strike Americans had ever seen, the bombing created mass hysteria and led to a sensational trial, which culminated in four controversial executions. The trial seized headlines across the country, created the nation’s first red scare and dealt a blow to the labor movement from which it would take decades to recover.
Death in the Haymarket brings these remarkable events to life, re-creating a tempestuous moment in American social history. James Green recounts the rise of the first great labor movement in the wake of the Civil War and brings to life the epic twenty-year battle for the eight-hour workday. He shows how the movement overcame numerous setbacks to orchestrate a series of strikes that swept the country in 1886, positioning the unions for a hard-won victory on the eve of the Haymarket tragedy.
As he captures the frustrations, tensions and heady victories, Green also gives us a rich portrait of Chicago, the Midwestern powerhouse of the Gilded Age. We see the great factories and their wealthy owners, including men such as George Pullman, and we get an intimate view of the communities of immigrant employees who worked for them. Throughout, we are reminded of the increasing power of newspapers as, led by the legendary Chicago Tribune editor Joseph Medill, they stirred up popular fears of the immigrants and radicals who led the unions.
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.
had seized upon the city and had its storm center at that jail.” 45 None of the relatives or friends of the four anarchists were allowed to witness the execution that day, so they had bid them goodbye the evening before. Because Lucy Parsons had been denied access to the jail, she set out the morning of the hanging day determined to see Albert one last time. After rising early, she put on a handmade dress of dark cloth and wound a long black veil of crepe around her face and over her hat; and
Demarest Lloyd called the possibilities of “social beauty, utility and harmony of which they have not been able even to dream.” Carter Harrison, the mayor who had been driven from office for allowing free speech to anarchists, became the exposition’s dominant personality, the embodiment of Chicago’s tolerant soul and progressive spirit.44 The Haymarket case assumed a surprisingly prominent place in all this excitement. After John Peter Altgeld’s inauguration as governor, Schilling, Lloyd and a
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
Cultures and the Role of the State in Labor’s Republic: A View from Chicago,” Labor History 32 (Summer 1991), pp. 387–93. Workingman’s Advocate, July 7, 1866. Workingman’s Advocate, April 28, 1866. Montgomery, Beyond Equality, pp. 90–91. P. Foner and Roediger, Our Own Time, p. 86. Also see Montgomery, Beyond Equality, pp. 254–55. P. Foner, Labor Movement, Vol. 1, p. 364; Steward quoted in Montgomery, Beyond Equality, p. 251. George McNeill, ed., The Labor Movement: The Problem of Today
instance, in 1875, when four murderers repented their sins on the gallows, the Times headline read JERKED TO JESUS.5 Storey believed city people were on their own in a world where fear and disorder ruled. If workingmen were unemployed, they deserved nothing from the city, and if their demonstrations turned violent, they deserved to be put down with force such as the French army used against the communists in Paris. Rejecting all public solutions to the problems of the poor, Storey called instead