The Execution and Pardon

Captain Black was granted a stay of execution to prepare for an appeal, but although he “demonstrated that the state’s case had been built in large part on perjured evidence and on evidence obtained by unlawful means,” and argued the jury’s verdict was motivated by revenge, the appeal was denied.[1] The public meanwhile had cooled in their antagonism towards the anarchists and some began a movement to grant the men clemency. Among the clemency supporters were Nina Van Zandt, who began a romance with August Spies and married him by proxy, and Editor William Dean Howells. Although Governor Oglesby received letters requesting he stop the execution, leading businessmen continued to call for the men’s death. The imprisoned anarchists were urged to write letters to the governor on their own behalf, but most declined, feeling it would be an admission of guilt. Fielden, Schwab, and Spies wrote pleading for their lives, but Spies had a change of heart and wrote a second letter offering his own life stating “if a sacrifice of life must be, will not my life suffice?”[2] As the day of the execution neared, Louis Lingg decided to end his own life by placing smuggled dynamite into his mouth. Although the governor granted Fielden and Schwab life in prison, Engel, Fischer, Parsons and Spies were granted no reprieve and were hanged on November 11, 1887. The men were buried at Waldheim Cemetery in a public funeral where the “crowds exceeded even those that had gathered to march behind Lincoln’s coffin.”[3]

The majority of the American public supported the hangings, but liberals and others who valued free speech proclaimed the men “had been hanged merely for holding and voicing opinions, for organizing and encouraging the workers, for championing the cause of the oppressed.”[4] The election of John Peter Altgeld to the governor’s office offered hope to those who wanted the men released from prison. Although he was aware of the criticism he would receive, Altgeld pardoned Fielden, Neebe, and Schwab after receiving affidavits revealing men with known prejudices against the defendants served on the jury.

[1]Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 300, 334.
[2]August Spies as quoted in Dave Roediger and Franklin Rosemont, Haymarket Scrapbook, (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1986), 24.
[3]James Green, Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America, (New York: Pantheon Books, 2006), 275.
[4]Avrich, 409.

Top Picture from: Roediger and Rosemont, 22.

Bottom Picture from: Bryna J. Fireside, The Haymarket SquareRiot Trial: a Headline Court Case. (Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers Inc., 2002), 166.