The Trial

Antagonistic feelings against the defendants were evidenced from the beginning of the trial which has been described as “one of the most unjust in the annals of American jurisprudence.”[1] Judge Gary revealed his opinion towards the defendants by convincing “a potential juror into saying he believed he could render a fair judgment in the case, even after the man insisted he felt handicapped,” and spent most of the trial drawing pictures.[2] He often ruled in favor of the prosecution, led by Julius Grinnell who blamed the anarchists for “the attempted subversion of legal authority in the urban polity that was Chicago,” through their insurrectionary speeches and writings, turning the trial into “a fateful struggle between order and disorder.”[3] Testimony from anarchists like William Seliger and Gottfried Waller failed to prove there had been a conspiracy to attack the police.[4] The testimony of both M. M. Thompson, who claimed to have heard Schwab and Spies discussing weapons, and Henry L. Gilmer who named Spies as the bombthrower were discredited by other witnesses. Ultimately Grinnel and his team failed to prove the eight men were responsible for the deaths of the policemen.

The defense, led by Captain William Perkins Black, called Chicago mayor Carter Harrison to state there was no call for the police to intervene and break up the peaceful assembly, shifting the blame for the riot.[5] Eyewitness Dr. James D. Taylor stated Fielden had not called the police names or threatened them with a gun.[6] Speaking in their own defense, the men denied the conspiracy charges, claiming they were “selfless social reformers whose ‘crime’ was not causing disorder but calling attention to it.”[7] Despite Captain Black’s arguments claiming there had been no conspiracy and testimony proving none of the accused had thrown the bomb, the eight men were found guilty. Oscar Neebe was given a prison sentence, while the rest were to be executed. Rather than being grateful, Neebe wrote Governor Richard Oglesby requesting him to “hang me too; for I think it is more honorable to die suddenly than to be killed by inches.”[8]

For complete transcripts of the Haymarket Trial, click here.

[1]Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), xi.
[2]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), 212.; Avrich, 263.
[3]Ibid., 132.
[4]Illinois vs. August Spies et al., Vol I, 112 (Ill 1886); Vol. K, 315, 317. Haymarket Affair Digital Collection, ICHi-09534. Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum found at
[5] Illinois vs. August Spies et al., Vol L, 32-33 (Ill 1886). Chicago Historical Society “Haymarket Affair Digital Collection”
[6]Illinois vs. August Spies et al., Vol. L, 224, 228, 229 (Ill, 1886) Haymarket Affair Digital Collection, ICHi-09534. Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.
[7]Carl Smith,Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb, and the Model Town of Pullman, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 142.
[8]Oscar Neebe, as quoted in Dave Roediger and Franklin Rosemont, Haymarket Scrapbook, (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1986), 61.