In this second week and in honor of Labor Day, I give you White History Month’s first group honoree whose members I will use as standards by which to judge new school racists’ future acts, statements, and character to see if I should reject my new school racist opinion of them. The group consists of the Haymarket Eight: George Engel, Samuel Fielden, Adolf Fischer, Louis Lingg, Oscar Neebe, Albert Parsons, Michael Schwab, August Spies. They are essentially unknown in the United States but are celebrated throughout the rest of the world on May 1 of each year known as International Workers’ Day. On this day of 1 May, the United States celebrates Law Day intentionally set up on that same day to avoid publicizing the underlying reason for the rest of the world honoring the Haymarket Eight on 1 May: the Haymarket Square riots and trials in the United States.
As the esteemed members of the legal profession and the worshipers of the new god the law gather on 1 May to congratulate themselves on the majesty of the law and their profession, in these times in which even parochial celebrations are supposed to be cross-cultural, diverse, and whatever, the esteemed members of the Bar and the worshipers of secular law as the new religion should give some thought to the rest of the world’s celebration on our Law Day. The Haymarket Riot of 1886 in my great hometown of Chicago, Illinois occurred on 4 May but it was a continuation of labor rallies and strikes that had begun on May 1. During those four days, workers were demonstrating and striking for the absurd, at that time politically incorrect demand of a mandatory eight hour workday.
Having enough of this threat to Western Civilization, on 3 May the legal system sent in armed police to re-establish law and order resulting in the death of four workers. When armed police went to break up another rally on May 4, someone in the crowd had the audacity to fight back and threw a bomb at the police line resulting in the death of Police Officer Mathias J. Degan. Eight men were arrested and tried for conspiracy in his murder. (Though four workers and six other policemen were killed in the riot, these deaths were caused by police “friendly fire” shooting in the dark at anything moving — an embarrassing fact not warranting public inquiry).
Since the prosecution could not offer evidence as to who threw the bomb nor connecting any defendant with the bomber (most were not even at the rally and the rest had eyewitness testimony verifying their presence in public, plain view when the explosion occurred), the theory of prosecution was that the defendants had published anarchist views advocating the start of the strikes and rallies that created the opportunity for the unknown bomber’s acts and thus they were equally liable for the murder as co-conspirators. The trial judge using his common law powers used this theory of prosecution as a guide for his evidentiary rulings. My favorite part is Defense Counsel William Foster’s closing argument. Having abandoned all hope as he entered the inferno of closing argument (a feeling with which I am too familiar), he said to the jury:
If these men are to be tried . . . for advocating doctrines opposed to ideas of propriety, there is no use for me to argue the case. Let the sheriff go and erect a scaffold; let him bring eight ropes with dangling nooses at the end; let him pass them around the necks of these eight men; and let us stop this farce now.
That is what happened. All were convicted. Four of the men were hung, one committed suicide in prison, three had their sentences commuted to life or pardoned and were eventually released from prison. All this occurred after of course the Court of Appeals did its job of ignoring substantive error to bend over backwards to distort the law and the facts to find a way to affirm the judgment. Unfortunately for the legal system of the 19th Century, the death penalty has one unfortunate consequence that executive tyrants long ago learned to try to avoid, it creates martyrs. And thus we have the worldwide celebration of May Day.
As modern worshipers of the law congratulate themselves on seeing the light and accepting the law as their god and savior of humanity, I ask that we give some thought to what the rest of the world is celebrating and ask if the modern American legal system is really any different from what it was 150 years ago and of other systems of the past two thousand years or have just the nature of the injustices it protects changed? Thanks to the protections of the law, in 2008 just as in 1886: 1% of this country’s population still owns >40% of its wealth and power; at any given time 10%-20% owns at least 80% thus leaving the remaining 80% to share and fight over the remaining 10% of wealth and power. Unfortunately or fortunately, thanks to technological progress there are no obvious martyrs to such injustice because the income disparity of our present Technological Society serves more to destroy the human spirit than its body. As the law’s worshipers celebrate its diversity of people of color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and whatever, do we really have any diversity of ideas or is it still governed by “ideas of propriety” instead of ideas of substance? Now as then, would it be just as willing to kill in cold blood four workers for daring to challenge its authority?
It would and does every day. The present law as to “conspiracy” and “attempt” is even looser than it was in 1886. If interested in contemplating this issue, I suggest reading the books “Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent” by Harvey Silverglate or the linked “The Law Illusion” of this blog.
In honor of our group honoree especially of the honored dead, I leave you with their words by which to judge new school racists:
“It is not generally considered a crime among intellectual people to be a revolutionist, but it may be made a crime if the revolutionist happens to be poor.” — Samuel Fielden (teamster; death sentence commuted to life, eventually released)
“The forces by which the workers are kept in subjugation must be retaliated by force.” — Louis Lingg (carpenter; suicide in prison)
“No power on Earth can rob the working man of his knowledge of
how to make bombs – and that knowledge he possesses.”
— George Engel (toymaker; hanged)
“I was tried here in this room for murder, and I was convicted of anarchy. In rendering such an unjust and barbarous verdict, the twelve ‘honorable men’ in the jury-box have done more for the furtherance of anarchism than the convicted have accomplished in a generation. This verdict is a death-blow to free speech, free press and free thought in this country, and the people will be conscious of it, too. This is all I care to say.”
— Adolf Fischer (printer; hanged)
“You use your power to perpetuate a system by which you make money for yourselves and keep the wage workers poor. You rich men don’t want the poor educated. You don’t want anybody to be educated. You want to keep them down in the mud so you can squeeze the last drop out of their bones.”— Oscar Neebe (yeastmaker; eventually pardoned)
“It is entirely wrong to use the word anarchy as synonymous with violence. Violence is one thing and anarchy another. In the present state of society violence is used on all sides, and therefore we advocated the use of violence against violence, but against violence only, as a necessary means of defense. I know that our ideal will not be accomplished this or next year, but I know that it will be accomplished as near as possible, some day, in the future. — Michael Schwab (bookbinder; eventually pardoned)
“Once traditional slavery was abolished, capitalism created a new kind of slavery, where the working masses were slaves to their capitalist masters.”
— Albert Parsons (printer; hanged)
“The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.” — August Spies (upholsterer; hanged)