Part 5: The Testimony of August Spies in the Haymaker Affair

About the trial of the Haymaker Affair and the testimony of August Spies one sentenced to death for his actions on behalf of labor unions.

On the Way to the 8-Hour Day--The Haymarket Affair

By David Wallechinsky

In October, Judge Gary denied defense arguments for a new trial and the court, following custom, asked the defendants if there were reasons why sentence should not be pronounced. Indeed there were, and for 3 days the 8 anarchists spoke about their lives, their beliefs, and what they thought of the trial and the evidence that had been presented. For 3 days, from October 7 to 9, the accused became the accusers.

Spies was the 1st. Born in Central Germany in 1855, he moved to the U.S. after his father died. He settled in Chicago where he learned about socialism and ran for office several times before becoming editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, a leading anarchist newspaper.

". . . if you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement--the movement from which the downtrodden millions who toil and live in want and misery--the wage slaves--expect salvation--if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there, behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out."

In response to the accusation that the Arbeiter-Zeitung had advocated violence, and that this alone was reason enough for them to be hung, Spies responded, "Let me read to you an editorial which appeared in the Fond du Lac Commonwealth, in October, 1886, a Republican paper. If I am not mistaken, the court is Republican too.

"'To arms, Republicans . . . Every Republican in Wisconsin should go armed to the polls on next Election Day. The grain stacks, houses, and barns of active Democrats should be burned; their children burned and their wives outraged, that they may understand that the Republican party is the one which is bound to rule, and the one which they should vote for, or keep their vile carcasses away from the polls. If they persist in going to the polls . . . meet them on the road, in the bush, on the hill, or anywhere, and shoot everyone of these base cowards and agitators. If they are too strong in any locality, and succeed in putting their opposition votes into the ballot box, break open the box and tear in shreds their discord-breathing ballots.'

"What does your honor say to these utterances of a 'law and order' organ--a Republican organ?"

After speaking at great length, Spies concluded with, "I say, if death is the penalty for proclaiming the truth, then I will proudly and defiantly pay the costly price! Call your hangman! Truth crucified in Socrates, in Christ, in Giordano Bruno, in Huss, Galileo, still lives--they and others whose numbers are legion have preceded us on this path. We are ready to follow!"

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