George Engel was born in Cassel, Germany on 15th April, 1836. Engel emigrated to the United States in January, 1873, and settled in Chicago. While in America became involved in trade union and socialist activities.
On 1st May, 1886 a strike was began throughout the United States in support a eight-hour day. Over the next few days over 340,000 men and women withdrew their labor. Over a quarter of these strikers were from Chicago and the employers were so shocked by this show of unity that 45,000 workers in the city were immediately granted a shorter workday.
The campaign for the eight-hour day was organised by the International Working Men's Association (the First International). On 3rd May, the IWPA in Chicago held a rally outside the McCormick Harvester Works, where 1,400 workers were on strike. They were joined by 6,000 lumber-shovers, who had also withdrawn their labour. While August Spies, one of the leaders of the IWPA was making a speech, the police arrived and opened-fire on the crowd, killing four of the workers.
The following day August Spies, who was editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, published a leaflet in English and German entitled: Revenge! Workingmen to Arms!. It included the passage: "They killed the poor wretches because they, like you, had the courage to disobey the supreme will of your bosses. They killed them to show you 'Free American Citizens' that you must be satisfied with whatever your bosses condescend to allow you, or you will get killed. If you are men, if you are the sons of your grand sires, who have shed their blood to free you, then you will rise in your might, Hercules, and destroy the hideous monster that seeks to destroy you. To arms we call you, to arms." Spies also published a second leaflet calling for a mass protest at Haymarket Square that evening.
On 4th May, over 3,000 people turned up at the Haymarket meeting. Speeches were made by August Spies, Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden. At 10 a.m. Captain John Bonfield and 180 policemen arrived on the scene. Bonfield was telling the crowd to "disperse immediately and peaceably" when someone threw a bomb into the police ranks from one of the alleys that led into the square. It exploded killing eight men and wounding sixty-seven others. The police then immediately attacked the crowd. A number of people were killed (the exact number was never disclosed) and over 200 were badly injured.
Several people identified Rudolph Schnaubelt as the man who threw the bomb. He was arrested but was later released without charge. It was later claimed that Schnaubelt was an agent provocateur in the pay of the authorities. After the release of Schnaubelt, the police arrested Samuel Fielden, an Englishman, and six German immigrants, Engel, August Spies, Adolph Fisher, Louis Lingg, Oscar Neebe, and Michael Schwab. The police also sought Albert Parsons, the leader of the International Working Peoples Association in Chicago, but he went into hiding and was able to avoid capture. However, on the morning of the trial, Parsons arrived in court to standby his comrades.
There were plenty of witnesses who were able to prove that none of the eight men threw the bomb. The authorities therefore decided to charge them with conspiracy to commit murder. The prosecution case was that these men had made speeches and written articles that had encouraged the unnamed man at the Haymarket to throw the bomb at the police.
The jury was chosen by a special bailiff instead of being selected at random. One of those picked was a relative of one of the police victims. Julius Grinnell, the State's Attorney, told the jury: "Convict these men make examples of them, hang them, and you save our institutions."
At the trial it emerged that Andrew Johnson, a detective from the Pinkerton Agency, had infiltrated the group and had been collecting evidence about the men. Johnson claimed that at anarchist meetings these men had talked about using violence. Reporters who had also attended International Working Peoples Association meetings also testified that the defendants had talked about using force to "overthrow the system".
During the trial the judge allowed the jury to read speeches and articles by the defendants where they had argued in favour of using violence to obtain political change. The judge then told the jury that if they believed, from the evidence, that these speeches and articles contributed toward the throwing of the bomb, they were justified in finding the defendants guilty.
All the men were found guilty: Engel and Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fisher, Louis Lingg were given the death penalty. Whereas Oscar Neebe, Samuel Fielden and Michael Schwab were sentenced to life imprisonment. On 10th November, 1887, Lingg committed suicide by exploding a dynamite cap in his mouth. The following day Parsons, Spies, Fisher and Engel mounted the gallows. As the noose was placed around his neck, Spies shouted out: "There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today."
In 1868 I married and started a business of my own. The development of the factory system in Germany swept most of the small manufacturers, without great means, out of existence. The struggle for life increased and it became hard to make a decent living. My intention to emigrate to America, which I had when a boy, came back. To make it short, the 8th day of January, of the year 1873, found me in Philadelphia. I took work in a sugar refinery.
When I left Germany in the year 1873 it was by reason of my recognition of the fact that I could not support myself in the future as it was the duty of a man to do. I recognized that I could not make my living in Germany because the machinery of the guilds of old no longer furnished me a guarantee to live. I resolved to emigrate from Germany to the United States, praised by many so highly.
When I landed in Philadelphia, on the 8th January, 1873, my heart and my bosom expanded with the expectation of living hereafter in that free country which had been so often praised to me by so many emigrants, and I resolved to be a good citizen of this country; and I congratulated myself on having broken with Germany.
For the first time I stand before an American court, and at that to be at once condemned to death. And what are the causes that have preceded it, and have brought me into court? They are the same things that preceded my leaving Germany, and the same causes that made me leave. I have seen with my own eyes that in this free country, in this richest country in the world, so to say, there are existing proletarians who are pushed out of the order of society.
Anarchism and Socialism are, according to my opinion, as like as one egg is to another. Only the tactics are different. Therefore, I say to the working classes, do not believe any longer in the ballot-box and in those ways and means that are open to you; but rather think about ways and means when the time comes, when the burden of the people becomes intolerable. And that is our crime. Because we have named to the people the ways and means by which they could free themselves in the fight against Capitalism, by reason of that, Anarchism is hated and persecuted in every state.
Seldom, if ever, have four men died more gamely and defiantly than the four who were strangled today. Engel smiled down at the crowd, and then turning to Deputy Peters, who guarded him, he smiled gratefully toward him and whispered something to the officer that seemed to affect him. "Hurrah for anarchy! Hurrah!" were the last words and the last cheer of George Engel.