Louis Lingg

Louis Lingg

Louis Lingg was born in Baden, Germany on 9th September, 1864. Spies emigrated to the United States in 1885 and settled in Chicago. He was employed as a carpenter and became involved in trade union activities. Lingg also developed a reputation as an outspoken supporter of anarchism.

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 They were joined by 6,000 lumber-shovers, who had also withdrawn their labour.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, Lingg, August Spies, Adolph Fisher, George Engel, 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: Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fisher and George Engel 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."

Primary Sources

(1) Louis Lingg, Autobiography of Louis Lingg (1887)

At thirteen I received my first impressions of the prevailing unjust social institutions, i.e., the exploitation of men by men. The main circumstances which caused this reflection in my youthful mind were the experiences of my own family. It did not escape my observation that the former employer of my father grew continually richer, despite the extravagant life he and his family were leading, whilst, on the other hand, my father, who had performed his respective part in creating the wealth his employer possessed and who had sacrificed his all, which was his health, in his effort to serve his master, was cast aside like a worn-out tool which had fulfilled its mission and could now be spared.

(2) Attorney General Julius Grinnell, opening address to the jury (September, 1887)

On May 3 everything was done that could be done to arouse the people to anarchy. The conspiracy was so large, the numbers so appalling, that it seems impossible to describe it. The men who have incited this bloodshed have been picked out and should be blotted out. In breaking up the meeting Inspector Bonfield did the wisest thing he could have done. If he had waited until the next night the Socialist would have gained strength, and hundreds would have been killed instead of the seven that did fall. The action was the wisest thing ever done in this city. The courage and strength of the police saved the town. The inflammatory speeches of these people decided Inspector Bonfield that the meeting should be broken up.

Captain Ward alone of all those policemen had a revolver in his hand. He stepped forward in the usual manner, and ordered the people to disperse. At this command Fielden stepped from the wagon and said in a loud voice: "We are peaceable." At this remark, as though it was some secret signal, a man who had before been on the wagon, taking a bomb from his pocket, lit the fuse and threw it into the ranks of the police. Fielden, standing behind the wagon, opened fire and kept it up for several minutes, when he in turn disappeared. Fielden was the only one of all the men who had a spark of heroism in him. The action of the police cannot be too highly commended. Not a shot was fired by them until many of their comrades had fallen.

I will try and show to you who threw the bomb, and I will prove to your satisfaction that Lingg made it. There are a great many counts in this case, but murder is the main one. It is not necessary to bring the bomb-thrower into the court. Though none of these men, perhaps, threw the bomb personally, they aided and abetted the throwing of it, and are as responsible as the actual thrower."

(3) William Foster, defence lawyer (September, 1887)

It is not enough to warrant the conviction of the defendant Lingg that he may have manufactured the bomb, the explosion of which killed Mathias J. Degan. He must have aided, abetted or advised the exploding of the bomb, or of the doing of some illegal act, or the doing of the legal act in an unlawful manner, in the furtherance of which, and as incident thereto, the same was exploded and said Degan killed. If, as to the defendant Lingg the jury should find beyond all reasonable doubt that he did in fact manufacture said bomb, but are not satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that he aided, advised, counseled or abetted the throwing of said missile, or the doing of any unlawful act which resulted in the explosion of said bomb, your verdict should acquit him as far as the establishment of his guilt is attempted by the manufacture of said missile or bomb.

Whatever may be our criticism upon the matter of manufacturing dynamite bombs for any purpose, there is no law within this State which makes the mere manufacture of such missiles a crime punishable by death or otherwise. Louis Lingg could not have been convicted of murder because of all this matter detailed by Seilger and his wife and Lehman, even if it were clear that the bomb thrown at Haymarket had come from his hands, if it had been thrown by a third party acting upon his own responsibility an without Lingg's knowledge, consent, aid , assistance, advice or encouragement.

(4) Louis Lingg, speech made when found guilty of conspiracy to murder (September, 1887)

I declare here openly that I do not acknowledge these laws, and less so the sentence of the Court. You perhaps think I will not use bombs any more, but I tell you I die gladly upon the gallows in the sure hope that hundreds and thousands of people to whom I have spoken will now recognize and make use of dynamite. In this hope I despise you, and I despise your laws. Hang me for it.

(5) George McLean, The Rise and Fall of Anarchy in America (1890)

Louis Lingg, had by some process unknown to the keepers, secured a fulminating cap such as is used in exploding dynamite, which he coolly placed in his mouth, and igniting the fuse which protruded from his mouth a short distance, calmly awaited the end. A traffic report sounded in the jail about 9 o'clock on the morning of the day previous to the day set for the execution. The deputies hastened in the direction of the sound of the explosion and beheld clouds of bluish-white smoke curling out from between the bars of the door of Lingg's cell. On turning him over he presented a ghastly sight, the entire lower jaw was blown away, and the features mutilated beyond recognition, only the stump of his tongue was remaining. He died in great agony at 2.45 of the same day.