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Works of Radical Imagination

For May Day: An excerpt from Martin Duberman's Haymarket

May 01

by Martin Duberman

From Martin Duberman's extraordinary novel Haymarket, the e-book and hardcover editions of which are 50% off through May 3, 5PM.

Cincinnati, Ohio

October 10, 1886

My dearest husband,

I rush to get this note off to you. In two hours the first talk of the tour begins. My body aches with exhaustion, I have no tears left to cry. I long to be with you but know I must push on. I still can’t believe that Judge Gary denied a new trial. The sentence will not come to pass, my dearest, it will not . . . I’m confident of that . . . Many besides myself are spanning the country to raise funds and support. And now that Leonard Swett—Lincoln’s friend!—has replaced Foster, a man never in sympathy with our ideals, Captain Black is of the opinion that the State Supreme Court will overturn the verdict. You must believe that, you must stay strong.

That seems almost foolish to say, having heard your speech to the court this morning. William and Lizzie whisked me to the train so quickly, I couldn’t share my reactions with you—to your speech and to the others. For all these months you’ve had to sit there while perjurers and rogues poured venom on your head, spat out like adders the vile poison of their tongues, with you not permitted to say a word in rebuttal. Surely Gary got far more than he bargained for when he finally allowed you the floor—a mere ten weeks after passing sentence! What dignity and defiance you showed, my darling, what passion! You must have felt the shiver that ran through the courtroom when you asked, “Can it be that men are to suffer death for their opinions?” And I hope you saw Judge Gary shift uncomfortably in his chair when you warned the prosecution that it was deceiving itself if it thinks that the strangulation of seven men, or the carrying of their bones to potter’s field, will settle anything or will prevent the American people from rising up and insisting that the Constitution of our country not be trampled underfoot at the dictation of merchant princes and their hired tools. Albert, your inspired words will ring through the ages.

What touched me the deepest was what you said at the very end about regretting nothing, not even now. And then, the way you went over to Captain Black’s chair and gently put your hand on his shoulder, as if speaking the words directly to him, knowing that, justifiably or not, he carries a terrible burden for the part he played in advising you to leave Waukesha and turn yourself in. I saw his eyes cloud over with relief and regret, and with the tenderest gratitude that in the hour of your direst need it was his feelings that concerned you. I’m not a sentimental woman, but I need to say, dearest, that the generosity of your soul deeply humbles me—me, the least humble person you know!

Yet I’m not so partial that I couldn’t recognize the splendid way every one of the men acquitted himself. There wasn’t a weak speech, though of course each spoke in a manner reflecting his own temperament, of which several, as I believe I have often enough made clear, don’t particularly appeal to me. I’ve always thought Schwab a dull man, ponderous as a professor. And while Fischer and Engel’s militant views are close to my own, their flat, stodgy personalities are decidedly not.

But the other four—oh, how each tore at my heart, even as my whole being flushed with pride at their exalted words and bearing! When Spies, his eyes ablaze with bitterness, said, “Let the world know that in a.d. 1886, in the state of Illinois, men were sentenced to death because they believed in a better future,” Nina grabbed my hand tightly and burst into tears, matching my own. And we cried again when Neebe, that simple, unassuming soul, told the judge that he was sorry he was not to be hung with the rest of the defendants and asked the court to let him share their fate. Fielden was equally moving when, in his straightforward way, he recounted the hardships of his youth as a child laborer in the mills of Lancashire and told how his suffering had made him hate injustice and devote himself to trying to make life easier for future generations of children. A woman sitting near to us, a stranger to me, let out a stricken cry, as if pierced to the heart.

And then there was Lingg. He embodied defiance, evoking in me not tears, but a fierce anger equal to his own. The fact that he spoke in German, with every sentence needing translation, added to the powerful impression he made. It was as if a creature from another world had come to pass irrevocable judgment on us. It sent shivers through me. Imagine!—only -twenty-two years old, under sentence of death, and yet composed enough to hurl his scornful thunderbolts at his tormentors! I’ll never forget his closing words. I’ve committed them to memory and will live by them forever: “I die happy on the gallows, so confident am I that the hundreds and thousands to whom I have spoken will remember my words. When you shall have hanged us, then they will do the -bomb-throwing! In this hope do I say to you: I despise you. I despise your order, your laws, your force-propped authority. Hang me for it!”

How artificial it feels to share these thoughts with you in a letter, but such is now our lot. With William and Lizzie rushing me off right after the sentencing, I barely got to throw my arms around you and say more than a word to the others. And now it’s to be six long weeks before I lay eyes on you again! It’s hard to bear, but nothing like what the rest of you are living through. Embrace everyone, and try to write often. It is for now our only lifeline . . .

I’ve arranged the tour in a way that will allow me to spend a few days in Waukesha with Lulu and Albert Jr., which will be a blessed interlude. By all reports they’re well looked after and happy—or as happy as possible separated from the two people who love them most in the world . . .

I send you a thousand kisses . . . Be of good courage!

Ever your devoted -Lucy

Cook County Jail, Chicago

October 16, 1886

Dearest Wife,

I felt our parting deeply and—now I can confess it—came very close to begging you not to go. “It won’t matter,” I wanted to say, “our enemies are too powerful, the chances of a reversal too slim to spend our precious remaining time apart.” But I felt you needed to go, needed to feel through intense activity, on which you always thrive, that cheering audiences would somehow translate into sympathetic judges. Not wanting to dampen your optimism, I held my peace. In confessing this now, do not think I’ve given up all hope; I speak of odds and priorities, not certainties.

And you are getting the cheering crowds! We follow your progress in the papers closely. I’ve noticed how much space they give to describing your appearance, which obviously fascinates them: your “copper-colored skin,” your “piercing black eyes,” your “deep, mellow voice.” How transparent it all is. They’re dying to simply call you “a negress,” and I note one or two of the New York papers have. It must irk you. But at least they’re reporting what you say as well as how you look, and your words are full of power and truth. I particularly like what you told the crowd at Cooper Union about Philip Armour being “a slaughterer of children as well as of hogs” and the contrast you drew between Armour employing ten-year-olds and our anarchist dream of taking the little ones out of the factories and putting them at play, where they belong.

To be frank, I liked certain of your remarks in New Haven somewhat less—the part where you talked about how “every great reform needs its martyrs” and how if your husband did end up on the scaffold, “his death will only help the cause.” Lucy! What you say may be true, but keep in mind that it is your husband who you seem to be offering up so gladly for sacrifice! It gave the husband himself, I can tell you, a bit of a chill—and I’m not sure it endeared you to your audience, either. We of course agree, dear, that none of us individually are of any importance when compared to the success of the cause, but State Supreme Court justices might understandably feel disinterest in saving the lives of people seemingly so eager to sacrifice themselves! The fact is, I’ve never had what people call “a martyr’s complex.” I do not court death, nor have I ever seen myself as a singular creature marked for some special destiny. I love life too much to seek for a way of voluntarily quitting it. Yes, I’ll bow to necessity, should it come, but I’ll not welcome it. Don’t be cross with me for refusing to censor my thoughts. We’ve always prided ourselves on speaking our minds to each other and must go on doing so.

Everyone here is deeply grateful for your energetic work. Captain Black tells us that you collected $750 last week alone! At such a rate we’ll have no trouble raising the $12,500 needed for the appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. You see—you are our agent and banker rolled in one, and we’re well aware how much strain this puts you under. None of us is feeling exactly serene these days, though we do our best to present an unflappable public face. I was glad to hear you say how well we succeeded during our final statements to the court. But it’s a terrible thing to realize that as “symbols,” we dare not openly express the terror that sometimes sweeps over us.

Oh what I would give to see you and the children . . .

Your devoted husband,


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