Throughout history, struggles over labor have often ignited into violence. Such was the case on May 4, 1886. In Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois, the police came to break up a labor demonstration and someone threw a bomb at the policemen. The police responded with gunfire, killing several people in the crowd and injuring many more.
More than 1,500 Chicago workers came to the rally which was organized by German-born labor radicals. They were protesting the killing of a striker by the Chicago police the day before. Due to rain, the crowd was thinning and a force of nearly 200 policemen arrived to disperse the workers. As the police advanced toward the 300 remaining protesters, an individual who was never positively identified threw a bomb at them. After the explosion and subsequent police gunfire, more than a dozen people lay dead or dying, and close to 100 were injured.
National xenophobia was the result. The fear of anything foreign and hundreds of foreign-born radicals and labor leaders were rounded up in Chicago and elsewhere. A grand jury eventually indicted 31 suspected labor radicals in connection with the bombing, and eight men were convicted in a sensational and controversial trial. Judge Joseph E. Gary imposed the death sentence on seven of the men, and the eighth was sentenced to 15 years in prison. On November 11, 1887, Samuel Fielden, Adolph Fischer, August Spies, and Albert Parson were executed.
Of the three others sentenced to death, one committed suicide on the eve of his execution and the other two had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment by Illinois Governor Richard J. Oglesby. Governor Oglesby was reacting to widespread public questioning of their guilt, which later led his successor, Governor John P. Altgeld, to pardon fully the three activists still living in 1893.