The Chicago Martyrs/Address of Oscar Neebe

Address of Oscar Neebe.

Your Honor: I have found out during the last few days what law is. Before I didn't know. I did not know before that I was convicted because I knew Spies and Fielden and Parsons. I have met these gentlemen. I have presided in a mass meeting, as the evidence against me shows, held in the Turner Hall, at which meeting your honor was invited to appear. The judges, the preachers, the newspaper men, and everybody, in fact, were invited to appear at that meeting for the purpose of discussing Anarchism and Socialism. I was at that hall. I am well known among the workingmen of this city, and I was elected chairman of that meeting. None of the representatives of the capitalistic system came forward to speak, to discuss the questions of labor and Anarchism or Socialism with laboring men. No; they couldn't stand it. I was chairman of that meeting. I don't deny it.

I also on one occasion had the honor to be marshal of a labor demonstration in this city, and I never saw a more respectable lot of men than on that day. They marched like soldiers, and I am proud that I was marshal of those men. They were the toilers and the workingmen of this city. The men marched through the streets to protest against the wrongs of society, and I was marshal of them. If that is a crime, then I have found out, as a native, free-born American, of what I have been guilty. I always supposed I had a right to express my opinion as the chairman of a peaceable meeting, and to be marshal of a labor demonstration. Was it a crime to be marshal of that demonstration? I am convicted for that.

On the morning of the 5th of May, your honor, on the road to my business, I heard that August Spies and Michael Schwab were arrested. I was in the yeast business. I peddled my yeast through the southern part of the city. I was informed that they were arrested. That was the first time I learned that there had been a mass-meeting held at the Haymarket the day before. After I was done with my business and drove home, I stopped at the Arbeiter-Zeitung to see what was going on, and I met there Mrs. Parsons and Mrs. Holmes and a couple of boys of the Arbeiter-Zeitung. They explained to me that the men were arrested. Just as I was going to speak to Mrs. Parsons about it, up rushed a lot of pirates, called detectives of Chicago; men—you could see the rum and ignorance in their faces—mostly picked up from among the ruffians of the streets of Chicago. I never saw a rougher set. Well, I don't wish to make any further remarks about these honorable pirates. Mayor Harrison was with these pirates. He came in and he says: "Who is the manager of this paper here?" The two boys couldn't speak English, and I knew Harrison, so I said: "Harrison, what is it?" "Well," he says, "I want to have this thing stopped. There won't be any more inflammable articles allowed in this paper." Said I: "Mr. Harrison, I will sit here and read the articles, and see that there won't be anything inflammatory in this day's issue." Our compositors were not arrested at that time. So Harrison said to me, "I will go to the house and send Mr. Hand over here." I knew him, and both of us together revised all the articles printed in the paper that day. A few minutes later Harrison went out, and our whole set of compositors were coming down the stairs, and another lot of ruffians came up the steps, and Mrs. Holmes and Mrs. Parsons were sitting at the desk writing, and a man whom you could see was a noble Democratic officer, said: "What are you doing there?" Mrs Holmes is a lady in my eyes, and she said: "I am corresponding with my brother. He is the editor of a labor paper." As she said that he snatched the lady, and she protested as an American woman, and as she protested he said: "Shut up, you bitch, or I will knock you down." I repeat the same words here, and I have a right to, as the noble officers of Chicago have used this language. That is one of your men, Mr. Grinnell—just like you. You have insulted ladies when you have not dared to insult gentlemen. Mrs Parsons was called the same name by the officers. They called her a black bitch, and wanted to knock her down; and they said they would not let us publish any paper; they would take the types and material and throw them out of the window. We are a stock company, a company chartered by the State of Illinois for the publication of a labor paper and labor literature. Our charter states it. When I heard they wanted to destroy the property of the laboring men of the city of Chicago, who had paid their money to have the paper published, I said: "As long as I stand I shall publish that paper," and took charge of it. I suppose Grinnell thought after Oscar Neebe was indicted for murder the Arbeiter-Zeitung would go down. But it didn't happen that way And Mr. Furthman, too (pointing to the assistant State's attorney)—he is a scoundrel, and I tell it to you to your face. There is only one man that acted as a gentleman, and he is Mr. Ingham; but you three have not. Inside of two weeks I had enough money from the toilers, from hired girls' and from men who would take their last cent out of their pockets to re-establish the paper and to buy a press of our own. I could not publish the paper sooner because the honorable detectives and Mr. Grinnell followed us up and no printing house would print our paper, because of the threats of these men, and we had to have our own press. We published our own paper after we had a press purchased with the money contributed by the workingmen of the city.

That is the crime I have committed, getting men to try and establish a workingman's paper that stands today; and I am proud of it. They have not got one press simply—they have two presses today, and they belong to the workingmen of this city. From the date of the first issue to the present day, your honor, we have gained four thousand subscribers to our daily paper. There are the gentlemen sitting over there from the Freie Presse and Staats-Zeitung—they know it. The Germans of this city are condemning these actions. I say that it is a verdict against Germans, and I, as an American, must say that I never saw anything like that.

These are the crimes I have committed after the 4th of May. Before the 4th of May I committed some other crimes. My business brought me in connection with the bakers. I saw that the bakers in this city were treated like dogs. The baker bosses treated their dogs better than they treated their men. I said to myself: "These men have to be organized; in organization there is strength;" and I helped to organize them. That is a great crime. The men are now working ten hours a day instead of fourteen and sixteen hours, and instead of being compelled to eat slops like the dogs, and sleep on the stairways or in the barn, they can sleep and work whenever they please. I have helped to establish that, your honor. That is another crime. And I committed a greater crime than that. I saw in the morning when I drove away with my team that the beer brewers of the city of Chicago went to work at 4 o'clock in the morning. They came home at 7 and 8 o'clock at night. They never saw their families or their children by daylight. I said to myself: "If you organize these men they can live like men. Yon can help to make good citizens of them." And everybody said: "They are down low; they are drunkards." I went to work and organized them. I rented a hall and issued an appeal for them, and got them to come, and I organized the men. On Saturday, May 1 or May 2, I was conferring with the beer brewer bosses of Chicago and we had a meeting. I was the chairman of the committee, and I asked the beer brewer bosses to reduce the hours of labor down to ten hours a day, and they did it. On the Monday after I committed that great crime—that was Saturday—I was in session with the beer brewers the whole day. In the evening I took my supper and went to the North Side Turner Hall, where the Union men, over eight hundred strong, were, and I don't know anything about McCormick's, or what Spies had done or said. I entered the hall. I went on the platform and presented the Union with a document signed by every beer brewer of Chicago, guaranteeing ten hours labor and $65 wages—$15 more wages per month, and no Sunday work, to give the men a chance to go to church, as many of them are good Christians. There are a good many Christians among them. So, in that way, I was aiding Christianity—helping the men to go to church.

After the meeting I left the hall, and stepped into the front saloon, and there were circulars lying there called the "revenge" circular. I picked up a couple of them from a table and folded them together and put them in my pocket, not having a chance to read them, because everybody wanted to treat me. They all thought it was by my efforts that they got $15 a month more wages and ten hours a day. Why, I didn't have a chance to read the circulars. From there I went to another saloon across the street, and the president of the Beer Brewers' Union was there; he asked me to walk with him, and on the way home we went into Heine's saloon. He was talking to Heine about the McCormick affair, and I picked up a circular and read it, and Heine asked me: "Can you give me one?" I gave him one and he laid it back on his counter.

That is my statement. You can believe it or not; but Heine didn't testify any other way. Mr. Grinnell indicted me for murder. That is the whole story in short of what I had to do with this Haymarket affair. So you see I had nothing to do with it, and didn't know anything about it. The next day I read in the paper that Attorney Walker—certainly an honorable man—was in the saloon. It was kind of dangerous for him evidently, for he subsequently denied being there. However that may have been, I was there.

And, your honor, I committed another crime. I saw that the grocery clerks and other clerks of this city worked until 10 and 11 o'clock in the evening. I issued a call and rented a hall, and paid for the hand-bills, and called them together, and today they are working only until 7 o'clock in the evening, and no Sunday work. That is a great crime I have committed, in your sight. I saved for the men from four to five hours a day. I have saved the bakers from six to eight hours work a day, and that gives them time for education. We Socialists are great, believers that the laboring men should educate themselves, not to be ignoramuses, as some people express themselves, "as the ignorant Anarchists are." We are great friends of education and a reduction of the hours of labor. A reduction of the hours of labor was my principal aim, and I have done some good work to bring it about.

I have been in the labor movement since 1865. I have seen how the police have trodden on the Constitution of this country, and crushed the labor organizations. I have seen from year to year how they were trodden down, where they were shot down, where they were "driven into their holes like rats," as Mr. Grinnell said to the jury. But they will come out! Remember that within three years before the beginning of the French Revolution, when laws had been stretched like rubber, that the rubber stretched too long, and broke—a result which cost a good many State's attorneys and a good many honorable men their necks.

We Socialists hope such times may never come again; we do everything in our power to prevent it, such as reducing the hours of labor and increasing wages. But you capitalists won't allow this to be done. You use your power to perpetuate a system by which you make your money for yourselves and keep the wage workers poor. You make them ignorant and miserable, and you are responsible for it. You won't let the toilers live a decent life.

We want to educate the masses and keep them back from destroying life and property, but we are not able to hold the masses when starvation brings them out of their holes like rats. I have walked along the streets of this city and I have seen the rats come from their holes by the hundreds in the basements, where men pay five and ten cents for lodgings. I have seen the miserable wretches there in the day begging for a piece of bread, and in the night they lie there in an air that was difficult to breathe. I have been in there at 10, 12, and 2 o'clock at night, and when those "rats" are let out of their holes and get desperate I would not like to be near them. The time will come that you will see them. You rich men don't want the poor educated. You don't want anybody to be educated. You want to keep them down in the mud so you can squeeze the last drop of blood out of their bones.

We asked the capitalists once at a meeting to discuss the question of labor, and Mr. Gary was invited, and each one of them was invited, and nobody appeared. They didn't want to discuss the question; they didn't care for it. What is the next question? No discussion, more galling guns, more militia, and 300 more police. For what? To catch the thieves? I read the daily papers and see that burglaries are taking place all over the city, but I don't see that they catch any. There are some twelve hundred odd policemen in the city of Chicago, and every day so many burglaries. Maybe they need them to make a case sometimes, and they don't arrest them; but when it comes to arresting a poor workingman they are all there. On May 9 when I came home, my wife, who is delicate, told me that the patrol wagon with twenty-five police, came to search my house. I must be a very dangerous man to require so many police. They searched the whole house and they found a revolver. That is a deadly weapon and a dangerous weapon. I don't think anybody have revolvers but Anarchists and Socialists and labor agitators. They found a red flag, too—a flag of that size (about a foot square) that my little boy played with, and my wife used at a masquerade ball. My wife told me that when the police—these honorable men who protect law and order—got on the wagon they waved that flag and hollered and hurrahed just like a lot of wild Indians—and they were wild Indians in those days. They searched hundreds of houses, and money was stolen and watches were stolen, and nobody knew whether they were stolen by the police or not. Nobody but Captain Schaack; he knows it. His gang was one of the worst in this city. You need not laugh about it, Captain Schaack. You are one of them. You are an Anarchist, as you understand it. You are all Anarchists, in this sense of the word, I must say.

Well, these are all the crimes I have committed. They found a revolver in my house, and a red flag there. I organized Trades Unions. I was for reduction of the hours of labor, and the education of the laboring men, and the re-establishment of the Arbeiter-Zeitung—the workingmen's newspaper. There is no evidence to show that I was connected with the bomb throwing, or that I was near it, or anything of that kind. So I will ask you to hang me, too; for I think it is more honorable to die suddenly than to be killed by inches. I have a family and children; and if they know their father is dead, they will bury him. They can go to the grave, and kneel down by the side of it; but they can't go to the penitentiary and see their father, who was convicted for a crime that he hadn't anything to do with. That is all I have got to say. Your honor, I am sorry I am not to be bung with the rest of the men.