Up for Debate: “The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists,” Labor, Fall 2012

Timothy Messer-Kruse’s The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age (2011) provides ample grist for a larger discussion of Gilded Age labor, radicalism, and the contemporary system of justice. Messer-Kruse’s close examination of the full trial testimony and his twinned conclusions that there was likely a conspiracy to commit violence among the accused and that most of the guilty verdicts should be considered “fair” by the standards of the day are two aspects that set his treatment apart from others. While generally giving the author credit for changing the grounds of the Haymarket debate, our own jury remains skeptical. Richard Schneirov returns to the scene of the crime with his own lawyer-like disputation of the guilty verdicts. Kevin Boyle cautions against using courtroom testimony “with such assurance.” Beverly Gage regrets the lack of larger context, including the viciousness of reactions aimed at the larger labor movement and the radicals themselves. Comparing Haymarket to the Rodney King and O. J. Simpson trials, Janice L. Reiff likewise points to key elements of reception that are left out of Messer-Kruse’s account. In conclusion, the author treats his critics with clemency.

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