Spies was born in Germany in 1855 and emigrated to America in 1872 with his mother and siblings.
On May 1, 1886 labor strife in Chicago culminated in a massive strike in support of the eight-hour day. Over the next few days 340,000 laborers joined strikes throughout the city. On May 3, four workers were killed by police during one such strike.
Known for his aggressive rhetoric, an enraged Spies published a leaflet on May 4th 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."
Later on May 4, Spies spoke during a rally at Haymarket Square. Police were there and, contrary to the mayor's explicit instructions intervened, sending units into the crowd in an attempt to disperse it. Violence erupted and a pipe-bomb was thrown killing four policemen. Eight men were arrested including Spies.
There were witnesses to testify that none of the eight charged threw the bomb. Indeed, Spies had been on stage delivering his speech at the time when the bomb was thrown. However, all eight were found guilty and sentenced to death.
"Honorable Judge, the DEMONS OF HELL WILL JOIN IN THE LAUGHTER this irony provokes!"
"We have preached dynamite. Yes, we have predicted from the lessons history teaches, that the ruling classes of today would no more listen to the voice of reason than their predecessors; that they would attempt by brute force to stay the wheel of progress. Is it a lie, or was it the truth we told? Are not already the large industries of this once free country conducted under the surveillance of the police, the detectives, the military, and the sheriffs—and is this return to militancy not developing from day to day? American sovereigns—think of it—working LIKE THE GALLY CONVICTS under military guards!" -- A. Spies, 1886 (!)
- Address of Albert Spies to the Court uh, Albert or August?