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“I Am Sorry Not to Be Hung”: Oscar Neebe and the Haymarket Affair

The Chicago radicals convicted of the infamous May 4, 1886 Haymarket Square bombing in which one policeman was killed remained openly defiant to the end. Unlike the other seven men convicted of the bombing, Oscar Neebe, a New York-born labor organizer who had been raised in Germany, received not death, but a fifteen-year jail sentence. Although Neebe insisted (accurately) that “there is no evidence”that he had connection with the bombing, he maintained, in this brief address, his solidarity with his comrades. “Your honor,” he told the judge, “I am sorry I am not to be hung with the rest of them.”

I have been in the labor movement since 1875. 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 at that time their necks, 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 by 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 may 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.

* * *

Well, these are all the crimes I have committed. They found a revolver in my house, and a red flag there. I organized trade unions. I was for reduction of the hours of labor, and the education of 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 am only sorry, your honor—that is, if you can stop it or help it—I will ask you to do it—that is, 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 hasn’t had anything to do with. That is all I have got to say. Your honor, I am sorry I am not to be hung with the rest of the men.

Source: Oscar Neebe, “The Crimes I Have Committed,” in Albert R. Parsons, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis, as Defined by Some of Its Apostles (Chicago: 1887). Reprinted in Dave Roediger and Franklin Rosemont, eds., Haymarket Scrapbook (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1986), 61.

See Also:Haymarket Martyr Louis Lingg Says Good-bye
Haymarket Martyr Albert Parsons's Last Words to His Wife