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The late 19th century


Chief black hawk and son Illinois
Chief black hawk and son Illinois

The late 19th century was also marked by widespread unrest among factory workers, miners, and railroad workers in Illinois. Labor and management had increasingly bitter disputes over wages, hours, and working conditions, and Illinois became known for two major labor disputes, the Haymarket Riot in 1886 and the Pullman Strike in 1894.

The Haymarket Riot was a confrontation between police and protesters that took place on May 4, 1886, in Haymarket Square in Chicago. A strike had been in progress at the McCormick reaper works in Chicago, and on May 3 several men had been shot by the police during a riot at the plant. A meeting was called at Haymarket Square the next day as a protest against police violence. The meeting was organized mainly by German-born workers, many of whom were anarchists, people who believe in abolishing government.

The police attempted to disperse the meeting, and in the ensuing riot a bomb was thrown, which triggered another gun battle. Seven policemen were killed and many injured; so were many civilians. Eight anarchists were arrested and charged with being accessories to the crime because they had publicly and frequently advocated such violence. They were tried and found guilty on a variety of charges (the identity of the bomb thrower was never discovered); seven were sentenced to death and one to imprisonment. Eventually four were hanged, one committed suicide, the sentences of two were commuted to life imprisonment, and one received a 15-year term. In 1893 the three in prison were pardoned by the governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld, who argued that no evidence had been presented connecting the defendants with the bomb. In May 1894 employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Pullman (now part of Chicago) reacted to wage cuts by going on strike.

Shortly thereafter, members of the American Railway Union, led by Eugene Victor Debs, refused to handle Pullman cars to support striking Pullman workers. The union disrupted railroad service in the Midwest until President Grover Cleveland broke the strike in July by sending in federal troops over the protest of Governor Altgeld. For his actions Altgeld won renown as a champion of underprivileged workers. During his administration (the only period between 1857 and 1913 that a Democrat was governor of Illinois) legislation was enacted that provided for state factory inspections to look for violators of child-labor laws. "Illinois" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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