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"[I]t would be no exaggeration to say" that Johann Most "was the most vilified social militant of his time," writes Paul Avrich, the leading historian of Haymarket. Many radicals, even those who did not agree with him on certain issues, respected Most's expressive power on the platform and the printed page, his sympathy for the worker, and the fearlessness behind his uncompromising commitment to class revolution in the face of relentless persecution and repeated imprisonment. To public officials, the police, and the press, however, he was the fullest embodiment of the crazed alien agitator who would destroy the entire social order unless he was repressed and restricted.
The two images here present a dignified portrait from Michael Schaack's Anarchy and Anarchists and one of several highly critical treatments of Most and anarchists by Thomas Nast. The second image, published in Harper's Weekly on June 5, 1886, shortly before the Haymarket trial began, shows Most trampling on the American flag, with a bomb between his feet, as he brandishes a revolver and the flag of anarchy. The complex caption, "LIBERTY (to go if you do not like the institutions of our Republic) OR (commit murder and you will be punished with) DEATH" ridicules the anarchists' frequent invocation of American Revolutionary patriot Patrick Henry's famous phrase (see Act IV).
The caption also informs these alien terrorists that their real alternatives are a return trip to Europe or a final drama on the gallows, with Uncle Sam ready to pull the trap. In other cartoons Nast accused Most of being a coward. Nast depicted a "drill" in which several anarchists duck under beds. Nast based this drawing on a story that this was where the New York police once found Most hiding in his lover's apartment.
Most was born in Germany and suffered through an unhappy childhood. In this consideration of the dramas of Haymarket, it is of interest to note that he had ambitions of becoming an actor. These ambitions were to some extent fulfilled in his many stirring performances on the lecture stage. Trained to be a bookbinder, he became very active in radical politics. He was elected to the Reichstag twice, jailed three times, and then expelled from Germany. Most eventually began his own newspaper, the Freiheit (Freedom) in London in 1879. An article celebrating the assassination of Czar Alexander II landed him in prison again for sixteen months. Once he was released, he left for America, where he remained until his death in 1906.
Most settled in New York but traveled throughout the country to anarchist gatherings and speaking engagements. He was the primary author of the Pittsburgh Manifesto of 1883 (see the "From the Archive" section in the Prologue), and he made at least three trips to Chicago. At one of these, late in 1882, Most spoke beside August Spies. Other speakers included socialists Ernst Schmidt and George Schilling, who, despite their disagreement with many of the ideas of Spies and the other defendants, would lead the Haymarket accused's Defense Committee. In May of 1884, Most returned to Chicago to debate with socialist leader Paul Grottkau, who also would be active in the defense and amnesty movements.
During the Haymarket trial, Most figured prominently in the prosecution's attempt to demonstrate the defendants' longstanding devotion to revolution through violence. The state made much of the correspondence between Most and August Spies. It also introduced as People's Exhibit 15 Most's booklet Revolutionary War Science, and made much of the fact that anarchist newspapers excerpted the booklet and sold it at their gatherings.
The opening paragraph of Revolutionary War Science asserted that in regard to the obvious importance of modern explosives to social revolution, "nothing more need be said." Most then continued, "Nothing is more natural, therefore, than that the revolutionist of all countries become more and more anxious to obtain them and to learn the art of applying them practically." In an article from the Freiheit, translated in the Alarm of May 2, 1885 (see People's Exhibit 44, in the Haymarket Affair Digital Collection), Most wrote, "Some bombs have also been tried with satisfactory results, and create great destruction if thrown between a crowd of social reptiles. It must, however, not be reckoned upon to do much damage inside of a building if the persons to be injured are not in the same room where the missile is thrown into, or near by where the bomb falls."
Most then provided a manual on the manufacture of a wide variety of explosives. In a clinical manner, he discusses the acquisition, care, and handling of different kinds of terrorist devices (dynamite, Most advised, was "more dangerous when frozen, less so when hot") and their likely results ("Just think, if this bomb had been placed under the table of a gluttonous dinner party, or if it had been thrown through a window, what a beautiful effect it would have had"). At the trial, the State's Attorney argued that the defendants followed this book's instructions in planning the Haymarket bombing.
For an angry outburst in New York the day after the anarchists were executed in 1887, Most was arrested yet again and sentenced to a year in prison. From then on, perhaps because of the way he saw his words used against his comrades, he refused to republish his terrorist manual and urged others to temper their emphasis on armed revolution in their rhetoric.