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Through the 1880s the anarchists argued that they advocated armed resistance only in self-defense against the violence practiced by the authorities against workingmen. They gained the greatest measure of support for their criticism of the police during the workers' strike by workers on the West Division Railway Company in July of 1885. When the company tried to run cars with substitute drivers, they were greeted by angry mobs who stoned the cars and, in the days ahead, committed acts of sabotage like the one in this engraving from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper of July 11, 1885.
Mayor Carter Harrison himself helped arrest a person trying to tear up track with a pick axe, but his sympathies were, like those of many people, on the side of the carmen. Harrison tried without success to get the railway to submit to arbitration of the dispute. There was a public rally in support of the workers occurred in the same place that the Haymarket meeting would take place ten months later.
The police reacted with increasing anger to the stone-throwing and the vandalism. They were led by Captain John Bonfield, whose portrait (from the 1893 Century Magazine article described in the previous entry) can be seen by clicking on the second of the two smaller images. Bonfield took the matter personally and was determined to prevail. In the name of getting the trains running again and dealing with the mob, Bonfield and his men clubbed numerous innocent citizens minding their own business. He ordered his officers, "Shoot the first man that throws a stone!" When Mayor Harrison called him in for this, Bonfield defended his actions. "Mr. Mayor," he reportedly said, "I am doing this in mercy to the people. A club to-day, to make them scatter, may save the use of a pistol to-morrow."
At the Haymarket trial the defense summoned numerous witnesses who recalled Bonfield's unprovoked violence in the summer of 1885. The defense contended that Bonfield's overaggressiveness in ordering the police to disperse a peaceful meeting as it was ending—and the memory of his actions during the streetcar strike—had provoked the bomb. In his pardon of the surviving defendants in 1893, Governor Altgeld agreed, quoting letters from several people, including Captain Michael Schaack, describing Bonfield's brutality during the railway strike.
But in the period between that strike and Haymarket, Bonfield's conduct found favor among leading businessmen, and he was promoted to Inspector (as he is pictured here). At the same time "Black Jack" came to stand in the eyes of union members and radical agitators for sanctioned oppression by the capitalist bosses. See, for example, the article from the Alarm of February 6, 1886, People's Exhibit 55 in the Haymarket Affair Digital Collection.
Bonfield was dismissed from the force for corruption in 1889 (see Act V), and he then founded his own detective agency. One indication of his standing within the business community was that he was hired to direct security at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.
For Bonfield's testimony at the trial, see the Haymarket Affair Digital Collection.