On the shooting of Henry Clay Frick
by Alexander Berkman
From 'Living My Life'
by Emma Goldman
"It was May 1892. News from Pittsburg announced that trouble had
broken out between the Carnegie Steel Company and its employees
organized in the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. It
was one of the biggest and most efficient labour bodies of the
country, consisting mostly of Americans, men of decision and grit,
who would assert their rights. The Carnegie Company, on the other
hand, was a powerful corporation, known as a hard master. It was
particularly significant that Andrew Carnegie, its president, had
temporarily turned over the entire management to the company chairman,
Henry Clay Frick, a man known for his enmity to labour. Frick was also
the owner of extensive coke fields, where unions were prohibited and
the workers were ruled with an iron hand."
"The high tariff on imported steel had greatly boomed the American
steel industry. The Carnegie Company had practically a monopoly of it,
and enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. Its largest mills were in
Homestead, near Pittsburgh, where thousands of workers were employed,
their tasks requiring long training and skill. Wages were arranged
between the company and the union, according to a sliding scale based
in the prevailing market price of steel products. The current
agreement was about to expire, and the workers presented a new wage
schedule, calling for an increase because of the higher market prices
and enlarged output of the mills."
"The philanthropic Andrew Carnegie conveniently retired to his castle
in Scotland, and Frick took full charge of the situation. He declared
that henceforth the sliding scale would be abolished. The company
would make no more agreements with the Amalgamated Association; it
would itself determine the wages to be paid. In fact, he would not
recognize the union at all. He would not treat with the employees
collectively, as before. He would close the mills, and the men might
consider themselves discharged. Thereafter they would have to apply
for work individually, and the pay would be arranged with every worker
separately. Frick curtly refused the peace advances of the workers'
organization, declaring that there was `nothing to arbitrate'.
Presently the mills were closed. `Not a strike, but a lockout', Frick
announced. It was an open declaration of war."
... ... ...
"Far away from the scene of the impending struggle, in our little
ice-cream parlour in the city of Worcester, we eagerly followed
developments. To us it sounded the awakening of the American worker,
the long-awaited day of his resurrection. The native toiler had risen,
he was beginning to feel his mighty strength, he was determined to
break the chains that had held him in bondage for so long, we thought.
Our hearts were filled with admiration for the men of Homestead."
... ... ...
"One afternoon a customer came in for an ice-cream, while I was alone
in the store. As I set the dish down before him, I caught the large
headlines of his paper: `LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN HOMESTEAD - FAMILIES
OF STRIKERS EVICTED FROM THE COMPANY HOUSES - WOMEN IN CONFINEMENT
CARRIED OUT INTO STREET BY SHERIFFS'. I read over the man's shoulder
Frick's dictum to the workers: he would rather see them dead than
concede to their demands, and he threatened to import Pinkerton
detectives. The brutal bluntness of the account, the inhumanity of
Frick towards the evicted mother, inflamed my mind. Indignation swept
my whole being. ... ... "
... ... ...
"I locked up the store and ran full speed the three blocks to our
little flat. It was Homestead, not Russia; I knew it now. We belonged
in Homestead. The boys, resting for the evening shift, sat up as I
rushed into the room, newspaper clutched in my hand. `What has
happened, Emma? You look terrible!' I could not speak. I handed them
"Sasha was the first on his feet. `Homestead!' he exclaimed. `I must
go to Homestead!' I flung my arms around him, crying out his name. I,
too, would go. `We must go tonight,' he said; `the great moment has
come at last!' Being internationalists, he added, it mattered not to
us where the blow was struck by the workers; we must be with them. We
must bring our great message and help them see that it was not only
for the moment that they must strike, but for all time, for a free
life, for anarchism. Russia had many heroic men and women, but who was
there in America? Yes, we must go to Homestead, tonight!"
... ... ...
"On the way we discussed our immediate plans. First of all, we would
print a manifesto to the steel-workers. We would have to find somebody
to translate it into English, as we were still unable to express our
thoughts correctly in that tongue. We would have the German and
English texts printed in New York and take them with us to Pittsburgh.
With the help of the German comrades there, meetings could be
organized for me to address. Fedya was to remain in New York till
... ... ...
" ... The manifesto was written that afternoon. It was a flaming call
to the men of Homestead to throw off the yoke of capitalism, to use
their present struggle as a stepping-stone to the destruction of the
wage system, and to continue towards social revolution and anarchism."
"A few days after our return to New York, the news was flashed across
the country of the slaughter of steel-workers by Pinkertons. Frick had
fortified the Homestead mills, built a high fence around them. Then,
in the dead of night, a barge packed with strike-breakers, under
protection of heavily armed Pinkerton thugs, quietly stole up the
Monongahela River. The steel-men had learned of Frick's move. They
stationed themselves along the shore, determined to drive back Frick's
hirelings. When the barge got within range, the Pinkertons had opened
fire, without warning, killing a number of Homestead men on the shore,
among them a little boy, and wounding scores of others."
"The wanton murders aroused even the daily papers. Several came out in
strong editorials, severely criticizing Frick. He had gone too far; he
had added fuel to the fire in the labour ranks and would have himself
to blame for any desperate acts that might come."
"We were stunned. We saw at once that the time for our manifesto had
passed. Words had lost their meaning in the face of the innocent blood
spilled on the banks of the Monongahela. Intuitively each felt what
was surging in the heart of the others. Sasha broke the silence."
"`Frick is the responsible factor in this crime,' he said; `he must be
made to stand the consequences.' It was the psychological moment for
an *Attentat*; the whole country was aroused, everybody was
considering Frick the perpetrator of a coldblooded murder. A blow
aimed at Frick would re-echo in the poorest hovel, would call the
attention of the whole world to the real cause behind the Homestead
struggle. It would also strike terror in the enemy's ranks and make
them realize that the proletariat of America had its avengers."
"Sasha had never made bombs before, but Most's `Science of
Revolutionary Warfare' was a good textbook. He would procure dynamite
from a comrade he knew on Staten Island. He had waited for this
sublime moment to serve the Cause, to give his life for the people. He
would go to Pittsburgh."
"`We will go with you!' Fedya and I cried together. But Sasha would
not listen to it. He insisted that it was unnecessary and criminal to
waste three lives on one man."
"We sat down, Sasha between us, holding our hands. In a quiet and even
tone he began to unfold to us his plan. He would perfect a time
regulator for the bomb that would enable hom to kill Frick, yet save
himself. Not because he wanted to escape, No; he wanted to live long
enough to justify his act in court, so that the American people might
know that he was not a criminal, but an idealist."
"`I will kill Frick,' Sasha said, `and of course I shall be condemned
to death. I will die proudly in the assurance that I gave my life for
the people. But I will die by my own hand, like Lingg. Never will I
permit our enemies to kill me.'"
"I hung on his lips. His clarity, his calmness and force, the sacred
fire of his ideal, enthralled me, held me spellbound. Turning to me,
he continued in a deep voice. I was the born speaker, the
propagandist, he said. I could do a great deal for his act. I could
articulate its meaning to the workers. I could explain that he had no
personal grievance against Frick, that as a human being Frick was no
less to him than to anyone else. Frick was the symbol of wealth and
power, of the injustice and wrong of the capitalistic class, as well
as personally responsible for the shedding of the workers' blood.
Sasha's act would be directed against Frick, not as a man, but as an
enemy of labour. Surely I must see how important it was that I remain
behind to plead the meaning of his deed and its message throught the
"Every word he said beat upon my brain like a sledge-hammer. The
longer he talked, the more conscious I became of the terrible fact
that he had no need of me in his last great hour. The realization
swept away everything else- message, Cause, duty, propaganda. What
meaning could these things have compared with the force that made
Sasha flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood from the moment that I
had heard his voice and felt the grip of his hand at our first
meeting? Had our three years together shown him so little of my soul
that he could tell me calmly to go on living after he had been blown
to bits or strangled to death? Is it not true love - not ordinary
love, but the love to share to the uttermost with the beloved - is it
not more compelling than aught else? Those Russians had known it,
Jessie Helfmann and Sophia Perovskaya, they had gone with their men in
life and death. I could do no less."
"`I will go with you, Sasha," I cried; "I must go with you! I know
that as a woman I can be of help. I could gain access to Frick easier
than you. I could pave the way for your act. Besides I simply must go
with you. Do you understand Sasha?'"
... ... ...
The dialogue goes on to describe Sasha's experiments in building a
bomb. It didn't work. Sasha leaves for Homestead. Emma stays in New
York. Sasha needs money, and the text goes on to describe Goldman's
failed humorous attempt at prostitution to raise money to send to
Berkman. She finally succeeds in borrowing money from friends.
... ... ...
"In the early afternoon of Saturday, July 23, Fedya rushed into my
room with a newspaper. There it was, in large black letters: `YOUNG
MAN BY THE NAME OF ALEXANDER BERKMAN SHOOTS FRICK - ASSASSIN
OVERPOWERED BY WORKING-MEN AFTER DESPERATE STRUGGLE.'"
"Working-men, working-men overpowering Sasha? The paper was lying! He
did the act for the working-men; they would never attack him."
"Hurriedly we secured all the afternoon editions. Every one had a
different description, but the main fact stood out - our brave Sasha
had committed the act! Frick was still alive, but his wounds were
considered fatal. He would probably not survive the night. And Sasha -
they would kill him. They were going to kill him, I was sure of it.
Was I going to let him die alone? Should I go on talking while he was
being butchered? I must pay the same price as he - I must stand the
consequences - I must share the responsibility!"
... ... ... a few days later ...
"In feverish excitement we read the detailed story about the `assassin
Alexander Berkman'. He had forced his way into Frick's private office
on the heels of a Negro porter who had taken in his card. He had
immediately opened fire, and Frick had fallen to the ground with three
bullets in his body. The first to come to his aid, the paper said, was
his assistant Leishman, who was in the office at the time.
Working-men, engaged on a carpenter job in the building, rushed in,
and one of them felled Berkman to the ground with a hammer. At first
they had thought Frick dead. Then a cry was heard from him. Berkman
had crawled over and got near enough to strike Frick with a dagger in
the thigh. After that he was pounded into unconsciousness. He came to
in the station house, but he would answer no questions. One of the
detectives grew suspicious about the appearance of Berkman's face and
he nearly broke the young man's jaw trying to open his mouth. A
peculiar capsule was found hidden there. When asked what it was,
Berkman replied with defiant contempt: `Candy.' On examination it
proved to be a dynamite cartridge. The police were sure of a
... ... ...
"Meanwhile the daily press carried on a ferocious campaign against the
anarchists. They called for the police to act, to round up `the
instigators, Johann Most, Emma Goldman, and their ilk.' My name had
rarely before been mentioned in the papers, but now it appeared every
day in the most sensational stories. The police got busy; a witch hunt
for Emma Goldman began."
... ... ...
Soldiers occupy Homestead after the further violence. One of the
soldiers cheers Berkman's act from the ranks.
... ... ...
"After a long, anxious wait a letter came from Sasha. He had been
greatly cheered by the stand of the militiaman, W. L. Iams, he wrote.
It showed that even American soldiers were waking up. Could I not get
in touch with the boy, send him some anarchist literature? He would be
a valuable asset to the movement. I was not to worry about himself; he
was in fine spirits and already preparing his court speech - not as a
defence, he emphasized, but in explanation of his act. Of course, he
would have no lawyer; he would represent his own case as true Russian
and other European revolutionaries did. Prominent Pittsburgh attorneys
had offered their services free of charge, but he had declined. It was
inconsistent for an anarchist to employ lawyers; I should make his
attitude on this matter clear to the comrades. ..."
... ... ... Goldman begins to defend Berkman in public rallies
"`Possessed by a fury,' the papers said of my speech the next morning.
`How long will this dangerous woman be permitted to go on?' Ah, if
only they knew how I yearned to give up my freedom, to proclaim loudly
my share in the deed- if only they knew."
... ... ...
"Weeks passed without any indication of when Sasha's trial would
begin. He was still kept on `Murderer's Row' in the Pittsburgh jail,
but the fact that Frick was improving had considerably changed Sasha's
legal status. He could not be condemned to death. Through comrades in
Pennsylvania I learned that the law called for seven years in prison
for his attempt. Hope entered my heart. Seven years are a long time,
but Sasha was strong, he had iron perseverance, he could hold out. I
clung to this new possibility with every fibre of my being."
... ... ...
Goldman answers publicly one of Berkman's critics from with the
anarchist camp. Most was her former teacher, suitor, and close friend.
... ... ...
"At Most's next lecture I sat in the first row, close to the low
platform. My hand was on the whip under my long, grey cloak. When he
got up and faced the audience, I rose and declared in a loud voice: `I
came to demand proof of your insinuations against Alexander Berkman.'"
"There was instant silence. Most mumbled something about `hysterical
woman," but he said nothing else. I then pulled out my whip and leaped
towards him. Repeatedly I lashed him about the face and neck, then
broke the whip over my knee and threw the pieces at him. It was all
done so quickly that no one had time to interfere."
... ... ...
`Living My Life' is an extremely interesting and humorous book. I urge
anyone interested in the conclusion of the story to read it there. We
all know that Frick lived, and Berkman went to jail. But a final
thought from Goldman on this incident. Just before being deported from
the US in 1919, she learned of Frick's death.
... ... ...
"During the farewell dinner given us by our friends in Chicago, on
December 2, reporters dashed in with the news of Henry Clay Frick's
death. We had not heard of it before, but the newspaper men suspected
that the banquet was to celebrate the event. `Mr. Frick has just
died,' a blustering reporter addressed Sasha. `What have you got to
say?' `Deported by God,' Sasha answered dryly. I added that Mr. Frick
had collected his full debt from Alexander Berkman, but that he had
died without making good his obligations. `What do you mean?' the
reporters demanded. `Just this: Henry Clay Frick was a man of the
passing hour. Neither in life nor in death would he have been
remembered long. It was Alexander Berkman who made him known, and
Frick will live only in connection with Berkman's name. His entire
fortune could pay not for such glory."