Chicago Seven Trial

The 1968 Democratic convention was held in one of the most tumultuous times in recent history. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated, racial tensions exploded into riots in cities across the country, and student protests paralyzed college campuses. It felt like the country was coming apart at the seams, and Chicago’s law-andorder mayor, Richard Daley, was not about to allow this chaos to engulf his city. The convention turned into a fiasco as police attempted to control massive crowds of civil rights and anti-war protesters who had converged on the convention.

Federal prosecutors indicted eight alleged leaders of the protests for conspiring to violate an anti-riot statute. Defendants included Youth International Party leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Students for a Democratic Society national director Rennie Davis, pacifist David Dellinger, and Tom Hayden, the author of the 1962 Port Huron Statement. (The trial of Bobby Seale was severed from the others, resulting in the Chicago Seven.) The strategy of defense lawyers William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass was to politicize the trial, attempt to win public support, and in effect to continue the protests using the trial as another medium. The trial occasionally degenerated into a circus-like atmosphere, with outbursts from the defendants and repeated citations for contempt of court issued by the presiding judge. Five of the seven defendants were convicted of conspiracy. All of the convictions, along with the contempt citations, were reversed on appeal.

W. BRADLEY WENDEL

References and Further Reading

  • Lukas, J. Anthony. The Barnyard Epithet and Other Obscenities: Notes on the Chicago Conspiracy Trial. New York: Harper & Row, 1970. 
  • Schultz, John. The Chicago Conspiracy Trial. New York: Da Capo Press, rev’d ed., 1993. 

See also Kunstler, William M.

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