Nicola Sacco (April 22, 1891 – August 23, 1927) and Bartolomeo
Vanzetti (June 11, 1888 – August 23, 1927) were two Italian-born
American laborers and anarchists, who were tried, convicted and
executed via electrocution on August 23, 1927 in Massachusetts
for the 1920 armed robbery and murder of two pay-clerks in South
trial attracted enormous international attention, with critics
accusing the prosecution and presiding Judge Webster Thayer of
improper conduct, and of allowing anti-Italian, anti-immigrant,
and anti-anarchist sentiment to prejudice the jury. Prominent
Americans such as Felix Frankfurter and Upton Sinclair publicly
sided with citizen-led Sacco and Vanzetti committees in an ultimately
unsuccessful opposition to the verdict. Sacco's and Vanzetti's
execution elicited mass-protests in New York, London, Amsterdam
and Tokyo, worker walk-outs across South America, and riots in
Paris, Geneva, Germany and Johannesburg.
Vanzetti's actual guilt remains a source of controversy. Significant
post-trial evidence emerged suggesting innocence in addition to
doubts about the fairness of their murder trial. These include
modern ballistics tests on the alleged murder weapon, revelations
of mishandled evidence, recanted testimony, a confession to the
murder by a known bank robber, and statements by multiple individuals
involved in the case.(More see here
was a bold and outrageous pair of murders. Three o'clock in the
afternoon — in broad daylight — two armed men shot and killed
a paymaster and his guard. Seven shots in all were fired. The
killers picked up the two boxes containing almost $16,000, leaped
into a car containing several other men, a car that had pulled
up with precise timing, and sped away. The whole audacious enterprise
had taken less than a minute.
is what I say: I would not wish to a dog or to a snake, to the
most low or misfortunate creature of the earth — I would not wish
to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am
not guilty of. But my conviction is that I have suffered for things
that I am guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical and
indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I was an Italian,
and indeed I am an Italian; I have suffered more for my family
and for my beloved than for myself; but I am so convinced to be
right that if you could execute me two times, and if I could be
reborn two other times, I would live again to do what I have done
The trial of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti for the Braintree,
Massachusetts payroll robbery and murders is the most politically
charged murder case in the history of American jurisprudence.
Even more than the conviction of atom bomb spies Ethel and Julius
Rosenberg — for whose guilt a considerable amount of evidence
exists — Sacco and Vanzetti were believed to be victims of their
all this fuss they're making about them guys?
Darned if some people ain't kickin' because they got
What was comin' to 'em;
Sayin', be Jesus,
It's cause they're reds.
That's bad enough,
But that ain't all —
Not by a damn sight.
Why, man alive,
They're only a couple o' God damn dagoes!...
Now me: I'm an American, I am ...
Send 'em up, say I,
Show 'em that our courts is American.
We don't get our law from Italy.
We don't care whether they done it or not.
To hell with 'em!
Sacco and Vanzetti print by Ben Shahn
Whatever the truth of their guilt or innocence, no other crime
story of our century has spawned so many poems, plays, novels,
and passionate works of history. No other convicted robbers and
murderers have received favorable accounts in the Dictionary of
American Biography. No other case has defined an era of American
history — its culture, causes, politics, paranoia, divided loyalties,
fervent patriotism — than the trial and fate of these two immigrant
memories of the details of this particular case are fading, the
Sacco-Vanzetti case remains in its broad outline the prime example
of defendants tried not for what they did, but for whom they were:
poor, passionate radicals, in an era in which the United States
lived in a state of fear. It was the era of "The Red Scare."(See
here and here)