The Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti

The Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti

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The Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti -- were they guilty or just victims of circumstance? You decide. This case was one of the most controversial court cases in America's history and soon you will know why.

Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian immigrants who emigrated to America in 1908. At the time, Sacco was seventeen, and Vanzetti was 20. In April 1920, Sacco was working in a shoe factory, and Vanzetti was selling fish on the streets. Of the two immigrants, only Sacco had a family in the United States. His wife, Rosina, was expecting her second child. Their first son, Dante, was two years old. Both men
were aliens, non-citizens, but Vanzetti had begun the process of citizenship. However, he did not speak English.

Sacco and Vanzetti were accused of murdering the paymaster and a guard at the Slater and Morrill shoe factory in South Braintree, Massachusetts, on April 15, 1920. They were also accused of taking two payroll boxes which contained $15,776.51.

Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested on May 5, 1920, when they went with two other men, Orciani and Boda, to pick up Boda's car from a garage. The car was not ready, so they left the garage and hopped a street car. The police stopped the street car and arrested them. Orciani was arrested the next day, but let go when his alibi checked out. Sacco was only charged with the Braintree murders. Vanzetti, however, was charged with both the Braintree murders, and another robbery, the Bridgewater crime.

They were indicted on September 14, 1920, and put on trial on May 31, 1921. Their trial lasted almost seven weeks, and on July 14, 1921, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were found guilty of murder in the first degree. They would be executed for this crime.

During the trial, there were many conflicting facts. For example, a hat found at the scene of the crime was assumed to be Sacco's. However, when Sacco tried it on, it did not fit his head. Sacco told the court he wore a size 7 1/8, and this hat was size 6 7/8. How could that have been Sacco's hat if it wasn't even his size? Sacco was also asked why he was carrying a gun on May 5. He replied, "My wife cleaned the house because we are to go Saturday to New York to get the boat to Italy. She found the pistol then.

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I was afraid that sometime my boy could go after it. So I put the bullets and the gun in my pocket. I planned to go shooting in the woods with Vanzetti. But Vanzetti and I started to argue that afternoon, and I forgot about shooting, so it was still in my pocket." (Rappaport, 116)

In addition to this information, it was also known that the two men were avowed anarchists. These radical political ideas were considered unacceptable in a society that was currently experiencing a deep hatred of undemocratic ideas. Coupled with their radical views, both Sacco and Vanzetti had to face the nativist ideas that permeated American society. Their political beliefs and ethnic backgrounds worked to their disadvantage. In fact, the judge made plain his hositlity toward the defendants whom he refered to as "those anarchist bastards." (Boyer, 827)

The case of Sacco and Vanzetti represented a deep division in American society. We will never know for sure whether Sacco and Vanzetti actually committed the murders. However, the evidence against them was circumstantial and far from airtight.

Now that you know the facts, what would you decide? Were they guilty or innocent?
Boyer, Paul S. The Enduring Vision. D.C. Heath and Company, Lexington, Massachusetts. 1993.
Rappaport, Doreen. The Sacco-Vanzetti Trial. NY: Harper-Collins, Inc., 1992.
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