Sacco and Vanzetti Case Thesis

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Sacco and Vanzetti - Anarchism and the Trial

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Anarchism and the Background of the Trial (Anarchism believes that all government should be abolished Current Events 1996). Anarchists in the late 1800s and the early 1900s thought they could bring down and destroy governments through random bombings and killings. An anarchist murdered U.S. President WBM McKinley in 1901. In reaction, the government passed a law, which barred immigrants from entering the country. It viewed them as fatal threats from abroad. The Russian Revolution in 1917 led to the abdication of the Czar and the takeover of power by the Communists. Americans began to feel that Communism then became imminent in their country on account of these and similar events. On June 2, 1919, a man attempted to assassinate Attorney General a. Mitchell Palmer and his family. But the man blew himself away by accident, instead. At the same time, other anarchists bombed other places in coordinated acts against politicians, judges and law enforcement officials. This led to the "Red Scare" and the "Palmer raids," which the Attorney General himself led to crack down the anarchists. Law enforcement officials arrested, harassed and deported thousands of suspected anarchists, Communists and others viewed as threats to the stability of the government. Immigrants were a specific target of the hunt. A fear of foreigner became a consequence of the "Red Scare." There were 5.7 million immigrants at the time as compared to the total national population of only approximately 100 million. Most of 19th century immigrants came from Northern Europe. In the early 20th century, millions of immigrants came in from Italy, Poland and Russia. They settled in ghettos and did not look, speak or behave like "Americans." This was the setting when Italians Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were tried and executed as anarchists for robbery and double murder (Liptak 2007). This became the most famous anarchist trials (Current Events) at a time when capital punishment was common and not given serious attention by the public (Liptak).

Sacco and Vanzetti

TOPIC: Thesis on Sacco and Vanzetti Case Assignment

Nicola Sacco, a native of Torremaggiore, Italy, immigrated to the United States when he was 17 (UXL Newsmakers 2005, UXL 2003). He settled in Milford Massachusetts where he engaged in shoe edge-trimming for a local shoe company. He was married and had a son. Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a native of Villafalltto, Italy, was a bachelor. He immigrated to the United States early in adulthood. He settled in New York and then in Boston. There he worked as a kitchen helper and menial laborer at other times. They met when Vanzetti already got committed to the principles of anarchy. During World War I, the escaped to Mexico to avoid military arrest. Afterwards, Sacco returned to him family while Vanzetti moved around the American Midwest for about a year. When Vanzetti returned to New England, he worked at several jobs. He renewed acquaintanceship with Sacco, who was then working at a shoe factory. Vanzetti was said to have read widely and reflected deeply on the revolutionary transformation of industrial society. Sacco had less interest in reading Vanzetti's materials. Nonetheless, he accepted his ideals and his concept of brotherhood, peace and prosperity without government. Together, they interacted with anarchists and even circulated revolutionary materials (UXL, UXL Newsmakers).

The Arrest

This was the situation when they were arrested for robbery and murder in May 1920 (UXL 200, UXL Newsmakers 2005). They were then on the way to a garage to take an automobile supposedly seen near the crime, which happened in South Braintree in Massachusetts. They were both armed at that time but they insisted they did not commit or know anything about the crimes. They said they were getting the automobile to distribute anarchist literature (UXL, UXL Newsmakers). Frederick Parmenter, the paymaster of the shoe company and his guard, Messandro Berardelli, were killed and their assassins took $15,000 from the scene (Liptak 2007). The authorities assigned the motive as robbery. Vanzetti was speedily charged, tried, convicted and then sentenced to 12 to 15 years imprisonment (Liptak).

Trial in Dedham

Almost a year afterwards, they went on trial in Dedham for the crimes (Liptak 2007). The trial proved to be a complicated and dramatic legal exercise between the prosecutor and the defense lawyer, Fred H. Moore. It took six weeks to present and listen to witnesses. They presented evidence of a bullet as matching those from Sacco's pistol.

Arduous cross examinations and closing speeches followed. After only five hours of deliberations, the jury found the two accused guilty. The verdict was passed on July 14, 1921. It attracted massive media coverage locally and abroad. It ignited demonstrations in Europe, South America and Mexico. Some known intellectuals, such as would-be Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, sided with Sacco and Vanzetti (Liptak).

About a hundred witnesses participated in the trial (Sandler 2003). In the process, many testimonies for the prosecution turned to be mistakes or untruthful. On the other hand, the defense provided outright and clear alibi that the accused were elsewhere during the incident. Vanzetti was selling fish in Plymouth while Sacco was at the Italian consulate in Boston, securing a passport. The evidence presented against them consisted of unreliable eyewitness testimony, deemed consciousness of guilt, untruthful answers to interview questions, similarity of the gun and bullets from their guns and those found in the scene of the crime. The state concluded on the consciousness of guilt when one of the accused reached out for his gun during the arrest. Ballistic experts also testified that the bullets found in the victims were consistent with the bullets from Sacco's gun. These experts also concluded that Vanzetti's gun was quite alike that owned by the slain guard. This gun was also said to have been taken from the crime scene. To bolster this claim, the prosecution even presented a cap in court as evidence. This cap was supposedly found in the crime scene and resembled one that hung at Sacco's workplace (Sandler).

Prosecution eyewitnesses put Sacco and Vanzetti at the scene of the crime (Liptak 2007). But their testimony appeared unreliable and looked like fabrications by the prosecutors. The ballistics evidence was also questionable. Two jurors executed sworn statements that some bullets in the jury room were not admitted as evidence. And the defense lawyers could not come up to the challenge (Liptak).

The Defense

The chief defense attorney, Fred Moore, admitted that the accused were anarchists (Sandler 2003). Because of the widespread public reaction against foreign anarchists, they found it necessary to protect themselves by carrying guns. But this line of defense contradicted an earlier contention that they escaped to Mexico as pacifists to avoid military arrest. However, the court warned the jury against being influenced by the defendants' being Italian. It reminded the jury that they were entitled to the same rights and considerations a the original colonists. It encouraged the jury to be as nationalistic as American soldiers who fought in the battlefields of France. The jury consisted of white men who shared the public's heightened outcry against socialists, foreigners and anarchists. In his 1915 State of the Nation address, President Woodrow Wilson identified them as disloyal citizens who "must be crushed out." The strong insistence by the court, the torrent of public sentiments at the time and share prejudice against anarchists led the jury to convict the accused (Sandler). The two remained eloquent and steadfast when sentenced. Sacco, in his broken English, said that he knew that the sentence could only be between "the oppressed class and the rich class." Vanzetti stressed that if he would be executed twice and reborn twice, he would live again to do what he had already done (Liptak 2007).

Six Years After Conviction, Execution

While in progress, the trial was not given publicity outside of Boston, as anarchy then was not considered an important issue (UXL 2005, UXL Newsmakers 2003). In the succeeding six years, Fred Moore was replaced by William G. Thompson. The Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee consisted of anarchists, freethinkers in Boston's prominent families and middle-class liberals and radicals. They viewed and altered the public image of the case more as a political and ideological than a legal issue. The defense contended that the trial was conducted in an environment of fear, repression and prejudice. The jury, especially Judge Webster Thayer, was clearly biased against the defendants. The conviction was, therefore, drawn from a disapproval of radical political beliefs rather than evidence. Ensuing developments supported this view. Doubts increased concerning parts of the evidence presented and accepted in court. Some prosecution witnesses retracted their testimonies. A convicted murderer admitted taking part in the South Braintree crime and cleared Sacco and Vanzetti of participation in it. His testimony was, however, found to be sketchy and inconsistent (UXL, UXL Newsmakers).Appeals and motions for a new trial went on for six months without encouragements (Sandler 2003). The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the convictions. On April 9, 1927, Judge Thayer sentenced the accused to the electric chair (UXL 2005, UXL Newsmakers 2003).

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