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Sacco and Vanzetti Case

Woodrow Wilson

Sacco and Vanzetti Case: Woodrow Wilson was the 28th American President who served in office from March 4, 1913 to March 4, 1921. One of the important events during his presidency was the start of the Sacco and Vanzetti case.

Definition and Summary of the Sacco and Vanzetti Case
Summary and definition:
Nicola Sacco (18911927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (18881927) were Italian immigrants who were arrested, at the height of the Red Scare, in May 1920. They were accused of armed robbery and murder at the Slater & Morrill shoe factory in South Braintree, Massachusetts.

Newspaper coverage on the Sacco and Vanzetti case revealed that the Italian immigrants were self-confessed radicals and anarchists.

The prejudice towards the men led to one of the most famous and controversial trials in the history of the United States. The case came to trial in June 1921, and lasted for 7  weeks. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti spent the next 6 years in prison as appeal after appeal was rejected. Finally, on August 23rd 1927, they were both executed  by electrocution at the Charlestown State Prison in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sacco and Vanzetti case is widely regarded as a miscarriage of justice.

Sacco and Vanzetti Facts for kids: Fast Fact Sheet
Fast, fun facts and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) about the Sacco and Vanzetti.

Who were Sacco and Vanzetti? Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants and self confessed anarchists and radicals who avoided serving in WW1.

What were Sacco and Vanzetti accused of? Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested in May 1920 and accused of armed robbery on a shoe factory, during which two people were killed.

Why was the Sacco and Vanzetti trial unfair? The Sacco and Vanzetti trial was perceived to be unfair because:

  • The men were anarchists and held radical political beliefs

  • Press coverage turned public opinion was against them

  • The nation was gripped by the anti-radical and anti-immigrant hysteria of the Red Scare

  • During the court case in May 1921, Judge Webster Thayer was prejudiced against the two men

Facts about Sacco and Vanzetti Case
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Sacco and Vanzetti Case.

The Red Scare was fueled by rapid inflation, rising prices, high unemployment, protests, demonstrations and a series of crippling strikes.

During the Red Scare the nation became intolerant of immigrants and there was a strong belief that Anarchists, Communists and other radical groups were conspiring to start a a worker's revolution in the United States.

The Red Scare fears were fueled  by small, but highly vocal, groups of radicals who preached the downfall of the corrupt capitalist system and the coming revolution of the working classes of America.

On April 15, 1920, at the Slater & Morrill shoe factory in South Braintree, Massachusetts, the paymaster, Frederick A. Parmenter, and his guard Alessandro Berardelli, were shot and killed by two men who escaped with $15,773.

Police arrested two Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti regarding their radical activities and as suspects for the crime.  Both men lied and gave contradictory statements to the police. Both men carried guns but neither had a criminal record. Both men had evaded the WW1 army draft.

Sacco and Vanzetti had immigrated to Italy for the U.S. in 1908, although they did not meet until a 1917 strike in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who was one of the principal organizers of that strike

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were followers of Luigi Galleani (1861-1931), a radical Italian anarchist and communist who advocated revolution by any means including violence such as bombings and assassinations. Luigi Galleani had been deported on June 24, 1919, but his Italian followers were still highly active in the United States .

The men had radical anti-government pamphlets in their car when they were arrested. Further investigations revealed that both Sacco and Vanzetti were hiding Italian anarchist literature, including a bomb manual.

Police linked Sacco's gun to the Police linked Sacco's gun to the double murder, the only piece of physical evidence that connected the men to the crime.

Press coverage on the Sacco and Vanzetti case revealed that the Italian immigrants were self-confessed anarchists and radicals. The nation was engulfed by the anti-radical and anti-immigrant hysteria of the Red Scare and public opinion was against them. Public opinion became even more hostile following the Wall Street Bombing.

On September 16, 1920 the nation was rocked by the Wall Street bombing in the Financial District of  Manhattan, New York City outside the J. P. Morgan bank, the largest and most powerful financial institution in the world. The explosion was an act of terrorism that brought terror and carnage to the streets of New York

Their was a belief that the motive for the carnage wreaked in the Wall Street bombing was in revenge for the arrests of Sacco and Vanzetti.

The two men were indicted on September 11, 1920, for the South Braintree murders and the Robbery.

The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti for the South Braintree robbery and murders was held in Dedham, Massachusetts, from May 31, 1921 to July 14, 1921 and presided over by Judge Webster Thayer.

The Sacco and Vanzetti trial lasted seven weeks. The defendants were represented by Fred Moore, who had been hired on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Prosecutor for the trial was Frederick G. Katzman.

The Prosecution produced 61 witnesses who said they had seen them but the Defence had 107 witnesses alleging that they had seen the men somewhere else when the crime was committed.

Judge Webster Thayer was prejudiced against the two men. Some trial observers noted that Judge Thayer was hostile to the defense and biased in favor of the prosecution. Prosecutor Frederick G. Katzman had made irrelevant remarks about the defendants radical political beliefs and their lack of patriotism and Judge Webster Thayer allowed these remarks to pass.

The jury returned a guilty verdict of first-degree murder on July 14, 1921.

The convictions resulted in anger and indignation from radicals, socialists and many intellectuals - both in the United States and in Europe.

Many believed that the conviction was unwarranted and had been influenced by the reputation of the accused as radicals when anti-radical sentiment of the Red Scare was running high. The conduct of the trial by Judge Webster Thayer was particularly criticized.

Investigators were hired to look for new evidence that would prove that Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent.

Over the next 6 years, the lawyers of the men presented many motions to Judge Thayer, asking that a new trial be granted so that new evidence could be introduced- Massachusetts law gave the trial judge the final power to reopen a case on the basis of new evidence.

All efforts proved futile, even after the 1925 confession of another condemned man named Celestine Madeiros who confessed to being a member of a gang that had committed the South Braintree crimes. Celestine Madeiros absolved Sacco and Vanzetti of any involvement. Judge Thayer refused to recognize the statement of Celestine Madeiros as adequate evidence to justify a new trial.

Judge Webster Thayer flatly refused to order a new trial. The defense appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts but the verdict was confirmed and a new trial was denied.

Lawyers and professors believed that the trial had been a travesty of justice. Influential protestors used the press to make their claim that Sacco and Vanzetti were victims of political and ethnic bias.

On April 9, 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti received the death sentence, all pleas for clemency were denied. Protests against the sentence erupted in many cities in America and Europe.

At midnight on August 23, 1927, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts executed the two Italian immigrants by electrocution in the electric chair in Charlestown State Prison in Boston, Massachusetts.

The guilt or innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti continues to be debated. It is one of the most famous and controversial trials in the history of the United States.

US American History
1913-1928: WW1 & Prohibition

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