Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Vanzetti

Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Vanzetti

Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Vanzetti

Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Vanzetti

Excerpt

More has been written about the Sacco-Vanzetti case than any other criminal case in the history of the United States. It has been described, analyzed, and argued not only in English but in Italian, French, German, Spanish, Russian, and Dutch. Probably the chief reason for its strong and universal appeal is that it raised so many doubts, many of which have not yet been, and probably never will be, resolved. Why were these two conscientious objectors carrying revolvers at the time of their arrest? Why did they tell numerous lies to arresting officers? If these two frugal, hardworking Italian immigrants stole a $16,000 payroll, why was there no evidence of the money when they were arrested three weeks later? Which experts are we to believe: those who swore Sacco's .32 Colt fired the bullet found in the body of the dead guard, or those who swore it did not? Which witnesses are we to believe: those who swore they saw the two men taking part in the holdup, or those who swore they saw them many miles away while the holdup was taking place? The Sacco-Vanzetti case was not a simple miscarriage of justice. If the conviction of the fish peddler and the shoemaker for a 1920 holdup murder was the result of a frame-up, which is the opinion of many responsible laymen and legal experts, it was a highly subtle, complex, far-reaching frame-up that wove together factory hands, policemen, and the presidents of Harvard and M.I.T.

A second reason for this case's wide appeal was the defendants themselves. To millions, Sacco and Vanzetti, irrespective of their being anarchists, draft dodgers, and convicted murderers, were saintly, dignified men-martyrs to social prejudice. Vanzetti in particular became a hero to a whole generation of liberal intellectuals, who memorized phrases from his unidiomatic but powerful speeches and letters. And to millions of others the two men just as dramatically embodied all that threatened the American way of life; to them the two immigrants were symbols of opposition to God, country, and property.

A third source of interest in the case is somewhat less partisan. Lawyers have been drawn to the lengthy record of the case as a source of sustained and searching insight into the operation of our system of securing justice. The more than 6,000-page record of the Sacco-Vanzetti case raises with particular force such questions as: "Is our adver-

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