A Cardinal Calamity
Politics once again had intruded into the Sacco-Vanzetti case and not with much subtlety, either. This time it was on a truly national scale, with the sort of aftershock that haunts for years. To largely parochial fanfare, Governor Fuller announced his decision late on the night of August 2, 1927. Strangely, it came on the heels of President Coolidge’s announcement that he would not seek reelection in 1928.1 Because Fuller had once served as Coolidge’s lieutenant governor, the timing of the announcement was ironic, albeit purely coincidental.
New York Times reporter Louis Stark claimed that Fuller initially had planned to commute the sentences to prison terms. Stark speculated that upon learning of Coolidge’s decision, Fuller panicked and reversed himself, thinking that a clemency decision would imperil his chance to serve as the Republican Party’s standard bearer for 1928. It was an intriguing hypothesis, one that many believed for a long time. Unfortunately, as author David Felix notes, it also lacks any documentary corroboration.2 Nevertheless, Fuller’s decision was popular only in Massachusetts, which now regarded itself as under international propaganda siege. The governor had miscalculated on yet another sensitive issue when he declined to make public the advisory committee’s report. This convinced almost everyone on the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee that Fuller was nervous about the information the advisory committee had uncovered. Moreover, the blueribbon panel mentioned in a summary of its findings that, while its members had found nothing improper to report, it did describe as “indiscreet”