Sacco and Vanzetti

Essay by chayluck February 2006

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The Sacco-Vanzetti affair is the most famous and controversial case in American legal history. In our history, justice has not always resulted in fairness, but instead in the denial of the rights of ordinary citizens. In the 1920's, a tumultuous decade of social unrest, numerous Americans were discriminated against for their political or religious beliefs and ethnicity. It was a decade of intense nationalism, in which the rights of immigrants were violated in such events as the Red Scare and Palmer Raids. In May of 1920, the infamous trial and conviction of Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti began. Since this time, there has been much controversy as to their guilt. Could they have truly received a just trial in such a social climate? Did Sacco and Vanzetti's ethnicity and political beliefs affect their trial and convictions? It is beleived by many that these factors, rather than justice, played the greater hand in the trial.

The dominating motives behind the convictions of Sacco and Vanzetti were not, as has been argued, the evidence and testimony presented against them, but rather the personal biases and nativist mentality of the trial players in light of the defendants' anarchist views and Italian background.

On the afternoon of April 15, 1920, in South Braintree, Massachusetts, two gunmen robbed and killed a paymaster and his guard as they transferred $15,776 from the Slater & Morrill Shoe factory. Three weeks later, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested in a police trap and were found with numerous anarchist pamphlets and weapons. Both men were self-proclaimed anarchists and atheists, and in 1917, followed anarchist leader Luigi Galleani to Mexico in order to avoid the American draft. However, neither man had any previous criminal record and both were well-respected citizens in the Italian American community. Although not...