With Malice Aforethought: The Execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti392
With Malice Aforethought: The Execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti392
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With Malice AforethoughtThe Execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti
By THEODORE W. GRIPPO
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Theodore W. Grippo
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAn Overview
On April 15, 1920, a brutal crime was committed in South Braintree, a suburb of Boston. Five bandits gunned down and killed a paymaster and his guard while they were delivering a $15,700 payroll. The gang fled with the money. Three weeks later, on the night of May 5, the police arrested Nicola Sacco and his friend Bartolomeo Vanzetti as suspicious persons while they were passengers on a streetcar on the way to Sacco's home. The police quickly identified the two as local immigrant workers associated with a detested anarchist group operating in the Boston area. Thus began the case of Sacco and Vanzetti.
Soon after Vanzetti's arrest, the Commonwealth tried and convicted him for another crime—an attempted armed robbery in nearby Bridgewater some four months earlier. Thereafter, the Commonwealth tried and convicted both Sacco and Vanzetti for the South Braintree murders and six years later executed them for those crimes.
Following Sacco's and Vanzetti's arrest, a reporter sent to cover the story reported back, "[T]here's no story ... just a couple of wops in a jam." After their conviction of the murders on July 14, 1921, the New York Times gave the story seven inches on an inside page. However, after their execution on August 23, 1927, the New York Times ran a front-page headline and five pages about them, amid outrage and massive protests by millions of workers and supporters throughout America and the rest of the world. They claimed Sacco and Vanzetti were framed and executed for their political beliefs.
The trial became a cause célèbre of American legal history. Edmund Wilson, a noted American writer and critic, observed that the Sacco and Vanzetti case "revealed the whole anatomy of American life with all its classes, professions, and points of view ... and it raised almost every fundamental question of our political and social system."
Historians, scholars, lawyers, and writers continue in a search for evidence to determine their innocence or guilt and whether they got a fair trial. The execution of these two obscure and uneducated Italian immigrants, who were without influence, wealth, or power, inspired many celebrated authors—including Maxwell Anderson, Upton Sinclair, Felix Frankfurter, John Dos Passos, and Edna St. Vincent Millay—to write about this case.
The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti spawned a legion of books. The titles of many convey the intense feelings the case has generated: The Case That Will Not Die, Tragedy in Dedham, Justice Crucified, and The Never-Ending Wrong. Writers, poets, and artists have authored operas, plays, songs, poems, scores of articles in leading journals, television and film productions, public debates, and thousands of news stories about the Sacco and Vanzetti affair.
Most ironic, on August 23, 1977, Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts declaring that day "Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti Memorial Day." The proclamation stated that any stigma and disgrace should be removed from the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti and from their families and descendants. The proclamation, however, was not without controversy. Apologists in support of the conviction and execution of the two Italians bitterly opposed the proclamation, rejecting its propriety in deference to the honor and memory of the judges, members of the jury, the prosecutors, the governor, and members of his advisory committee who were involved in the case.
The Sacco and Vanzetti affair transcends their deaths and the vicious murders of the two payroll guards. It is an American epic with villains and heroes, "agony" and "triumph." It is a drama that touches on the battle of the American labor movement, the clash of capitalism and socialism, the exploitation of immigrant labor by the remnants of a moribund Puritan elite, and the personal struggle of immigrants seeking acceptance and equality in a country hostile to them.
Frederick Katzmann's successful prosecution of Sacco and Vanzetti and Judge Webster Thayer's death sentences brought a defiant response from Vanzetti: "Sacco's name will live in the hearts of the people and in their gratitude when Katzmann's and yours bones will be dispersed by time, when your name[s] ... are but a deem rememoring of a cursed past in which man was wolf to the man ..."
The Sacco and Vanzetti story embraces not only their murder trial in the Dedham courthouse but also Vanzetti's earlier trial in Plymouth for an attempted armed robbery in Bridgewater and the trial of court interpreter Angelina DeFalco, relating to her shakedown attempt of the two defendants. The public's attention was magnified by six years of unsuccessful motions and appeals and the court's rejection of the confession of Celestino Medeiros, an admitted participant in the South Braintree murders, who tried to exonerate the two Italians with sworn testimony that they were not involved.
A fruitless plea for clemency to the politically ambitious Governor Alvan T. Fuller and a questionable review of the case by his advisory committee exacerbated the affair. Added to the mix were the actions of Frederick Katzmann and Judge Webster Thayer. The establishment saw Katzmann as a fearless prosecutor protecting society from two murdering anarchists. Others saw him as a zealot rather than the people's attorney, whose duty it was to seek justice rather than to convict. Most Americans saw Judge Thayer as the guardian of their venerable institutions. Others viewed him as a prejudiced judge who, in his black robe, was more like a "cobra" poised to strike Sacco and Vanzetti dead than the guarantor of their right to a fair trial.
The times were rife with prejudice against immigrant workers like Sacco and Vanzetti. Following the Great War, a wave of unemployment, labor unrest, and crime swept across the country, centering especially in large urban areas like Boston. The authorities blamed immigrant workers for these conditions. The establishment labeled efforts to achieve reforms for workers the actions of radicals attempting to overthrow the government. The Red Scare that followed the Bolshevik takeover of Russia by revolutionaries known as "the Reds," had fallen upon America, resulting in fear and enmity toward the two Italians.
This story demonstrates how a people caught in a wave of xenophobia reacted in a time of crisis. It reveals that America was not the melting pot once envisioned but a nation of many races and ethnicities—an America that had not yet achieved its ideal of "e pluribus unum."
Chapter TwoBoston in the 1920s
Americans who survived the flu pandemic of 1918 saw glimmerings of good times ahead. The Great War had ended, and the country emerged from the recession that had followed. Americans turned inward, away from the problems of Europe. Prosperity ensued. The "bulls" were on the run, and the stock market soared. The radio, the automobile, and a flood of consumer products reached the masses through easy credit. Prohibition wasn't so bad; it brought speakeasies with flirting flappers and the joy of jazz. Women obtained the right to vote, and they joined the workforce. The country loved Babe Ruth, and Charles Lindbergh was America's hero. Everybody went to the movies, and the talkies made them even better. However, the 1920s were only a glitzy veneer covering hard times for many Americans.
After the Great War, the world changed. Germany, Austro-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Czarist Russia were forever altered or destroyed. A new world order was emerging. The forces of socialism, fascism, anarchism, and democracy were on the march, and they fought to fill the void.
Foreigners, some of whom were immigrant workers from Italy like Sacco and Vanzetti, threatened American democracy on its own soil by promoting opposing ideologies. Boston's withering aristocracy, having come to terms with a hated Irish Catholic peasantry, was confronted with a flood of unschooled Italians and other immigrants they found socially undesirable. New England Yankees, whose roots ran deep into their Puritan past, found these foreigners and their beliefs offensive.
The Puritans and Their Progeny
The hostility of twentieth-century New Englanders toward immigrants had its origin in the Puritan founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the city of Boston three hundred years earlier. Puritans left England primarily to establish a theocracy that excluded nonbelievers. The Puritans were dissatisfied with the failure of Elizabeth I to purify the Anglican Church of all remnants of Catholicism after her father, Henry VIII, broke with Rome.
Puritan theology, with its Calvinistic concept of predestination, held that only Puritans who achieved saving grace could gain heaven; everyone else was destined to hell. The elders of each congregation determined who achieved saving grace. They were the visible saints of their church. The elders controlled each congregation, and the congregations controlled the colony. The colony outlawed other religions and controlled the spiritual and social life of its members. A sinner, depending on the offense, was punished with time in the stocks, forced to wear the scarlet letter, have an ear removed, a tongue bored with a hole, or worse.
During the next 150 years, the laws of the colonies became the laws of most New England states. Government-sanctioned bigotry was the result. Roger Williams, a dissident minister, was banished in 1635 from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of his objection to its alliance of church and state. Anne Hutchinson was excommunicated and banished in 1637 from the colony because she challenged the right of elders to determine who had saving grace. In 1660, the authorities hanged Mary Dyer, a Quaker follower of Anne Hutchinson, for her beliefs.
As the elders began to lose control of their congregations at the end of the seventeenth century, they sought to divert attention from their own shortcomings. They found a favorite scapegoat of the times, an "accursed group"—the witches. The witch hunts started in Salem in 1692. Before they were over, the elders accused hundreds and hanged nineteen women. In Justice Crucified, Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht pointed to what Puritan bigotry begot:
Calling it God's will, the Puritans planted in the strong soil of New England the seeds of intolerance, injustice, and inequality. The concept of the visible saints would be stretched to embrace wealth and intellect, but the myth that an elect should determine man's fate would endure, as would the belief that this elect was entitled to choose who might inhabit their earth.
The exclusion of foreigners remained a tradition in New England for the better part of three centuries. Nineteenth-century Bostonians, successors to the Puritans, visited their intolerance first on Irish Catholic immigrants and then on Italian Catholic newcomers. As Puritan control waned and democracy took hold, new waves of immigrants streamed into New England and the rest of America. Although the old barriers began to crumble, hatred of foreigners (other than those of Anglo-Saxon origin) by New Englanders did not disappear. Instead, their intolerance found more subtle ways of expression against these new immigrants: segregated neighborhoods, limited employment and social opportunities, and quotas for college entrance.
An elite group known as the Brahmins, the visible saints of the times, achieved the highest social status in Boston. They were the "gentlemen and gentlewomen of four or five generations" of Anglo-Saxon breeding, blessed with the divine favor of wealth and education, the progeny of the Puritans, endowed with saving grace. The Abbotts, Cabots, Lodges, Lawrences, and Lowells were among the elect. They found little room for the immigrant newcomers. After the Great War, restricting entry into America of southern and eastern Europeans, along with arresting and deporting troublesome immigrants, became the goal of most Bostonians and other Americans.
Puritan beliefs significantly influenced American culture. This was evidenced by the continued vitality during the early decades of the twentieth century of political, social, and religious movements that drew their strength from Puritan ideals. Chief among these were the Know-Nothings, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Prohibitionists.
The Know-Nothings, a virulent anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, semisecret political party, gathered strength in the years preceding the Civil War, often under the banner of the American Party. By the 1850s, the Know-Nothings gained governorships in a number of states and a large voting bloc in the Congress. Its members divided over the slavery issue, just as the North and the South did, and the party dissolved following the Civil War. Former party members, with their prejudices, merged with Democrats of the South and Republicans of the North, and Know-Nothing ideals persisted in those groups during the 1920s.
Followers of a revived and growing Ku Klux Klan supported the nativists' exclusionary attitude in the early decades of the twentieth century. The Klan, a conceptual ally of the Know-Nothings, emerged as a new force of prejudice and bigotry during this period. Much of the Klan's activities were against blacks, Catholics, and other minorities.
The Prohibitionists, essentially a faith-based group with Puritan values, demonstrated their power by promoting the Eighteenth Amendment, which outlawed the sale of alcoholic beverages. Adoption of the amendment required approval of two-thirds of the Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states, and the Prohibitionists' success in accomplishing such a difficult task was a reflection of the vitality of Puritan ideals in 1920s America.
It was among the descendants of the Anglo-Saxon founders of New England, steeped in Puritan ideals, that a mixture of southern and eastern European immigrant workers settled in America.
The Immigrant Workers
The immigrants were not completely unwanted. New England elites had mixed feelings; their greed became the seeds of their decline. Decades of cheap immigrant labor that made huge profits for them spawned poverty and disease-ridden ghettos of unskilled workers. The workers were a suffering lot. The mills and factories paid only a dollar or two a day for their labor. Whole families, including unschooled and undernourished children, were put to work. They were barely able to provide scraps of food and inhabited wretched living quarters.
Safety and health standards were nonexistent. The premature death rate in Massachusetts mill and shoe towns had reached epidemic proportions. In 1909, in Lawrence, 17 percent of children died before they were a year old; in the town of Lowell, the annual death rate was 20 percent. Tuberculosis, pneumonia, and woolsorters' disease (anthrax) were rampant; most workers died by the time they were thirty-nine. Driven by these conditions and inflamed by the exploitation of their masters, workers began to organize. Strikes soon spread throughout New England.
Boston and the nation would not forget the 1912 strike at the giant American Woolen Mills in Lawrence, a city of 86,000 mostly immigrant workers, speaking thirty different languages. The workers were crowded into a slum of seven square miles, while the middle and upper classes lived in comfort, and even opulence, in the surrounding areas. The strike took place during one of the coldest and hardest winters in New England's history.
The mill owners contrived a dynamite plot to appear to be the work of the strikers in order to discredit them. Thousands of workers picketed daily. Injuries, and even death, were inflicted on them. Driven by the mill owners' indifference to their suffering, the strikers destroyed looms, machinery, and other property. The government imposed a military siege upon the strikers, during which a soldier bayoneted Dominic Raprada, the young son of Italian immigrant workers, to near death.
Excerpted from With Malice Aforethought by THEODORE W. GRIPPO Copyright © 2011 by Theodore W. Grippo. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsAuthor's Note on the Text....................xi
Chapter 1: An Overview....................1
Chapter 2: Boston in the 1920s....................4
Chapter 3: Nicola and Bartolomeo....................21
Chapter 4: Bridgewater and the Plymouth Trial....................35
Chapter 5: The Shakedown....................62
Chapter 6: South Braintree and the Dedham Trial....................66
Chapter 7: Dedham: The Case Against Vanzetti....................87
Chapter 8: Dedham: The Case Against Sacco....................100
Chapter 9: Dedham: Katzmann's Victory....................139
Chapter 10: Motions and Appeals....................158
Chapter 11: True Confessions?....................166
Chapter 12: A Plea for Clemency....................176
Chapter 13: The Final Days....................191
Chapter 14: Afterward....................201
Chapter 15: The Ballistics Controversy....................205
Chapter 16: The Rosetta Stone....................220
Epilogue: The Judgment of History....................243
APPENDIX A: March 25, 1924 Decision....................265
APPENDIX B: Appeal Document re Decision....................291
APPENDIX C: Chronology....................293
APPENDIX D: Principal Characters....................299