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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
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5 From Empire To Independence
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7 Shaping A Federal Union
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22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

The Sacco-Venzetti Case (1927)

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The most controversial case associated with the Red Scare of the 1920s involved two Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. In 1920 they were charged with murdering a guard and a paymaster at a shoe company in South Braintree, Massachusetts. Both had guns when they were arrested and both told lies about their activities. That they were also aliens, atheists, anarchists, and conscientious objectors during the war made the circumstantial evidence against them seem even more damning. Convicted and sentenced to death, they appealed their convictions for years. Supporters argued that they were victims of the communist hysteria fomented by Attorney General Palmer and the prejudices of the trial judge, Webster Thayer. In August 1927, having exhausted their appeals, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. Vanzetti's defiant last words to the judge are extracted below.


You see, it is seven years that we are in jail. What we have suffered during these seven years no human tongue can say; and yet you see me before you, not trembling, you see me looking in your eyes straight, not blushing nor changing color, not ashamed or in fear.

Eugene Debs1 say that not even a dog—something like that—not even a dog that kill chickens would have been found guilty by an American jury with the evidence that the Commonwealth2 have produced against us. I say that not even a leprous dog would have his appeal refused two times by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts—not even a leprous dog. . . .

We have proved that there could not have been another judge on the face of the earth more prejudiced and more cruel than you3 have been against us. We have proven that. Still they refuse the new trial. We know, and you know in your heart, that you have been against us from the very beginning, before you see us. Before you see us you already knew that we were radicals, that we were underdogs, that we were the enemy of the institution that you can believe in good faith in their goodness—I don't want to condemn that—and that it was easy on the time of the first trial to get a verdict of guiltiness.

We know that you have spoke yourself and have spoke your hostility against us, and your despisement against us with friends of yours on the train, at the University Club of Boston, on the Golf Club of Worcester, Massachusetts. I am sure that if the people who know all what you say against us would have the civil courage to take the stand, maybe your Honor—I am sorry to say this because you are an old man, and I have an old father—but maybe you would be beside us in good justice at this time. . . .

This is what I say: I would not wish to a dog or to a snake to the most low and unfortunate creature of the earth—I would not wish to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am not guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I was an Italian, and indeed I am an Italian; I have suffered more for my family and for my beloved than for myself; but I am so convinced to be right that if you could execute me two times, and if I could be reborn two other times, I would live again to do what I have done already.


1. Socialist party leader.
2. Massachusetts.
3. Judge Webster Thayer.
[From The Sacco-Vanzetti Case: Transcript of the Record of the Trial . . . and Subsequent Proceedings, 1920-1927 (5 vols.; New York: Henry Holt Co., 1928-29), pp. 4898-99, 4904.]

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