The American Pageant
by David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen and Thomas A. Bailey
pp. 729-30 Antiredism and antiforeignism were reflected in a notorious case regarded by liberals as a ‘judicial lynching.’ Nicola Sacco, a shoe-factory worker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a fish peddler were convicted in 1921 of the murder of a Massachusetts paymaster and his guard. The jury and judge were prejudiced in some degree against the defendants because they were Italians, atheists, anarchists, and draft dodgers.
Liberals and radicals the world over rallied to the defense of the two aliens doomed to die. The case dragged on for six years until 1927, when the condemned men were electrocuted. Communists and other radicals were thus presented with two martyrs in the ‘class struggle,’ while many American liberals hung their heads. The evidence against the accused, though damaging, betrayed serious weaknesses. If the trial had been held in an atmosphere less charged with antiredism, the outcome might well have been only a prison term.”
Bailey’s account of the Sacco-Vanzetti case is misleading, prejudiced, and wrongheaded. Bailey blames the judge and jury for the murder conviction, and is vague in describing the evidence against Sacco and Vanzetti. Nine eyewitness put Sacco at the scene of the crime, and some saw him shoot the gun; four identified Vanzetti—and ballistic tests on the bullet (done decades later) confirmed that the bullet that killed the paymaster was fired by Sacco’s gun. Fred Moore, the attorney for Sacco and Vanzetti, later admitted to novelist Upton Sinclair that he “framed a set of alibis for them.” Even Roger Baldwin, a founder and executive director of the ACLU, which sponsored the case, later admitted “there was no possible doubt of the guilt” of Sacco and Vanzetti. But students don’t learn any of this reading Bailey’s account.
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