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Sacco and Vanzetti

August 23, 2002
eventy-five years ago today Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian-born anarchists living in Boston, were executed for allegedly murdering two men during a 1920 bank robbery. The controversial verdict at the end of their six-year-long trial incited international protest—the evidence seemed to point away from Sacco and Vanzetti, and it was clear that both the judge and jury were prejudiced against immigrants with radical political beliefs.

Three previously published Atlantic articles suggest the cosmic level of significance that participants and observers of that trial imputed to it. In "The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti"" (March, 1927) Felix Frankfurter (who was later to sit on the United States Supreme Court) laid out the saga of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial from the day of the defendants' alleged crime to the day of their execution. As he interpreted it, the trial represented a tragic failure to uphold the American ideals of tolerance, equality, and justice for all and was ultimately a travesty of justice.

"Vanzetti's Last Statement: A Record," by W. G. Thompson (February, 1928), consists of a transcription by Sacco and Vanzetti's lawyer, William Thompson, of the final conversation between himself and Vanzetti on the day before his clients' scheduled execution.

Finally, in "The Never-Ending Wrong" (June, 1977) Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Katherine Anne Porter described the Sacco-Vanzetti verdict as the event that destroyed her idealism. Porter even went so far as to characterize the verdict as an event bound up with the "whirlwinds of change" that brought us Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler and to see "this event in Boston as one of the most portentous in the long death of the civilization made by Europeans in the Western world."

—Sage Stossel

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Sage Stossel is an editor of The Atlantic Online. She draws the weekly cartoon feature, "Sage, Ink."

All material copyright © 2002 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.