American Writers And The SaccoVanzetti Case

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American Writers And The Sacco-Vanzetti Case–by Carol Vanderveer Hamilton Essay, Research Paper Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. Thoreau [Abstract] Although anarchism had long been publicly reviled in the United States and particularly since the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 by a self-proclaimed anarchist, and although Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman had been expelled from the country in 1919, a number of prominent American writers took up the cause of two Italian anarchists who were arrested for robbery and murder in 1927. The behavior and attitudes of these writers belie the dominant impression, fostered by the New Critics, that American modernism was

utterly conservative in its political and social attitudes. Social class and notions of gender and race played a prominent role in how the case was represented by these writers and by the official media. "As late as the 1920s," wrote James Joll in his history of anarchism, "two Italian anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti, were to provide a cause c?l?bre in which a whole generation of American liberals came of age."[1] Nichola Sacco, a shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti , a fish peddlar, immigrated from Italy to the United States in 1908. The two did not meet until 1917, when each avoided conscription by fleeing to Mexico. They became attracted to anarchist ideas out of sympathy for their fellow workers and disillusionment about their adopted country. On April 15,

1920 in South Braintree, Massachusetts, a paymaster and guard were killed during a robbery; three weeks later Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested and charged with the crime. The evidence was problematic and both men had alibis, but after seven years of imprisonment, many motions, and a last-minute review of the case by the Governor of Massachusetts and the Presidents of Harvard and MIT, Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty. “When a verdict of guilty was returned,” writes Paul Avrich, “many believed that the men had been convicted because of their foreign birth and radical beliefs, not on solid evidence of criminal guilt.”[2] In an eloquent speech that became famous, Vanzetti protested his innocence and concluded by representing the execution as an act of "propaganda by

the deed" that took as its target the anarchists themselves: If it had not been for this, I might have live out my life, talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have die, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life can we do such a work for tolerance, for justice, for man`s understanding of man, as we now do by an accident. Our words — our lives– our pains– nothing! The taking of our lives — lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish-peddlar — all! The last moment belongs to us — that agony is our triumph![3] Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted on August 23, 1927. Their trial had provoked international protests. Bernard Shaw, Anatole France, and Albert Einstein wrote letters on

behalf of the anarchists.[4] Romain Rolland sent a telegram to Governor Fuller. Members of the picket line were bailed out on a regular basis by Edward James, the nephew of Henry. Explaining the prominence of novelists and poets among the protestors, writer Malcolm Cowley said that some of the Massachusetts officials "turned themselves into parodies of everything that artists hate in the bourgeoisie,"[5] and Upton Sinclair remarked in his novel Boston that "the case worked upon the consciences of persons who were cursed with artistic temperaments."[6] The novelist John Dos Passos wrote the following account of the artistic community of Greenwich Village after World War I, a description consciously resonant of the anarchists and artists in fin-de-si?cle France: