Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were committed anarchists who had been active in many workers’ struggles. In 1916, Sacco was arrested for taking part in a demonstration in solidarity with workers on strike in Minnesota. In the same year he took part in a strike in a factory in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was here that he met Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who was one of the principal organisers of that strike. Like most anarchists, the two were also active in their opposition to the First World War.

In April 1920, anarchist Andrea Salsedo was arrested and detained for 8 weeks. On the morning of May 3rd, he ‘fell’ to his death from the 14th floor window of a New York Dept. of Justice building. Sacco and Vanzetti, along with other comrades, immediately called a public meeting in Boston to protest. While out building support for this meeting they were arrested on suspicion of “dangerous radical activities”. They soon found themselves charged with a payroll robbery which had taken place the previous April in which 2 security guards had been killed.

The case came to trial in June 1921, and lasted for seven weeks. The state’s case against the two was almost non-existent. Twelve of Vanzetti’s customers (he was working as a fish seller) testified that he was delivering fish to them at the time of the crime. An official of the Italian Consulate in Boston testified that Sacco had been seeing him about a passport at the time. Furthermore, somebody else confessed to the crime and said that neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had anything to do with it.

The judge in the case, Judge Webster Thayer, said of Vanzetti: “This man, although he may not have actually committed the crime attributed to him, is nevertheless morally culpable, because he is the enemy of our existing institutions.” The foreman of the jury, a retired policeman, said in response to a friend of his who ventured the opinion that Sacco and Vanzetti might be innocent “Damn them. They ought to hang anyway.”

85 years ago today, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. Bellow has been reprinted, in full, the transcripts of their final speeches to the court following their sentencing.

CLERK WORTHINGTON: Nicola Sacco, have you anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon you?

NICOLA SACCO: Yes, sir.  I am no orator.  It is not very familiar with me the English language, and as I know, as my friend has told me, my comrade Vanzetti will speak more long, so I thought to give him the chance.

I never knew, never heard, even read in history anything so cruel as this Court.  After seven years prosecuting they still consider us guilty.  And these gentle people here are arrayed with us in this court today.

I know the sentence will be between two classes, the oppressed class and the rich class, and there will be always collision between one and the other.  We fraternize the people with the books, with the literature.  You persecute the people, tyrannize them and kill them.  We try the education of people always.  You try to put a path between us and some other nationality that hates each other.  That is why I am here today on this bench, for having been of the oppressed class.  Well, you are the oppressor.

You know it, Judge Thayer–you know all my life, you know why I have been here, and after seven years that you have been persecuting me and my poor wife, and you still today sentence us to death.  I would like to tell all my life, but what is the use?  You know all about what I say before, that is, my comrade, will be talking, because he is more familiar with the lan-guage, and I will give him a chance.  My comrade, the kind man to all the children, you sentenced him two times, in the Bridgewater case and the Dedham case, connected with me, and you know he is innocent.

You forget all this population that has been with us for seven years, to sympathize and give us all their energy and all their kindness.  You do not care for them.  Among that peoples and the comrades and the working class there is a big legion of intellectual people which have been with us for seven years, to not commit the iniquitous sentence, but still the Court goes ahead.  And I want to thank you all, you peoples, my comrades who have been with me for seven years, with the Sacco Vanzetti case, and I will give my friend a chance.

I forget one thing which my comrade remember me.  As I said before, Judge Thayer know all my life, and he know that I am never guilty, never–not yesterday, nor today, nor forever.

CLERK WORTHINGTON: Bartolomeo Vanzetti, have you anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon you?

BARTOLOMEO VANZETTI: Yes.  What I say is that I am innocent, not only of the Braintree crime, but also of the Bridgewater crime.  That I am not only innocent of these two crimes, but in all my life I have never stolen and I have never killed and I have never spilled blood.  That is what I want to say.  And it is not all.  Not only am I innocent of these two crimes, not only in all my life I have never stolen, never killed, never spilled blood, but I have struggled all my life, since I began to reason, to eliminate crime from the earth.

Everybody that knows these two arms knows very well that I did not need to go into the streets and kill a man or try to take money.  I can live by my two hands and live well.  But besides that, I can live even without work with my hands for other people.  I have had plenty of chance to live independently and to live what the world conceives to be a higher life than to gain our bread with the sweat of our brow.

My father in Italy is in a good condition.  I could have come back in Italy and he would have welcomed me every time with open arms.  Even if I come back there with not a cent in my pocket, my father could have give me a position, not to work but to make busi-ness, or to oversee upon the land that he owns.  He has wrote me many letters in that sense, and as another well-to-do relative has wrote me letters in that sense that I can produce.

Well, it may be said to be a boast.  My father and my aunt can boast themselves and say things that people may not be compelled to believe.  People may say they may be poor when I say that they are in good condition to give me a position any time that I want to settle down and form a family and start a settled life.  Well, but there are people maybe in this same court that could testify to what I have said and that what my father and my aunt have said to me is not a lie, that really they have the means to give me a position any time that I want.

Well, I want to reach a little point farther, and it is this that not only have I not been trying to steal in Bridgewater, not only have I not been in Braintree to steal and kill and have never stolen or killed or spilt blood in all my life, not only have I struggled hard against crimes, but I have refused myself of what are considered the commodity and glories of life, the prides of a life of a good position, because in my consideration it is not right to exploit man.  I have refused to go in business because I understand that business is a speculation on profit upon certain people that must depend upon the business man, and I do not consider that that is right and therefore I refuse to do that.

Now, I should say that I am not only innocent of all these things, not only have I never committed a real crime in my life–though some sins but not crimes–not only have I struggled all my life to eliminate crimes, the crimes that the official law and the moral law condemns, but also the crime that the moral law and the official law sanction and sanctify,–the exploitation and the oppression of the man by the man, and if there is a reason why I am here as a guilty man, if there is a reason why you in a few minutes can doom me, it is this reason and none else.

There is the best man I ever cast my eyes upon since I lived, a man that will last and will grow always more near to and more dear to the heart of the people, so long as admiration for goodness, for virtues, and for sacrifice will last.  I mean Eugene Victor Debs.

He has said that not even a dog that kills chickens would have found an American jury disposed to convict it with the proof that the Commonwealth has produced against us.  That man was not with me in Plymouth or with Sacco where he was on the day of the crime.  You can say that it is arbitrary, what we are saying from him, that he is good and he applied to the other his goodness, that he is incapable of crime, and he be-lieved that everybody is incapable of crime.

Well, it may be like that but it is not, it could be like that but it is not, and that man had a real experience of court, of prison and of jury.  Just because he wanted the world a little better he was persecuted and slandered from his boyhood youthness to his old age, and indeed he was murdered by the prison.

He knew, and not only he knew, but every man of understanding in the world, not only in this country but also in other countries, men to whom we have provided a certain amount of the records of the case at times, they all know and still stick with us, the flower of mankind of Europe, the better writers, the greatest thinkers of Europe, have pleaded in our favor.  The scientists, the greatest scientists, the greatest statesmen of Europe, have pleaded in our favor.

Is it possible that only a few, a handful of men of the jury, only two or three other men, who would shame their mother for worldly honor and for earthly fortune; is it possible that they are right against what the world, for the whole world has said that it is wrong and I know that it is wrong?  If there is one that should know it, if it is right or if it is wrong, it is I and this man.  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 you in your eyes straight, not blushing, not changing color, not ashamed or in fear.

Eugene Debs said that not even a dog–something like that–not even a dog that kill the chickens would have been found guilty by an American jury with the evidence that the Commonwealth have produced against us.  I say that not even a leprous dog would have had his appeals refused two times by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts–not even a leprous dog.

They have given a new trial to Madeiros for the reason that the Judge had either forgot or omitted to tell the jury that they should consider the man innocent until found guilty in the court, or something of that sort.  That man has confessed.  The man was tried on his confession and was found guilty, and the Supreme Court gave him another trial.  We have proved that there could not have been another Judge on the face of the earth more prejudiced, more cruel and more hostile than you 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 know that we were radicals, that we were underdogs, that we were the enemy of the institutions that you can believe in good faith in their goodness–I don’t want to discuss that–and that it was easy at the time of the first trial to get a verdict of guiltiness.

We know that you have spoken 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, at the Golf Club of Worcester.  I am sure that if the people who know all what you say against us 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.

When you sentenced me at the Plymouth trial you say, to the best of my memory, of my good faith, that crimes were in accordance with my principle–something of that sort–and you took off one charge, if I remember it exactly, from the jury.  The jury was so violent against me that they found me guilty of both charges, because there were only two.  But they would have found me guilty of a dozen of charges against your Honor’s instructions.  Of course I remember that you told them that there was no reason to believe that if I were the bandit I have intention to kill somebody, so that they should take off the indictment of attempt to murder.  Well, they found me guilty of what?

Also of an attempt to murder.  And if I am right, you take out that and sentence me only for attempt to rob with arms,–something like that.  But, Judge Thayer, you give more to me for that attempt of robbery than all the 448 men that were in Charlestown, all of those that attempted to rob, all those that have robbed, they have not such a sentence as you gave to me for an attempt at robbery.

I am willing that everybody that does or does not believe me that they can make commission, they can go over there, and I am very willing that the people should go over there and see whether it is true or not.  There are people in Charlestown who are professional robbers, who have been in half the prisons of the United States, that have stolen, or injured men or shot them.  Most of them guilty without doubt, by selfconfession, and by confession of their own partners, and they got eight to ten, eight to twelve, ten to fifteen.  None of them has twelve to fifteen, as you gave me for an attempt at robbery.  And besides that, you know that I was not guilty; that I had not been in Bridgewater attempting to steal.  You know that my life, my private and, public life in Plymouth, and wherever I have been, was so exemplary that one of the worst fears of our prosecutor Katzmann was to introduce proof of our life and of our conduct.  He has opposed it with all his might and he has succeeded.

You know that if we would have had Mr. Thomp-son, or even the brothers McAnarney, in the first trial in Plymouth, you know that no jury would have found me guilty.  My first lawyer has been a partner of Mr. Katzmann, as he is still now.  The first lawyer of the defense, Mr. Vahey, has not defended me, has sold me for thirty golden money like Judas sold Jesus Christ.  If that man has not told to you or to Mr. Katzmann that he knew that I was guilty, it is because he can-not, it is because he knew that I was not guilty.  That man has done everything indirectly to hurt us.  He has made a long speech to the jury about things that do matter nothing, and on the point of essence to the trial he has passed over with few words or with complete silence.  This was a premeditation in order to give to the jury the impression that my own defender has nothing good to urge in defense of myself, and therefore is compelled to go around the bush on little things that amount to nothing and let pass the essential points either in silence or with a very weakly resistance.

We were tried during a time whose character has now passed into history.  I mean by that, a time when there was a hysteria of resentment and hate against the people of our principles, against the foreigner, against slackers, and it seems to me–rather, I am positive of it, that both you and Mr. Katzmann have done all what it were in your power in order to work out, in order to agitate still more the passion of the juror, the prejudice of the juror, against us.

I remember that Mr. Katzmann has introduced a witness against us, a certain Ricci.  Well, I have heard that witness.  It seems that he has nothing to say.  It seemed that it was a foolishness to produce a witness that has nothing to say.  And it seemed as if he were called by the Commonwealth to tell to the jury that he was the foreman of those laborers who were near the scene of the crime and who claimed, and who testified in our behalf, that we were not the men, and that this man, the witness Ricci, was their foreman, and he has tried to keep the men on the job instead of going to see what was happening so as to give the impression that it was not true that the men went towards the street to see what happened.  But that was not very important.

The real importance is what that man said and that was not true, that a certain witness who was the water boy of the gang of the laborers testified that he took a pail and went to a certain spring, a water spring, to take water for the gang–Ricci testified it was not true that that man went to that spring, and therefore it was not true that he saw the bandit, and therefore it was not true that he can tell that neither I nor Sacco were the men.  But Ricci was introduced to show that it was not true that that man went to that spring, because he knew that the Germans had poisoned the water in that spring.  That is what he, Ricci, said on that stand over there.  Now, in the world chronicle of the time there is not a single happening of that nature.  Nobody in America–we have read plenty things bad that the Germans have done in Europe during the war, but nobody can prove and nobody will say that the Germans are bad enough to poison the spring water in this country during the war.

Now, this, it seems, has nothing to do with us di-rectly.  It seems to be a thing said by incident on the stand between the other things; why, whereas, that is the essence here.  Because the jury were hating us because we were against the war, and the jury don’t know that it makes any difference between a man that is against the war because he believes that the war is unjust, because he hate no country, because he is a cosmopolitan, and a man that is against the war because he is in favor of the other country that fights against the country in which he is, and therefore a spy, an enemy, and he commits any crime in the country in which he is in behalf of the other country in order to serve the other country.

We are not men of that kind.  Nobody can say that we are German spies or spies of any kind.  Katzmann knows very well that.  Katzmann knows that we were against the war because we did not believe in the purpose for which they say that the war was fought.  We believed that the war is wrong, and we believe this more now after ten years that we studied and observed and understood it day by day,–the consequences and the result of the after war.  We believe more now than ever that the war was wrong, and we are against war more now than ever, and I am glad to be on the doomed scaffold if I can say to mankind, “Look out; you are in a catacomb of the flower of mankind.  For what?  All that they say to you, all that they have promised to you–it was a lie, it was an illusion, it was a cheat, it was a fraud, it was a crime.  They promised you liberty.  Where is liberty?  They promised you prosperity.  Where is prosperity?  They have promised you elevation.  Where is the elevation?”

From the day that I went in Charlestown, the misfortunate, the population of Charlestown, has doubled in number.  Where is the moral good that the war has given to the world?  Where is the spiritual progress that we have achieved from the war?  Where are the security of life, the security of the things that we possess for our necessity?  Where are the respect for human life?  Where are the respect and the admiration for the good characteristics and the good of the human nature?  Never before the war as now have there been so many crimes, so much corruption, so much degeneration as there is now.

In the best of my recollection and of my good faith, during the trial Katzmann has told to the jury that a certain Coacci has brought in Italy the money that, according to the State theory, I and Sacco have stolen in Braintree.  We never stole that money.  But Katzmann, when he told that to the jury, he knew already that that was not true.  He knew already that that man was deported in Italy by the federal police soon after our arrest.  I remember well that I was told that the federal policeman had him in their possession–that the federal policeman had taken away the trunks from the very ship where he was, and brought the trunks back over here and look them over and found not a single money.

Now, I call that murder, to tell to the jury that a friend or comrade or a relative or acquaintance of the charged man, of the indicted man, has carried the money to Italy, when he knows it was not true.  I can call that nothing else but murder, a plain murder.

But Katzmann has told something else also against us that was not true.  If I understand well, there have been agreement of counsel during the trial in which the counsel of defense shall not produce any evidence of my good conduct in Plymouth and the counsel of the prosecution would not have let the jury know that I was tried and convicted another time before in Plymouth.  Well, it was masterly called “a one-sided agreement” by someone very competent.  In fact, even the telephone poles knew at the time of this trial at Dedham that I was tried and convicted in Plymouth; the jurymen knew that even when they slept.  On the other side the jury have never seen I or Sacco and I think we have the right to incline to believe that the jury have never approached before the trial anyone that was sufficiently intimate with me and Sacco to be able to give them a description of our personal conduct.  The jury don’t know anything about us.  They have never seen us.  The only thing that they know is the bad things that the newspaper have said on the Plymouth trial.

I don’t know why the defense counsel have made such an agreement but I know very well why Katzmann had made such agreement; because he know that half of the population of Plymouth would have been willing to come over here and say that in seven years that I was living amongst them that I was never seen drunk, that I was known as the most strong and steadfast worker of the community.  As a matter of fact I was called a mule and the people that know a little better the condition of my father and that I was a single man, much wondered at me and say, “Why you work like a mad man in that way when you have no children and no wife to care about?”

Well, Katzmann should have been satisfied on that agreement.  He could have thanked his God and estimate himself a lucky man.  But he was not satisfied with that.  He broke his word and he told to the jury that I was tried before; he told it to this very court.  I don’t know if that is right in the record, if that was taken off or not, but I heard with my ears.  When two or three women from Plymouth come to take the stand, the woman reached that point where this gentleman sits over there, the jury were seated in their place, and Katzmann asked these women if they have not testified before for Vanzetti, and they say, yes, and he tell to them, “You cannot testify.” They left the room.  After that they testified just the same.  But in the meanwhile he told the jury that I have been tried before.  That I think is not giving justice to the man from one who is looking after the truth, and it is with such insuperable frameups with which he has split my life and doomed me.

It was also said that the defense has put every obstacle to the handling of this case in order to delay the case.  That sounds weak for us, and I think it is injurious because it is not true.  If we consider that the prosecution, the State, has employed one entire year to prosecute us, that is, one of the five years that the case has lasted was taken by that prosecution to begin our trial, our first trial.  Then the defense makes an appeal to you and you waited, for I think that you were resolute, that you had the resolution in your heart from even when the trial finished that you will have refused every appeal that we will put up to you.  You waited a month or a month and a half and just lay down your decision on the eve of Christmas–just on the eve of Christmas, eve of Christmas.  We do not believe in Christmas, neither in the historical way nor in the church way.  But, you know, some of our folks still believe in that, and because we do not believe in that, it don’t mean that we are not human.  We are human, and Christmas is sweet to the heart of every man.  I think that you have done that, to hand down your decision on the eve of Christmas, to poison the heart of our family and of our beloved.  I am sorry to be compelled to say this, but everything that was said or done on your side since then has confirmed my suspicion time after time until that suspicion has changed to certitude.

Then the defense, in presenting the new appeal, has not taken more time than you have taken in answer to that.  Then there came the second appeal, and now I am not sure whether it is the second appeal or the third appeal where you waited eleven months or one year without an answer to us, and I am sure that you had decided to refuse us a new trial before the hearing for the new appeal began.  You took one year to answer it, or eleven months,–something like that.  So that you see that out of the five years, two were taken by the State from the day of our arrest to the trial, and then one year to wait for your answer on the second or the third appeal.

Then on another occasion that I don’t remember exactly now, Mr. Williams was sick and the things were delayed not for fault of the defense but on account of the prosecution.  So that I am positive that if a man take a pencil in his hand and compute the time taken by the prosecution in prosecuting the case, and the time that was taken by the defense to defend this case, the prosecution has taken more time than the defense, and there is a great consideration that must be taken in this point, and it is that my first lawyer betrayed us,–the whole American population were against us.

We have the misfortune to take a man from California, and he came here, and he was ostracized by you and by every authority, even by the jury, and is so much so that not even Massachusetts is immune from what I could call a universal prejudice,–the belief that each people in each place of the world, they believe to be the better of the world, and they believe that all the other people of the other places of the world are not so good as they.  So of course the man that came from California into Massachusetts to defend two of us, he must be licked if it is possible, and he was licked all right.  And we have our part, too.

What I want to say is this: Everybody ought to understand that the first beginning of our defense has been terrible.  My first lawyer did not try to defend us. He has made no attempt to collect witnesses and evidence in our favor.  The record in the Plymouth court is a pity.  I am told that they are part or almost one-half lost.  So that later on the defense have had a tremendous work to do in order to collect some evidence, to collect some testimony to offset and to learn what the testimony of the State had been.  And in this consideration it must be said that even if the defense take double time of the State about delays, double time than they (the State) delayed the case, it would have been reasonable just the same, whereas it took less than the State.

Well, I have already say that I not only am not guilty of these two crimes, but I never committed a crime in my life,–I have never stolen and I have never killed and I have never spilt blood, and I have fought against crime, and I have fought and I have sacrificed myself even to eliminate the crimes that the law and the church legitimate and sanctify.

This is what I say: I would not wish to a dog or to a snake, to the most low and misfortunate 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 you can only kill me once but 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.

I have finished.  Thank you.

JUDGE THAYER: Under the law of Massachusetts the jury says whether a defendant is guilty or innocent.  The Court has absolutely nothing to do with that question.  The law of Massachusetts provides that a judge cannot deal in any way with the facts.  As far as he can go under our law is to state the evidence.

During the trial many exceptions were taken.  Those exceptions were taken to the Supreme Judicial Court.  That Court, after examining the entire record, after examining all the exceptions,–that Court in its final words said, “The verdicts of the jury should stand; exceptions overruled.” That being true, there is only one thing that this–Court can do.  It is not a matter of discretion.  It is a matter of statutory requirement, and that being true there is only one duty that now devolves upon this Court, and that is to pronounce the sentence.

First the Court pronounces sentence upon Nicola Sacco:
It is considered and ordered by the Court that you, Nicola Sacco, suffer the punishment of death by the passage of a current of electricity through your body within the week beginning on Sunday, the tenth day of July, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Twenty-seven.  This is the sentence of the law.

Then upon Vanzetti:
It is considered and ordered by the Court that you, Bartolomeo Vanzetti . . .

VANZETTI: Wait a minute, please, your Honor.  May I speak for a minute with my lawyer, Mr. Thompson?

THOMPSON: I do not know what he has to say.

JUDGE THAYER:  I think I should pronounce the sentence……. Bartolomeo Vanzetti, suffer the punishment of death…..

SACCO: You know I am innocent.  Those are the same words I pronounced seven years ago.  You condemn two innocent men.

JUDGE THAYER: … by the passage of a current of electricity through your body within the week beginning on Sunday, the tenth day of July, in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Nine Hundred and Twenty-seven.  This is the sentence of the law.

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