Sacco And Vanzetti Essay, Research Paper
The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which was ratified in1868, granted freedom to all United States citizens; even those who were naturalized (immigrants).
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subjects to the
jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they
reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges
or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any
person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any
person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
- Amendment XIV
Though this Amendment was made over half a century prior to the Sacco and Vanzetti case, I feel it did not apply. Sacco and Vanzetti were deprived of life and liberty, as Judge Webster Thayer, the judge in the Sacco and Vanzetti case, sought out their execution and sentenced them. Judge Thayer?s conduct, both inside and outside of the court, was inexcusable and hindered Sacco and Vanzetti from receiving a fair trial. This period worked against Sacco?s and Vanzetti?s fate for its elements of xenophobia, immigration quotas, the Red Scare (1919-1920), and the Palmer Raids. All of these exemplify prejudice, which was prevalent during the “Roaring Twenties”.
On April 15, 1920, two men named Allesandro Berdelli and Frederick Parmenter were murdered near the Slater and Morrill Shoe Factory while carrying a total of 15,776 dollars in South Braintree, Massachusetts. This type of crime was not uncommon in post WWI America.
Sacco and Vanzetti were not originally suspected for this crime, but according to one of their friends, Andrea Salsedo, “They were practically the last of the Italian radicals in New England who had not been jailed or deported in the big anti-alien drive.” Sacco and Vanzetti were suspected because they were Italian immigrants, anarchists, professed draft dodgers, and were involved in union and labor strikes, anti-war propaganda, and numerous minor confrontations with the law. Originally, neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had any previous criminal records, yet they were suspected of committing the murders on April 15, 1920.
Then Vanzetti was linked to the Bridgewater holdup. Vanzetti first encountered Judge Webster Thayer on June 22, 1920, during his trial for the Bridgewater holdup he allegedly committed, known as the Plymouth Trial. Poor translators were brought in to help Vanzetti?s sixteen working-class Italian alibis communicate with the court. Vanzetti, himself, refused to take the stand. He feared revealing his anarchical behavior and radical activity, and due to this, did not take the bench in his own defense. Vanzetti was sentenced to fifteen years in the Charlestown State Penitentiary. This was a harsh punishment compared to the usual sentence of eight to ten years in prison. In The Black Flag, by Brian Jackson, the author points out Thayer?s early biased behavior after the Plymouth Trial; Following the earlier Plymouth trial of Vanzetti for the attempted Bridgewater robbery, at which Judge Thayer presided, he requested Chief Justice John Aiken assign him to preside in the Sacco-Vanzetti trial in Dedham. Such a request was and is radical departure from usual judicial decorum and indicates Thayer?s intense personal interest in the outcome of the trial. It is also highly probable that after
presiding at the Plymouth trial and sentencing Vanzetti to fifteen years for
attempted robbery, Thayer could not claim total impartiality toward the defendants
at the Dedham trial.
Vanzetti?s fifteen years in the State Penitentiary and Thayer?s desire to preside in the Sacco and Vanzetti case were the first indications of his corruption. Why would it matter if another judge took the anarchists? case? Why did Judge Thayer deem it necessary to handle this particular case, especially since he already handled Vanzetti in court? It is obvious what Thayer, a man who had said he, “would show them [Sacco and Vanzetti] and would get those guys hanged,” had in mind. This unique request was one of the many unusual acts Judge Thayer did during the Sacco-Vanzetti trial. It was also reported he made many comments to friends and coworkers about his plans for Sacco and Vanzetti.
Professional, well-respected men, were often the people leaking Judge Thayer?s comments to the public through the newspapers. At first only a few gentlemen would come out, but as the century has aged and the Sacco-Vanzetti trial is still examined closely, more people have come forth with quotations Thayer allegedly said. Arthur D. Hill, a prominent Boston lawyer brought into the Sacco-Vanzetti case by William Thompson, the third lawyer to defend Sacco and Vanzetti,
told the press, Judge Thayer, told me in the 1930?s that every day at noon he telephones his home in Worchester to learn whether it had been bombed. Whether it was before or after it was actually bombed, I do not recall. (To the end of his life he lived in a fear of a second bombing.) That showed his prejudice against the adherents of Sacco and Vanzetti who had threatened his life and the lives of his family and later did blow up his house, and who had by their lying tongues destroyed his reputation is not surprising.
Though this quote may appear misleading at first, it is imperative one focuses on how an esteemed lawyer admits he felt Thayer demonstrated prejudice during the trial. Hill continues by mocking Thayer when referring to Sacco and Vanzetti the way Thayer would, or did. One also has to wonder why Thayer was so paranoid. The Sacco and Vanzetti case began and marked a regrouping of Italian anarchists. Did he fear his xenophobic views were so blatantly presented
throughout the trial and he had upset these anarchists? In order for a person to be so concerned with whether or not his home was bombed, he knows he has offended someone. Thayer knew he had. Another gentleman, Professor P. Richardson of law and political science at Dartmouth College, reported, Judge Thayer said, as near as I can remember, ?Did you see what I did with those anarchist bastards the other day? I guess that will hold them for a while. Let them go to the Supreme Court now and see what they can get out of them?? There was more of the same sort. I think he used the words ?sons of bitches.? He said, ?they wouldn?t get far in my court.?
And Thayer was right. Sacco and Vanzetti were never going to go far in Thayer?s court room because he would not let them. Thayer was so determined to make Sacco and Vanzetti an example of what he had the power to do to immigrants who opposed staying in their native lands and who stood up for what they believed in. Sacco and Vanzetti believed in anarchy, they believed in anti-war propaganda, and labor strikes, and because of it, they spent seven years behind bars and in court defending their lives.
In 1921, Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty of robbery and murder; a charge that marked the lengthy legal struggle that finally ended on April 9, 1927. The two gentlemen were sentenced to death and later executed on August 23, 1927. Though numerous motions were filed and denied for a new trial, only one was significant. The motion filed on August 6, 1927, was supported by people who believed Sacco and Vanzetti did not receive a fair trial. After seven years, Thayer?s true colors shined through and people were aware of his prejudice beliefs. Regardless of the new information that had surfaced, the motion was denied and the men were still sentenced within three days of it being filed. They were executed within two weeks. This was an unjust decision because it was clear that the gentlemen had not received a fair trial. It was a well-known fact how Thayer felt about this trial, and it was ridiculous Thayer was the only judge to hear the case. Sacco and Vanzetti only had a matter of days before Thayer, who quoted when speaking to Fred H. Moore of the defense counsel and, to several reporters, ?I?ll show them that no long-haired anarchist from California can run this court!? On several occasions Judge Thayer said, ?Just wait until you hear my charge.’
Judge Thayer did not live up to the standards of a United States judge. He did not remain an open minded man who gave Sacco and Vanzetti the benefit of the doubt. They were innocent men until proven guilty, but Thayer never saw them this way. Why didn?t the motion for a new trial alert the judicial system that this case needed to examined thoroughly? Why did Judge Thayer have the opportunity to carry out his plans for Sacco and Vanzetti? These two men were not supposed to be deprived of liberty and life, though with Thayer presiding, they were. In Anxious Decades, by Michael Parrish, the twenties are referred to as a time period that,
“Profoundly affected the physical welfare and moral sensibilities of men, and children from all walks of life in every region of the United States.” Thayer is a reflection of men in the 1920s who were “anxious” as the world around them constantly changed. The Red Scare and the anti-alien drive were a part of this period that affected Thayer negatively and caused his judgment to be biased. Due to this, he is part of Parrish?s generalization of men whose moral sensibilities were influenced by the decade?s pressure. “Many of the political and moral dilemmas that Americans faced in these years resemble ones they still confront today.”
The Sacco and Vanzetti trial was one of two major cases of the twentieth century. The other, is the O.J. Simpson trial. As Parrish points out, the 1920s often mirrors events and conflicts in today?s society. In “The Trial of The Century,” an article from the Atlantic Magazine, the O.J. Simpson case is compared to the Sacco-Vanzetti case. The question posed in this article is whether or not justice is served through proceedings like these. In the Sacco and Vanzetti case, the question of whether or not the men were guilty was not even an issue as the case went on. The main problems with the case included how the evidence was presented poorly, such as weak ballistic evidence, and the issue of a biased decision due to xenophobia. History is said to repeat itself, and America saw the issues in the Sacco and Vanzetti trial in the O.J. Simpson case. Once again, evidence was not presented well and possibly tampered with leading people to believe Simpson did not receive a fair trial. On top of that, the Los Angeles police department has been criticized for racism towards blacks. These similarities exemplify truth in Parrish?s belief that the 1920s are closely related to the 1990s.
Sacco and Vanzetti were naturalized in the United States. They were American citizens who were not protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and their Constitutional rights. They were not granted refuge from an impartial judge who publicly admitted he had the death penalty in mind for them. Judge Thayer was unprofessional, did not fulfill his duties as a judge, and like many other men in the 1920s, was “anxious.” He allowed his personal views to interfere with the trial. The 1920s is known to be a decade full of human suffering and moral dilemmas, and the Sacco-Vanzetti trial exemplifies this. Though this case is just one in American history, it signifies what America?s culture does in times of conflict. The twenties are referred to as a great decade because of the booming economy and consumerism. But when one takes a step back and examines bigotry, xenophobia, and other related issues, the twenties no longer seem so great.