Who are Sacco and Vanzetti?

Mary McMahon

Sacco and Vanzetti were two Italian men who were tried and convicted in 1921 for a dual murder which took place in 1920. Later evidence suggested that the men were actually falsely accused, and the case attracted a great deal of attention in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the two men were executed before they could be exonerated, despite extensive public outcry. The Sacco and Vanzetti case was historically important in the United States for a number of reasons, and it continues to be widely discussed and cited today.

Sacco and Vanzetti were sent to the electric chair in 1927.
Sacco and Vanzetti were sent to the electric chair in 1927.

Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were both workmen, and they were involved in the anarchist community of the 1920s. Critics of the case have suggested that the men were probably framed because of their association with prominent Italian anarchists of the time. In the 1920s, many Americans were concerned about Italian anarchists and the threat of bombings and other acts of violence, and this fear was used to great advantage by the prosecution in the Sacco and Vanzetti trial; the jury only deliberated for three hours, despite the fact that the evidence was far from perfect.

The crime that the two men were charged with was an armed robbery which turned bad. On 15 April 1920, two employees of the Slater-Morrill Shoe Company were traveling with around $17,000 US Dollars in South Braintree, Massachusetts. The two men were interrupted by armed robbers along their way; the robbers shot them, stole the cash, and escaped with three other men in a car which was believed to have been stolen. The two victims of the attack later died, and witnesses indicated that the robbers were Italian; Sacco and Vanzetti were unfortunate enough to fall into a police trap which implicated them in the crime.

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The two men were tried for the murder in 1921, after Vanzetti was tried and convicted for the robbery in 1920. Through the trial, many prominent Americans spoke out about what they saw as a frameup, and when the jury returned a verdict of guilty, riots and demonstrations for the cause were held all over the world. After a series of failed appeals, the men were executed by electrocution in 1927; great public outcry also accompanied their execution.

Legal historians widely believe that the justice system failed Sacco and Vanzetti, and that the case illustrated prejudice against members of the anarchist community. For anarchist historians, the Sacco and Vanzetti case is very important historically, because many mainstream Americans reacted with disbelief to the case and its outcome, suggesting that the anarchist cause may have had sympathy in surprising places during the 1920s. The case continues to be explored and rehashed in films and books, many of which are by prominent historians, authors, and filmmakers.

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Discussion Comments


Somewhat recent evidence shows that Sacco and Vanzetti were, in fact, guilty. Upton Sinclair, who zealously defended them, confessed in a letter that he had suspicions that they actually committed the crimes. Look it up.


I think it was sacco who did it.

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