IN THE SPRING OF 1927, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, after six years of litigation and imprisonment, were sentenced for the robbery and murder of a factory paymaster and a guard in South Braintree, largely, as much of the world inisted, through sheer fear and the prejudice on the part of a Yankee trial judge, who, while the case was still pending, boasted in the club house of a private gold club of what he was about to do to those "anarchistic Dago bastards!"
Sentence of death was pronounced in April and Vanzetti, the Emerson-reading Italian fish peddler, issued his renowned, and eloquent statement:
"I might have die, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triump. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man's understanding of man as now we do by accident. Our words - our lives - our pains - nothing. The taking of our lives - lives of a good shoe maker and a poor fish peddier - all!"
The case finally came the attention of Massachusetts Governor Alvan T. Fuller, with the same substantial portion of the world urging executive clemency, or at least a stay of execution so that the circumstances surrounding the trial could be reviewed. From the first the odds had been heavily stacked against Sacco and Vanzetti; not only were they poor and Italian-born, but they were self-proclaimed anarchists in the state of Massachusetts in an era of growing hostilities between old, established, local families and a continuing influx of immigrants hungry for work. It was the age of the Boston Police Strike, of massive labor strikes, of the Red Hysteria, and of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer's persistent and brutal Department of Justice raids. Everywhere in Brahmin society there was fear. fear of insurrection, fear of the red-soaked, revoluntionary doctrines of Bolshevism and of the imminent collapse of the upper classes.
The three-man commission that Fuller summoned to look into the Sacco-Vanzetti affair was headed by Abbott Lawrence Lowell, the wealthy president of Harvard, a stiff-necked blue blood whose reactionary leanings were Whig-like in their intensity; his colleagues on the committee were President Samuel W. Stratton on MIT and Judge Robert Grant (retired) of the Probate Court of Suffolk County. here was living proof that the Puritan myth of the saintly aristocrat still existed. This was the pernicious Mather witch hunt all over again, the conscience of the community residing in the clutches of a chosen few. Lowell and Grant should have been disqualified from serving on a commission to judge Sacco and Vanzetti on the grounds that both had been long-time members of the national committee of the Immigration Restriction League which was organized for the express purpose of keeping impoverished aliens like Sacco and Vanzetti out of the country. They served nonetheless, and after a quick and perfunctory investigation discovered that there had indeed been a judge and 12 jurors present at the trail. This being the case, they concluded that everything was in order and gave the court's final verdict their stamp of approval.Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted at Charlestown Prison on August 23, 1927.
The case became an objective correlative for injustice in America, and the Lowell Committee report evoked massive decision and criticism wherever it was read.One of its vociferous critics, as her present volume attest, was Katherine Anne Porter. Miss Porter, the distinguished author of Ship of Fools. Flowering Judas, and Pale Hore, Pale Rider , has penned an intiamate, first-hand description of her own experiences as a card-carrying member of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee. The author, attuned to the historial and dramatic elements of the case, stirred by its sociological and political significance, limns in poetic fashion the chief figures, the intense emotionalism of this crucial period, featuring poignant sketches of some of the self-serving radical defenders of the two convicted anarchists. For 50 years the inexorable facts concerning the trial have apparently wracked Miss Porter's brain: "I cannot even now decide by my own evidence whether or not they were guilty of the crime for which they were put to death . . . Yet, no matter what, it was a terrible miscarriage of justice; it was a most reprehensible abuse of legal power, in [the Government's] attempt tp prove that the law is something to be inflicted - not enforced - and that it is above the judgement of the people."
The Never-Ending Wrong is valuable as a personal account of those tense post-World War I hours in America before the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti; primarily it endeavors to show certain members of the intelligentsia, among them John Dos Passos, Lola Ridge, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, reacted to this startling melodrama. And yet, although ringing with idealistic indignation, as a study of the event itself Miss porter's slim memoir is something of a disappointment. In an afterwood to the book, she tells us: "I have, for my own reasons, refused to read any book or any article on the Sacco-Vanzetti trial before I had revised or arranged my notes on this trial." The author's reluctance to research her subject, for whatever reason, is unfortunate. The result is a kind of haphazard memorial record of the inquisition that adds not an iota of information to what we already know about it; one searches in vain for a new facet or idea. Moreover, it is misinformed. As any number of well-versed researches have pointed out, the glamorous literary figures of the '20s who managed a few hours on the picket line or even a token arrest or two entered the picture far too late and reluctantly to save anybody's life.
The book to write home about here is Roberta Feurelichi's impassioned and voluminous Justice Crucified , surely the most exhausted presentation of the saga of Sacco and Vanzetti published to date. This well-documented, persuasively argued study, which includes previously untranslated letters and orginal interviews with relations and friends of the condemned, represents a considerable piece of work, a significent blow to the American system of criminal Justice. Some old ground is unavoidably retraced, particularly the supression of key evidence and testimony by the state, the confession of the convict Madeiros, the circumstantial involvement of the five-man Morelli gang, the failure of law enforcement officers to recover any part of the stolen $16,000. But the book goes beyond the testimony and personalities of the trial, the political alliances behind the case, the legacy of Sacco and Vanzetti as measured against the bespotted backdrop of New England's judical and social landscape.
Miss Feuerlicht outrightly rejects the so-called split-guilt theory propounded by other investigators, "which holds that an innocent Vanzetti died rather than betray a guilty Sacco." So anxious in fact is the author to prove the innocence of both men that at times her pages read like perorations to a jury. The book 's detractors may well claim that certain sections and chapters are marred by the creator's tendency to believe nearly every detail of the defense's argument, while rejecting the state's case in its entirety. Repeatedly the author underlines her thesis by pointing to the inconclusive tenor of eyewitness testimony, the prevalence of Brahmin corruption, the shockingly subjective demeanor of a biased judge and jury. This book is probably not for the reader who remains convinced of Sacco and Vanzetti's guilt: but anyone unfamiliar with the case or not completely satisfied with its outcome should be pleasantly surprised.