Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Legacy of Sacco & Vanzetti


The context of the Sacco-Vanzetti case is important, in order to understand the passions that were raised by it. The Russian Revolution of 1917, the accompanying patriotic fervor engendered by World War One, and the wave of European immigration that had been going on since the turn of the century all of these produced a cascading hysteria in the United States. This led to "The Red Scare," a national paranoia more virulent than the McCarthy Era some thirty years later.

Mitchell Palmer
Mitchell Palmer

Led by the Attorney General of the United States, A. Mitchell Palmer, a program of thousands of arrests and hundreds of deportations began in earnest in 1918.

Not only were communists and socialists the target of the Department of Justice's program, but anarchists as well. The typical view of an anarchist was a bomb-throwing Italian who agitated for the destruction of all government legislatures, "bosses," courts, and imposed laws. They argued for a kind of self-government of small, libertarian social units. In reality, anarchists were of several types, ranging in belief from modified communism to "syndicalism" (government by labor unions) to pure anarchism. Italian immigrants were deeply involved in all forms of the anarchist movement, and some, such as Luigi Galleani and Raffaele Schiavina, advocated the use of force, including the terrorism of bombs. In 1905, Galleani published a bomb manual entitled La Salute e in voi! (Health is in You!).

Raffaele Schiavina
Raffaele Schiavina

Sacco and Vanzetti were supporters of Galleani, and both had participated sympathetically in strikes organized by Galleani in 1916 and 1917. As a matter of fact, Sacco and Vanzetti met at the 1917 strike. Vanzetti was a speaker at anarchist rallies, and a notice announcing one of his speeches was found on Sacco when the two were arrested.

Luigi Galleani
Luigi Galleani

Shortly before their arrest, Andrea Salsedo, a member of the Galleani group, either leaped or was pushed to his death in New York City while in the custody of Department of Justice officials. The fear of being retained by Department of Justice officers, then, was an explanation given by Sacco and Vanzetti for their carrying weapons when they were arrested. Further, they sought to use Mario Buda's car on the night they were arrested in order to dispose of anarchist literature.

When America entered the war in 1917, a military draft was proclaimed. Citizens and immigrants in the process of naturalization were subject to the draft. Sacco was not in the process of seeking naturalization, although Vanzetti was. Hence, only the latter was eligible to be drafted. Galleani had advocated resistance to conscription, since it, in his view, served only to enhance the fortunes of capitalists at the expense of the working classes. As was noted, both Sacco and Vanzetti moved to Mexico.

In less than a year, the two returned, since the pressure on draft-dodgers had subsided. For a time, Sacco used an alias, but, returning to his job at the shoe factory, he resumed using his real name. Vanzetti returned after a short stay in Youngstown, Ohio, and became a fish peddler.

Their evasion of the draft based on their anarchist principles would prove damaging during their trial.

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