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The main political and social challenges facing America

Why did immigration become such a major issue in American society?

Who were Sacco and Vanzetti?

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants. The two men acknowledged that they were radicals and that they had avoided serving in the First World War. On Christmas Eve 1919 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, an attempted armed-robbery took place. The perpetrators failed and fled from the site. A similar incident happened in the South Braintree area in April 1920. Five men got away with $15,000 in a stolen car, killing two men including the postmaster.

Vanzetti and Sacco

Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco handcuffed in jail

In May 1920 Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested and accused of armed-robbery on a shoe factory, during which two peoople were killed. They had radical anti-government pamphlets in the car when they were arrested and they could not prove where they had been on the day of the murders. From the beginning, public opinion was against them because of their political ideas and because they were immigrants. They both had guns when they were arrested.

Although 61 witnesses said they had seen them, the defence had 107 witnesses alleging that they had seen them somewhere else when the crime was committed. During the court case in May 1921, Judge Webster Thayer was prejudiced against the two men. Although a man named Celestino Madeiros later admitted that he had committed the crime, Sacco and Vanzetti lost their appeal. In August 1927 they were both executed by electrocution in Charlestown prison.


At the end of this section it is important that you understand the following.

  • What the Red Scare was
  • The importance of the Sacco and Vanzetti case


Sacco and Vanzetti (PDF file 171 kb)

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