Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht is a writer from New York City who has thirteen previous books to her credit. Her work concentrates on the important question of civil liberties in American history. In Justice Crucified, she turns her attention to what undoubtedly has been one of the most controversial trials in all of American history—the Sacco-Vanzetti case. Feuerlicht finds the convictions and subsequent executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti to be a legal travesty. She views the convictions as manifestations of White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant (WASP) prejudice against immigrants, and especially against immigrant radicals. Her thesis owes much to the “Ethnic Revival” of the last few years; interest in immigrant history has broadened recently. With the “rediscovery” of immigrant history in the United States has come a reexamination of tenacious, bitter anti-immigrant prejudice in the American past. Feuerlicht’s Justice Crucified is one such reexamination.
On December 24, 1919, a criminal gang made an unsuccessful robbery attempt on a shoe factory payroll in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Bartolomeo Vanzetti was delivering eels to his Italian neighbors on that Christmas Eve. On April 15, 1920, a successful shoe factory payroll robbery engineered by a criminal gang occurred at South Braintree, Massachusetts. On that day, Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco were attempting to conceal radical literature following the death of one of their anarchist comrades in Justice Department custody. Their anarchist beliefs, while socially unacceptable in the wake of the Palmer Raids, had been acquired in America. Busied by the attempt to scatter the literature, Sacco and Vanzetti were not at South Braintree during the holdup, yet they were arrested; Vanzetti was charged with participation in both holdups, while Sacco was charged with participation in the South Braintree heist. Since murder was involved, conviction meant capital punishment.
How could such a conviction of both men be obtained? Feuerlicht, after introducing the principals and the crimes, attempts a historical explanation that is far too overextended. She takes her readers back to the 1620’s and begins with an examination of the Puritans. She dutifully describes the intolerance basic to the New England of the “visible saints.” “Accursed groups”—religious dissenters from the Puritan theocracy, non-Puritan immigrants, Quakers, and “witches”—were hounded and often executed for their heresies. WASP consciousness was indeed born with the New England Puritans, and this Massachusetts heritage would play a role in the Sacco-Vanzetti case three centuries later. But Feuerlicht follows her history of the Puritans with a long, rambling account of the suppression of civil liberties in American history, which occupies more than one...
(The entire section is 1155 words.)