Sacco and Vanzetti
Sacco and Vanzetti were tried and convicted of robbery and murder in Massachusetts in 1921, victims in fact of prejudice against their radical convictions. There was a review of the case, but six years later judgment was upheld and the two men were executed on 23 August 1927.
The Lantern recorded that Powys had spoken at the unveiling of a memorial tablet to Sacco and Vanzetti in Boston on August 23rd, 1928 - the first anniversary of their execution.
Next Wednesday at Boston there's an anniversary Sacco Vanzetti Memorial meeting which Miss Huntingdon, who is on the Committee, wants me to attend and speak. ... I cannot spare the money - but what of Conscience? ...I would rather like to utter some Ciceronian Philippic upon President Lowell that wd. make him wish that the Laws of Best Mass could have my tongue cut out.
(Letters to His Brother Llewelyn)
A year later, Powys wrote an article for The Lantern, in which he analysed the implication of their condemnation:
The judicial murder of these two free-thinkers by the respectable public opinion of Massachussetts was an event full of weighty implication in support of Spengler's notable theory. Considering the contemporaneousness of the present moment, in this Western or Faustian 'Civilization', with a similar moment in other dying 'Cultures', our present age exactly corresponds with the Hellenistic-Roman epoch! Here, according to Spengler, we have "existence without inner form... megalopolitan art as a commonplace... luxury, sport, nerve-excitement, rapidly changing fashions in art... pretentious architecture... imitation of exotic motives... imperial display by means of inventions, machinery, material and mass... domination of Money ('Democracy')... economic powers permeating the political forms and authorities..." ('Sacco-Vanzetti and Epochs', The Lantern, Jan-Feb. 1929, in Elusive America, ed. by Paul Roberts)
Remarks to the Court
If it had not been for these thing, I might have live out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have die, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for joostice, 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 shoemaker and a poor fish-peddler - all! That last moment belongs to us - that agony is our triumph.
I have talk a great deal of myself but I even forgot to name Sacco. Sacco too is a worker from his boyhood, a skilled worker lover of work, with a good job and pay, a bank account, a good and lovely wife, two beautiful children and a neat little home at the verge of a wood, near a brook. Sacco is a heart, a faith, a character, a man; a man lover of nature and of mankind. A man who gave all, who sacrifice all to the cause of Liberty and to his love for mankind; money, rest, mundain ambitions, his own wife, his children, himself and his own life. Sacco has never dreamt to steal, never to assassinate. He and I have never brought a morsel of bread to our mouth, from our childhood to to-day - which has not been gained by the sweat of our brows. Never. His people also are in good position and of good reputation.
Oh, yes, I may be more witfull, as some have put it, I am a better babbler than he is, but many, many times in hearing his heartful voice ringing a faith sublime, in considering his supreme sacrifice, remembering his heroism I felt small, small at the presence of his greatness and found myself compelled to fight back from my eyes the tears, and quanch my heart trobling to my throat to not weep before him - this man called thief and assasin and doomed. But Sacco's name will live in the hearts of the people and in their gratitude when Katzmann's and your bones will be dispersed by time, when your name, his name, your laws, institutions and your false god are but a deem rememoring of a cursed past in which man was wolf to the man...
Letter to His Son
The other day, I ended my hunger strike and just as soon as I did that I thought of you to write to you, but I find that I did not have enough strength and I cannot finish it at one time. However, I want to get it down in any way before they take us again to the death-house because it is my conviction that just as soon as the court refuses a new trial to us they will take us there. And between Friday and Monday, if nothing happens, they will elctrocute us right after midnight, on August 22nd. Therefore, here I am, right with you with love and with open heart as ever I was yesterday.
I never thought that our inseparable life could be separated, but the thought of seven dolorous years makes it seem it did come, but then it has not changed really the unrest and the heart-beat of affection. That has remained as it was. More. I say that our ineffable affection reciprocal is today more than any other time, of course. That is not only a great deal but it is grand because you can see the real brotherly love, not only in joy but also and more in the struggle of suffering. Remember this, Dante. We have demonstrated this, and modesty apart, we are proud of it.
Much we have suffered during this long Calvary. We protest today as we protested yesterday. We protest always for our freedom.
Yes, Dante, they can crucify our bodies today as they are doing, but they cannot destroy our ideas, that will remain for the youth of the future to come.
Dante, when I said three human lives buried, I meant to say that with us there is another young man by the name of Celestino Maderios that is to be electrocuted at the same time with us. He has been twice before in that horrible death-house, that should be destroyed with the hammers of real progress - that horrible house that will shame forever the future of the citizens of Massachusetts. They should destroy that house and put up a factory or school, to teach many of the hundreds of the poor orphan boys of the world.
Dante, I say once more to love and be nearest to your mother and the beloved ones in these sad days, and I am sure that with your brave heart and kind goodness they will feel less discomfort. And you will also not forget to love me a little for I do - O Sonny! thinking so much and so often of you.
Exactly fifty years after their execution Michael Dudakis, then Governor of Massachussetts, rehabilitated Sacco and Vanzetti and declared that they had not been given a fair trial.