Harvard Law School Alumni and Faculty Defend Sacco and Vanzetti

  • William G Thompson_SV Newspaper Clippings_Box 1-3.tif

    New York World, 16 May 1927, Sacco-Vanzetti Trial Newspaper Clippings, April-Nov. 1927

    William G. Thompson (LL.B. 1891) lost friends and clients as a result of his defense of Sacco and Vanzetti.

  • Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti 1920_ca.1923_p[5]_HOLLIS 8001351525.tif

    Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti 1920, ca.1923_p[5]

    These six bullets were key material evidence in Sacco and Vanzetti’s case.

  • Sacco-Vanzetti_Transcripts Vol. 5_17 Sept1926_Box 36-7_seq 46.tif

    Sacco-Vanzetti Case Records, 1920-1928, Bound Transcript, Box 36-7, seq.46

    Here is Thompson’s closing argument on behalf of the defendants in the Hearing on Motion for a New Trial, 17 September 1926.

  • Ehrmann_Herbert_1999.20.15_Ehrmann Photograph_Harvard Law_HOLLIS 12314716_cropped.tif

    Herbert B. Ehrmann, Herbert B. Ehrmann Photograph Collection, 1999.20.15

    Herbert B. Ehrmann (LL.B. 1914) was junior counsel for the defense and authored several publications about the Sacco-Vanzetti ca

  • Frankfurter_Felix_ca. 1926_HOLLIS 8000905021.tif

    Felix Frankfurter, ca. 1926

    Frankfurter argued for Sacco and Vanzetti’s innocence, even writing an article on the case in The Atlantic in the months before

  • N Sacco to W Thompson_07101927_SV Papers box 38-86_p2.tif

    Sacco to Thompson, 10 July 1927, Sacco-Vanzetti Case Records, 1920-1928, Box 38-86

    Sacco ends his letter to Thompson giving his family best wishes and asks that if he sees Prof. Frankfurter to “give him always o

"William E. Thompson Esq. A Loyal Advocate"

New York World, 16 May 1927
Sacco-Vanzetti Trial Newspaper Clippings, April-Nov. 1927
Box 1, Folder 3
HOLLIS 4395371

On July 14, 1921, Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco were convicted of first-degree murder for killing two employees of the Slater & Morrill shoe company in South Braintree, Massachusetts during an armed robbery. Their trial and lengthy appeals process were a highly controversial and contentious series of events, and viewed by many at the time as an egregious miscarriage of justice. Their trial was characterized by mishandled evidence, unreliable eyewitness testimony, and anti-socialist and anti-anarchist bias. Protests and riots in several major cities preceded their execution, and many leading legal scholars, including Harvard Law School professor Felix Frankfurter, argued publicly for their innocence.

Few were as devoted to the Sacco-Vanzetti case as William G. Thompson (LL.B. 1891), Sacco and Vanzetti’s second Defense Lawyer. Despite only nominal compensation, and the loss of clients due to the controversy surrounding Sacco and Vanzetti, Thompson stuck with the case. He was uninterested in his clients’ anarchist politics but also unhappy with Judge Thayer’s anti-Communist bias, and wholly convinced of their innocence. He visited Vanzetti and Sacco on the night of their executions, trying in vain to get Vanzetti to issue a statement against violent retaliation and asking for a confession of innocence one last time.