Here’s to You, Nicola & Bart

By Neal Comment

As LAT staff writer Jean Pasco tells the tale, a Southern California book collector stumbled onto a letter from Upton Sinclair that rather deflates the martyrdom of Sacco and Vanzetti:

“Sinclair met with Fred Moore, the men’s attorney, in a Denver motel room. Moore ‘sent me into a panic,’ Sinclair wrote in the typed letter that Hegness found at the auction a decade ago. ‘Alone in a hotel room with Fred, I begged him to tell me the full truth,’ Sinclair wrote. ‘He then told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them.'”

So why did Boston, Sinclair’s novel about the case, maintain the liberal argument that the two men were innocents shoved through the court system and into the execution chamber for their radical political beliefs?* Essentially, the author was afraid that if he told the truth, he’d be killed by left-wing activists as “a traitor to the movement,” but he had another major fear as well: “It is much better copy as a naïve defense of Sacco and Vanzetti because this is what all my foreign readers expect, and they are 90% of my public.”

*Which is still a pretty accurate description of the trial, no matter what their culpability in the robbery-murder they were accused of committing. (And, in fact, one of the more notable aspects of this letter is that it appears to suggest both men were guilty, contrary to the view that has emerged in recent decades that while Sacco was involved in the crime, Vanzetti was completely innocent.)