Michael Davitt was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a revolutionary movement that espoused armed uprising as the only way to rid Ireland of British rule. He mostly participated in arms smuggling operations, and it was on one of these that he was arrested in 1870.
He was sentenced to 15 years hard labour in Dartmoor Prison, where he was subjected to casual brutality and solitary confinement. The letters he sent, describing his treatment, were read aloud in the British House of Commons by sympathetic politicians, and a public outcry against the treatment of Davitt and other Irish prisoners led to his early release. He received a hero’s welcome on his return to Ireland, and returned at once to the struggle, albeit now concentrating on non-violent political actions.
Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were two Italian-born labourers and anarchists resident on Massachusetts. On May 5, 1920, they were arrested for a robbery that had taken place the previous month. They were tried and convicted of the robbery.
Later, in 1921, they were tried again for a murder, and again convicted. The two men were sentenced to the electric chair, and executed on August 23, 1927.
Their arrests and trials aroused considerable controversy, both at the time and ever since. The prosecution’s case had many holes in it, and it was widely believed that the two men were convicted not so much for being guilty of the crimes they were accused of, as for being anarchists.
50 years to the day of the execution, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation declaring, “Any stigma and disgrace should be forever removed from the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. We are not here to say whether these men are guilty or innocent. We are here to say that the high standards of justice, which we in Massachusetts take such pride in, failed Sacco and Vanzetti.”