Facing the Chair: Story of the Americanization of Two Foreign-Born Workmen, 1927

Facing the Chair, a pamphlet, protests the death sentence of Massachusetts anarchists Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The Italians, convicted for murder in 1921, see their cause spread worldwide. Dos Passos believes the accused received an unfair, prejudiced trial and publishes Facing the Chair in spring 1927, soon after Sacco and Vanzetti are sentenced.

After Facing the Chair, the president of Harvard University, A. Lawrence Lowell, is appointed by the Massachusetts governor to serve on an advisory committee reviewing the case. Dos Passos publishes “An Open Letter to President Lowell” in the New York Times. Dos Passos also joins writers and artists—Katherine Anne Porter, Lola Ridge, Paxton Hibben, Mike Gold, Helen O’Lochlain Crowe, James Rorty, Edna St. Vincent Millay, William Gropper, and Grace Lumpkin—on a picket line in Boston. He is arrested and briefly jailed.

Sacco and Vanzetti are executed on August 23rd. According to biographer Townsend Ludington, Dos “moved as far to the left as he ever would” in consequence. “I had seceded privately the night Sacco and Vanzetti were executed,” Dos Passos writes later in The Theme is Freedom (1956). “I wasn’t joining anybody. I had seceded into my private conscience like Thoreau in Concord jail.”

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