Vanzetti's Letter

Woody Guthrie

"Vanzetti's Letter" (karaoke)

"Vanzetti's Letter" (sheet music)

The year, it is Nineteen-Twenty-seven,

And the day is the Third Day of May.

The town is the city called Boston,

And our address is dark Dedham Jail.


To your Honor, the Governor Fuller,

To the Council of Massachusetts State,

We, Bartolomeo Vanzetti

And Nicola Sacco, do say:


Confined in your jail here at Dedham

And under the sentence of death,

We pray you exercise your powers

To look at the facts of our case.


We do not ask you for a pardon,

For a pardon would admit of our guilt;

Since we are both innocent workers,

We have no guilt to admit.


We are both born by parents in Italy;

We cannot speak English too well.

Our friends of labor are writing these words

Here back of the bars of our cell.


Our friends say if we speak too plain, sir,

We may turn your feelings away

And widen these canyons between us,

But we risk our lives to speak plain.


We think, sir, that each human being

Is in close touch with all of man's kind;

We think, sir, that each human being

Knows right from wrong in his mind.


We talk to you here as a man, sir,

Even knowing our opinions divide.

We did not kill the guards at South Brantree

Nor dream of such a terrible crime.


We call your eye to this fact, sir:

We work with our hand and our brain.

These robberies, killings, were done, sir,

By professional bandit men.


Sacco has been a good cutter;

Missus Sacco, their money has saved.

And I, Vanzetti, could have saved money,

But I gave it as fast as received.


I'm a dreamer, a speaker, and a writer;

I fight on the working folks' side.

Sacco is Boston's fastest shoe trimmer;

He talks to the husbands and wives.


We hunted your land, and we found it;

We hoped we'd find freedom of mind.

You built up your land, this land of the free:

This is what we came to find.


If we were those killers, good Governor,

We'd not be so dumb and so blind

To pass out our handbills and make workers' speeches

Here by the scene of the crime.


Those fifteen thousands of dollars

The lawyers and judge say we took,

Do we, sir, dress up like two gentlemen

With that much in our pocketbook?


Our names are on that long list of radicals

Of the federal government, sir;

They say that we needed watching

As we peddled our literature.


Judge Thayer's mind was made up, sir,

Before we walked into the court;

He called us anarchistic bastards,

And he said lots of other things worse.


Before the trial ever started,

The jury foreman did say,

Cursing us, "Damn they!

They ought to hang anyway."


They brought people down there to Brockton

To look through the bars of our cell,

Made us act out the motions of the killers, sir,

And still not many could tell.


Our fatal mistake was carrying our guns

About which we had to tell lies

To keep the police from raiding the homes

Of workers believing like us.


A labor paper or picture,

A letter from a radical friend,

Or an old cheap gun like you keep around home

Would torture good women and men.


We all feared deporting or whipping

And torments to make us confess

The places where workers were meeting,

Their houses, their names, and address.


The officers said we feared something,

Which they called consciousness of guilt.

We were fearful of wrecking more homes

And seeing more workers' blood spilt.


The very first questions they asked us

Were not about killing the clerks

But about our labor movement

And how our trade union works.


Oh, how could our jury see clearly

When lawyers, judges, and cops

Called us low-type Italians

And said we looked like regular Wops?


Draft dodgers, gun packers, anarchists,

These vulgar sounding names

Blew dust in the eyes of the jurors;

The crowd in the courtroom, the same.


We do not believe, sir, that torture,

Beatings and killings and pain

Will lift man's eyes to the highest of views

And break his bilbos and chains.


We believe you must struggle for freedom

Before your freedom you'll gain:

Freedom from fear, sir, and greed,

And your freedom to think higher things.


This fight, sir, is not a new battle;

We did not make it last night.

'Twas fought by Godwin and Shelly,

Pisacane and Tolstoi and Christ.


It's bigger than atoms or sands of the deserts

Or planets that roll in the sky.

Till workers get rid of their robbers,

Well, it's worser to live than to die.


Your Excellency, we're not asking pardon

But asking to be set free

With liberty, with pride, sir, with honor,

And pardon we will not receive.


A pardon you've given to criminals

Who've broken the laws of our land.

We do not ask you for pardon, sir,

Because we are innocent men.


If you shake your head no, dear Governor,

Of course, our doom, it is sealed,

But we've held up our heads like true sons of men

For seven years in these jails of steel.


We're walking down this corridor to death, sir,

Like workers have walked before,

But we'd work in our working class struggle

If we lived a thousand lives more.