Clarence Darrow was an American lawyer and leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union. He was among the first attorneys to be called a "labor lawyer." He also was known for defending teenaged thrill killers Leopold and Loeb, and John T. Scopes in the Scopes Monkey Trial.
Clarence Darrow was born in Kinsman, Ohio, on April 18, 1857. He had seven siblings. His father, Amirus Darrow, was a Unitarian minister who eventually gave up his creed and lapsed into agnosticism. Because their family did not conform to society’s views, they were disliked.
The family was against slavery, and their home became a station along the Underground Railroad. They wanted to help runaway slaves escape to the north. It was from his upbringing that Darrow would become a Freethinker and try to change the world.
The practice of law
After graduating from Allegheny College and the University of Michigan Law School, Darrow passed the bar exam in 1878. He became a typical small-town lawyer and practiced for the following nine years. He moved to Chicago in 1887, to look for more interesting work.
In 1890, Darrow began to work for the Chicago & North Western Railway as its general attorney. However, he felt sympathy for the trade unions during the Pullman Strike and decided to resign his corporate position to defend Eugene V. Debs, the president of the American Railway Union. Debs had been arrested for contempt of court arising from the strike. Even though Debs and his fellow trade unionists were convicted, Darrow became established as the leading American labor lawyer. He would defend several trade union leaders over the next few years. Darrow also was involved in campaigns against child labor and capital punishment.
In September 1905, Darrow joined with Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Florence Kelley to form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.
His next case was in 1905 when he defended Bill Haywood, the radical leader of the Industrial Workers of the World and the Western Federation of Miners. Acting as special prosecuring attorney against him was William E. Borah. Haywood was acquitted of the charge of murdering former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg. Darrow then took on the MacNamara Brothers, who were charged with dynamiting the Los Angeles Times building, which resulted in 20 deaths. After Darrow examined the evidence, he convinced the brothers that they should change their plea to guilty. Thanks to Darrow, they managed to plea-bargain prison sentences to avoid the death penalty. Darrow was charged with two counts of attempting to bribe jurors in this case. He was acquitted on both charges, but was not allowed to practice law in California again.
Darrow switched from labor law to criminal law following the California incident. In the spring of 1924, he took on one of his greatest cases. College students, Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, kidnapped and murdered a 14-year-old boy. They had confessed that they did it for the thrill and to see if they could accomplish the crime with perfect timing. The prosecutor asked for the death penalty. Darrow believed that to inflict any unnecessary suffering was cruel and heartless. He delivered a two-hour speech to the jury, and the young men were spared the death penalty for life in prison.
The Monkey Trial
Darrow`s most famous case occurred in 1925 when he defended John T. Scopes, a public high-school teacher accused of teaching evolutionary theory in violation of Tennessee state law. Owing to simmering national controversy over the origins of homo sapiens, the trial attracted widespread notoriety.
The prosecutor was former presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, who believed in the literal word of the Bible. It is argued that Darrow outshone Bryan in the trial, but Scopes was found guilty.
Darrow also played a big part in the Sweet Case in 1925-1926. He successfully defended a black family that had used violence against a white mob that tried to force them from their home in a white area of Detroit.
In more than 100 cases, Darrow only lost one murder case in Chicago. He also wrote several books, including Crime, its Cause and Treatment, published in 1925; The Prohibition Mania, published in 1927; and in 1932, he published The Story of My Life.
Clarence Darrow retired in 1927 and died on March 13th, 1938.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by Clarence Darrow.
Regarding People v. Lloyd, 1920
You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man's freedom. You can only be free if I am free.
Regarding Scopes Monkey Trial
I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure — that is all that agnosticism means.
Regarding Calvin Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge was the greatest man who ever came out of Plymouth Corner, Vermont.
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