Clarence Seward Darrow was a lawyer and a speaker. The ways he presented himself were sincere and the causes always humane. There are often those who claim that Darrow was a pessimist; that, because he argued for Agnosticism and Determinism, he chose the bad over the good. To those who studied his personality closely, though -- through his works or essays -- there can be found a deeply routed inclination towards compassionate reform. When delivering a speech, no man in the crowd would deny that Darrow believed every word of it. The boldness and strength of his character cannot be denied by any person fluent in his works. Darrow, the courageous and ultimately defiant thinker, relentlessly fought against what he believed was wrong. He was firm, bold, rational, and humane.
Darrow grew up during the American Civil War in the rural town of Kinsman in Ohio. His father, Amirus Darrow, was a Unitarian minister, who eventually even gave up that creed and accepted Agnosticism. In their Ohio home, Darrow grew up with seven siblings. Due to the family's failure to conform to society's views, neighbors ostracized them. The house served as a station in the Underground Railroad and the family helped runaway slaves escape to the North. It was from this childhood that Darrow would grow and develop into the defiant Freethinker that would change the world.
"I don't believe in god because I don't believe in Mother Goose." -- from a speech given in Toronto, 1930.
Upon graduating from college and getting his legal degree, in 1887, his first move was to go to Chicago where he fought to free Anarchists who were charged with murder in the Haymarket Riot. In the late 1800's, the citizens of Chicago were victim to vicious police brutality and of the Capitalists who exploited the working class. In defiance of this state-instituted cruelty, Anarchists gathered. When police officers came to pacify the Anarchists, a bomb was thrown at the police officers. The police officers responded by shooting at the crowd randomly, killing George Engel, Samuel Fielden, Adolph Fischer, Louis Lingg, Oscar Neebe, Albert Parsons, Michael Schwab, and August Spies. When several Anarchists were charged with the crime of assaulting police officers, Clarence Darrow took their case and defended them.
"In spite of all the yearnings of men, no one can produce a single fact or reason to support the belief in god and in personal immortality." -- article in The Sun magazine, May, 1938.
In September 1905, Darrow joined with Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Florence Kelley to form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. Later, Darrow became counsel of the North Western Railway. With such a position, it would not been long before he was rich, but he left his position to take the case of Eugene V. Debs in 1907. In this case, he was defending unionists who were arrested in a strike. He took the case without pay, understanding the vital importance of Socialism to the progression of a humane thought. Also in 1907, he defended radical "Big Bill" Haywood, who had been charged in the assassination of a former Idaho governor.
"Can anyone with intelligence really believe that a child born today should be doomed because the snake tempted Eve and Eve tempted Adam? To believe that is not God-worship; it is devil-worship." - Why I Am An Agnostic, and Other Essays, page 16.
One of the greatest cases of Darrow would be the case of Loeb and Leopold. In the late spring of 1924, these two college students had kidnapped and murdered a fourteen year old boy, Robert "Bobby" Franks. They confessed that the reasons they did it were as barbaric as one might immediately suspect: for the thrill of it and to see if they could do it with perfect timing. The prosecutors for the Franks family had asked the court for the death penalty. Ever since his childhood, of seeing dead bodies from the Civil War, Darrow held a contemptuous hatred of death. In holding with this belief, a belief that to inflict any unnecessary suffering is cruel and heartless, Darrow defended Loeb and Leopold. In August of 1924, Darrow delivered a mesmerizing, two-hour long speech to the jury...
"Now, your Honor, I have spoken about the war. I believed in it. I don't know whether I was crazy or not. Sometimes I think perhaps I was. I approved of it; I joined in the general cry of madness and despair. I urged men to fight. I was safe because I was too old to go. I was like the rest. What did they do? Right or wrong, justifiable or unjustifiable - which I need not discuss today - it changed the world. For four long years the civilized world was engaged in killing men. Christian against Christian, barbarian uniting with Christians to kill Christians; anything to kill. It was taught in every school, aye in the Sunday schools. The little children played at war. The toddling children on the street. Do you suppose this world has ever been the same since then? How long, your Honor, will it take for the world to get back the humane emotions that were slowly growing before the war? How long will it take the calloused hearts of men before the scars of hatred and cruelty shall be removed?
"Your Honor knows that in this very court crimes of violence have increased growing out of the war. Not necessarily by those who fought but by those that learned that blood was cheap, and human life was cheap, and if the State could take it lightly why not the boy? There are causes for this terrible crime. There are causes, as I have said, for everything that happens in the world. War is a part of it; education is a part of it; birth is a part of it; money is a part of it - all these conspired to compass the destruction of these two poor boys. Has the court any right to consider anything but these two boys? The State says that your Honor has a right to consider the welfare of the community, as you have. If the welfare of the community would be benefited by taking these lives, well and good. I think it would work evil that no one could measure. Has your Honor a right to consider the families of these two defendants? I have been sorry, and I am sorry for the bereavement of Mr. and Mrs. Frank, for those broken ties that cannot be healed. All I can hope and wish is that some good may come from it all. But as compared with the families of Leopold and Loeb, the Franks are to be envied - and everyone knows it.
"To spend the balance of their days in prison is mighty little to look forward to, if anything. Is it anything? They may have the hope that as the years roll around they might be released. I do not know. I do not know. I will be honest with this court as I have tried to be from the beginning. I know that these boys are not fit to be at large. I believe they will not be until they pass through the next stage of life, at forty-five or fifty. Whether they will then, I cannot tell.
"It will be easy to-day; but in Chicago, and reaching out over the length and breadth of the land, more and more fathers and mothers, the humane, the kind and the hopeful, who are gaining an understanding and asking questions not only about these poor boys, but about their own - these will join in no acclaim at the death of my clients. These would ask that the shedding of blood be stopped, and that the normal feelings of man resume their sway. And as the days and the months and the years go on, they will ask it more and more. But, your Honor, what they shall ask may not count. I know the easy way. I know your Honor stands between the future and the past. I know the future is with me, and what I stand for here; not merely for the lives of these two unfortunate lads, but for all boys and all girls; for all of the young, and as far as possible, for all of the old. I am pleading for life, understanding, charity, kindness, and the infinite mercy that considers all. I am pleading that we overcome cruelty with kindness and hatred with love. I know the future is on my side. Your Honor stands between the past and the future. You may hang these boys; you may hang them by the neck until they are dead. But in doing it you will turn your face toward the past. In doing it you are making it harder for every other boy who in ignorance and darkness must grope his way through the mazes which only childhood knows. In doing it you will make it harder for unborn children. You may save them and make it easier for every child that sometime may stand where these boys stand. You will make it easier for every human being with an aspiration and a vision and a hope and a fate. I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and judgment and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute of man." ["Mercy for Leopold and Loeb." Clarence Darrow. August 1924. Occasion: Conclusion of Clarence Darrow's plea to spare Leopold and Loeb from the death penalty.]
Darrow's defense of Leopold and Loeb was a success: the two juveniles were sentenced to life in prison and were spared the Death Penalty. It is truly amazing that Darrow was successful in this. As he described in the first paragraph of his speech to the jury, the people of his time were full of war, rage, and hate. They were not Humanitarians at all. It was a common vice to be brutal and an even more common vice to be unfeeling. Yet, through the passionate speaking of this rabblerouser, Darrow was capable of inspiring men to be humane, of convincing them to choose life over death.
"The origin of the absurd idea of immortal life is easy to discover; it is kept alive by hope and fear, by childish faith, and by cowardice." -- The Great Quotations, by George Seldes, ed., (New York, Lyle Stuart, 1960).
The case of the century can be attributed to Clarence Darrow -- The Monkey Trial. John Scopes was a science teacher in Tennessee. The state passed a law banning the teaching of Evolution within public schools. Scopes was the bold, unflinching scientist who refused to accept such ignorance. Regardless of the law, he taught Evolution to his students. He was charged by the state of Tennessee. When Darrow heard of this, he immediately became counsel to the scientist. Darrow, the Agnostic speaker, defended Scopes, while William Jennings Bryan, the Fundamentalist lawyer, prosecuted Scopes. On day 7, Darrow took Bryan to the stand for his testimony. Despite the fact that Bryan was not even a witness to the crime and was not even involved since he was a lawyer, he was quick to take the stand and answer the questions asked by Darrow. Brilliantly and magnificently, Darrow made history...
Hays--The defense desires to call Mr. Bryan as a witness, and, of course, the only question here is whether Mr. Scopes taught what these children said he taught, we recognize what Mr. Bryan says as a witness would not be very valuable. We think there are other questions involved, and we should want to take Mr. Bryan's testimony for the purpose of our record, even if your honor thinks it is not admissible in general, so we wish to call him now.
The Court--Do you think you have a right to his testimony or evidence like you did these others?
McKenzie--I don't think it is necessary to call him, calling a lawyer who represents a client.
The Court--If you ask him about any confidential matter, I will protect him, of course.
Darrow--On scientific matters, Col. Bryan can speak for himself.
Bryan--If your honor please, I insist that Mr. Darrow can be put on the stand, and Mr. Malone and Mr. Hays.
The Court--Call anybody you desire. Ask them any questions you wish.
Bryan--Then, we will call all three of them.
Darrow--Not at once?
Bryan--Where do you want me to sit?
The Court--Mr. Bryan, you are not objecting to going on the stand?
Bryan--Not at all.
The Court--Do you want Mr. Bryan sworn?
Bryan--I can make affirmation; I can say "So help me God, I will tell the truth."
Darrow--No, I take it you will tell the truth, Mr. Bryan.
Examination of W.J. Bryan by Clarence Darrow, of counsel for the defense:
Q-- Now, Mr. Bryan, have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?
Q--You have not?
A-- No; the God I believe in could have taken care of that, Mr. Darrow.
Q-- I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?
Q--Don't you know it would have been converted into molten mass of matter?
A--You testify to that when you get on the stand, I will give you a chance.
Q--Don't you believe it?
A--I would want to hear expert testimony on that.
Q--You have never investigated that subject?
A--I don't think I have ever had the question asked.
Q--Or ever thought of it?
A--I have been too busy on thinks that I thought were of more importance than that.
Q--You believe the story of the flood to be a literal interpretation?
Q--When was that Flood?
A--I would not attempt to fix the date. The date is fixed, as suggested this morning.
Q--About 4004 B.C.?
A--That has been the estimate of a man that is accepted today. I would not say it is accurate.
Q--That estimate is printed in the Bible?
A--Everybody knows, at least, I think most of the people know, that was the estimate given.
Q--But what do you think that the Bible, itself says? Don't you know how it was arrived at?
A--I never made a calculation.
Q--A calculation from what?
A--I could not say.
Q--From the generations of man?
A--I would not want to say that.
Q--What do you think?
A--I do not think about things I don't think about.
Q--Do you think about things you do think about?
(Laughter in the courtyard.)
Q--Mr. Bryan, do you believe that the first woman was Eve?
Q--Do you believe she was literally made out of Adams's rib?
Q--Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?
A--No, sir; I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.
Q--You have never found out?
A--I have never tried to find
Q--You have never tried to find?
Q--The Bible says he got one, doesn't it? Were there other people on the earth at that time?
A--I cannot say.
Q--You cannot say. Did that ever enter your consideration?
A--Never bothered me.
Q--There were no others recorded, but Cain got a wife.
A--That is what the Bible says.
Q--Where she came from you do not know. All right. Does the statement, "The morning and the evening were the first day," and "The morning and the evening were the second day," mean anything to you?
A-- I do not think it necessarily means a twenty-four-hour day.
Q--You do not?
Q--What do you consider it to be?
A--I have not attempted to explain it. If you will take the second chapter--let me have the book. (Examining Bible.) The fourth verse of the second chapter says: "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth, when they were created in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens," the word "day" there in the very next chapter is used to describe a period. I do not see that there is any necessity for construing the words, "the evening and the morning," as meaning necessarily a twenty-four-hour day, "in the day when the Lord made the heaven and the earth."
Q--Then, when the Bible said, for instance, "and God called the firmament heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day," that does not necessarily mean twenty-four hours?
A--I do not think it necessarily does.
Q--Do you think it does or does not?
A--I know a great many think so.
Q--What do you think?
A--I do not think it does.
Q--You think those were not literal days?
A--I do not think they were twenty-four-hour days.
Q--What do you think about it?
A--That is my opinion--I do not know that my opinion is better on that subject than those who think it does.
Q--You do not think that?
A--No. But I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in six days as in six years or in 6,000,000 years or in 600,000,000 years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.
Q--Do you think those were literal days?
A--My impression is they were periods, but I would not attempt to argue as against anybody who wanted to believe in literal days.
Q--I will read it to you from the Bible: "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." Do you think that is why the serpent is compelled to crawl upon its belly?
A--I believe that.
Q--Have you any idea how the snake went before that time?
Q--Do you know whether he walked on his tail or not?
A--No, sir. I have no way to know. (Laughter in audience).
Q--Now, you refer to the cloud that was put in heaven after the flood, the rainbow. Do you believe in that?
Q--All right, Mr. Bryan, I will read it for you.
Bryan--Your Honor, I think I can shorten this testimony. The only purpose Mr. Darrow has is to slur at the Bible, but I will answer his question. I will answer it all at once, and I have no objection in the world, I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in a God, is trying to use a court in Tennessee--
Darrow--I object to that.
Bryan--(Continuing) to slur at it, and while it will require time, I am willing to take it.
Darrow--I object to your statement. I am exempting you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.
The Court--Court is adjourned until 9 o'clock tomorrow morning.
At the end of the trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict. John Scopes was fined with $100. To the judge, Scopes replied...
"Your honor, I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust statute. I will continue in the future, as I have in the past, to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my ideal of academic freedom-that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our constitution of personal and religious freedom. I think the fine is unjust."
It was considered a moral victory for the teaching of Evolution. Darrow had made the Bible look ridiculous. The opportunity presented itself when Mr. Bryan, the Bible thumping Fundamentalist, offered to be a witness. His zeal for his own religious dogma was the downfall of his religion. Darrow scrutinized the beliefs of Bryan, making them appear ridiculous in the court, and making a victory that made history. Yes, Scopes was charged and fined. However, the positioned of revealed religion suffered a blow from that case it has yet to recover.
"Upon what evidence, then, are we asked to believe in immortality? There is no evidence. One is told to rely on faith, and no doubt this serves the purpose so long as one can believe blindly whatever he is told." -- Why I Am An Agnostic, and Other Essays, page 24.
Darrow went on to other cases and defending others. He defended an African-American family arrested for fighting off a mob seeking to drive blacks from a white Detroit neighborhood. The views of Darrow can be summed up as humane and rational. He adhered to these principles and fought for change. He was a demagogue, capable of convincing crowds to be more reasonable, to be more affectionate. The epitome of courage can be found in Darrow's eloquence and bravery -- his ardent claim that we should be kind to each other. The object of Darrow's affections was not money; he had the opportunity make much of it and declined for his true object of affection: defending truth and promoting humaneness. He worked for free tirelessly, in defense of unionists, scientists, and anyone who was capable of feeling suffering. A giant in the field of law and a god in the field of humanity, he made it clear in the minds of all men that he would not sit by idly, awaiting the brutality and ignorance of men to spawn further.
"When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death." ["The Myth of the Soul," Clarence Darrow.]