Clarence Darrow: Lawyer

Find out all about Clarence Darrow, who was perhaps the greatest trial lawyer in U.S. history.

Clarence Seward Darrow, the great trial lawyer, was born in Kinsman, Ohio on April 18, 1857. He was the son of the village undertaker and coffin maker. His skills as a debater became evident early on as he involved himself in debates among the local townspeople. He would always win. He attended Allegheny College. After graduating he taught school for a year, before studying for a year at the University of Michigan Law School. He then returned to Ohio, where he found work as a lawyer in Youngstown. He was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1878. He soon established himself a reputation as a dogged defender of the wrong done by, holding principle above all else. For nine years Darrow practised in Ohio from where he moved to Chicago, Illinois. He practised privately for two years before being appointed assistant corporation counsel for the city of Chicago. For four years he served as chief Counsel. Within that time he developed a winning personality that enamoured him to the populace.

In 1894 Darrow became the counsel for the Chicago and North Western Railway. He threw this job in, however, when he sided with Unionists who called a strike of the American Railway Union. He defended strike leader Eugene V. Debs on a charge of contempt of a federal injunction. Losing the case, he, nevertheless, established himself as a friend of the unions. He would go on to become the nation's most outspoken Labor advocate. He exposed shocking working conditions among child laborers. He also established in law the right of a union to strike without being criminally liable. His biggest success to date came in 1907 when he secured the acquittal of labor leader Bill Haywood for the murder of former Governor Frank Steunenberg of Idaho. After two of his clients switched their pleas to guilty over the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building he abandoned Labor Litigation, never to return.

It was as a defender of accused murderers that Darrow really came into his own. In 1924 he defended Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in the murder of a Bobbie Franks. He saved the two of them from what appeared a certain death penalty. In 1925 his most famous case came about when he defended John T. Scopes in a case involving a Tennessee law against the teaching of evolution. His opposition was that other great trial lawyer William Jennings Bryan. This trial pitted the two great men of law against one another in a classic legal showdown. On the seventh day of the trial Darrow pulled the outrageous stunt of calling William Jennings Bryan himself to the stand as an expert witness to the Bible. There followed a barrage of questions relating to the Genesis creation account, the Flood of Noah's day, the swallowing of Jonah by a big fish and other Biblical accounts. Bryan finally conceded that the words of the Bible were not always to be taken literally. At one memorable point, a frustrated Bryan exclaimed , "I do not think about things I don't think about." Darrow shot back, " Do You think about things you do think about?"

Darrow clearly got the better of his opponent, however, the jury returned a guilty verdict after just eight minutes.

A year later he defended a black family that held off a mob that was intent on getting them thrown out of a white area of Detroit. Throughout this time Darrow developed his own unique style, appearing in court in shirtsleeves and suspenders and presenting eloquent persuasion and tactics that would inevitably sway a jury. His summations to the jury were works of art, often involving poetry. Yet, many people hated him for the unpopular causes and underprivileged classes he championed.

Clarence Seward Darrow died in Chicago on March 13, 1938 at the age of eighty. Since then he has become somewhat of a folk hero and the inspiration of untold numbers of up and coming lawyers.

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