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Clarence Darrow - Recovering His Reputation

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Through hard work, Darrow improved his reputation and took on two of his most famous cases. Both trials ran at a fever pitch in public opinion and guaranteed his place in history as a defense attorney.

The first was the Leopold and Loeb murder trial in Chicago. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two eighteen-year-old college students from wealthy families who were charged with the murder of fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks. Darrow's summation (the final part of an argument) before the jury seemed as much an attempt to change public attitudes concerning the criminal justice system and the death penalty as it was an attempt to keep his clients from hanging. Darrow would save over one hundred accused murderers from execution throughout his career.

The second was the 1925 Scopes trial that debated academic freedom versus legislative control over public education (see sidebar). In the Scopes trial, Darrow defended a science teacher, John Scopes, who was charged with violating Tennessee's Anti-Evolution Law, which prohibited teaching the theory of evolution (theory introduced by Charles Darwin [1809–1882] that all life is related and has descended from a common ancestor) in the state's public schools.

Although Darrow often defended wealthy or privileged individuals, he is most remembered for defending those accused of crimes tied to their race or to their political beliefs, such as radical labor union leader William "Big Bill" Haywood. Darrow's beliefs were rooted in populism (representing the common person), not socialism (an economic and political system in which the government controls all production).

Darrow's emphasis on individualism (belief that the rights of individuals outweigh the needs of the state), however, often put him at odds with government programs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) kept a file on Darrow. A memorandum written on June 24, 1936, which can be found at the Department of Justice's Freedom of Information Act Web site, noted that Darrow was a fine example of how "unscrupulous [without moral integrity] criminal lawyers stimulate disrespect for law and influence crime conditions."

Clarence Darrow - The Scopes Trial [next] [back] Clarence Darrow - Defending Organized Labor In Chicago

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