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Clarence Darrow

Early Life And Law Career, Defending Organized Labor In Chicago, Recovering His Reputation, The Scopes Trial

Born April 18, 1857 (Kinsman, Ohio) Died March 13, 1938 (Chicago, Illinois)

Defense attorney

Clarence Darrow was an attorney who championed the fundamental principle that everyone is entitled to a fair trial in a court of law. He promoted radical political and social causes and secured his place in history by opposing governmental and religious limits on individual freedom. Darrow helped sway public opinion toward tolerance of organized labor with the right of working people to unionize.

A lifelong opponent of the death penalty, he was an active member of the Amnesty Association, an organization formed to seek death row pardons (release from prison or legal responsibility for a convicted offense) for inmates who had not yet been executed for capital crimes. The Clarence Darrow Death Penalty Defense College is part of the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor in the early twenty-first century. The college teaches the skills needed for attorneys representing those who face the death penalty.

"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 a understanding and faith that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute of man."

As a courtroom speaker, Darrow was one of the first to favor plain words over the rhetoric, or flowery speech, used by most lawyers of the time. His realist style of public speaking was widely imitated by attorneys who admired his innovative Clarence Darrow. (The Library of Congress)
techniques of selecting jurors, interrogating hostile witnesses, and making closing arguments. Darrow's presentation skills have rarely been equaled. Building his legal practice with high-paying criminal cases and high-visibility causes, he was America's most famous trial attorney of the 1920s.

For More Information


Blake, Arthur. The Scopes Trial: Defending the Right to Teach. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1994.

Hynd, Alan. Defenders of the Damned. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1960.

Gurko, Miriam. Clarence Darrow. New York: Crowell, 1965.

McWhirter, Darien A. The Legal 100: A Ranking of the Individuals Who Have Most Influenced the Law. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group, 1998.

Tierney, Kevin. Darrow: A Biography. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, Publishers, 1979.

Web Sites

"Clarence Darrow." National Archives Learning Curve. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAdarrow.htm (accessed on August 15, 2004).

"Clarence Seward Darrow." University of Missouri Faculty: Famous Trials. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/darrow.htm (accessed on August 15, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law