Clarence Darrow

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Clarence Seward Darrow (1857-1938) was an American defense lawyer who handled high-profile cases for the American Civil Liberties Union, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and others. In 1905 Darrow was one of the founding members of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.

Famous court cases

Illinois v. Leopold and Loeb

Darrow's most famous defense, which was successful only to extent he avoided the death penalty for his clients, was in his 1924 representation of the teenagers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb after they murdered the younger 14-year-old Bobby Franks in what may have been a sexual assault. Leopold and Loeb were children of wealthy and prominent parents.

Tennessee v. Scopes

Darrow was also unsuccessful in defending John Scopes in the so-called Monkey Trial, Tennessee v. John Scopes, in 1925.[1]

John Scopes was brought in as a substitute teacher to challenge the law and teach high school biology in Dayton, Tennessee. He was convicted of illegally teaching the history of evolution and fined $100. The conviction ironically came at the request of Darrow, who wished to force precedent by having the Tennessee Supreme Court weigh in on the eventual appeal. That court eventually overturned the decision on a technicality, creating little meaningful precedent.[2]

Michigan v. Sweet

Darrow was successful in representing Henry Sweet, an African American and younger brother of Ossian Sweet, against charges of murder in Michigan v. Henry Sweet, a Detroit murder trial resulting from the killing of Leon Breiner, a white man. The previous year, Darrow had argued to a mistrial the same case as charged against all nine people who were in the house from which the shots that killed Breiner were fired.[3]


Darrow was an atheist who had contempt for religion, believing that it hindered mankind's quest for knowledge. He sought to ridicule Creationism when possible, including carrying on a running feud with William Jennings Bryan in newspapers about the evolution vs. creation controversy before the two ever met in the Scopes trial, but refused to put himself in a position where he would have to answer questions about evolution. His view on man can best be summed up in the quote below:

"The purpose of man is like the purpose of the pollywog - to wiggle along as far as he can without dying; or, to hang to life until death takes him."[4]


  4. The Best of Humanism, 1988, Prometheus Books, p. 154