A century before the television celebrity lawyers of modern times, readers of newspapers in all parts of America and many overseas knew the name of the famous defense attorney, Clarence Seward Darrow of Chicago.
He was born in Kinsman, Ohio on April 18, 1857. In 1887 Clarence's brother Everett Darrow, was living in Chicago and he urged Clarence and his wife Jesse to move there. Clarence followed his brother to the Windy City and he worked for a brief time as corporation counsel for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway but also took on outside legal work. Among the unpopular defendants he represented were some of the anarchists accused of throwing bombs and killing police officers in the Haymarket Riots of 1886. Darrow represented them on appeals to Gov. John Peter Altgeld for clemency and prevailed in a couple of cases. His outside cases caused him conflicts of interest that made it necessary for him to leave the railway. He opposed George Pullman's rail car company in the defense of socialist and union leader Eugene V. Debs in a conspiracy case. He defended Debs in two trials. Just after the close of the Columbian Exposition World's Fair of 1893, Darrow worked on the defense of the mentally deranged Eugene Predergast, the confessed assassin of Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison. Darrow was a lifelong opponent of capital punishment. Darrow was only 32 in 1889 when Mayor Dewitt Cregier appointed him as Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago.
In 1907 Darrow won acquittal for mineworker union leader William D. Haywood and his co-defendants on the charge of murdering former Governor Frank Steunenberg of Idaho. Darrow broke down the testimony of the government's star witness. But he offended many socialists when he entered a plea of guilty in his defense of the McNamara brothers in the Los Angeles Times dynamiting case (1911). Darrow was himself tried for allegedly bribing a juror in the trial, but he was acquitted. Darrow served two terms as a Democrat in the Illinois House of Representatives.
Ironically, the two cases Darrow is most remembered for today were cases he did not seek after he was mostly in retirement. He was living in Hyde Park in 1924 when two rich college students who were neighbors brutally murdered another young neighbor by the name of Bobby Franks who was only 14. The families of 17-year old Nathan Leopold and 18-year old Richard Loeb asked Darrow to come out of retirement to defend their sons. Since Darrow had always opposed capital punishment and the evidence against the two was overwhelming, his objective was not to save the boys from prison but to save them from execution. Darrow waived a jury, went for a bench trial, and entered a plea of guilty. Hoping to sway the judge, an audience of one, Darrow called 14 psychiatrists and psycholgists as witnesses to say that Leopold and Loeb were mentally deficient lacking a true understanding of the horrible nature of their murder and that a merciful judge should send them to prison rather than to execution. It was a defense similar to one he wanted to mount in 1893 for Eugene Predergast during his trial for the murder of Mayor Carter Harrison but the courts did not allow the defense at that time. Leopold and Loeb got life in prison. Loeb died at the hands of a fellow inmate at Stateville Prison near Joliet in 1936 during a knife fight. Nathan Leopold was eventually paroled in 1958 because he had been a model prisoner and he had volunteered to be a human guinea pig by exposing himself to malaria in order to test medicines. Leopold lived out his few remaining years in Puerto Rico.
In 1925, still living in Hyde Park, Darrow came out of retirement again to defend John Scopes, a Tennessee school teacher who taught evolution to his class in spite of a state law that said only the creation story of the Bible could be taught. In this famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" named for a popular notion of the Darwin theory of evolution that "monkeys" were ancestors of man, Darrow faced another great orator and attorney. William Jennings Bryan who grew up in Salem, Illinois and attended Union College of Law in Chicago. In the picture ar right taken during the trial, Darrow is on the left holding his cigarette and Bryan is on the right holding his trademark fan to ward off the summer heat. Bryan had been nominated three times for president by the Democratic Party in 1896 (when he made his famous "Cross of Gold" speech), in 1900, and in 1908. The whole country followed the Monkey Trial on radio and in newspapers. Eventually the Tennessee Supreme Court dismissed the charges against Scopes not on constitutional grounds of the state law but on the technicality that the judge in the lower court had no authority to impose a fine on Scopes. Instead of returning the case to the lower court, the Tennesse Supreme Court "found no reason to continue the life of this case." Clarence Darrow wrote several books and died in Chicago on March 13, 1938 just one month shy of what would have been his 81st birthday.