Clarence Darrow was a nonconformist and a lawyer who seemed to be afraid of nothing. This cavalier attitude got him notoriety and made him seem just a little larger than life. He made millions, but it is still not clear if history loves or hates his success.
Perhaps some of his need to fight and defend came from his upbringing. He grew up in Kingsman, Ohio as the son of an atheist carpenter and part time undertaker. He likely presented many cases just trying to defend his father and his beliefs. It served him well.
He began his law career at home in Kingsman, but that stage proved to be too small. He moved to Chicago where he became the attorney for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway. It was a powerful position.
It was an odd turn of events when the workers of the Pullman Railway Company went on strike in 1894. Clarence Darrow left his powerful position with the railroad and went to fight for the railroad workers of another company. It seems like he quickly changed sides. Thus began his journey of representing the underdog, the leftist community and those who had strong and unpopular views.
His career took a big hit in 1912. He had clients that were union workers and accused of murder. It was his job to keep the death penalty out of the consequences. Darrow was accused of bribing the Judge. Although he was found not guilty his reputation was tarnished and he was invited to leave the state of California.
The case that won him the most notoriety and probably showcased his true convictions and desires was the Scopes trial. The trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee. John Scopes was teaching evolution and it was offensive to some. Those people pressed the issue in court.
The Judge, John Calverly, for this case was very much in favor of recognizing only the version that was presented in the bible. He felt so intense about his religious beliefs that he carried a bible into the courtroom and started each court session with a prayer.
William Jennings Bryan had run for the office of President under the populist party. Darrow had supported him, but opposed his views about religion. The Judge would not allow Darrow to call any scientist as witnesses, so to engage Bryan in a debate, and bring out his point of view, he called Bryan to testify outside in front of the courthouse. He badgered Bryan trying to prove how absurd his religious views were and it turned into a yelling match with them shaking fists at each other. Darrow did not win the case, but perhaps made a point.
His last trial was a tear jerker. Ossian Sweet, a black doctor, moved his family into a white neighborhood in Detroit. The doctor was attacked by an angry mob and fired shots into the crowd. The Judge for that case was Frank Murphy, who later became a Supreme Court Justice. Sweet was finally acquitted.
Darrow was not without faults. However, he did stay true to his beliefs and fought tenaciously for things that he believed to correct and true.