Darrow was born this day in 1857. He was a lawyer and a prominent member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
We know him as the defender of John Scopes in the Monkey Trial of 1925. Darrow and Scopes lost that trial, which was the first of many court cases regarding the teaching of creationism vs. evolution in public schools. Virtually all of the subsequent cases were victories for the evolutionists. Indeed, the Monkey Trial was a victory for evolutionists as well, because it is widely recognized that although the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Darrow’s arguments were so powerful that the nation was left feeling that he had won the argument.
This is John Scopes, later in his life, writing of Darrow’s arrival in town for the trial, and the banquet honoring his visit:
I began to wonder how Darrow would be received. My own standing in the community was the same before and after the banquet, but I could explain that by the fact that the community considered me as one of its own, and, too, Bryan had been very friendly with me.
To my great relief, Darrow, at least outwardly, was also welcomed with respect and friendship. To show they were impartial, Bryan’s banquet was duplicated for Darrow. I was seated next to Darrow, but everything–toastmaster, the menu, the hall, and the people inside and outside–was the same.
Darrow shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with each person at the speaker’s table, but that was the last time during the banquet that he directed a remark to any one individual. Then, after the meal, people relaxed as Darrow began to speak. They were pleased to hear that their philosophies, ideas, and knowledge of various topics were of interest to him; besides, he asked questions and they had a chance to hear themselves talk–and all of us like to listen to ourselves. If anything developed that Darrow could use later, he remembered it.
Darrow’s talk was entirely different from Bryan’s. He did not tell them what to think, what to believe, nor offer any panaceas by which to lead them to greater glory and prosperity. It was not the speech of a crusader. He gave a short but humorous story of his life. He told of how he first became interested in the legal profession by reading law books to a blacksmith who also wished to become a lawyer. He and the blacksmith went to Indianapolis to take the bar examination. At 4:00 P.M. on the day of the examination, a fresh round of drinks was ordered and downed in one gulp. Then, the chairman of the examining board informed them that they had passed the examination. Darrow told the audience that for two years he had practiced law in a tin shop (the local tinner was the justice of the peace) and played poker on the side. He nearly starved. Then, he started playing poker and practicing law on the side. He made enough money to go to Chicago and get his start. The joke-loving, rugged individualists of eastern Tennessee threw open the doors of hospitality and embraced him with friendship.
There is actual footage from the Scopes Trial. But it is pretty boring. I got this for you instead (including out takes at the end):