Clarence Darrow

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You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man's freedom. You can only be free if I am free.

Clarence Darrow (April 18, 1857March 13, 1938) was an American lawyer, best known for having defended teenaged thrill killers Leopold and Loeb in their trial for murdering 14 year old Bobby Franks (1924) and defending John T. Scopes in the so-called "Monkey" Trial (1925), opposing William Jennings Bryan.

Quotes[edit]

  • In the great flood of human life that is spawned upon the earth, it is not often that a man is born.
    • Funeral oration for John Peter Altgeld (14 March 1902); published in an appendix to The Story of My Life (1932)
  • Liberty is the most jealous and exacting mistress that can beguile the brain and soul of man. She will have nothing from him who will not give her all. She knows that his pretended love serves but to betray. But when once the fierce heat of her quenchless, lustrous eyes has burned into the victim's heart, he will know no other smile but hers.
    • Funeral oration for John Peter Altgeld (14 March 1902)
  • With all their faults, trade-unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in man, than any other association of men.
    • The Railroad Trainman (November 1909)
  • The objector and the rebel who raises his voice against what he believes to be the injustice of the present and the wrongs of the past is the one who hunches the world along.
    • Address to the court in "The Communist Trial", People v. Lloyd (1920)
  • You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man's freedom. You can only be free if I am free.
    • Address to the court in People v. Lloyd (1920)
  • The Constitution is a delusion and a snare if the weakest and humblest man in the land cannot be defended in his right to speak and his right to think as much as the strongest in the land.
    • Address to the court in People v. Lloyd (1920)
  • It is often said that the accused should be given an immediate trial; that this and subsequent proceedings should not be hindered by delay; that the uncertainties of punishment furnish the criminal with the hope of escape and therefore do not give the community the benefit of the terror that comes with the certainty of punishment that could prevent crime. I can see no basis in logic or experience for this suggestion. It is based on the theory that punishment is not only a deterrent to crime, but the main deterrent. It comes from the idea that the criminal is distinct from the rest of mankind, that vengeance should be sure and speedy and that then crime would be prevented. If this were true and the only consideration to prevent crime, then the old torture chamber and the ancient prison with all its hopelessness and horror should be restored. Logic, humanity and experience would protest against this. If there is to be any permanent improvement in man and any better social order, it must come mainly from the education and humanizing of man. I am quite certain that the more the question of crime and its treatment is studied the less faith men have in punishment.
    • Crime : Its Cause And Treatment (1922) Ch. 36 "Remedies"
  • I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure — that is all that agnosticism means.
  • If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lectures, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, your honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.
    • Scopes Trial, Dayton, Tennessee (13 July 1925)
  • All men do the best they can. But none meet life honestly and few heroically.
    • As quoted in Infidels and Heretics : An Agnostic's Anthology (1929) edited by Clarence Darrow and Wallace Rice, p. 206
  • The purpose of life is living. Men and women should get the most they can out of their lives. The smallest, tiniest intellect may be quite as valuable to society as the largest. It may be still more valuable to itself: it may have all the capacity for enjoyment that the wisest has. The purpose of man is like the purpose of the pollywog — to wriggle along as far as he can without dying; or to hang on until death takes him.
    • As quoted in Infidels and Heretics : An Agnostic's Anthology (1929) edited by Clarence Darrow and Wallace Rice, pp. 206 - 207
  • I don't believe in God because I don't believe in Mother Goose.
    • Speech in Toronto (1930); as quoted in "Breaking the Last Taboo" (1996) by James A. Haught.
    • Variant: I believe that religion is the belief in future life and in God. I don’t believe in either. I don’t believe in God as I don’t believe in Mother Goose.
      • As quoted in Jesus: Myth Or Reality? (2006) by Ian Curtis
    • Religion is the belief in future life and in God. I don't believe in either.
      • As quoted in The New York Times (19 April 1936)
  • There is no such thing as justice — in or out of court.
    • Interview in Chicago (April 1936)
  • Chase after the truth like all hell and you’ll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat tails.
    • The Sign (May 1938) This has been misquoted as: The pursuit of truth will set you free; even if you never catch up with it.
  • I feel as I always have, that the earth is the home and the only home of man, and I am convinced that whatever he is to get out of his existence he must get while he is here.
  • I am an Agnostic because I am not afraid to think. I am not afraid of any god in the universe who would send me or any other man or woman to hell. If there were such a being, he would not be a god; he would be a devil.
    • As quoted in a eulogy for Darrow by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1938)
  • Do you, good people, believe that Adam and Eve were created in the Garden of Eden and that they were forbidden to eat from the tree of knowledge? I do. The church has always been afraid of that tree. It still is afraid of knowledge. Some of you say religion makes people happy. So does laughing gas. So does whiskey. I believe in the brain of man. I'm not worried about my soul.
    • In a debate with religious leaders in Kansas City, as quoted in a eulogy for Darrow by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1938)
  • Calvin Coolidge was the greatest man who ever came out of Plymouth Corner, Vermont.
    • As quoted in Foundations of Democracy: A Series of Debates (1939) by Thomas Vernor Smith and Robert Alphonso Taft, p. 10
  • When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President. I’m beginning to believe it.
    • As quoted in Clarence Darrow for the Defense (1941) by Irving Stone, Ch. 6
  • History repeats itself. That's one of the things wrong with history.
    • As quoted in Peter's Quotations: Ideas For Our Time (1977) edited by Laurence J. Peter, p. 248
  • I have suffered from being misunderstood, but I would have suffered a hell of a lot more if I had been understood.
    • As quoted in Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do" by Peter McWilliams, from 2000 Years of Disbelief (1996) edited by James A Haught p. 817
  • As long as the world shall last, there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.
    • As quoted in American Dream, a Search for Justice (2003) by Sherman D. Manning, p. 125
  • Hell, that's why they make erasers.
    • On mistakes, reported in Irving Stone, Clarence Darrow for the Defense (1941), p. 75.

Voltaire (1916)[edit]

Full text online
  • When Voltaire was born there was really but one church which, of course, was ignorant, tyrannical and barbarous in the extreme. All creeds are alike, and whenever there is but one, and the rulers honestly believe in that one, they are bound to be ignorant, barbarous and cruel. All sorts of heresies were punishable by death. If anyone dared to write a pamphlet or book that questioned any part of the accepted faith, the book was at once consigned to flames and the author was lucky if he did not meet the same fate. Religion was not maintained by the precepts of the priest, but by the prison, the torture chamber and the fagot. Everyone believed; no one questioned. The religious creeds, while strict and barbarous, did not interfere with the personal conduct of any of the rulers. They were left free to act as they pleased, so long as they professed to believe in the prevailing faith.
  • Had the modern professors of eugenics had power in France in 1694, they probably would not have permitted such a child to have been born. Their scientific knowledge would have shown conclusively that no person of value could have come from the union of his father and mother. In those days, nature had not been instructed by the professors of eugenics and so Voltaire was born.
  • Even Voltaire's father could not make a lawyer out of a genius. To be a good lawyer, one must have a mind and a disposition to venerate the past; a respect for precedents; a belief in the wisdom and the sanctity of the dead. Voltaire had genius, imagination, feeling, and poetry, and these gifts always have been, and always will be, incompatible with the practice of law.
  • The usual is always mediocre. When nature takes it into her head to make a man, she fits him with her own equipment and educates him in her own school.
  • Whatever else he was during his life, he was never dull, and the world forgives almost anything but stupidity.
  • Voltaire was not the first or last man to convert a prison into a hall of fame. A prison is confining to the body, but whether it affects the mind, depends entirely upon the mind.
    It was while in prison that he changed his name from the one his father gave him — Arouet — to the one he has made famous throughout all time — Voltaire. He said, "I was very unlucky under my first name. I want to see if this one will succeed any better."
  • Pensions are the favors of the powerful, and dangerous to any great intellect. It is only here and there down throughout the ages that a Voltaire is born who does not fall a victim to their blandishments.
  • Much of his work he did while confined to his bed. He was always an invalid, always obliged to take great care of himself, living constantly with death just before him, never idle a moment for fear his work would not be done. Probably no man ever lived who assailed the Church and the State with the same wit and keenness that was always at Voltaire's command; and yet in spite of this he managed to live comfortably, accumulate riches and die in peace.
  • No iconoclast can possibly escape the severest criticism. If he is poor he is against existing things because he cannot succeed. If he is rich, he is not faithful to his ideals. The world always demands of a prophet a double standard. He must live a life consistent with his dreams, and at the same time must obey the conventions of the world. He cannot be judged either by one or the other, but must be judged by both.
  • The truth is always modern and there never comes a time when it is safe to give it voice.
  • There are two things that kill a genius — a fatal disease and contentment. When a man is contented he goes to sleep. Voltaire had no chance to be contented, and so he wrote eternally and unceasingly, more than any other man in the history of the world.
  • In Geneva lived Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He too was a rebel, mighty in war. Voltaire was keener, wittier, deeper, greater. Rousseau was more fiery, emotional, passionate. Both were really warriors in the same great cause. From their different places, three miles apart, both sent forth their thunderbolts to wake a sleeping world. When the world awakened and shook itself, churches, thrones, institutions, laws, and customs were buried in the wreck. Some charged the wreck to Voltaire, some to Rousseau.
  • No doubt there is much immature talking and hasty writing and will always be where liberty of speech and press prevails. The political, religious, and social views of any age and even of the most radical members of society, were born, long before their time. Those who invented the alphabet and the printing press are indirectly responsible for much of the violence of a changing social state; but in the same way, they are responsible for the progress of the world, for the enlightenment, for the civilization, and for all that makes the present better than the past.
  • Valiantly he fought on every intellectual battlefield. True he bowed and dodged and lied over and over again, that he still might live and work. Many of his admirers cannot forgive this in the great Voltaire. Rather they would have had him, like Bruno and Servetus, remain steadfast to his faith while his living body was consumed with flames. But, Voltaire was Voltaire, Bruno was Bruno, and Servetus was Servetus. It is not for the world to judge, but to crown them all alike. Each and all lived out their own being, did their work in their own way, and carried a reluctant, stupid humanity to greater possibilities and grander heights.

Resist Not Evil (1904)[edit]

Full text online
  • Every government on earth is the personification of violence and force, and yet the doctine of non-resistance is as old as human thought - even more than this, the instinct is as old as life upon the earth. p. 12
  • That men should ‘turn the other cheek,’ should ‘love their enemies,’ should ‘resist not evil,’ has ever seemed fine to teach to children, to preach on Sundays, to round a period in a senseless oratorical flight; but it has been taken for granted that these sentiments cannot furnish the real foundation for strong characters or great states. p. 13
  • The nation that would to-day disarm its soldiers and turn its people to the paths of peace would accomplish more to its building up than by all the war taxes wrong from its hostile and unwilling serfs. p. 27
  • To disband the armies and destroy the forts, to diffuse love and brotherhood, and peace and justice in the place of war and strife, could tend only to the buidling up of character, the elevation of the soul, and the strenght and well-being of the state. p. 39
  • No nation can be really great that is held together by Gatling guns, and no true loyalty can be induced and kept through fear. p. 40

Why I Am An Agnostic (1929)[edit]

Full text online
  • An agnostic is a doubter. The word is generally applied to those who doubt the verity of accepted religious creeds of faiths. Everyone is an agnostic as to the beliefs or creeds they do not accept. Catholics are agnostic to the Protestant creeds, and the Protestants are agnostic to the Catholic creed. Any one who thinks is an agnostic about something, otherwise he must believe that he is possessed of all knowledge. And the proper place for such a person is in the madhouse or the home for the feeble-minded. In a popular way, in the western world, an agnostic is one who doubts or disbelieves the main tenets of the Christian faith.
  • I am an agnostic as to the question of God. I think that it is impossible for the human mind to believe in an object or thing unless it can form a mental picture of such object or thing. Since man ceased to worship openly an anthropomorphic God and talked vaguely and not intelligently about some force in the universe, higher than man, that is responsible for the existence of man and the universe, he cannot be said to believe in God. One cannot believe in a force excepting as a force that pervades matter and is not an individual entity. To believe in a thing, an image of the thing must be stamped on the mind. If one is asked if he believes in such an animal as a camel, there immediately arises in his mind an image of the camel. This image has come from experience or knowledge of the animal gathered in some way or other. No such image comes, or can come, with the idea of a God who is described as a force.
  • To say that God made the universe gives us no explanation of the beginnings of things. If we are told that God made the universe, the question immediately arises: Who made God? Did he always exist, or was there some power back of that? Did he create matter out of nothing, or is his existence coextensive with matter? The problem is still there. What is the origin of it all? If, on the other hand, one says that the universe was not made by God, that it always existed, he has the same difficulty to confront. To say that the universe was here last year, or millions of years ago, does not explain its origin. This is still a mystery. As to the question of the origin of things, man can only wonder and doubt and guess.
  • Many Christians base the belief of a soul and God upon the Bible. Strictly speaking, there is no such book. To make the Bible, sixty-six books are bound into one volume. These books are written by many people at different times, and no one knows the time or the identity of any author. Some of the books were written by several authors at various times. These books contain all sorts of contradictory concepts of life and morals and the origin of things. Between the first and the last nearly a thousand years intervened, a longer time than has passed since the discovery of America by Columbus.
  • One believes in the truthfulness of a man because of his long experience with the man, and because the man has always told a consistent story. But no man has told so consistent a story as nature.
  • Can any rational person believe that the Bible is anything but a human document? We now know pretty well where the various books came from, and about when they were written. We know that they were written by human beings who had no knowledge of science, little knowledge of life, and were influenced by the barbarous morality of primitive times, and were grossly ignorant of most things that men know today.
  • Can anyone with intelligence really believe that a child born today should be doomed because the snake tempted Eve and Eve tempted Adam? To believe that is not God-worship; it is devil-worship.
    Can anyone call this scheme of creation and damnation moral? It defies every principle of morality, as man conceives morality. Can anyone believe today that the whole world was destroyed by flood, save only Noah and his family and a male and female of each species of animal that entered the Ark? There are almost a million species of insects alone. How did Noah match these up and make sure of getting male and female to reproduce life in the world after the flood had spent its force? And why should all the lower animals have been destroyed? Were they included in the sinning of man? This is a story which could not beguile a fairly bright child of five years of age today.
  • What of the tale of Balaam's ass speaking to him, probably in Hebrew? Is it true, or is it a fable? Many asses have spoken, and doubtless some in Hebrew, but they have not been that breed of asses. Is salvation to depend on a belief in a monstrosity like this?
  • When every event was a miracle, when there was no order or system or law, there was no occasion for studying any subject, or being interested in anything excepting a religion which took care of the soul. As man doubted the primitive conceptions about religion, and no longer accepted the literal, miraculous teachings of ancient books, he set himself to understand nature. We no longer cure disease by casting out devils.
  • The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom. Skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.

The Story of My Life (1932)[edit]

  • Autobiography is never entirely true. No one can get the right perspective on himself. Every fact is colored by imagination and dream. The young look forth across the sea to a mirage of fairylands filled with hidden treasures; the aged turn to the fading past, and through the mist and haze that veils once familiar scenes, bygone events assume weird and fanciful proportions.
    • Ch. 1 "Before The Beginning"
  • One cannot live through a long stretch of years without forming some philosophy of life. As one journeys along he gains experiences and even some ideas. Accumulated opinions and philosophy may be more important to others than the bare facts about how he lived, so my ambition is not so much to relate the occurrences as to record the ideas that life has forced me to accept; and, after all, thoughts, impressions and feelings are really life itself. I should like to think that these reflections might make existence a trifle easier for some of those who may chance to read this story.
    • Ch. 1 "Before The Beginning"
  • Ancestors do not mean so much. The rebel who succeeds generally makes it easier for the posterity that follows him; so these descendants are usually contented and smug and soft. Rebels are made from life, not ancestors.
    • Ch. 1 "Before The Beginning"
  • I have always felt that doubt was the beginning of wisdom, and the fear of God was the end of wisdom.
    • Ch. 4 "Called To The Bar"
  • Every instinct that is found in any man is in all men. The strength of the emotion may not be so overpowering, the barriers against possession not so insurmountable, the urge to accomplish the desire less keen. With some, inhibitions and urges may be neutralized by other tendencies. But with every being the primal emotions are there. All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.
    • Ch. 10 "Child Training" The last line here has sometimes been misquoted as "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with a lot of pleasure." It has also been attributed to, among others, Mark Twain and Winston Churchill. The misquoted version also frequently begins, "I've never wished a man dead..." or "I never wanted to see anybody die..."
  • Wars always bring about a conservative reaction. They overwhelm and destroy patient and careful efforts to improve the condition of man. Nothing can be heard in the cannon's roar but the voice of might. All the safeguards laboriously built to preserve individual freedom and foster man's welfare are blown to pieces with shot and shell. In the presence of the wholesale slaughter of men the value of life is cheapened to the zero point. What is one life compared with the almost daily records of tens of thousands or more mowed down like so many blades of grass in a field? Building up a conception of the importance of life is a matter of slow growth and education; and the work of generations is shattered and laid waste by machine guns and gases on a larger scale than ever before. Great wars have been followed by an unusually large number of killings between private citizens and individuals. These killers have become accustomed to thinking in terms of slaying and death toward all opposition, and these have been followed in turn by the most outrageous legal penalties and a large increase in the number of executions by the state. It is perfectly clear that hate begets hate, force is met with force, and cruelty can become so common that its contemplation brings pleasure, when it should produce pain.
    • Ch. 26 "The Aftermath Of The War"
  • I had grown tired of standing in the lean and lonely front line facing the greatest enemy that ever confronted man — public opinion.
    • Ch. 27 "The Loeb-Leopold Tragedy" (p. 232)
  • I was truly sorry for Mr. Bryan. But I consoled myself by thinking of the years through which he had busied himself tormenting intelligent professors with impudent questions about their faith, and seeking to arouse the ignoramuses and bigots to drive them out of their positions.
    • p. 267


Misattributed[edit]

  • Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.
  • It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.
    • As quoted in Improving the Quality of Life for the Black Elderly: Challenges and Opportunities : Hearing before the Select Committee on Aging, House of Representatives, One Hundredth Congress, first session, September 25, 1987 (1988)
    • This quote's earliest known source is from Leon C. Megginson (see Charles Darwin)

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