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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

New Rare Acquisitions: A Clarence Darrow Letter and More

The Law Library and Riesenfeld Center have recently added several notable items to its collection of letters, writings, and other material by the great American trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow. The new letter in particular augments the Library’s preeminent national collection of autograph letters by Darrow, and captures his deeply-held views on capital punishment.

Written in August 1930 to Maria Sweet Smith, Darrow outlines in the letter his fierce opposition to a campaign against capital punishment proposed by Smith. Although a lifelong opponent of the death penalty, Darrow was unimpressed by Smith's approach, which argued that abolishing the death penalty would reduce crime. Smith suggested that they could convince potential donors to the campaign of the high economic costs of crime, an approach that Darrow rejected out of hand. He believed that an abiding mercy toward the human condition left little room to support capital punishment, and that reform must be pursued from that direction. As he saw it, the fight against the death penalty had to be led by “the poor and the humane and the idealists."

In addition to the letter, we have acquired several other items connected to Darrow's famous and contrarian views on crime and punishment. Among these are a British author's darkly satirical take on hanging and other forms of capital punishment, A Handbook on Hanging, which the author inscribed to Darrow in 1929, and a 1903 first edition of a symposium featuring Darrow's views on incarceration. We also recently picked up a 1993 reprint of one of Darrow's articles on crime and punishment, printed in an anarchist magazine. Darrow's writings and speeches, often articulating his trenchant and iconoclastic views, have remained popular and continue to be printed today.

To this material, we have also added photographs and other images of Darrow to our collections. These include an excellent caricature of Darrow by the American artist Aline Fruhauf (1907-78) and a photo of Darrow, John Thomas Scopes, and William Jennings Bryan at the infamous Scopes "Monkey" Trial, which is signed by each of the trial's great protagonists.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections



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