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|Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)
Clarence Darrow was an attorney who represented many controversial defendants, earning him the nickname“the attorney for the damned.” Although Darrow is most famous for his later trials, he built his reputation by working on many labor activist cases.
In 1894, Darrow represented Eugene Debs, who would go on to become a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, also known as the “Wobblies”) and run as Socialist candidate for President five times. Debs was on trial for contempt of court charges stemming from the Pullman Strike of 1894. Debs was found guilty.
During his career, Darrow also represented “Big Bill” Haywood, another founding member of the IWW. In 1907, Haywood was prosecuted under accusations of involvement in the 1905 assassination of the former governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg. The jury found Haywood not guilty.
Darrow was hired by Samuel Gompers in 1910 to defend the McNamara case. Although the brothers pled guilty and were sentenced to prison terms, Darrow’s defense succeeded in that neither of the brothers received the death penalty.
Towards the end of his life, Darrow moved away from the labor cases that were the highlights of his early career. He represented teenage murderers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in 1924. On trial for the kidnapping and murder of a fourteen year old boy, Leopold and Loeb pled guilty, but avoided the death sentence, thanks in part to Darrow’s moving, and lengthy, speech against capital punishment. Both of them received life in prison for the murder, plus ninety-nine years for the kidnapping. Clarence Darrow’s most famous case, the Scopes trial, occurred in 1925. Darrow represented science teacher, John Scopes, who was prosecuted for teaching evolution, during a time when Tennessee prohibited the teaching of evolution in all schools.
Darrow, a member of the ACLU, was noted for his agnosticism as well as his opposition to the death penalty. He died in 1938.
||Lincoln Steffens (1866-1936)
Joseph Lincoln Steffens was a journalist who became involved in the McNamara case. Steffens worked with Darrow and the prosecution in the hopes of securing lighter sentences for the McNamara brothers – this culminated in a plea deal in order to avoid death sentences.
Steffens was one of the pioneers of muckraking journalism. He frequently exposed the municipal corruption prevalent in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century – including that of Cincinnati’s Boss (George B.) Cox. A frequent writer for McClure’s, his 1905 article, “A Tale of Two Cities,” compared the politics of Cleveland and Cincinnati and included anecdotes of his initial introduction to Boss Cox. Steffens noted that Cincinnati was “the worst-governed” city in the United States. And on Boss Cox’s influence over Cincinnati, he wrote, “Cox is a man, we are American citizens, and Cincinnati has proved to Cox that Americans can be reduced to craven cowards.” Steffens had an often self-deprecating, wry humor in his writing. In a 1928 letter he sent to James McNamara in prison, Steffens wrote, “I guess he [Steffens’ son, Pete] will be an intellectual like his father: a chap that talks a lot, thinks a bit, but never does anything.”
Steffens went on to cover the Mexican Revolution, and also traveled to the Soviet Union in 1919.
Lincoln Steffens died in California in 1936.
|Samuel Gompers (1850-1924)
Samuel Gompers was one of the founders of the American Federation of Labor in 1886, which would later merge with the Committee for Industrial Organization in 1955 to become the AFL-CIO. He served as its president, except for one year, until his death in 1924. Gompers was more concerned with the unionization of particular trades, or crafts. This stance raised the ire of more radical labor activists, who generally supported unionization along industry lines, regardless of craft or skill level. Gompers also supported some immigration restrictions. Many union leaders at that time were hostile to the influx of immigrants, believing that they drove down wages. Although Gompers was much more pro-capitalist than his Socialist counterparts in the labor movement, he was equally enraged by the circumstances of the McNamara arrests.
Gompers, believing that the McNamara brothers had been framed in a conspiracy against organized labor, hired Darrow in order to secure the best defense possible. When the brothers pled guilty, Gompers was devastated.
Gompers was appointed to the investigation committee following the 1911 New York Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
Samuel Gompers died on December 13, 1924.
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|Job Harriman (1861-1925)
Job Harriman was a Los Angeles attorney who was initially involved in the McNamara defense. He was the Socialist candidate for mayor during the trial. Harriman’s defeat was partially attributed to the backlash in public opinion after the brothers entered guilty pleas. He appeared as a witness for the defense during Darrow’s bribery trial.
Harriman was also Eugene Debs’ first running mate when Debs ran for President in 1900. He went on to start the Llano del Rio Cooperative Colony in 1914, which was a cooperative, Socialist inspired, experimental commune.
Job Harriman died in 1925.