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In the Clutches of the Law: Clarence Darrow's Letters

In the Clutches of the Law: Clarence Darrow's Letters

by Clarence Darrow

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This volume presents a selection of 500 letters by Clarence Darrow, the pre-eminent courtroom lawyer of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Randall Tietjen selected these letters from over 2,200 letters in archives around the country, as well as from one remarkable find—the kind of thing historians dream about: a cache of about 330 letters by Darrow


This volume presents a selection of 500 letters by Clarence Darrow, the pre-eminent courtroom lawyer of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Randall Tietjen selected these letters from over 2,200 letters in archives around the country, as well as from one remarkable find—the kind of thing historians dream about: a cache of about 330 letters by Darrow hidden away in the basement of Darrow’s granddaughter’s house. This collection provides the first scholarly edition of Darrow’s letters, expertly annotated and including a large amount of previously unknown material and hard-to-locate letters. Because Darrow was a gifted writer and led a fascinating life, the letters are a delight to read. This volume also presents a major introduction by the editor, along with a chronology of Darrow’s life, and brief biographical sketches of the important individuals who appear in the letters.

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In the Clutches of the Law

Clarence Darrow's Letters

By Randall Tietjen


Copyright © 2013 Randall Tietjen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95458-8




17 July 1872

Dear Son:

I wrote you two weeks since and then promised to write every week until there was some marked change in your mother's condition. I delayed in hopes from day to day that I might write something encouraging; but alas! the sad and painful duty devolves upon me to inform you that your mother has changed her state of existence. She has gone; you will see her no more in the flesh; yet I think her spirit lives and she is happy. No one knows the anguish I feel, and my heart bleeds for you, my dear son, away from your home in a foreign land among strangers; yet I trust you have made friends who will sympathize with you in this hour of your greatest need. Know that all your friends here are enquiring concerning you, and expressing their deep heart-felt feeling for your loss; and it seems to me that there will cross the broad ocean, with this letter, like a great wave, the united sympathy of all your friends to sustain you in this trial hour.

There are some, I am sure, that think of you and feel for you both day and night. There are some things that should console you. All was done that could be done to save her. No medical man could do it. The proximate cause of her death was a tumor in the duodenum (the small intestine leading from the stomach). This grew so much that no solid food could pass, and she actually died from starvation, although she did not crave food. Nearly all the food she took the last weeks of her life was small quantities of bread coffee at short intervals and nourishment by injection.

It was about ten weeks from the time she gave up work until she passed away. During the first part of her illness she had periods of great pain with intervals of rest. The last two weeks she was more free from pain until about 36 hours before she left—she suffered but not so much as at first. A short time before her departure we turned her on her back and she breathed her life painlessly and peacefully away. Her intellect was strong and clear until a few hours before the last and after that but a short time before her departure she brightened up and kissed her children. She had no fear from the future. From almost the first of her sickness she did not expect to recover. The doctor supposed she would get well until a few weeks before she died. It was weeks after she was sick that she discovered the tumor. Your mother discovered it first. It was too late then for you to reach home. She would have been glad to have seen you and yet she did not express a wish to me that she would like you to give up your plans to come home. She has often mentioned you and seemed to rely on you. You have one great consolation that you have always been kind to her and this she prized above all earthly aid you could have given her. I think you have never given your mother or myself one unkind word. This is remarkable as parents are likely sometimes to be in the wrong.

I think her greatest trial was to leave little Jenny, so young, without a mother. Your sister Jenny is a remarkable pretty, bright and active little girl. She is a great comfort to me. Little Hermy is a good boy. He has been very kind to his mother, always willing to stay with his mother and fan her. I think hard work was not the cause of the tumor. Her stomach has always troubled her more or less. The tumor may have been coming for years. Your mother's spirit left her poor emaciated body on Sunday July 12th about 7 ½ o'clock P.M. I bought a nice lot in the cemetery and on Tuesday a large number of sympathizing friends assembled in the house and followed her remains to the place. I had a nice coffin, cushioned the bottom with excelsior; had a rough box made of thick oak boards—placed a double cover of the same material over the top; so it will be many years before it can rot away. The people of Kinsman were very very kind. The sides of her grave were decked with flowers. After the coffin was lowered they strewed it with beautiful flowers. Loren Perkins was particularly kind. He told Hermy we might have all the flowers in his summer house if we wanted them. The neighbors sent in beautiful bouquets during her illness. At times her room looked like a floral palace. Your mother was very fond of flowers. Mrs. John Allen sent beautiful bouquets. This was very gratifying to your mother. Mr. Eldred attended the funeral and mentioned you with great sympathy in his prayer. When we returned from the funeral we found your letter to Mary. It was very consoling to us coming when it did. Many other incidents I could tell you but as Mary is going to write you I will forbear as I have but little room left.

This is the most painful letter I have ever written. I know your character so well that I am sure you will bear up manfully. I shall keep house; I shall keep my family together. Nothing could tempt me to do otherwise. Mary will stay this year and I may arrange matters so that she can go to college after the coming year. We all should be very glad to see you, but it is my deliberate wish that you do not change your plans but attend some German University the coming year. I think without doubt I can furnish the means. What I live for now is to help my children. My business has been very good; think I will have a good fall trade. You must be careful of your eyes. Know how much it will do to use them, and use them no more than they will bear. I will write again soon. Be brave, my son, there is much to live for yet. From your father, most affectionately,

A. Darrow.

MS: ALS, MdCpAIP, Karl Darrow Collection.


Kinsman Jan. 24th 73

Brother Everett

I thought I would write you a few lines tonight and let you know how wee'r getting along at home. I am studying at home. Recite in Physical Geography Greek and Latin. Am pegging along in the second book of Caesar. Channing went to Cleveland Monday and we got a letter from him today. He has got into business as an agent in some coal company. There is an auction down to Brackin's store. It has been going for about a week. Cheap John is the auctioneer. We have just organized a literary and dramatic club to succeed the old literary society. The small boys (and some larger ones) made such a noise that they nearly broke it up so we started a new one. We had an exhibition a few weeks ago in the academy and drew a full house. We propose to have an exhibition every four weeks now. We have got a rail road right handy now. We can hear the cars and whistle plain from here. It crosses over by the mule pen on the road to Peabody's and the station is going to be over near Uncle Ezra's: they have got a construction train on the road now. The creek has been so high lately that no one could pass over by the cover bridges; there were three or four persons came pretty near getting drowned a while ago. [...] Hermy wants you to remember that Steam Nigger you spoke about while you were in London. Pa sent you fifty dollars the other day. The business has been good this Fall & Winter.

Clarence Darrow

MS: ALS, MnU-L, Darrow Collection.


"His name is Clarence S. Darrow, and his home is Kindsman, Ohio. He is a junior 'law' and has been rooming for some time at Mrs. Foley's, on Huron street. He could not or would not pay for his rooms, and accordingly left them one day last week, telling Mrs. Foley that he had left his trunk and its contents, and those he said would pay his indebtedness to her. She was of course glad to get even this from him. But on opening the trunk it was found to be filled with wood, burnt boots and other things of equal value. Darrow, it is understood, is still in town. This should warn all others from trusting him."

The above article is nearly all an entire fabrication. The club with which I was boarding, at Mrs. Foley's, having been broken up, and not having engaged rooms for any stated period, I proposed leaving and offered her $3.41, her due, which I can prove before witnesses. She insisted on having $2.00 damages which I refused to pay, and accordingly removed my clothing in my chum's trunk, as she refused to allow me to move mine. I subsequently went back and tendered her her due, but discovering that half of the wood I left was missing, I insisted on her paying me for it, which she refused. I never offered her my trunk in payment for my indebtedness. Although poor, I value my reputation too highly to dispose of it for the small sum in controversy. I will prove by witnesses the above facts, as stated by me, to be true, to any one who will call at my present boarding place, at the corner of Fourth and Packard streets.

Clarence Darrow.

MS: Ann Arbor (Michigan) Courier, 14 December 1877. PLACE: newspaper in which letter was published. DATE: date of publication in the newspaper.


Norfalk, VA.

Editor Citizen:—Having a little leisure time, I determined to surprise you by writing a few notes concerning my trip and this portion of the world.

I arrived in Washington on my way to Va., on Sunday, and of course I could not pass through that city without visiting some of the many places of interest that are to be seen at our National Capital.

Washington is a city well worth visiting, and it makes an American's heart beat with pride as he enters this historic place to think that here live the principal part of that body of patriots and noblemen called Federal Officers, who are willing to sacrifice their time, their talents and most of their honor for the love they bear their native land.

But Washington is indeed a beautiful city laid out and built upon a grand scale; its streets are wide and clean, its parks are numerous, and its public buildings are imposing. The Capitol building is located at the head of Pennsylvania Ave., and is a very fine structure; its length is 751 ft. its greatest width is 824 ft. its heighth is 287 ft. and it covers about 3 ½ acres, its cost up to the present time has been about thirteen million dollars; it is built almost entirely of sand stone and marble. In this building the Congress and Senate pass the laws and here also the Supreme Court declares them unconstitutional. I of course visited Congress, every one does who goes to Washington. Like every one else I was somewhat disappointed at the scene. It is said that "distance lends enchantment to the view." It certainly is not unusual that men and institutions lose a great deal of their power to dazzle, upon our near approach. My first view of Congress as it was assembled and doing business in its hall, reminded me very much of a session of the Stock exchange, a sort of cross between a prize fight and a dime social. One would imagine as he looked down on the concentrated wisdom of the Nation, that he saw the workmen at the Tower of Bable after the Lord had confused their tongues. Every one talks at once and no one pays any attention to what his neighbor says, unless it is to go and take a drink.

The Senate in the opposite wing of the Capitol is a more reserved assemblage of men, but this body has not half the dignity of a Justices court. As I passed down the marble stairway to the room directly below the hall of Congress, an appalling sight met my view; there within the sacred marble walls of our Capitol buildings, and directly underneath the hall of Congress was a real, living, terrible, saloon. I could hardly believe my eyes; the sight nearly took my breath away, at first I determined to leave the building and never go back again, but then I thought better of it, braced up and went in; I sat down at one of the tables and wept in silence, but even then I felt that I must be in a dream; to make sure of the character of the place, I ordered the drinks. There was no longer any room for doubt; for the first time in my life I was in a saloon. But no one can stop with the first drink, so I went back to the senate chamber, sought out their saloon and entered. There was an other room opened off the main one, and an inscription above the door read, "for senators only", I asked one of the Abasynian waiters what this private room was used for? and he said that in some respects it was like the one we were in, but that it was kept mainly for the benefit of the Republican Senators; the Democrats took theirs in the main room.

I asked the waiter if he was acquainted with any of our Ohio Representatives, and he answered that most of them were members of his bar; I sobbed aloud as I ordered one more glass of beer, and I could not refrain from telling that coon about our Andover Village Council. Gradually, however my indignation over this shameful business cooled down, and then I looked the matter over like a philosopher, and made up my mind that the saloon was a very wise provision, for if every member of Congress was compelled to go down town for a drink, it would be almost impossible to get a quorum together to do business.

I would respectfully commend the institution to the different boards of County Commissioners through the State, as being a time saving, and money saving provision.

The many fine public buildings through out the city, I will not attempt to describe as it would make this letter too long.

Across the Potomac in Virginia, and in plain view of Washington is Arlington heights, which is the nearest point to Washington occupied by the Rebels during the war, there stands the old house in which General Lee lived during the Rebellion, and there in our National Cemetery sleep sixteen thousand of our union dead, many of whose names can not be carved, but all of whom died fighting for the stars and stripes. Sixteen miles below Washington is Mount Vernon which was the home of "the Father of his Country." It is a beautiful estate, located on the banks of the Potomac and commanding a fine view of the river and the Maryland shore beyond; near the landing is the tomb of Washington and his wife, where rest the remains of this illustrious pair, and around the grave from morn 'till night, day after day stand scores of devout Americans paying their tribute of respect to the memory of the dead.

Such is fame, for more than eighty years pilgrims from every land and cline have gathered there each day, drawn by the magic of a great man's name, and neither time nor distance, nor the changing fancies of a fickle world has made his fame grow less; but all the devotion of the coming world, and all the flattery uttered ore a great man's grave are nothing to the silent dust that lies beneath, while a word of cheer spoken to the living pilgrim as he passes through the world will brighten up his sky, and a kindly act will smooth his rugged path.

The house in which Washington lived and died, stands near the shore of the Potomac, and is kept to-day as nearly as possible in the condition in which Washington left it, much of the furniture contained in the house is a century old, used by Washington and his family; also some of his clothes. In one room dreadful to relate, four or five large bottles in which Washington carried his grog; I closely scrutinized these flasks, but it was no use they were empty. I felt very sorry to think that Washington carried such large sized bottles as the ones I saw, they may however have been necessary in his day, and age, but had they been filled with Ashtabula Co., whiskey, there would have been enough to kill the whole Continental army.

MS: "Notes by the Way, on My Trip to Virginia," Andover (Ohio) Citizen, 22 April 1884. DATE: publication date.


C. S. DARROW, | ATTORNEY AT Law. April 4th 1887

Dear Jessie

I am getting very lonesome without you & Paul & will leave here as soon as I possibly can. Shall go next week any how but think I can get three or four cases tried by that time. After I get to Chicago I will either go to Minnesota & stay two or three weeks or will make arrangements to have you come there as soon as I can get suitable rooms. I am getting very tired of boarding around & shall not follow it much longer. Have not stayed two nights in the same place since you left. I spoke at Farmdale yesterday & am going to Warren tomorrow. I have not yet heard from you but hope you & Paul are all right. Hope to hear from you soon. Enclosed you will find Drft. Use all the money you want. Will send you more to come to Chicago.

Kiss Paul for me & remember me to all. Will write again in a day or two.

Yours | Clarence

MS: ALS, Darrow Family. ENVELOPE ADDRESS: Mrs. Jessie Darrow | Edna | Minnesota | Polk Co. POSTMARK: Ashtabula 4 April 1887.



Dear little Paul

I wish I was in Minnesota tonight to see you and ma ma. It is lonesome for me here without you. I went to Chicago the other day and saw Aunt Mary and Uncle Everett. They both wanted to see you and I told them you would come before long. I went to the theater and saw a funny play. Will take you there when we go.

I got your letter & was glad to hear from you. I am going to Chicago in a few days and then I will go to Minn. or send for you & Mamma. Now you must be good to Mamma & mind every thing she tells you and not make her any trouble, and then every body will think you are a nice boy. Write me an other letter when mama does.

from Papa.

MS: ALS, Darrow Family. DATE AND PLACE: "postmarked from Jefferson, Ohio | April 19, 1887" is appended.


Excerpted from In the Clutches of the Law by Randall Tietjen. Copyright © 2013 Randall Tietjen. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Meet the Author

Randall Tietjen is a partner in the law firm of Robins Kaplan LLP in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He lives in Edina, Minnesota, with his wife and two children.

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