March 13: Insurgent History Calendar
Clarence Darrow, the criminal lawyer who defended the murderers Nathan Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb – they had killed a 14-year-old boy believing, like Raskolnikov of his murder of two women in Crime and Punishment, that their intelligence and their ends justified the crime – who defended Big Bill Haywood and two other minors accused of plotting the assassination of a governor, Eugene Debs and the American Railway Union, who represented John Scopes in the 1925 Tennessee Scopes trial, which pleaded for the poor, for work, for atheists and agnostics, and against the death penalty (no one he represented was sentenced to death), died on this day in Chicago in 1938. Time epigrammatist partial, he had said: “No man is white and no man is black.” We all have freckles. And: “Everyone is a potential murderer. I’ve never killed anyone, but I often find satisfaction in reading obituaries.
His defense of Arthur Person is not as well known but remains among his most important cases. The person had joined the Communist Labor Party. In 1920, he was charged under an Illinois law that made it a crime to aid or join an association that advocated either change or the overthrow of the United States government by force. The question at trial was whether Person knew this when he joined. A jury found him not guilty, following one of Darrow’s big closureswhich can be summarized by the sentence attributed to Voltaire: he may not agree with everything his client defends, but he will defend until death his right to say it and to believe it.
An excerpt: “What would we think of a jury depriving a man of his liberty because he is doing exactly what every other human being in the world is trying to do; tries to get his fellow man to see things as he sees them enough that he can change laws and institutions so that workers have a better chance? Now Person can be wild and crazy; I do not know. I am not here to try another man’s views; I’m not here for that, and neither are you. There may not be a single board in this platform that I believe in, and there may not be a single article of faith in the Lutheran Creed that I believe in or in the Catholic Creed or any other creed ever made by man; but, gentlemen, unless I defend the right of every man on earth to accept his own religious faith, his own political belief and his own ideas, whether I believe in them or not, unless I do so, I am a very poor american. I would be a very poor citizen and belong to that class of fanatics who at almost every age have piled fagots around their fellows and reduced them to ashes because of difference of faith.
He continued, “I am engaged in the difficult task of trying to preserve a Constitution instead of destroying it, and I seek to save for the people of this country their remaining freedoms. It is difficult for me to realize that men of power and intelligence would seek to terrorize men and women into obeying their opinions. We got by for a hundred and fifty years without this spy law, and we did pretty well. Where is he from? He came from people who would stifle criticism; it came from the people who would place their limits on your brain and mine, and if we give them their way in this world, every man, if he wants to be safe, should wear a padlock on his lips and only remove it to feed itself and lock it up after its passage. No man would dare speak more than a whisper; no man would feel safe belonging to any organization, whether for American freedom, Russian freedom, Irish freedom or any freedom, because the word “freedom” is the most dangerous word that the English language knows. The time will come very soon when America will be ashamed of her cowardly attempt to send men to prison under such laws; ashamed of the suppression of freedom of thought and freedom of expression that is turning a once free land into an insane asylum.
Henry Fonda starred in “Clarence Darrow”, a solo play by David Rintels and directed by John Houseman. In 1974, NBC aired the play, adapted for television, in a 90-minute special on September 4, sponsored by IBM. It was later rebroadcast by PBS. This is one of Fonda’s finest performances. Here is the entire piece:
Death sentence: Morbid irony, it was on the 36th anniversary of Darrow’s death, March 13, 1974 – the same day the Arab oil embargo was lifted (see below) – that the US Senate voted 54 to 33 to restore the death penalty, after the United States Supreme Court’s decision on June 29, 1972, in a 5-4 split, declared capital punishment as then imposed unconstitutional . The Senate vote on a bill that had President Nixon’s support applied only to federal authority. Senator Harold Hughes, a Democrat from Iowa, pleaded with his colleagues not to take “a step into the past”, saying: “Man cannot make the world a better place by returning brutality for brutality”. The Senate ignored it and rejected an amendment by Sen. Ted Kennedy to add gun control measures to the bill. Twenty-six Democrats and 28 Republicans in the Democratic-controlled chamber (they had a 56-42 advantage, with one conservative senator and one independent senator) voted for the bill. Among those who voted for the bill were Lawton Chiles of Florida and Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Among those who voted against: Joe Biden. By then, 22 states had already reimposed the death penalty, including of course Florida, a long believer in state-sponsored killings, even though that was in 1979 before killings resumed there, with the execution of John Spenkelink. See the full transcript of the Senate debate from today’s Congressional record here.
The Arab oil embargo against the United States, the Netherlands, Portugal and South Africa ended this day in 1974 after five months. Arab members of the once dreaded Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries imposed the embargo 11 days after the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, in protest against US arms shipments to Israel. Oil prices were at $4.75 per barrel in 1973 ($29.83 in 2022 inflation-adjusted dollars), almost doubling to $9.35 in 1974 ($53.23 in adjusted dollars).
The insurgent calendar
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