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Darrow For The Defense

March 2023
1min read

My one scene occurred in the Municipal Court of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, over three weeks ending November 2, 1898. It was the jury trial of Thomas I. Kidd, George Zentner, and Michael Troiber, all of the Woodworkers’ Union, on a charge of conspiracy to injure the business of the Paine Lumber Company. The trial helped to establish a union’s right to strike free of conspiracy charges. Counsel for the men was Clarence Darrow, then forty-one and starting to be known as the “Attorney for the Damned” after his defense of Eugene V. Debs in the Pullman Strike of 1894.

Kidd and his associates had been arrested in a strike for a wage increase and union recognition. In the trial, George M. Paine, proprietor of the company, was called as a witness, giving Darrow an opportunity to cross-examine with singular effectiveness. His questions exposed the “infamy of Paine’s business methods —the inhumanity and contempt he displayed toward the men who worked in his factory, his hypocrisy and rapaciousness in dealing with his workers,” as Kevin Tierney phrased it in Darrow’s biography.

Darrow’s speech to the jury took two days and was delivered without notes. “While you have been occupied for the last two weeks in listening to the evidence in this case, and while the court will instruct you as to the technical rules of law under which this evidence is to be applied, still it is impossible to present the case to you without a broad survey of the great questions that are agitating the world today,” he began. “For whatever its form, this is not really a criminal case. It is but an episode in the great battle for human liberty, a battle which was commenced when the tyranny and oppression of man first caused him to impose upon his fellows and which will not end so long as the children of one father shall be compelled to toil to support the children of another in luxury and ease.”

Darrow’s peroration was a classic. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I leave this case with you. Here is Thomas I. Kidd. It is a matter of the smallest consequence to him or to me what you do; and I say it as sincerely as I ever spoke a word … I do not appeal for him. That cause is too narrow for me, much as I love him.… I appeal to you, gentlemen, not for Thomas I. Kidd, but I appeal to you for the long line—the long, long line reaching back through the ages, and forward to the years to come—the long line of despoiled and downtrodden people of the earth.”

The jury was out for fifty minutes. Returning, it announced that it had voted acquittals for all three men. For his work in the Kidd case Darrow received a fee of two hundred and fifty dollars.

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