Clarence Darrow and the quality of mercy

This has been on my mind as of late.

This is from Clarence Darrow’s plea for Leopold and Loeb, August 22-25th August 1924.

Yes, he spoke for three days and his plea is rightly lauded as the best denunciation of capital punishment ever uttered. He moved the judge to tears, people openly wept in the courtroom. In the end, Leopold and Loeb were sentenced to life in prison rather than death.

For me the most moving part of the plea is this;

…But I am thinking of the mothers, too. I know that any mother might be the mother of a little Bobby Franks, who left his home and went to his school, and whose life was taken, and who never came back. I know that any mother might be the mother. The trouble is this, that if she is the mother of a Nathan Leopold or of a Richard Loeb, she has to ask herself this question: “How came my children to be what they are? From what ancestry did they get this strain? How far removed was the poison that destroyed their lives? Was I the bearer of the seed that brings them to death?”
Any mother might be the mother of any of them…

No one knows what will be the fate of the child they get or the child they bear, and the fate of the child is the last thing they think of. This weary old world goes on, begetting with birth and with living and with death; and all of it is blind from the beginning to the end. I do not know what it was made these boys do this mad act, but I do know there is a reason for it. I know they did not beget themselves. I know that any one of an infinite number of causes reaching back to the beginning might be working out in these boys’ minds, whom you are asked to hang in malice and in hatred and injustice, because some one in the past has sinned against them.

I am sorry for the fathers as well as the mothers, for the fathers who give their strength and their lives toward educating and protecting and creating a fortune for the boys that they love, for the mothers who go down into the shadow of death for their children, who nourish them and care for. them, who risk their lives for them, who watch them with tenderness and fondness and longing, and who go down into honor and disgrace for the children they love. They are helpless. We are all helpless.

But when you are pitying the father and the mother of poor Bobby Franks, what about the fathers and mothers of these two unfortunate boys, and what about the unfortunate boys themselves, and what about all the fathers and all the mothers and all the boys and all the girls who tread a dangerous maze in the darkness from the cradle to the grave?

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