Darrow, Clarence, . "Freedom Knows No Limits (The Communist Trial, Chicago, 1920)", in, Arthur Weinburg, ed., Attorney for the Damned, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957, Used by permission of Lila Weinburg.

pp. 121-123;

pp. 126-147

pp. 170-173

transcription/ facsimile book

Freedom Knows No Limits


Chicago, 1920




[Headline, Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1920]

AFTER the First World War, about one-half of the states passed espionage acts which Clarence Darrow described as "forbidding free discussion either orally or in the press." Illinois passed such a statute in 1919.

This was the background for the Communist Labor case in Chicago in 1920 when twenty Communists were arrested and charged with advocating the overthrow of the government by force. The indictment rested upon the fact that the defendants were members of the newly formed Communist Labor party.

All were arrested in one of the many "red raids" which United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer was then conducting. In this era radicals of all descriptions were rounded up. Some were indicted and convicted, others deported.

The dramatic trial of the seventy members of the Communist Labor party was held in the Criminal Court of Chicago. Judge Oscar Hebel presided. Prosecuting attorneys were Frank Comerford, Lloyd Heth and Marvin



Barnhart. At the defense table, in addition to Darrow, was Williarn S. Forrest.

The defendants were intellectuals; many of them were native-born Americans, including Winnetka, Illinois millionaire William Bross Lloyd, who was one of the organizers of the Communist Labor party in America. William Bross Lloyd was the son of Henry Demarest Lloyd, author of Wealth Against Commonwealth.

Other defendants included: Samuel Ash, Max Bcdacht, Oscar Jesse Brown, Jack Carney, N. J. Christensen, L. K. England, Edwin Firth, Samuel Hankin, L. E. Katterield, Niels Kjar, Charles Krurnbein, Ludwig Lore, James E. Meisinger, Edgar Owen, Arthur Proctor, Karl F. Sandberg, Perry Shipman, Morris S. Stolar and John Vogel.

The chief witness for the prosecution was Ole Hanson, former mayor of Seattle, Washington, the city which a year earlier had been plagued with a general strike.

Hanson testified that prior to the strike, the unions in Seattle had tried to Trick him promise to turn over to them the city's lighting plant. He also asserted that James Duncan, a defense witness, gave him a copy of Lenin's The Soviets at Work and explained that this book contained the idea behind the Seattle strike.

While Duncan was on the witness stand, the prosecuting attorney appeared unusually eager to cross-examine him. The prosecutor's actions attracted the attention of the jury and caused Darrow to complain to the judge. The judge instructed the jury to "oblige the Court by paying strict attention to the testimony and not to the actions of the opposing attorneys while it is being given."

As Duncan was leaving the stand, the prosecuting attorney claimed he heard him say, "He (Hanson) is the biggest liar I ever heard."

The judge did not hear this and asked for a clarification of the incident. During the explanation, Hanson tried to speak to the judge. Darrow objected. A heated exchange occurred. The Chicago Daily News reported that "Hanson was led from the courtroom when the passage between him and Clarence Darrow threatened to develop into physical conflict."

The State's case showed that Lloyd had driven down Chicago's State Street with both an American and a red flag flying from his car. A few weeks later Lloyd told a Socialist meeting in Milwaukee: "What we want is preparedness. We want to organize so if you want every Socialist in Milwawkee at a certain place at a certain time, with a rifle or a bad egg in his hand, he will be there."

In his closing remarks, Prosecuting Attorney Comerford said, "For days Attorneys Forrest and Darrow have made eloquence a defense. But the truth as it appeared in evidence has not been touched."

Said Attorney Barnhart for the State: "He (Lloyd) had the red flag tied over the American Flag to show his contempt for Old Glory. Think of it,



gentlemen --- this defendant indicating his contempt for the government by displaying the red flag of the revolution."

Darrow followed with his summation to the jury:

"You can only protect your liberties in this

world by protecting the other man's freedom.

You can only be free if I am free."


GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY: I have for a good many years been arguing cases in court and, in my own way as a lawyer, asking jurors to forget their prejudices and their feelings and deliver a verdict according to the evidence, uninfluenced by fear or passion or heat.

I must say that in an my experience, which now covers forty-two years, it seems to me I never saw a case where every cheap feeling has been appealed to; where every inference has been drawn; where the world has been traveled over; where false and misleading ideas of law and of fact have been stated; where everything has been urged to swing a jury from their duty that they might join the mob, as has been done in this case.

Gentlemen, from the beginning to the end there has been no attempt at fairness; there has been no effort to see that these defendants had a trial that was such a trial as should be had in an American court, or in an Indian court, or in a cannibal court. There is no mean and sordid motive, there is not one influence that could be used on this jury, that has not been urged in this case against the liberty of my clients.

Now, gentlemen, let me be plain about it. If you want to convict these twenty men, then do it. I ask no consideration on behalf of any one of them. If you have any idea in your heads that I want you to protect them or save them, forget it. They are no better than any other twenty men; they are no better than the millions and tens of millions down through the ages who have been prosecuted -- yes, and convicted, in cases like this; and if it is necessary for my clients, gentlemen, to show..............."