Category Archives: Clarence Darrow

The Contending Lawyers Can Fight, Not for Justice, But to Win

Clarence Darrow? Miriam Gurko? Apocryphal?

darrow14Dear Quote Investigator: Clarence Darrow was a famous American lawyer with a sobering view of the justice system. The following words have been attributed to him:

A courtroom is not a place where truth and innocence inevitably triumph; it is only an arena where contending lawyers fight, not for justice, but to win.

I have had difficulty trying to find a supporting citation. Would you please examine the origin of this statement?

Quote Investigator: The quotation above was inaccurate; however, it was partially based on a passage written by Clarence Darrow in his 1922 book “Crime: Its Cause and Treatment”. Darrow suggested that in an ideal world the tribunal responsible for legal judgements would be all-knowing and all-understanding, but actual tribunals clearly have been unable to achieve this type of discernment and perfection. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The law furnishes no means of making these judgments. All it furnishes is a tribunal where the contending lawyers can fight, not for justice, but to win. It is little better than the old wager of battle where the parties hired fighters and the issue was settled with swords. Oftentimes the only question settled in court is the relative strength and cunning of the lawyers.

The words above were remembered by an author named Miriam Gurko who in 1965 published a biography titled “Clarence Darrow”. The following passage contained Gurko’s conception of Darrow’s thoughts together with a short direct quotation from Darrow: 2

As a lawyer, he knew it was not enough to be innocent. Proving one’s innocence was a long, hard, expensive process, and a highly uncertain one. A courtroom, he was to say later, is not a place where truth and innocence inevitably triumph; it is only an arena where contending lawyers fight, “not for justice, but to win.”

QI believes that the text in boldface above was the source of the common modern quotation. However, the passage was a composite, and most of the words were crafted by Gurko and not by Darrow. Only the final six words were enclosed in quotation marks.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1922, Crime: Its Cause and Treatment by Clarence Darrow, Chapter XVI: The Law and the Criminal, Quote Page 128, Thomas Y. Crowell, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1965, Clarence Darrow by Miriam Gurko, Chapter 17: The Trial of Clarence Darrow, Quote Page 170, Thomas Y. Crowell, New York. (Verified with scans)

It Is Not the Strongest of the Species that Survives But the Most Adaptable

Charles Darwin? Leon C. Megginson? Clarence Darrow? Apocryphal?

darwin08Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is often attributed to the famous scientist Charles Darwin:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Shortened versions of the same basic expression have also been ascribed to Darwin. Here are three examples:

It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.

It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but rather, that which is most adaptable to change.

Sometimes this remark is said to appear in “On the Origin of Species” which was Darwin’s epochal tome about evolution, but my searches have found no matches in that book. Are these really the words of Darwin?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Charles Darwin said or wrote this statement.

The scholars working on the “Darwin Correspondence Project” based at Cambridge University have considerable expertise concerning the words of Darwin. They have constructed an important database of 7,500 letters written or received by Charles Darwin. An article on the project website places the statement under investigation into a set of “Six things Darwin never said”. 1

The earliest relevant evidence known to QI appeared in a speech delivered in 1963 by a Louisiana State University business professor named Leon C. Megginson at the convention of the Southwestern Social Science Association. The text of his address was published in the quarterly journal of the association. Megginson presented his own idiosyncratic interpretation of the central idea outlined in Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”. Megginson did not use quotation marks, and the phrasing was somewhat repetitive. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Yes, change is the basic law of nature. But the changes wrought by the passage of time affects individuals and institutions in different ways. According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself. Applying this theoretical concept to us as individuals, we can state that the civilization that is able to survive is the one that is able to adapt to the changing physical, social, political, moral, and spiritual environment in which it finds itself.

QI believes that over time Megginson’s remarks were streamlined and reassigned directly to Charles Darwin. This is a known mechanism for the generation of misattributions. Person A summarizes, condenses, or restates the opinion of person B. At a later time the restatement is directly ascribed to person B.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Website: Darwin Correspondence Project, Article title: Six things Darwin never said – and one he did, Date of article on website: No date is specified, Internet Archive Wayback Machine date: December 18, 2009, Website description: Website includes basic descriptions of more than 15,000 letters known to have been written by or to Charles Darwin, and the complete texts of around half of those. (Accessed darwinproject.ac.uk on May, 2014) link
  2. 1963 June, Southwestern Social Science Quarterly, Volume 44, Number 1, Lessons from Europe for American Business by Leon C. Megginson, (Presidential address delivered at the Southwestern Social Science Association convention in San Antonio, Texas, April 12, 1963), Start Page 3, Quote Page 4, Published jointly by The Southwestern Social Science Association and the University of Texas Press. (Verified with scans; thanks to a helpful librarian at the University of Central Florida)

I Have Never Killed Any One, But I Have Read Some Obituary Notices with Great Satisfaction

Mark Twain? Clarence Darrow? Overland Monthly? Anonymous?

darrow07Dear Quote Investigator: I saw the quotation below when it was tweeted a few days ago. It was credited to Mark Twain, but apparently he never said it:

I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.

Later I read news reports claiming that the famous lawyer Clarence Darrow said something similar. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Clarence Darrow did deliver a similar quip on several occasions. The earliest instance located by QI occurred during a speech in 1922. He also spoke a version during congressional testimony in 1926. The remark was popular, and he included another version in his autobiography “The Story of My Life” in 1932.

In 1922 Darrow addressed the “Illinois Conference on Public Welfare” with a speech simply titled “Crime”. He described candidly his feelings about reading obituaries, but the prolixity of his remark reduced its wittiness. In later versions Darrow presented more concise statements [CDPW]:

One reason why we don’t kill is because we are not used to it. I never killed anybody, but I have done just the same thing. I have had a great deal of satisfaction over many obituary notices that I have read. I never got into the habit of killing. I could mention the names of many that it would please me if I could read their obituaries in the paper in the morning.

In Darrow’s 1932 memoir he wrote a short version that decades later would be suitable for tweeting [CDSL]:

I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading