Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb stand guilty of the motiveless and random murder of fourteen year-old Bobby Franks in August of 1924. Intellectual and wealthy, the criminals stand to gain nothing from the senseless slaughter, yet commit the act nonetheless. Neither boy denies the killing, as their defense attorney Clarence Darrow pleads guilty on their behalf. Yet despite guilt, the trial continues, as Darrow fights the proposal of capital punishment for the two boys.
Throughout his entire career, not one of Darrow’s clients ever receives the death penalty (Safire 370). Darrow’s tendency to defend the admitted guilty, often pro bono, permits for an interesting form of speech to come to light, as his pleas bear a sense of nobility for they beg not for any benefit other than the right to continue living (Linder). Throughout his twelve-hour long final remarks, Darrow crafts his words masterfully in the name of the most divine plea a human can deliver: A Plea For Mercy (Linder).
That Chicago courtroom witnesses as Clarence Darrow employs rhetorical appeals to successfully save the Leopold and Loeb boys from the gallows as he enforces not only a logical defense for the guilty, but employs an irrefutable moral obligation to save that prevents the jury from killing the young men. Looking to the days to come, Darrow crafts his plea in the name of the descendants of all present in that Chicago courtroom.
Purporting his plea as not intended to benefit the guilty, but instead the jury, Darrow convinces the jury that to spare the boys their lives would be to preserve the well-being of the entire community, effectively appealing to the jury’s personal selfinterests. Darrow logically reinterprets any harms to the future generations to exist solely as a direct causation resulting from the execution of Leopold and Loeb, leaving the jury no choice save for mercy. Darrow begins by establishing a common ground between both the defense and the jury through citing The State’s intended purpose of a trial.
For the purposes of the trial, Darrow establishes the jury must decide based upon what is best for, “the welfare of the community” (Darrow). In doing so, Darrow lays groundwork on which to build his case, for if he proves that sparing Leopold and Loeb benefits the community, then the jury bears no option but to decline the death penalty. Darrow amplifies the significance of this framework, as he declares his support of it by agreeing that if to kill the guilty would benefit the community, then it shall be, “well and good” (Darrow).
In order to convince the jury of his case, Darrow first agrees that he too would slaughter the boys, but if he were to prove that to kill the boys would result in no benefit to the community, then such a conclusion serves as invalid. Not only does Darrow continue on insisting that to kill the boys would serve no benefit to the community, but proves his case in proposing that to kill the boys would harm the future generations of the community.
Darrow proves his case, as to end the lives of Leopold and Loeb would leave a, “bar sinister” remaining on the community not only now, but in the days to come (Darrow). This establishment of harm, transfers the guilt from the defense to the prosecution, as to kill Leopold and Loeb would serve as a “sinister” act that no jury looking to promote the “welfare of the community” shall commit. This conclusion alters a verdict of life in prison as not a form of mercy, but a fulfillment of the community’s self-interests, which take precedence to mercy.
Darrow’s logos uses the justice system against the prosecution in effectively leaving the jury no choice but to spare Leopold and Loeb. Darrow’s logos continues as he juxtaposes the harshness of life in prison to the alleged mercy of the death penalty. Arguing in favor of a life sentence, Darrow utilizes loaded diction to exaggerate the suffering endured in a life sentence in order to promote this form of justice over the death penalty, which he purports as a weaker punishment. Before juxtaposing the forms f punishment, Darrow initiates his argument by establishing the utter hopelessness of Leopold and Loeb’s continued existence as he claims they bear, “little to look forward to, if anything” (Darrow).
By establishing that Leopold and Loeb lie at a figurative rock bottom, Darrow bestows upon himself the ability to propose to the court which punishment could possibly do more harm, as the boys lack anywhere to go besides up. Darrow utilizes this framework to his advantage as, if a verdict were to benefit the boys in any way, then that verdict would be unjust.
Using this framework, Darrow analyzes the effects of a death penalty, arguing that do kill the boys would in fact be, “merciful to them”, for it would spare the pain of living on in a world with no possible hope (Darrow). Where they currently lie at the absolute bottom, the death penalty would aid them in providing a swift end to this suffering, Darrow argues. Darrow goes on to juxtapose swift, “merciful” demise to life in prison (Darrow).
Where the death penalty is painless, life in prison provides unending torment according to Darrow as he claims to do so would be, “to close the door of hope”, one these two boys (Darrow). This argument logically contradicts the jury’s perception of justice, as justice in their sense exists as the worst punishment for the worst crime, yet if the worst punishment of the death penalty serves as a relief, then the jury lacks any option besides opting for life in prison. Through this appeal to logos, Darrow manipulates the scales of justice in his favor, as life in prison serves the only “just” option in the case.
Before pleading insanity by the cause of war trauma, Darrow establishes his role as one of the many blood-thirsty Americans who encourage the bloodshed of fellow man in the American Civil War through the use of repetition and guilt by association. Darrow reinforces his ethos as one of many participants in the war that causes Leopold and Loeb’s insanity, altering their nadness from a one-off, unique case, to one caused by a nation-wide bandwagon calling for violence. Beginning by establishing his role in the Civil War, Darrow discusses how he erves as yet another “old man… [who] believed” in the war (Darrow). By establishing the “belief that he too takes part in, Darrow begins this transfer of guilt from the murderers, to the whole of society, beginning with himself. Darrow’s reinforces his ethos by his acknowledgement that he too took part in the war, for if such a revered and renowned attorney took part in the bloodshed, then so too may the masses, opening the jury to be susceptible to his claim that the entire nation cries for blood.
Following the establishment of a personal role in this warmongering, Darrow begins repetition of the word, “we”, as he associates the entire jury with the blood-lust shared throughout the war (Darrow). Darrow associates the entire crowd with himself and the guilty as he prepares to lay further guilt on the defense – a guilt now shared by the jury. Discussing the young boys, Darrow looks to their upbringing as the entire community “trained [them] to… Cruelty” (Darrow).
This claim of an upbringing that “trains” the young to commit evil completes the task of laying absolute guilt on the jury, as not only do they participate in calls for violence, they too instruct this blood-thirst to their descendants. Darrow’s ethos establishes his role in the war-mongering and assists in his persuasion as he proceeds to use this shared association to lay the guilt on not just the defense, but the community at large, proving that to kill the boys for this shared guilt serves as an atrocity committed by those same offenders. Darrow’s mightiest rhetoric rises as he continues the discussion of the war.
Arguing for insanity, Darrow’s imagery reopens deep scars in the jury as he passionately recalls the war between Americans, a war so devastating, so bloody, so amoral, that it wounds the Leopold and Loeb boys beyond repair – beyond the point of human sympathy, a sympathy robbed of them by the culture they are raised in – the culture that disregards the value of human life. Darrow’s use of exaggeration and discussion of an institutional system of warmongering enforces his pathos upon the jury, as he reinterprets Leopold and Loeb’s senseless killing s an act of insanity.
Utilizing the war as a cause for madness, Darrow discusses how during this ongoing atrocity, “we were fed on flesh and drank blood” (Darrow). Darrow exaggerates these war crimes so as to further his point that not only did the Leopold and Loeb boys witness these acts, but are warped by them to the point of insanity, a breaking point caused not by their own fault, but by society-at-large as Darrow transfers this guilt on to the jury.
The insanity plea works two-fold as it not only eliminates the boys’ responsibility for their actions, but also lays blame on the entire jury, preventing them from indicting the boys without indicting themselves also. Darrow’s descriptive imagery intensifies the wounds once more on the morale of the jury, as he forges an emotional plea that visualizes the culture of violence imprinted on the young boys.
Darrow goes on to declare that not only did the boys witness crime, but they were in fact taught that a human life exists as, “the least sacred thing in existence” (Darrow). This hyperbole serves to intensify the extent to which the boys are allegedly raised in a culture of violence, providing a one-sided argument of insanity that fails to be met with any rebuttals, for nothing can refute the training of young men to value human life at such a minimal standard.
Darrow goes on to claim this bloodshed took the form of a “disease”, which permits him to prove that the boys are infected in a sense, that distances them from any responsibility of action, as instead of their actions existing as free will, they instead exist as a contagion that the jury cannot blame the young men for catching (Darrow). Darrow successfully eliminates any free will from the boys’ slaughter through this use of exaggeration and description of institutional violence that appeals to the emotions of the jury that possess no choice but to show mercy to these helpless creatures.
Pathos crescendos as Darrow imposes moral obligation onto the entire jury. Darrow amplifies the moral obligation of mercy through use of repetition as well as arranges his argument in order to purport mercy as the highest form of humanity through changing his tone to an aspirational one. Prior to the speech’s climax, Darrow places an immense emphasis on mercy as he repeats the term, “merciful”, multiple times consecutively in order to lay this groundwork in the back of the jury’s mind from which to build his case purporting mercy as the highest form of humanity (Darrow).
Darrow goes on to associate mercy with not only salvation, but also, “understanding, charity, kindness, and infinite mercy” as he cycles through this list of loaded terms associated with general positivity, Darrow serves his case well as it imprints this belief on the jury that mercy not only saves, but benefits through myriad benefits stemming off from that mercy (Darrow).
Darrow forges his argument by dividing the options into two opposite sides, those who choose mercy and bear all aforementioned greatness against those who choose bloodshed, which he claims eliminates progress, instead turning toward the “past” (Darrow). With this groundwork set, Darrow finalizes his argument by making clear his beliefs on those who show mercy. Darrow concludes his plea for mercy in declaring this concept, “the highest attribute of man” (Darrow).
By laying the groundwork through repetition earlier in the speech, Darrow successfully eliminates any opposition in making clear that the only true justice within the courtroom exists as man performing the only form of absolute justice: mercy. This appeal to human morality through the use of repetition and progressive organization results in the fulfillment of Darrow’s goal as the jury concludes with a life sentence for Leopold and Loeb, sparing them from the gallows.
Darrow’s summation before that Chicago courtroom serves as a testament to his persuasive ability. Where many lawyers concede defeat when a client admits guilt, Darrow seeks a more divine result, as he simply desires to see two young men live another day. Few humans bear the ability to convert a courtroom begging for blood to one embracing compassion, yet through Darrow’s persuasive tactics ranging from propaganda methods to a humble appeal to human morality, Darrow succeeds in sparing two young men.
Darrow’s manipulation of the jury as he recalls the fresh memories of the American Civil War to persuade his audience exhibits the passion embodied by a master orator simply hoping to halt bloodshed. Considered to be his greatest speech, Clarence Darrow’s A Plea for Mercy culminates his lifelong pursuit of preventing the use of capital punishment as his persuasion serves to save even the most heartless of killers from a fate Darrow perceives unjust even to them. Darrow goes on to defend countless clients, none of whom receive the death penalty as a result of his persuasion.