Clarence Darrow, American Iconoclasts, and Modern Politics

Darrow and Occupy America


A few weeks ago, at the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. national memorial, President Obama stated boldly that MLK would have approved of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Indeed, he would have! Other cherished ghosts of America’s radical past are also smiling down on those who are protesting monopoly, plutocracy, greed, austerity, unemployment, and the do-nothing attitude of many conservative pundits and politicians: Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Joe Hill, John Reed, Walter Reuther, A. Philip Randolph, Hubert Harrison, Rosa Parks, Henry Demarest Lloyd, Doris Stevens, César Chávez, Victor Berger, Ben Fletcher, Emma Goldman, Bayard Rustin, Norman Thomas, Michael Harrington, Helen Keller, Ella Baker, Dolores Huerta, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Spock, Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Don West, Big Bill Haywood, etc, etc, etc…

And yes, Clarence Darrow, too! Darrow would have relished the chance to speak before the masses. He would have cheered them on, praising their willingness to stand up against these modern Robber Barons whose rapaciousness rivals that of the Gilded Age’s fat cats. And, he would have urged them to project their movement into the political process because voting still matters as do the policies and actions of our politicians. He might have even urged them to think about a third party. As he once said at a gathering of Populists in 1894, “Today the privileged institutions of America, fattened by unjust laws and conditions, boastfully proclaim that monopoly is king, but I think I hear a voice rising loud, and louder from the common people, a voice which says in thunder tones, not monopoly but the People are king, and that these people, emancipated and aroused, will one day claim their own.” Perhaps that day is near.


Author: andrewkersten

Andrew E. Kersten is Frankenthal professor of history in the Department of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. He received his PhD in American history at the University of Cincinnati in 1997. Clarence Darrow, American Iconoclast is his latest book. He has published others—Race, Jobs, and the War: The FEPC in the Midwest; Politics and Progress: The American State and Society since the Civil War; A. Philip Randolph: A Life in the Vanguard; and Labor’s Home Front: The American Federation of Labor during the Second World War—as well as several articles. He is also interested in and has written about Wisconsin history and the history of the city of Green Bay.


  1. Prof. Kersten, Simply a note to say I just finished your _CD:AI_ book. Enjoyed it a lot. I’m going to continue to read more on Darrow. I was led to your book after reading Boyle’s _AoJ_, and heard him talk in GR. Wish I’d been more clued into the Mich. Read thing: I would have liked to have been at your lecture in GR as well. That said, I couldn’t stop thinking about the current state of things, OWS et al, when reading about Darrow. We need a strong, respected, no backing down voice (or voices) carrying the torch for working men and women, standing up to the moneyed power brokers and stating the case of equity and equality from bottom to top. I hope this happens soon. Thank you for your book, Mark W. Grand Rapids, MI

  2. Hi,
    Thanks for taking the time to post a comment. I agree with your comment. I was teaching about the civil rights movement in the 1960s today. It seems to me at that time there were more strong, respected national voices helping to carry the torch as you put it. We have those voices today. It seems to me that they need to be amplified.

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