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Clarence Darrow to Marie Sweet Smith, Aug 27, 1930

Click on the image to view as a PDF. A transcription of the letter is on the right.


August 27, 1930.

Mrs. Maria Sweet Smith,

113 East 19th Street,

New York City, N.Y.

Dear Mrs. Smith:

Your letter of August 25th is just received. It is strange that you do not understand that the people who believe in saving money by abolishing crime are all for capital punishment. They would laugh at you if you even suggested that getting rid of capital punishment would prevent crime. Of course it would not, and if it would, you could not make them believe it. All this talk about the cost of crime is bunk and nonsense gotten out by people who are interested in running banks and collecting money. The growth of crime such as it is has come from the passing of endless new statutes and from prohibition, and it cannot be cured excepting by educating children and making life easier for the masses.

I certainly would have nothing to do with such a scheme. The people who run banks and boiler factories and oil wells are not the people who are against capital punishment. To tie up with them would be virtually to tie up with the hang-man. They now control every legislature in the country. If they want capital punishment abolished, why don't they do it?


Mrs. Maria Sweet Smith,

Page 2---Aug 27, 1930.

This proposition is still worse. The men who are promising to raise this money are doing it on the basis of getting a percentage for the money they raise. They are not interested one way or the other. They probably don't know themselves what the money-bags would say about it, but I know and you should. They are all on the other side. If anything is to be done, it must be through the poor and the humane and the idealists. I am not optimistic that anything will ever be done about anything, still less about this. But, I would have nothing to do with any kind of a showing that crime is costly and expensive and that abolishing capital punishment would decrease crime. There isn't a bit of sense in it and you could not put it over.

You know I have never wanted to be connected with this in an official way. I have not the time nor energy to give to it, or any considerable amount of money, and I do not want to stand in anybody's else way. But, I would at once resign as chairman if any such thing should be undertaken. I don't want them to think I haven't got any sense or that I don't know who my enemies are and that I don't know what the rich men think about things, or who runs the legislatures, or who is responsible for hangings, I do know and I


Mrs. Maria Sweet Smith,

Page 3---Aug 27, 1930.

would have no dealings with them. I don't think Arthur understands the situation or he would not consider it.

How would it be to call together such of the bunch as are in New York and give them my view? If they think I am wrong, let me out of the presidency, which will not mean I will stop working for abolishing capital punishment. I am still for it but I know my friends from my enemies.

Very truly yours,

Clarence Darrow