Historical References In Clarence Darrow's 'A Plea For Mercy'

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In May, 1924, two boys, Nathan Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb, sought to commit the perfect crime: kidnapping and murdering their 14-year-old neighbor, Robert Franks. However, instead of executing the perfect crime, they were caught the following day and were sure to be hung. Their families hired a defense attorney by the name of Clarence Darrow who made one of the most influential and well-known speeches against the death penalty: “A Plea for Mercy.” Darrow utilizes historical references, logical and emotional appeals, anaphora, and persona, to sway the court to not employ the death penalty for Leopold and Loebs’ murder. Darrow explains the relationship between past wars and contemporary themes and a large part of that is society changing to be more forgiving. He also uses these devices to show that society is partly to blame for this butchery and could have avoided this ridiculous situation had they changed. His most powerful device, however, is emotion, by reminding the court of how these boys’ families will be crushed and their future generations shamed, should the court decide on the death penalty. Darrow’s perspective is that war transformed society, which then taught these boys to place a cheap value on human life.
Darrow uses historical references to establish that the world has been drastically influenced by brutality and these ways of violence have been taught to the younger generations. He states: “These boys were brought up in it. The tales of death were in their
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