Arthur Garfield Hays

From New World Encyclopedia

Arthur Garfield Hays (1881-1954) was most well known for his work and involvement in the American Civil Liberties Union, of which he was a founding member. He was involved in many of the notable civil liberty cases of his day, including the Scopes Trial (1925) in Tennessee and the Sacco and Vanzetti Case. He wrote Let Freedom Ring (1928, rev. ed. 1937), Democracy Works (1939), and an autobiography (1942). He often represented clients without charging them. At the same time, his parallel career as a corporate attorney earned him a fortune. He was not afraid to defend unpopular cases, which took him to Germany in 1933, as defense counsel for the communists who had allegedly set fire to the Reichstag. Earlier, he had acted for Germany in defense of the nation's commercial rights. His life long commitment to civil liberty was informed by a hatred of all that oppressed people, suppressed ideas, and by his profound belief that freedom is a human right. Between 1921 and 1954, he was counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1924, he chaired the New York Progressive Party branch. He was a regular contributor to The Nation. He once said, "Indignation boils my blood at the thought of the heritage we are throwing away; at the thought that, with few exceptions, the fight for freedom is left to the poor, forlorn, and defenseless, and to the few radicals and revolutionaries who would make use of liberty to destroy, rather than to maintain, American institutions."[1]



Hays was born in Rochester, New York. His father and mother, both of German descent, belonged to prospering families in the clothing manufacturing industry. After graduating from City College of New York in 1902, Hays attended Columbia University, where he gained the degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and Bachelor of Law. In 1905, he passed the New York bar examination. He then established a law firm with two of his former classmates. Towards the beginning of World War I, he practiced international law in London.


Returning to the United States, he earned a fortune in corporate law, but also started to defend unpopular cases involving civil liberties and freedom of expression. He became ACLU general counsel in 1920. Perhaps the most famous of these cases was the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial, where he was a member of the defense team. Hays is credited with developing the overall strategy for the defense, and was responsible for "keeping the record in shape for appellate review."[2]

The Scopes Trial

A science teacher in Tennessee was accused of illegally teaching the theory of evolution. The opening statements depicted the trial as one between good and evil, between truth and ignorance. Bryan claimed that "if evolution wins, Christianity goes." Darrow argued, "Scopes isn't on trial; civilization is on trial." [3]

The defense team's aim was not so much to gain an acquittal but to have the case heard by a higher court, where the issue of the constitutionality of Tennessee law could be addressed. That year, Tennessee had passed a law outlawing the teaching of "any theory that denies the story of divine creation of man as taught in the Bible."[4] Much later, "The U.S. Supreme Court ruled … that creationism should not be taught because it is a religious belief."[5] Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 but on appeal to the State Supreme Court, his fine was quashed on the grounds that it was excessive. This was hailed as a victory for those who supported freedom of expression. The trial pitted science against religion, but central for Hays was the issue of Church-state separation.

Other famous cases

In addition, Hays acted on behalf of the German government. At the same time, he opposed the German government as a member of the International Lawyers' Defense Committee, investigating evidence against the men accused of setting fire to the German Parliament. Other famous cases in which Hays was involved were the Sacco–Vanzetti case (1921-1927) and the Boston based American Mercury censorship case (1926). The former case involved two Italian migrants found guilty of murder during an alleged robbery. Hays' case rested on the fact that the two men had earlier sympathized with the Italian communist party, and were now victim of the judge's "political views."[6] In the case of the American Mercury defense, the monthly magazine had been censured by the Post Office for allegedly publishing offensive content. The Magazine had published several articles critical of the political influence of the Methodist Church, especially in its support of Prohibition, as well as articles suggesting that people no longer subscribed to traditional views on sexual ethics. The case became associated with the issue of free speech, although the final decision in favor of the Magazine was that the articles to which the Post Office had objected did not meet the criteria for profanity.

Hays took on numerous other, less well publicized cases concerning civil liberty. In 1937, as counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, he was dispatched to Puerto Rico to investigate alleged violations of civil liberties there involving deaths in police custody [7]

As a gifted writer and eloquent debater, he added his perspective to virtually every individual rights issue of his day. His autobiography, entitled, City Lawyer: The Autobiography of a Law Practice (1942), provides a colorful account of his more noteworthy cases, and his articles and book reviews demonstrate his wide-ranging knowledge of a nation and a world experiencing dramatic change in the way individual rights were perceived.


Hays married Blanche Marks in 1908, and divorced her in 1924. They had one daughter, Mrs. Lora Spindell. He married Aline Davis Fleisher in 1924, who died in 1944. They also had a daughter, Mrs. Jane Butler. After more than four decades at the center of the individual rights debate, Hays died of a heart attack on December 14, 1954.

Committee on Un-American Activities

When testifying before this Congressional U.S. Committee in May, 1948, Hays proposed, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, a bill that expressed his own opinion about the ludicrous nature of the "red scare" that motivated the Committee's work. This included the setting aside of "$10 billion to set up a commission to invent a mental reading machine which, when applied, will say 'Communist' when the individual is not a loyal citizen."[8]


In 1958, the Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program was established at New York University School of Law. This program trains lawyers for professional service on behalf of public interest. Hays Fellows have researched civil liberties issues, participated in litigation in cooperation with the American Civil Liberties Union and have undertaken legislative work on topical constitutional issues.[9] According to one biography, Hays "made his living off a corporate practice in New York, but seemed most drawn to society's underdogs. He was described as a person of "genuine sympathy and understanding."[10] His daughter, Lora Hays, taught for many years at New York University and is a distinguished independent film maker. In 2001, the National Coalition Against Censorship honored her work with by awarding the First Amendment Internship in her honor.


  1. Quotations Page, Quotation #8446 from Poor Man's College. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
  2. University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, Arthur Garfield Hayes. Retrieved August 19, 2007.
  3. Douglas O. Linder, State v. John Scopes ("The Monkey Trial"). Retrieved August 19, 2007.
  4. Raju Chebium, 75 years after the Scopes trial pitted science against religion, the debate goes on. Retrieved August 19, 2007.
  5. ibid
  6. The History Channel, Sacco–Vanzetti case.
  7. Encarta, 1938: Puerto Rico—political disturbances. Retrieved August 19, 2007.
  8., A BILL to provide means to eliminate the Communist nuisance. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
  9. New York University of Law, The Arthur Hays Civil Liberties Program. Retrieved August 19, 2007.
  10. UMKC School of Law, "Arthur Garfield Hays."

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Hays, Arthur Garfield. Let Freedom Ring. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1928.
  • Hays, Arthur Garfield. Trial by Prejudice. New York: Covici, Friede, 1933.
  • Hays, Arthur Garfield, and Carl Howard Pforzheimer. Democracy Works. New York: Random House, 1939.
  • Hays, Arthur Garfield. American National Biography. 10, 1999: 421-422.
  • Hays, Arthur Garfield. City Lawyers; The Autobiography of a Law Practice. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1942.
  • Baldwin, Roger Nash. Arthur Garfield Hays, 1881-1954. New York: American Civil Liberties Union, 1954.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.