Clara Shortridge Foltz’s Smack Down

Clara Shortridge FoltzCounsel tells you that I am a woman. I wonder that the planets did not stand still in their course and rivers cease to run to the sea at the announcement of this startling discovery. I am amazed that His Honor did not faint upon the bench and that you gentlemen of the jury have survived this awful shock to your nervous systems.

Let me kindly admonish the learned counsel that in a matter of great pith and moment like this he should break the news gently and not plunge such an original thought upon an unprepared jury. A few more such thoughtless revelations and your nervous forces will be destroyed and your reason dethroned. Counsel should beware how he heedlessly enlightens an unprepared jury on such a vital topic.

Again he tells you that I am a woman. By a natural antithesis I presume he would have you infer that he is not. I suppose he wants me to tell you that he is a man and he takes this hurried opportunity and adroit method of testifying to the fact. Though nobody has yet denied it, he seems to be in a fever of anxiety to emphasize that he is a man. I don’t know why he should make such unseemly haste in announcing it…

I am that formidable and terrifying object known as a woman — while he is only a poor, helpless, defenseless man, and he wants you to take pity on him and give him a verdict in this case. I sympathize with counsel in his unhappy condition. True, the world is open to him. He is the peer of all men — he can aspire to the highest offices, he can carry a torch over our streets during a political campaign and sell his vote for a dollar and half on election day, and yet he isn’t satisfied. Like Alexander, who wanted more worlds to conquer, he wants verdicts, and in order to awaken your sympathy for him, he tells you that I am a woman and he is only a man.

—Clara Shortridge Foltz, 1890
(Quote is in response to attorney Thetas Stonehill noting that she was a woman.)
On The Art of The Smack-Down

12 thoughts on “Clara Shortridge Foltz’s Smack Down

  1. There is a weakness somehwere, but mothers are always weak after such extraordinary births, and we presume we ought to be lenient. “Be to his faults a little blind, be to his virtues very kind.”

    Everyone should read Eric Walton’s full blog post (via your link). The opposing counsel is boorish and the length of Foltz’s response takes away some of the pithiness found in your relatively brief quote, but it also adds a lot of depth. Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

    • Yeah, it was really hard to know what to do with it. And you are right: the prosecutor is boorish. He was also Confederate Colonel (I think).

      But thank Elizabeth! She’s the one who brought my attention to it.

      • yay me! I learned about it at a conference a few years ago when they had great closing arguments. Hers was the best.

      • He was also Confederate Colonel (I think).

        Even better: he was a Confederate captain, who gave himself a retroactive promotion after the war. Sounds like a lovely piece of work.

        • How dare you, sir! Cast aspersions on a noble son of the South who fought for “The Cause”?

          Yep, guy sounds like a giant twerp, who promoted himself because he was useless and nobody else would promote him. Probably just got a commission in the first place because his family was rich and helped bankroll the war. All speculation, and possibly slander, but I don’t care. Twerp!

          • Counsel intimates with a curl on his lip that I am called the lady lawyer. I am sorry I cannot return the compliment, but I cannot. I never heard anybody call him any kind of lawyer at all.

            There is a reason she said that.

            • Can you imagine? She probably listened to this oaf during the trial making what he thought were “sly” references to the jury about “weaknesses of the gender” or some such, then hoped, “please go there in closing. Please. Because if you do, and I’m almost 100% sure you will, I am going to rip you a new one.”

              To have a time machine and see the look on his face …

              (A fun dream. In my experience, when you hold a mirror up to evil, it is merely bored. It has NO IDEA what you’re talking about and doesn’t care.)

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